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Getting to know the moai


View Chile: the Land of Contrast on bejjan's travel map.

Woke up again to the intense bird-warbling outside the window as a sign that sunrise had began. I ate breakfast in time to make today’s first guided tour to Orongo. The clouds were hanging low and the fog had a steady grip around Hanga Roa and the rain was about to start so the air was completely different this morning from all other days. Pick-up at 9am outside my hotel and the guide, Pablo, spoke well English. Emily, whom I met two days ago, was also on the tour bus and I soon discovered that almost all other passengers spoke English as well. It’s always nice to communicate with people having English as their native language. They drove us 10 minutes to Ahu Vinapu where we made our first stop. Ahu is Rapa nui and translates as shrine. Vinapu is a part of Rapa Nui National Park that in turn has declared as world heritage by UNESCO, and as a tourist you are informed about that several times and that you really need to respect and honor the boundaries around the statues. You are also strongly forbidden to climb or even touch the statues and by the most popular moai are posted guards (sometimes even police officers) that can give you a fine if you violate the restrictions. I don’t remember exactly how large amount you could get but it was noticeable.

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Decapitated moai

Vinapu is a historical important archeological place and represent the exchange between the Incas and Polynesians. The platforms that all moai – once raised here – stood at witness about incredible skilled stonework consisting of big strictly fitted stones cut out of basalt and as spirit level they used the ocean to horizontally build the platform after. As all the other moai on Easter Island, the moai at Ahu Vinapu were destroyed during civil wars between the 18th and 19th Centuries when they put big stones in front of each statue and tipped the statues over so their necks fell right on the stones to decapitate the moai. That’s why you nowadays see all these repairs in the neck areas in almost every moai on Easter Island that has been chosen to be raised up again. Moai were placed on top of platforms (like those in Ahu Vinapu) in belief they represented spirits from dead ancestors or relatives that had been buried inside the platforms.

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A female moai

Almost all moai are men but 10 female statues have been identified and characterizes by two heads, breasts and vagina. Pablo pointed at one statue here in Ahu Vinapu and said that was one of the 10 recovered female moai. It was not easy though to distinguish the female features due to external influences like human and nature, but using your imagination you could anticipate them.

Next stop during this tour was Orongo. We rode the bus for a while and when we arrived the weather had changed into raw and chilly. Strong winds and heavy rain made you almost want to stay inside the transfer bus but we all made an attempt to continue the tour. In order to visit Orongo I needed to show up that ticket (I bought at the airport) to clear the entrance to Rapa Nui National Park. But as soon as we entered the park the weather got even worse and the wind made the rain falling almost horizontally and due to the strong wind we couldn’t hear what Pablo said. So we gave up and went back to the entrance building where Pablo continued to tell us all about the traditions that were performed here in Orongo. Tangata-manu (the Birdman): was an annual ceremony celebrating Make-Make (God) and fertility that started during a period of time when the tribal chiefs lost their status and competed in keeping the title Birdman. The purpose of the ceremony was for the contesters to climb down the rocks at the south cape of Easter Island, swim out to the island Motu Nui (south of Easter Island). The ones who did survive the downhill climbing and the swimming out to the island then had to wait for days, sometimes weeks, for the arrival of the sea bird Manutara that was breeding on the island during the springs. The first contester to find an egg and returned it to the village was designated Tangata-manu - the Birdman - for one year. The designated Birdman was sacred and was honored during the year. It should be mentioned that the only moai found here in Orongo named Hoa Hakananaia (The Stolen Friend) was removed from the island during a Poki-Manu ceremony to Great Britain in 1868 and was introduced to Queen Victoria. The statue never came back to Easter Island and can nowadays be seen in a British museum.

Totally soaked, cold and frozen we walked back to the bus and Pablo told us we could re-use our tickets another day to visit the park (without a guide) when the weather was much better. The staff in the park takes notice of the weather and allows visitors to return another day, but unfortunately this was my last 24-hour-day here on Easter Island so I wouldn’t be able to utilize that deal anyway. Such a pity!

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On the way back to Hanga Roa we made a shorter stop at a cave just down by the ocean called Ana Kai Tangata, the most accessible and available cave on the island. Probably due to its name (Ana = cave;Kai = to eat; Tangata = man) stories and rumors occurred about cannibalism on Easter Island. But the name can be translated in two ways; “cave where men ate” or “cave where men was eaten”. Also the word Kai in old Rapa nui means; “to gather”, “to count” or “to teach”. And there are no certain archeological findings that proof cannibalism were practiced according to Pablo. There are several cave paintings to be seen but they are in very bad condition due to the high humidity and constant influence by the salt from the ocean water. The cave is just down by the water's edge but as a visitor you never have to worry about tide water since the difference is so low that the ocean water never reaches into the cave. But you can see the mighty power from the ocean waves hit against the rocks a few meters outside the cave.

Back in the hotel I took a warm shower and changed into dry clothe before heading out for lunch. An Empanada with chicken had to do and now the weather had changed into bright sunshine and warm winds again so I went down to the little harbor Hanga Piko and just rested for a while. It was soothing just sitting there listening to the ocean waves. By 3pm it was time for Half day Akivi, in other words the second guided tour for the day. It was the same tour bus that picked me up as earlier this day, the same guide (Pablo) and the same passengers were in it (except two people that had booked a private guided tour in the afternoon).

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First stop during this afternoon tour was Ahu Akivi and the moai here are sacred and have a special historical meaning since they are the only moai on the entire island that are facing the ocean. All other moai are looking away from the ocean towards villages to guard and protect the people. But these seven moai at Ahu Akivi were, according to Pablo, facing the ocean to greet the arrival of the seven explorers but the explorers died here on Easter Island and never returned home. You can’t stop wondering if it was bad luck to face the moai towards the ocean then? All moai had white/bright eyes made out of corals but all eyes were destroyed during the civil wars except from one eye that has been found in one piece. The moai that today have been re-raised and restored have no eyes but only hollow outs where the eyes once were attached. According to the Rapa nui belief, a moai without eyes has no soul. That’s why it was so important for moai to have eyes and especially being raised on a platform representing the spirits of ancestors or relatives.

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Next stop was at Puna Pao where all the moai hair (Pukaos) was carved out in stone for the statues, and yes all moai had hair - not hats. The hair was carved round so they could be rolled away to the statues all over the island and was later painted red to mark their dominance. 95% of all moai were carved out of stone from the slopes of the volcanic crater Rano Raraku and where then transported out to the rest of the island. The theories conflicts about how the Rapa nui-people managed to move around all the enormous statues but the most logical theory is that the moai were moved standing up and wobbled sideways forward with ropes. The separate manufactured hair was put on top of the moai by building a temporary ramp and rolled the hair up on the head. In and on and around Rano Raraku are 397 unfinished moai still standing left. You can tell by the partially buried statues so the people could easier access and sculpture at the very top of the moai.

Third and last stop for the tour was at Huri A Urenga which displays a lonely moai who was thought to have astronomical meaning and protected the winter crops since the statue was/is turned so it faces the sun during the winter solstice. This moai is also interesting since it has four arms and four hands and according to Pablo those represented the four clans once living here. According to researchers the phenomena with four hands and arms may be a result of the original two arms and hands being damaged during transportation that two new arms and hands were carved in on top of the old ones.

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Next to this moai you can find one of all crematories around the island where the islanders burned bodies. The remaining bones where used as tools within the family but that tradition ended when all the trees once were gone on Easter Island (so the bodies couldn’t be cremated anymore).

During the bus ride back to the hotels Emily told all of us about a restaurant she had visited and ordered a sandwich. The restaurant was called Club Sandwich and she recommended all of us to visit and try out one of their gigantic sandwiches. So I just had to walk over there and try one. And just as I walked into Club Sandwich (situated along the main street) I noticed four other people from the guided tour were already there and had ordered sandwiches. Since they had already eaten, I never saw how big the sandwiches really were. But I ordered one anyway and damned how big it was! My first thought was… “How do you even eat something like this???” It was enormous and all over the plate. Of course you had a fork and knife to eat with so you just could dig in. Ha ha, at least you didn’t have to leave the place hungry, that’s for sure. Once back at the hotel I started to pack down everything in my bags since I was going back to Chile and Santiago again tomorrow. Unfortunately all clothes felt a little damped due to the high humidity here on Easter Island so I was a little afraid that my clothes were going to be ruined if I packed them down like that, but what was I supposed to do?

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged easter_island moai

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