Politically part of Chile, Easter Island is 3,500km west of the mainland and is billed as the most remote inhabited island in the world. Its nearest neighbour is Pitcairn Island, 2,000km further west. I flew there from Santiago for a four night stay.
Easter Island is fairly small (165km2), approximately triangular in shape with one small town and a population of around 4000. To get around you really need a vehicle, so I reluctantly took a minibus tour on the first day (regular readers will know how much I hate going on tours) and visited sites within walking distance on the second, including the local museum. The latter included some examples of the now undecipherable local script, Rongorongo. The knowledge of it was lost by the late nineteenth century, when a combination of South American slave raiders and European diseases had reduced the population to around 200 people.
It was on my walk back on the second day, as I was wondering how best to see everything else, that a taxi drew up on the other side of the road looking for business. After some negotiation, I gained a lovely driver and guide who took me to the spectacular sites at the other end of the island the next day, whilst telling me all about his two marriages. He also took me to see this magic stone of power (I am paraphrasing) and told me how he’d once driven some rather odd sounding Europeans here and retreated to the car whilst they performed some kind of ceremony which he swore had interfered with his radio reception.
Rapa Nui is of course famous for the moai, the large monolithic figures dotted around the island. The Polynesians arrived around 300AD (or 700AD or even 1200AD according to some theories), and began producing the moai around 1200. They are believed to represent clan ancestors and may have been used to demonstrate the status of a group’s lineage.
The statues were almost all quarried and carved in one spot in the centre of the island and then transported (by means still not agreed upon) to their final locations in the coastal settlements. Here they were set up on ceremonial platforms (some with burials in them), usually with their backs to the sea, facing the boat shaped houses. Some of the figures had a ‘top knot’ (looking like a cylindrical hat with a bump on top) balanced on their heads, carved from a red rock from a different quarry.
Installed statues had eyes fitted, made from white coral and red or black stone for the iris. Those still in or on the way from the quarry do not have to necessary indent carved into their faces to take these bits, so it is thought this was done on installation, perhaps to imbue the figure with power.
Of the 887 currently known moai (both on the island and in museums elsewhere), half are still in the quarry and a quarter were installed, with the rest apparently stranded on the way to their destination, possibly abandoned or broken in transit. Looking out from the quarry on an extinct volcano, one can see them littering the landscape. The quarry also has a few of unfinished figures still attached to the bedrock.
Sometime in the sixteenth century, the cult associated with the moai was superceded by the Bird Man Cult, centred around a ceremonial village on the rim of another extinct volcano. The cult revolved around an annual competition in which the winner was the first man to return from a small islet with the first egg of the season from a specific seabird. This involved swimming back and climbing up a high cliff.
When Europeans first visited the island in the early eighteenth century, the moai on the platforms were still standing, but by a century later they had all been toppled, apparently as part of inter-clan hostilities. Those now seen standing have all been restored more recently. Many more are still on the ground though, some of them now almost submerged in the ground.
As you might imagine for somewhere so remote, Easter Island is not a cheap place to stay. I booked a basic but pleasant hotel which didn’t offer any food but did have four kitchens for the use of guests. There were so few of us staying that I got one to myself, where I made tea and toast for breakfast and curried vegetables for tea, there being a fair number of grocery shops down the road.
For this WHS I ended up making two Lego models. The first is to show the moai set up on a platform, with some fallen topknots lying around nearby.
Then, since this seemed a pretty crummy kind of model to end the trip on, I built, as best I could with the available parts, an individual moai as well.