Easter Island Journals

The spectacle of Rapa Nui

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A February 2002 trip to Easter Island by SaraP

Hanga Roa church Photo, Easter Island, Chile More Photos
Quote: The "Navel of the World", Easter Island or Rapa Nui is the most remote inhabited place on this earth. Despite being relatively small, the terrain requires a car to get around but it's fairly rare to see another visitor since LanChile only fly in twice weekly. Why travel 1000s of miles into the Pacific? Moai...

The spectacle of Rapa Nui

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Overview

Moai at dusk Photo, Easter Island, Chile
Quote:
Unique and instantly recognisable are the moai stautes. With little concrete fact known about them, each moa statue stands (or once stood) on an ahu altar. It''s now commonly accepted that Thor Heyerdahl''s conjecture was right - these statues were hewn without metal tools from bare basalt rock at the volcano quarry at Rano Raraku (a real highlight - see my dedicated entry below) and transported to shoreside plinths for erection to symbolise their creators'' forefathers. The ahu altars and area of stones laid out around the statues are nominally sacred (though, in a strawpoll, locals didn''t really consider they had much religious significance any more) but nonetheless it''s worth keeping off as yo...Read More

Tongariki by the sea

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Story/Tip

Tongariki by the sea Photo, Easter Island, Chile
Quote:
Located on the eastern coast at Bay Hotu Iti next to Rano Raraku, and comprising the biggest and perhaps best known ahu in Rapa Nui for that reason, the row of 15 standing moai at Tongariki was wholly restored by about 1996 from a collection of the various moai which were found on the grassy area around the coast. You can easily see from climbing and poking around on the grassy banks in the wide area back from the beach that there was a substantially higher number of moai than just the 15 on the altar. Moreover, fate was not content with making them the victims of internecine warfare in the same way as their brethren round the island; in 1960, they suffered the further indignity of being washed ...Read More
Quote:
Rano Kau (Rano=volcano/Kau=wide or vast) is a 350m-high mound of red stone from which moai "topknots", symbolising hair (and not hats as was once thought), were carved. (For me, one of the most extraordinary achievements was not erecting the moai in the first place but then placing the topknot on his head - no one, despite years of experiments and speculation, has yet explained how this was done.) From the volcano summit, you have a magnificent view across not just the island but also out to sea and in particular over Motu Nui, a rocky island of 300 squared metres off shore, which hosts 3 or 4 bird species when they nest every August. Traditionally, this was the island to which a nominated cha...Read More
Hanga Roa church Photo, Easter Island, Chile
Quote:
The Catholic church of Santa Cruz parish, at the top of the main street in Hanga Roa, is a bizarre mixture of religious pageantry and pagan rite - beneath a classical Christian banner praising the Lord stand lectern and font made of carved wooden representations of Tangata Manu, the mythical, mystical birdman of Rapa Nui. Built between 1954 and 1964, it's a pretty little white-walled church whose graveyard contains the coffins of some of the first missionaries who came to the island, including Sebastian Englert (who devoted his later years to registering and counting up the statues and artefact and whose memorial is the anthropological museum). It's pretty unusual to find ecclesiastic toleranc...Read More

Rano Raraku - the moai nursery

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Story/Tip

Quote:
The whole island, for reasons of landscape, isolation, and history, is of course a very evocative place, but for me the most moving and extraordinary site is the "nursery" at Rano Raraku, so called by the locals because it is where the volcano "gave birth" to the moai. Naturally, it must have been much less poetic than that as a real-live site, and the traces of former activity are still in situ. Each statue was carved by hand from sheet rock, until the contours of its body stood out from the rockface. When a statue's inimitable features were complete and its form stood out proud from the rock, the back was finally (and one assumes very carefully) disengaged and the body somehow lowered to the ground....Read More
Quote:
The Anthropological Museum of Father Sebastian Englert (a German missionary who came to the island to spread the good word and spent 35 years as parish priest, documenting its history, and particularly that of the stone inhabitants) is well worth a couple of hours (particularly if it's raining). Though it's basically just one large room, it's filled with interesting artefacts and information, particularly historical detail (and, it has to be said, some degree of speculation) about the islanders and the crafting and transportation of the statues, and geological background to the volcanoes and resultant stone used for the moai. It also has several Rongo-Rongo tablets (the equivalent of the Rosett...Read More