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What Are 8 Fascinating Facts About the Moai Statue?

The world is full of incredible and fascinating things. And one such marvel is the one located on Easter Island, known by the indigenous people as the Moai Statue.

Such stupendous figures, known as “Easter Island Statues,” are mysterious stone figurines of human forms that have captivated everyone since their discovery.

1. Easter Island Statues: The Moai Statue

The Moai are megalithic statues seen across Easter Island. Moai are made of volcanic ash. The human figures were first outlined in the rock wall, then chiseled away until only the picture remained.

The sculptures were placed on rectangular stone platforms known as ahu around 1400 and 1650 A.D. to honor deceased chieftains and other significant individuals.

2. The Moai Statue’s History

The sculptures were carved by the island’s Polynesian colonizers, primarily between circa 1250 and 1500. Once built on Ahu, the Moai may have represented departed ancestors and a status symbol for strong current or previous leaders.

Every Moai statue served as a status symbol. The greater the statue put on ahu platforms, the more mana possessed by the chief who ordered it. The Easter Islanders’ culture has always been characterized by rivalry for the largest statue. The different Moai statue sizes provide evidence.

Completed statues were transported to ahu platforms, primarily along the shore. Where they were erected, perhaps with Pukao perched.

Moai Statue, Pukao
Photo By aull-consulting / pixabay / Copyright 2018

Moai must have been quite expensive to make because, in addition to the time and money needed for the actual carving statues, the completed object had to be transported to its ultimate place and assembled.

Several finished and unfinished statues were discovered with a litter of stone tools left outside the quarry and await transport.

3. The Features of the Moai Statues

Moai Statue, Face
Photo By cloviscor / pixabay / Copyright 2017

3.1. Gigantic Figures

Easter Island statues are recognized for their over-large heads, heavy brows, and enlarged noses with a characteristic fish-hook-shaped curl of the nostrils.

3.2. Deep Slit Eye

The hemispherical or deep slit eye sockets were made to accommodate coral eyeballs with either black obsidian or red scoria pupils. They were discovered by Sergio Rapu Haoa and a group of archaeologists in 1979. It is believed that the Moai statue with carved eye sockets was presumably assigned to the ahu and ceremonial sites. That implies a selective Rapa Nui hierarchy was attributed to the Moai statue design until it was eliminated with the arrival of the religion centered around the Tangata Manu.

3.3. Facial Features

A thin pout is seen on the lips. The long ears are similar in shape to the nose. The sharp jaw lines contrast sharply with the truncated neck.

3.4. Giant Torsos

The torsos are massive, and occasionally the clavicles have a subtle outline.

3.5. Various Postures of Arms

The arms are shaped in bas relief and lay against the body in various postures, with hands and long, thin fingers lying along the hip crests, meeting at the Hami (loincloth). And the thumbs occasionally pointing towards the navel.

3.6. Back’s Designs

In general, the backs are not detailed. Although they may have a ring and girdle design on the buttocks and lower back.

3.7. No Legs

The sculptures, except one kneeling Moai statue, lack plainly seen legs. Their bodies are often squat, without legs, with their arms resting in various positions. As a final touch, the builders would rub the statue with pumice once it had been carved.

3.8. Red Scoria Stone: Pukao

Pukao, a representation of the chieftain’s topknot, was dressed on the heads of the more recent Moai statues. Local lore holds that the hair is where mana is kept. Red scoria stone, a very light rock from a quarry in Puna Pau, was used to sculpt the Pukao. The color red itself has more reverence in Polynesia. The additional Pukao implies that the Moai statue has a higher status.

4. Who Made the Moai Statues?

Oral history suggests that the Rano Raraku Quarry was split into distinct regions for each clan. Who in the community was in charge of carving the monuments is unknown. Oral traditions state that a renowned class of professional carvers carved the Moai statue on par with high-ranking members of other Polynesian artisan guilds or individual clan members.

5. Tools for Moai Statue Carving

Toki, basic mobile chisels, were used to carve the Moai statues. They have been discovered in large quantities throughout all excavations at Rano Raraku, notably surrounding the sculptures.

The best Toki are fashioned of Hawaiite, the hardest type of rock found on Easter Island. This can only be found in Rua Toki-Toki, a Toki quarry just south of Ovahe on the north side of Rapa Nui.

Its rarity regarded it as incredibly precious in ancient times, as it was used for something as essential and significant as carving Moais.

6. What do the Moai Statues Symbolize?

According to many archaeologists, Statues were religious and political symbols of authority and power. They were, however, more than just symbols. They were literal stores of spiritual spirit for the people who built and used them. When properly fashioned and ritually prepared, carved stone and wooden artifacts in ancient Polynesian religions were supposed to be charged by a mysterious spiritual energy called “Mana.”

Moai Statue, Ahu Aviki
Photo By LuisValiente / pixabay / Copyright 2016

Archaeologists believe the statues depicted the ancestors of the ancient Polynesians. The majority of ahu are found along the sea shore and face the community inland as though watching over the people. The seven Ahu Akivi are an exception, as they face out to sea to help visitors discover the island. Folklore has it that seven men waited for their king to arrive. According to a 2019 study, ancient people believed that quarrying of the Moai statue was linked to enhancing soil fertility and, as a result, vital food sources.

7. The Easter Island

Moai Statue, Easter Island
Photo By Makri27 / pixabay / Copyright 2020

While looking for “Davis Land,” the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen discovered the island on Easter Sunday, April 5, in 1722, and gave it the name “Easter Island.” He was the island’s first known European visitor.

It is one of the most secluded populated islands in the world. It is a special territory of Chile, South America, in the southeast Pacific Ocean, near Oceania’s southernmost end of the Polynesian Triangle.

The island is best known for its roughly 1,000 still-standing Moai statues, which the early Rapa Nui people made. The island’s numerous gigantic stone Moai and other artifacts prove that the people who lived there had a prosperous and hardworking civilization.

8. Easter Island Heads

Even though Moai are whole-body statues, they are commonly referred to as “Easter Island heads” in popular literature. This is partly due to the disproportionate size of most Moai heads and partly to the fact that many famous photos of the island depicting upright Moai are the sculptures on the slopes of Rano Raraku, many of which are buried to their shoulders.

Some of the “heads” at Rano Raraku have been dug, and their bodies examined. It was discovered that they contained markings protected from erosion by burial.

9. Rapa Nui Islanders

The Rapa Nui are the indigenous Polynesian peoples of Easter Island. They speak the indigenous Rapa Nui language and Spanish, Chile’s official language. The descendants of the original inhabitants of Easter Island make up around 60% of the present Easter Island population, with a large chunk of their population residing on mainland Chile, South America.

Before pre-European contact, Rapa Nui people are said to have landed on Easter Island between 300 and 1200 CE. The Moai, the human figures carved from rock between 1250 and 1500 CE and carried around Easter Island, are the most prominent part of Rapa Nui culture. The Moai, which were thought to be the living faces of ancestors, had all been destroyed by 1868. The Easter Island statues are supported on massive stone platforms known as the ahu platform, and the most well-known of which are Ahu Tongariki, the biggest ahu, and Ahu Vinapu.

10. Transportation of Moai Statues

How people managed to move the Moai statues through steep terrain is one of the greatest mysteries of Easter Island. There are many different theories of how this herculean task was done, some of which are more widely accepted than others.

10.1. Theory 1: Rolling Transportation

The most commonly recognized explanation holds that the statues were supported by a framework that would keep them upright and roll-on logs. This method might use brute force to move the Moai statues quickly and safely.

Massive amounts of timber would be required as sculptures became larger. Deforestation of all straight, dense trees would eventually result from this, making mobility impossible.

10.2. Theory 2: Upright Movement

Numerous Moai sculptures have fallen to the ground while transported to their ahu. Some of these are on their backs, while others are on their bellies. This gave the idea that the Easter Island statues were moved upright. The Rapa Nui people didn’t have to put in as much work lowering and raising the statues since the Moais were already standing in the quarry at Rano Raraku and were transported upright to their ahu.

10.3. Theory 3: Walking Sculptures of Moai

Oral legend holds that the island Moai statues traveled by foot. According to a literal interpretation of this myth, the sculptures were made to move by being rocked back and forth using ropes.

11. Toppling of Statues

Moai Statue, Fallen
Photo By blaxxtock / pixabay / Copyright 2019

All of the statues that had been reported on were still standing when the first European ship landed on Easter Island in 1722. Later, visitors claim that more sculptures have fallen throughout the years and become lying stones, and by the end of the nineteenth century, not a single monument remained standing.

The most popular explanation is that the statues were destroyed during tribal warfare to shame the opponent. One rationale for this is that most statues have fallen forward, face down, into the dirt.

There is also the folklore of a lady named Nuahine Pkea Uri, who possessed powerful mana powers and caused the statues to collapse in wrath when her four children left her without food on one occasion. Some elders on Easter Island still think this is the true narrative.

12. Hoa Hakananai’a

One of the best specimens of Easter Island sculpture, Hoa Hakananai’a, is called a “masterpiece.”

It is an Easter Island Moai statue, presently housed in the British Museum in London after being removed from Orongo, Easter Island, in 1868 by the crew of a British ship.

Hoa Hakananai’a’s ears are lengthy and elongated, and its nostrils are oval. The hands are scarcely visible, and the arms are slender and close to the torso.

The excavated Moai statue is placed at the British Museum on a stone pedestal a little over a meter high, towering above the visitor. It is made of basalt, a volcanic rock that is hard, thick, and fine-grained. Pinpricks of light shine as small crystals in the rock shine on its rough, pitted surface. Probably a person of considerable standing ordered the sculpture.

Animation of the photogrammetry model of Hoa Hakananai'a

Hoa Hakananai’a has his head slightly bent back as though looking over a far-off horizon. His vacant eye sockets are cast in darkness by his high brow crest. The nostrils on the long, straight nose are big and oval. The downward curvature of the narrow lips gives the face a stern, unyielding appearance. A thin vertical line in low relief runs from the middle of the lips to the chin.

The ears are long, starting at the top of the head and terminating in pendulous lobes, and the jawline is well-defined and huge. The hands are crudely carved in low relief, and the arms are held close to the side of the torso.

The figure’s back is decorated in ceremonial designs carved in low relief or incised, some of which are thought to have been added later. These are illustrations from the island’s Birdman religion, which emerged sometime after 1400 C.E.

Two birdmen standing facing each other are carved on the upper back and shoulders of the excavated Moai. These have a frigate bird’s head, human hands, and feet. A little fledgling bird with an open beak is carved in the center of the head. Face-carved engravings on ceremonial dancing paddles, or “ao,” stand on either side of this. Another ‘ao’ can be seen on the left ear. In contrast, four shapes that resemble inverted “Vs” are on the right ear representing the female vulva. It is thought that these engravings were added later.

13. The Easter Island Statue Project (EISP)

The Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) seeks to provide light on the timeline of Rapa Nui’s prehistory by incorporating the megalithic statues of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), created by the ancestors of the current people of the island. The Easter Island archaeological survey’s current artifact inventory is the longest-running and most continuing one ever.

The Easter Island Statue Project’s goal is to comprehend the primary purpose and significance of the figures. Excavation and conservation of the statues are also the mission of the Easter Island Statue Project.

Jo Anne Van Tilburg and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati have conducted an archaeological inventory and assessment of the monolithic stone sculptures of Rapa Nui as a part of the Easter Island Statue Project.

14. Moai Statue: 8 Fascinating Facts About the Moai Statue

14.1. The Highest Moai Statue

The Paro Moai, the tallest Moai statue ever built, was about 10 meters (33 feet) high. And it weighed 82 tonnes (80.7 tons).

14.2. The Largest Moai Statue

The largest Moai statue was built at Ahu Tongariki and weighed 86 tonnes (84.6 tons). One incomplete sculpture would have stood roughly 21 meters (69 feet) tall and weighed between 145 and 165 tons if it had been finished.

14.3. Easter Island

On April 5, 1722, which happened to be Easter Sunday, Jacob Roggeen, the first known European contact with the island, gave it the name Easter Island. Isla de Pascua, the island’s official Spanish name, also translates as “Easter Island.”

14.4. Three to Five Ratio

A three-to-five ratio can be found between the head and the trunk. It is a sculptural trait consistent with Polynesian belief in the holiness of the chiefly head.

14.5. Average Height and Weight

The average height of a Moai is roughly 4 meters (13 feet), while the typical breadth at the base is about 1.6 meters (5.2 ft). These monstrous constructions typically weigh approximately 12.5 tonnes (13.8 tons).

14.6. Crafted Out of Tuff

Except for 53 Moai, all more than 900 known to date were carved from Tuff (compressed volcanic ash) from Rano Raraku, where 394 Moai in various stages of completion can still be seen today.

14.7. The Purpose of Moai

“Moai” means “so that he can live” in Rapa Nui. Natives thought when a structure was built to honor a chieftain or other significant person, the individual’s soul would forever watch over the tribe and bring luck.

14.8. Isolated Island

The island, 3,700 kilometers west of Chile’s mainland, lies alone amid the Pacific Ocean.

15. Conclusion

Moai Statue, Easter Island
Photo By LuisValiente / pixabay / Copyright 2016

The Easter Island statues are such stupendous figures that stand erected on Easter Island and have captivated everyone.

The Moai statues are not only beautiful works of art made by man but also an amazing wonder that educate us about history. These stone giants are thought to be the living face of forefathers, reflect power, authority, and respect and are awe-inspiring to everybody.

Last Updated on by alishbarehman


  • Upasana Murmu

    Greetings, fellow reader! If you're here, you probably enjoy food, history, and travel just as much as Upasana does. Her interest and desire to learn more about things have only been spurred by her MBA degree. With her exceptional research and writing abilities, she hopes to grasp and share the most relevant content available.

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