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Rapa Nui

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 We have arrived in Rapa Nui, the easternmost island settled by the Polynesians, also known as Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua in Spanish.  This island is a part of Chile, although it is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, equidistant from Tahiti and Santiago, and is really more oceanic than South American.  Rapa Nui is not actually close to anything - it took us 5 hours to fly here and it is another 4.5 hours to Santiago!  Furthermore, it is not a beautiful, warm island surrounded by coral and tropical fish, like the Polynesian islands we left.  Rapa Nui is a craggy, rock covered, grassy island with a temperate climate, covered with moai. 


What is a moai?  (It is pronounced "mo eye".)  It is a figure carved of rock and generally greater than life size.  Many Moai were moved as much as 15 miles and set upright on ahu, which are ceremonial stages or pedestals, all over the island.   The most accurate thing that can be said about moai is that no one really knows too much about how or why they were made or transported.  Interestingly, when the first Europeans arrived in the 1700s, many of the Moai were still standing on their ahu, but by 1868, they had all been toppled.  It was clear that many were purposely knocked over, but not clear why.                                                                                ^  Mouse over for a blink   


It is thought that the moai may have been made in the image of important ancestors, and been a part of a complicated religion of ancestor worship.  Again, no one is very sure on this.   


Another big issue here is whether moai should have been left alone, or whether it was right for earlier archeologists to have rebuilt whole ahu.  This is an issue at many ancient sites around the world.  On Rapa Nui half of the major sites have been left in ruins, while half have been rebuilt.  I think that a full appreciation of the ancient sites could not possibly be achieved if all of the sites had simply been left in ruins, and that this is a nice compromise. 


For more information on Easter Island, a good reference that we have used is "The Complete Guide to EASTER ISLAND" by Shawn McLaughlin.  The book is published by the Easter Island Foundation (


Rano Raraku


All the moai were carved at Rano Raraku (the remnants of a volcano), which is also known as the "quarry" or the "nursery."  From what is to be seen in Ranu Raraku, it appears that moai were entirely carved here, and once completed, they were moved to their desired location.  This was no small task; these fellows can be upwards of 20 feet tall.  (The tallest one actually cut off the side of the cliff is 35 feet tall, though there is a bust that is 65 feet tall that was not cut out of the side of the hill. ) The average height and weight of the moai on the island is 13 feet and 12.5 tons, respectively.  The moai left lying around Rano Raraku were apparently rejects.  They were not transported and set up on an ahu.  Some theorize that they fell during transport and were abandoned, though no one really knows.  Many have been buried on the side of the hill.   






This was my favorite ceremonial place.  There are 15 moai on the Tongariki ahu, all of different shapes and sizes, and they stand with such dignity along the shore.  This ahu was rebuilt and then knocked down by a great tsunami of 1960.  Then it was rebuilt in the 90's. 





                                                 Tasha flying our Chinese kite

    There are wild horses all over the island.                                 


Papa Vaka


This is a famous petroglyph site.  While we can see that all the rocks around here had been carved, it was hard to discern what the carvings represented.  The signage spoke of canoes. 









While the entire island is a craggy, rocky mass, at the far north end of the island is a gorgeous beach!  It seemed so out of place!  Furthermore, there are so few trees on the island, and here all of a sudden were a bunch of coconut palms. 



{For those of you who have followed the news (we had not), this is the ahu containing the moai whose ear was mutilated by a young European in March 2008.}














Rano Kau


There are the remains of two volcanoes on the island:  Rano Raraku (the "nursery"), and this one, Rano Kau. 





This is one of the most sacred sites; the site of the birdman competition.  The chief of each different clan appointed someone to compete on his behalf, or he competed himself, in this competition, to determine who would be the ruler of the island for the next year.  The competition took place in the spring, and its objective was to be the first competitor to return to the main island with the egg of a sooty tern.  The terns nested on Motu Nui, the furthest, and largest of the islands below.  The competition began at the top of this cliff next to Ranu Kau, and involved competitors swimming across to the motu through shark-infested waters, camping on the island until an egg could be found, swimming back and climbing back up the cliff.  How did this qualify you to rule?  I don't know, but there are probably some that feel it is no worse than the US system at the moment :-)




Ahu Akivi


Ana te Pahu




There are many caves on the island.  This one is referred to as a lava tube.  It is very long, but it lies just below the surface, and parallel to it.  In fact, you would never guess there was a cave here, unless you were walking along and encountered a deep hole! 


















Hanga Roa


 This is the only town on the island.  We stayed at a nice, quaint B&B style hotel just off the main street.



World schooling on the porch.               We received some heavy rains during 4 of our 5 days here.


From Rapa Nui we headed for Santiago on mainland Chile



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Last modified: 06/13/08