The Heads of Rapa Nui – Easter Island

These heads are called Moai. They are representations of important ancestors of a tribe.

The people believed that the spirit (Mana) of the ancestor would be preserved in the Moai, as long as the eyes were there, and this would give the tribe strength and wisdom.

The Moai were always facing into the tribe which is why the Moai backs are to the ocean, except for seven.ester.island.view.from.quarry









The Moai are actually tombs. When an ancestor died a moai was commissioned from the quarry. The body would be bathed in the sea and then left in the sun. It was repeated and the process would take approximately 4 months. Basically the sun and salt water were drying out the body.  After this was completed there would be a cremation. Only the bones would be put in a special plain container underneath the Moai.

The Moai were initially made from basalt, trachyte and red slag. Finally the islanders settled on using the volcanic rock from Rano Raraku volcano establishing a quarry there.easter.island.tongaraki.side









The red top knots – Pukao – were quarried from Punapau. The top knots were carved rounder than was needed but just enough that when it was rolled to the respective location it would be the right size for the Moai.

Heads left at the quarry

Heads left at the quarry










The moai were transported by being walked into place, according to the text of the inhabitants. In order to walk them into place ropes were tied and held off by many men as they wiggled the moai into place. Thus the illusion of them walking into place.easter.island.maori.sideways

Initially the moais were not big, no more than 3 m which makes it quite plausible. The ancient ones are only 1 m high.  The largest moai standing is approximately 11m, although there is a 22m moai still sleeping in the quarry.

The eyes were made from coral – for the whites – and obsidian for the pupils.  Archaeologists did not realized this initially as most of the eyes had been destroyed until they found one in a Moai almost intact.

As the population grew the tribes thought that if the moais were bigger than they would be stronger and wiser. This helps explain why the moais started getting bigger and bigger. At the same time as the population grew the natural resources declined.

Why Were the Moais Knock Down

The island people believe that due to less resources tribal fighting began, and in their [tribes] eyes to defeat a tribe was to take away their ancestral mana. This meant toppling the moai and removing the eyes.  This was the ultimate defeat for a tribe.easter.island.maori.face.down









The island people do not believe that it was from an invasion of conquering people or by earthquakes or tsunamis. Yes, tsunamis have knocked down some moais in recent years. The issue is the number of moais knocked downed all over the island that were on their platforms (ahu) and the number that were just left in the quarry. It points more to the tribal fighting that with anything else.


To be continued……


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