Some know it as Easter Island. Others call it Isla de Pascua or Rapa Nui. The remote island, which lays some 3000 kilometres off the Chilean coast, is one of the most far-flung places on earth. It is also home to one of our most fascinating and beautiful mysteries: 800 massive, carved volcanic stone statues called Moai.
The Moai, which stand 5 to 8 metres tall, dot this beautiful landscape, their imposing visages peering inward from the coast as if on a constant vigil to protect the island from outsiders. Their purpose and origin has baffled anthropologists for decades. There are few more compelling still-unexplained phenomena on earth.
I’ve been entranced by Rapa Nui since reading Kon-Tiki as a schoolboy. The book describes Thor Heyerdahl’s 104-day journey in 1947 in an attempt to solve the mystery of where the original Rapa Nui people came from, and how and why they created the Moai. His theory that the first settlers came from South America no longer prevails. Anthropologists now believe these settlers came from Polynesia – a completely different direction – which would have necessitated an incredibly long, difficult journey in carved wooden boats. Still, the evidence remains inconclusive and the essential mystery of the Moai lives on.
On the approach to Rapa Nui’s single runway, we spotted our first Moai from the air. But it wasn’t until we were in a jeep on the way into town that we got our first close-up. This Moai towered over the rugged cove right in the middle of the buzzing town’s main square. Its presence was both incongruous and magical. Up close, the Moai was majestic and spooky, with deep, hollow eyes and a solid trunk. Over the next six days, we explored the island and came to almost take the Moai for granted. They were everywhere – some standing, some toppled face first, some missing their fez-like hats, others unfinished and poking out of the ground where they had been being carved. It was simultaneously a Moai workshop and exhibition. It was everything I had imagined and more.
I would like to introduce to you some of my favourite Moai. I hope they bring you as much joy as they brought me.