Chilie’s Easter Island with Mysterious Logic-defying Moais
Author: Jace Sinclair
Few areas in the world possess a more transcendent pull than this tiny speck of land, Easter Island.
One of the most secluded places on Earth, Easter Island, with the most logic-defying statues on the planet. The strikingly familiar moais—Easter Island (Rapa Nui to its native Polynesian inhabitants) emanates a compelling, enigmatic vibe.
But Easter Island is much more than an open-air museum. Diving, snorkeling and surfing are splendid. On land, there’s no better ecofriendly way to experience the island’s savage beauty than on foot, from a bike saddle or on horseback. But if all you want to do is recharge the batteries, a couple of superb expanses of white sand beckon.
Located 2,000 miles from the nearest population center is Easter Island. Its geographical seclusion has not hindered it from weaving a colorful tapestry of wonder, history, and yes, even controversy. Easter Island’s inhabitants have endured famines and epidemics that almost wiped out its entire population.
They aren’t strangers to colonialism, slave raids, and civil wars. Those events eventually defined the future of the people. And in this remarkable society that has developed in the bosom of isolation, enigmatic giant stone monoliths sprouted all over to seemingly elicit both awe and confusion for generations after.
The Controversial History of Easter Island
Easter Island’s History is Rich and Controversial. Its people have suffered through civil war, slave raids, famines, and almost total loss of its forests. Population there has had a steep decline more than once. In spite of that the islanders have left a cultural legacy that is famous. There are somewhat less than 8000 inhabitants on the island now. So we can expect there were a lot more people there long ago before the above mentioned declines.
The date of the first settlement of Easter Island is thought to be 300–400 AD. That’s about the same time as the first settlers arrived on Hawaii. However, newer recent results in radiocarbon dating show that Polynesia and Rapa Nui were settled between 700 to 1,100 AD.
The island was very likely settled by Polynesians. They navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Marquesas Islands, some 2,000 miles away. Or possibly from the Gambier Islands 1,600 miles away. Captain Cook visited the island. One of his crew members, a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui.
Apparently, according to missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a very clear class system. During intervening years a French navigator, found 2,000 people on the island when he arrived in 1786. A major slave raid from Peru followed in 1862. That was followed by epidemics of smallpox. It reduced the population to only 111 people by 1877.
In 1888, Chile annexed Easter Island. They leased much of the land for sheep raising. In 1965 the island’s residents became full Chilean citizens. The high chief was the eldest descendant through firstborn lines of the island’s founder, Hotu Matu’a. The remaining, most visible part of the culture was the making of very large statues.
These were called moai and represented deified ancestors. Most settlements were on the coast. Moai were erected all along the coastline watching over their descendants in the settlements before them. Their their backs were facing toward the spirit world in the sea.
Getting to Easter Island
The Rapa Nuis (locals) themselves run the entire tourism program of Easter Island. Far Horizons Archaeological and Cultural Tours organizes packages, including hotels and tours. Take the Lan Chile flight from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island.
Roundtrip airfare costs around 800 USD. The most celebrated cultural event in the island is the Tapati Festival held from late January to early February and it is worth planning your visit for that time.
It’s easy to drive a car around to see most places in the island. If you only have a day or two, renting a car with a knowledgeable local driver is always best. While taking a bicycle ride is fun, most roads to the main sites can be treacherous given the uneven roads.
Monumental Statues of Human Figures
The Moai, grand monolithic human figures, dot the coastline of Easter Island as if protecting its inhabitants in perpetuity. The Moai are immortalized faces of deified ancestors that gaze inland with their overly large heads sprouting from their pliant bodies.
The Rapa Nui people carved these human figures between the years 1250 and 1500. There are 887 extant statues, and they are part of UNESCO’s prestigious list of World Heritage Sites.
At over 45 feet tall, it must have been extremely challenging to carve and move the Moais at Rano Raraku.
Centuries of erosion have covered parts of the Moais, but there’s an undeniable terror that penetrates the senses as one listens to the howling winds that seem to block the giant’s basalt mouth from screaming its story.
The largest Moais can be found at Ahu Tongariki at the south coast section of the island. All 15 moais, toppled due to either war or natural events, now stand proudly after a massive restoration project in 1992.
Photos really can’t capture the magnitude of seeing the Moais at this site. The ocean provides a beautiful backdrop to the tons of carved stone lined up. On the other hand, the statues at Ahu Naunau are remarkable for their red scoria headdress.
The reason behind this remains a mystery. The Moai here are not the largest, but they were among the best preserved. This site is located at Anakena Beach and well worth a visit after enjoying sun and fun at the water.
There’s an explainable thrill that comes with exploring the fascinating extensive cave systems in the island. Most of them can be found near Ana Kakenga. This is the cave of your childhood imaginings.
It really takes your breath away. You descend into the earth through an opening (oops, watch your head!) and walk cautiously with the help of a flashlight/torch. Turn a corner and suddenly the cave interior is visible.
A kilometer south of the island, you can find the beautiful islets of Motu Nui and Motu Iti which host scuba diving and snorkeling activities. Take a dip at Ovahe, a beach surrounded by spectacular cliffs in the southern shore of the island near Ahu Vaihu.
A lot of tourists make sure to include Anakena, on the north side of the island, on their itinerary. The place is packed with surfers from all over. They can’t wait to get that impressive shore break with a bit of north swell.
Wonderful, picturesque South Pacific beach is one of the few, but most practical places on the island. There you can swim without rocks. You’ll find a beautiful white beach and a clear blue sea with palm trees and Moais behind you. Can anything get any better than this?
Discover the magic of one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Add Easter Island now to your bucket list!