An astonishing curiosity not found anywhere else in the world
The statues of Easter Island are large human figures carved out of the volcanic rock of Easter Island, an island off the coast of Chile that has the distinction of being the most remote island on earth. This originality, which makes this piece of Chilean territory particularly isolated, was inhabited by an island people who came by sea at the beginning of the 12th century. These statues are called “Moaïs”.
1- The statues
The first inhabitants of Easter Island arrived at the beginning of the 13th century, perhaps at the end of the 12th. They came from the Polynesian islands and brought with them the cult of ancestors, a cult that venerated previous generations. This is the origin of the Moaïs, the statues. So they began to carve representations of these ancestors in volcanic rock. The first statues were on a human scale, i.e. between 1m50 and 2m high, but soon there was a race to gigantism and in the great period of construction which lasted until the 15th century, the Moaïs measured 7 to 8m high. They consist of a body and a head sometimes topped by a strange hat made of red rock. The eyes were painted for more realism.
The statues are divided into groups most of the time, but sometimes they are isolated. They are implanted along the coasts and are oriented inland.
2- The Inhabitants
If we look at the history of mankind, the settlement of Easter Island came very late. It was towards the end of the 12th century, or the beginning of the 13th, that it was settled by Polynesian navigators who discovered the island. They were the ones who built the statues of the island. At the beginning of the 15th century the cult changed abruptly, without the reason being known. In any case, the cult of the ancestors, the origin of the statues, was abandoned. The statues in the process of being cut remained in place, in the quarries. This was the beginning of a new era involving a new social order.
The 3rd historical period of the island starts in 1687 and goes until 1877, it is the period of the colonization of the island by the Europeans. It leads to the eradication of the primitive settlement, recovered as slaves and sold to South America for the most part. Nowadays, the island’s settlement is hardly a Polynesian settlement anymore, it is mainly the result of immigration.
3- Easter Island
Another characteristic of this island is the absence of watercourses. As it is relatively small (about 30 km long and 20 km wide), the water that flows through it does not manage to form river beds. However, without water, there is no life possible. Fortunately the populations who arrived there, around the 12th century, were able to feed themselves with water thanks to… the lakes that formed inside the craters of the volcanoes!
4- Visit Easter Island
Easter Island can be visited, of course, but it’s not that easy to get there. The main reason is, of course, the remoteness of the island, but it is not the only reason. In fact, the government of Chile, to which this piece of territory belongs, has put in place strict rules regarding the reception of tourists, and this in order not to destroy the fragile resources on the spot. The main city, not to say the only one, has only a little more than 3000 inhabitants and the tourist infrastructures are voluntarily limited to 200 visitors per day, no more. This is the quota imposed on the spot, which is easy to implement since visitors arrive almost exclusively by air. As the number of flights is limited, the authorities have no difficulty in controlling the flow of visitors.
Of course, if you are planning to go to the island, make sure beforehand that you have planned your entire trip, accommodation, visits, etc., that you are prepared for the whole trip. Once there, you should not discover that what you want to see is impossible for one reason or another. The good news is that it is relatively easy to go and admire the Moaïs groups, especially those that have been equipped for tourists. Others further away are more difficult to reach, but all in all it’s still quite easy to find them, if you stray a little off the beaten track. Be careful though, there are very few roads on the island, and it is still about thirty kilometers long.
5- Tourism on Easter Island
Do you really want to be Maois ? Good luck !
And yes, if you really want to see one, you’d better go to a museum, because going there is not easy…
But if you want to go there, then you will have to fly from Santiago de Chile (one flight a day) or Tahiti (one flight a week). You will land at Mataveri International Airport. The island is very sparsely populated, but as tourism has been developing slowly since 1967, it still has good tourist infrastructure, including hotels. It is of course advisable to have booked your accommodation before going there. A tour operator is a pretty good idea, given the complexity of the trip and the administrative constraints you may encounter.
You should also know that you won’t be alone: the island receives about 80,000 visitors a year, or more than 200 a day.
6- Things to do on Easter Island
Of course, the main activity is to discover the Moaïs. Several are easily visible, following the only tarmac road on the island, then taking the tracks. Some are more isolated in nature and are not meant to be seen by tourists, as there can be dangers (falls, various injuries). The Rano-Raraku quarry, which is the main carving quarry of the Moaïs, is an interesting place to visit as many statues in the process of being carved, abandoned at various stages of completion, are found there. Some are even completely finished but have never been transported to their sites.
Among the other activities that the island has to offer is the inevitable local museum, the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum, to be discovered. It houses a female Moaïs with a rounded belly and many vestiges of the original Polynesian civilization.
Diving sites are also very popular since the water is reputed to be particularly clear.
There also remains the discovery of the local way of life, which will be easy for those who have easy contact, and walks in the hilly landscapes. Not to be missed either, the walks around the three volcanoes, they are not so high and they not only allow to see these geographical curiosities up close, but also to admire the island from a high point. As it is not very big, you can see the whole island.
7- The Moaïs in the museum
Of the nearly 400 Moaïs that were made on Easter Island, about ten were exported. Three of them are in France. There are two in the Louvre museum, one in the Quai Branly museum. In London you will have to go to the British museum. New York has one, it’s at the Natural History Museum. Brussels and Washington are also cities where you can see Moaïs.
Otherwise there are some in Chile of course: in Santiago, Viña del Mar and La Serena.