The Rapa Nui National Park in Easter Island located in Chile contains silent stone figures that stand as a monument to the seafaring skills and culture of the ancient Polynesian people.
These mysterious moai statues stand in silence but speak volumes of the achievement of their ancient creators. The stone blocks, carved into head and torso figures, are about 13 feet tall and weigh roughly 14 tons. Just the mere effort to build these monuments and move them around the island must have taken considerable effort, considering no one knew exactly why the Rapa Nui people undertook such a mammoth task.
Scholars have speculated that the moai were built to honor ancestors, chiefs and other important persons. However as there is no written and very little oral history on the island, it is impossible to be certain of this.
It is believed that a Polynesian society developed in this unlikely locale after some hardy souls navigated a fleet of wooden crafts to this tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. The Rapa Nui developed a unique architectural and artistic culture. That culture reached its height during the 10th to 16th century, when the Rapa Nui carved and built some 900 moai across the island.
It is the general belief that the Rapa Nui’s extinction resulted from an environmental catastrophe of their own making. Although it is not clear when the island was first settled, estimates have indicated that it may have been from A.D. 800 to 1200. It is still not clear how the island’s ecosystem was destroyed, however a major factor may have been the cutting of millions of giant palms to clear fields or make fires.
By the time the Europeans arrived in 1722, they found the island mostly barren with very few inhabitants. Tourists today visit the Rano Raraku quarry, which yielded the stones for most of the island’s moai. The Rapa Nui’s inhabitants left the quarry in a very fascinating condition and it is home to some 400 statues, which appear in all stages of completion.
How To Get There
It is by sheer miracle that the Polynesian people ever reached Rapa Nui. Today it is much easier, although the island is a bit far away. Long flights service Rapa Nui from Santiago, Chile and Tahiti.
When to Visit
The weather on the island is generally pleasant year round. High season is the Southern hemisphere’s summer from January to March. Winter can be a bit chilly with lows averaging 14°C.
Photo: Christian Wilkinson, My Shot