25th April: Easter Island (Ahu Te Pito Kura)

We arrived at Ahu Te Pita Kura in the morning of the 25th, after visiting Ovahe at dawn and then Papa Vaka. The moai here was the largest ever moved to an ahu at nearly 10 metres tall and weighing approximately 82 tonnes.  As well as that, its pukao (topknot) weighed a further 12 tonnes.


… and this is Moai Paro at Ahu Te Pito Kura and its pukao.

I did read (though I’m not sure where) that the moai was commissioned by the widow of an ariki (chief) to commemorate his memory.  Moai became larger as moai construction became increasingly competitive so this moai would date from near the peak of the classical period.  In this period the competition became focused between Western and Eastern confederations of the clans.  Ahu Te Pita Kura was with the western group, even though Ahu Tongariki was not far away and the main focus of the eastern group.

You can also click on this link for a digital reconstruction to see what Moia Paro would have looked like.


This is the back wall of the ahu, from the seaward side, featuring massive closely fitting blocks.  In its prime, the ahu was over 75 metres long by 30 wide.


Here is a view from just south of Ahu Te Pita Kura looking north.  Clicking on the image takes you to a much larger view in another tab.  (Then click the bottom right icon for full screen and use mouse button, mouse wheel or the other icons to zoom in and out).

I presume the rectangular structure in the middle is a tupa (tomb) or hare moa (chicken house).  (See the Tahai Complex post for more detail on that).  Moai Paro, its pukeo and the ahu are on the far left.  There are many structures visible.  There is a large manavai (walled garden) in the middle distance and several pipi horeko (boundary markers – the small stone towers).


I wandered on to check out a structure on the skyline of the previous image.  It had an entrance to a small chamber.  Perhaps a tomb or a chicken house or a resting place under an observation platform; I’m not sure which and it could have changed over time.


This is the same structure from the other side, facing away from the sea.


Walking back to the ahu, I encountered Te Pito te Kura, after which the ahu is named.  This is the large stone, 1 metre in diameter, which according to legend was brought to the island by Hotu Matu’a from the original homeland.  It is however, Easter Island stone.    The four additional stones were not present in classical times.


The climax of the classical period

Ahu Tongariki, along probably with the Tahai Complex at the other end of the island, represents the peak of the classical period.  Presumably so does Ahu Te Pito Kura.  What then can we say about the society of the time?

There were around eight clans, based on an original ten mata or descent groups.  You can see Routledge’s 1914 map of the clans here, though later versions may differ and no doubt it changed over time.

Initially, Rapanui clan groups constructed an ahu in each major bay as the central ahu for their clan. This may have helped to control the scarce marine resources while the houses and cultivations of the ordinary people stretched out into the interior.  Over time, sub-groups built other ahus at adjacent locations on the coast and later, towards the climax of the classical period, there was a concentration into two main groups.

The moai were massive monuments to dead ariki so clearly it was a hierarchical society in which the ariki as well as the ancestors were highly important.  Ariki women could also be influential even though this was primarily a patriarchal society. There was also a paramount chief or ariki mau, based at Anakena, the original landing point.   The ariki mau was the person most closely descended from the founder leader Hotu Matu’a and was the spiritual leader for the island.  Even so, most ceremonies were performed by ivi atua (priests, literally “bones of the gods”) who were drawn from the nobility.

The matato’a or war leaders, who could be of noble or common ancestry, were influential as well as the ariki.  The common people were called hurumanu and there was a lower class kio of landless individuals and refugees.  Moai were carved by maori (experts, not to be confused with the Maori people of Aoteoroa) under the direction of a tangata honui maori (head carver).  Leading ariki commissioned carving of the moai and paid the carvers with costly foods including lobster, eel and tuna.

Estimates of population vary but the population probably built up to around 10,000. For eight tribes that corresponds to 1,250 per tribe. Assuming 60% of the population were children and the old, that leaves about 20% for fit young men, or 250 per clan, less in earlier periods.

Clearly this was a society with a substantial agricultural surplus. Food included chickens (called moa, which they brought with them), fish (diminishing as supplies of wood for canoes diminished), birds (diminishing as they were killed off) and numerous cultivated fruits and vegetables (kumara or sweet potato, yam, taro, sugar cane, yams, figs, bananas and ti or Tahitian cabbage tree). Early European visitors describe the cultivation as orderly and well laid out and as much as 85% of the land area was under cultivation.

Concerted communal activities by the clans first focused on agriculture, including preparing and organising land. Building ahus and moai could only be possible where there was a substantial agricultural surplus that did not require the labour of all the workforce at many times of the year.

Forty people can pull an average moai across level ground but they require another 300 to 400 in support, producing food, rope and other required materials. (Van Tilberg).  The average  moai  weighed 12.5 tonnes whereas  Moai Paro at Ahu Te Pito Kura weighed 82 tonnes.  This may have required 90 men to carve the moai and its pukao, probably taking about a year, 90 men to move it on prepared moai roads (or 1,500 to drag it, or 600 using rollers) taking around two months, then another three months to erect it. (McLaughlin/ Mulloy).  This presumably does not include construction of the ahu.

8 comments on “25th April: Easter Island (Ahu Te Pito Kura)

  1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

    I loved your photographs- hope to visit the island someday


  2. […] the first Europeans arrived in 1722 there were still some moai standing and the last one (Moai Paro at Ahu Te Pito Kura) was overturned sometime between 1838 and 1864. The Rapanui appeared well fed and peaceful, though […]


  3. […] (or Taharoa Bay, if you like) is on the north coast of Easter island, about four kilometres east of Ahu Te Pito Kura and about four kilometres over the peninsula from Tongariki.  In 1722 Roggeveen landed somewhere […]


  4. […] one of the moai and commented that there were larger ones on the east coast (such as the one at Ahu Te Pita Kura).  They also found other moai “widely distributed about the countryside in the […]


  5. […] metres high) but unfortunately it fell over during the erection – so that honour stayed with Moai Paro at Ahu Te Pito Kura. This is not the main ahu but a small ahu off to the left on the point at Ahu Runga […]


  6. […] The Climax of the Classical Period […]


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