26th April: Easter Island (Hanga Poukura, Vaihu and Akahanga)

Late in the afternoon of the 26th, after we had visited Vinapu, we continued along the south coast to Ahu Hanga PoukuraAhu Hanga Te’e O Vaihu and Ahu Akahanga going half of the way to Tongariki before we ran out of light.  Here are some images and brief comments in the captions.

As well as that, the following text of this post relates the experiences of the second group of Europeans to arrive on the island, Gonzales in 1770, and follows on from the First Contact discussion in the Hanga Taharoa post.

The back of Ahu Hanga Poukura (from the sea) showing one block much more eroded and therefore probably a different type of stone. The ahu is 100 metres long.

Google maps location for Ahu Hanga Poukura (Green arrow).

Second Contact: Gonzalez in 1770

Don Felipe Gonzales arrived at Easter Island in 1770 with up to 736 men and two ships.  Gonzales’ log seems only to contain navigational details but there are two  anonymous accounts, one probably by Don Francisco Antonio de Agüera y Infanzon (Chief Pilot) and another probably by Don Juan Hervé (Pilot).  Gonzalez, incidentally, was 68 when he came to the island, was still sailing ships across the Atlantic at the age of 80 and died aged 90, still in the Spanish Navy.

Sea coast north of Ahu Hanga Poukura

As the ships approached Easter Island, about 12 kilometres south of the Poike Peninsula, Don Francisco Antonio observed many moai, presumably through a telescope.  He talks of many moai inland as well as on the coast.  This might mean that those inland moai were along the whole of the south coast, perhaps along the moai roads, but I suspect it is more likely that he was looking at Ahu Tongariki and the coast to the west of that, so that the inland moai were the moai of Ranu Raraku.

Sea coast looking north from Ahu Hanga Poukura

Gonzalez’ expedition landed at Anakena.  As they rowed to the beach,  “more than 800” Rapanui observed them from the shore.

… There must have been more than 800 people, divided in batches, all wearing cloaks of a yellow colour or white.  There was not the least appearance of hostility, nor of the implements of war about them; I only saw many demonstrations of rejoicing and much yelling.

He also relates later of over 400 Rapanui visitors on board the frigate to the extent that they had to send some away to make way for more.

Remains of small ahu with eroded moai beside the sea at Ahu Hanga Te'e O Vaihu

On shore, Antonio measured 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 interior” that were somewhat smaller than those on the beach.  Moai were still objects of worship.

The sculptural forms are called moay by the islanders, who hold them in great veneration, and are displeased when we approach to examine them closely. (Antonio)

They were also shown a human paperbark figure about four metres high, called a kopekaThey further observed numerous pyramidical ahu, burial sites capped with a skull-like white stone.

Paina or ceremonial stone circle in front of Ahu Hanga Te'e O Vaihu

Intra-island warfare had clearly been taking place although, as with the earlier visit by the Dutch, the Rapanui were not hostile and produced no arms.

in some we observed sundry wounds on the body (due to obsidian spear points)

most of the natives on the island dwell in underground caves with narrow and inconvenient entrances, i.e. fortified against attack.

A closer view of Ahu Hanga Te'e O Vaihu with fallen moai and pukao (topknots). The ahu is 100 metres long by 12 metres deep.

The Spanish were on the island for five days and sexual encounters were certainly available.

… the women go to the length of offering with inviting demonstrations all the homage that an impassioned man can desire.

The log doesn’t say this was forbidden and it could be that such encounters occurred.  Since the Dutch were only on shore for a few hours in 1722, this may mark the first point of contact for the Rapanui with infectious European diseases, from the common cold to syphilis.

Eroded carved pukao, Ahu Hanga Te'e O Vaihu. (Some localised flare from raindrops on the lens)

Don Felipe Gonzales sent two launches to row and sail around the island and to map it.   Don Juan Hervé was in one of these launches and provides an account of that voyage.  Also, Don Francisco Antonio provides a short account of a launch voyage, probably of the other launch.

At one place Hervé encountered two small canoes, which he thought may be the only ones on the island.

We saw two little canoes that were coming out … with two men in each.  … These canoes are constructed of five extremely narrow boards (on account of there being no thick timber in the country) about a “quarta” in width (nine inches or 23cm) ; they are consequently so crank that they are provided with an outrigger to prevent them from capsizing; and I think these are the only ones in the whole of the island.

The description of where they saw the canoes (half a league before Cape San Antonio) sounds as though they came out of Ana Kai Tangata, which fits our previous description of the cave:

In the era when wood was scarce, the Rapanui also used the cave as something like a boatshed, a place to build vaka ama, which were small canoes of sewn planks.

At the right end of Ahu Hanga Te'e O Vaihu, this looks to me very much like a mooring for a boat, with what could be a groove worn by mooring rope in the rocks below to the red scoria hook. Of course, this could be a relatively recent use of a fragment of an old pukao.

Hervé’s launch stayed overnight at a small cove which by the description appears to be near Vinapu, where today a small road comes down to the sea below the oil refinery.   They report a cave with furrows “of various tints” where the Rapanui obtained their pigments.  The men had been warned not to harass the Rapanui and on a walk of about nine kilometres, saw abundant cultivations.

… we stood in towards a smooth patch of foreshore about a league away to the N.E. of Cape San Francisco. (i.e. 4.2 kilometres from Orongo).  Here we decided to bring up the night….

The officer, Don Cayetano de Langara, issued orders to our people that no one, under pain of a severe flogging, should accept any article from the islanders without giving something equivalent in return, or something of greater value than that which they received, since it was known there was a disposition to exchange articles; and such in fact was put in practice.

We walked about two leagues, (9 kilometres) and at that distance (throughout which many islanders accompanied us) we saw a plantain garden which stretched about a quarter of a league in extent, and was about half that distance in breadth. (equivalent to 1 x 0.5 kilometres).  There were other small plantain gardens and several plantations and fields of sugar-cane, sweet potatoes, taro, yams, white gourds, and plants like those whose leaves are employed at the Callao for making mats. (Hervé)

By contrast, Antonio’s account suggests less abundant cultivation.  This probably indicates the other launch visited other locations that may either have been less suited to agriculture or else were affected by warfare or hardship.

The fields are uncultivated save some small polts of ground, in which they sow beds of yuca, yams, sweet potatoes and several plantations of plantains and sugar cane…

Antonio also makes the unsurprising observation that wood was scarce.

… throughout the island not a single tree is to be found capable of furnishing a plank so much as six inches in width…

Sea coast near Ahu Hanga Te'e O Vaihu

Antonio also describes the dwelling of an ariki (chief) which is the hare paenga as described earlier (eg Tahai Complex) and also the dwelling of an Ivi Atua (priest) located close to the ahu.

Others (whom I believe to be their ministers) occupy dwellings close to the statues; these are built of earth below, but with an entrance way or porch of very roughly hewn and clumsily set up stones, after the fashion of a wall, with a certain number of steps for passing from one platform or surface of ground to another on different levels.

Remains of large hare paenga at Ahu Akahanga. There are the remains of a large village here.

On returning to the ship, Hervé compiled the following map from their measurements (click for larger size):

1770 Map of the Island, South at the Top (from Wikipedia)

On the last day, a party journeyed from Anakena to erect three wooden crosses on the three small cones on the Poike Peninsula, a distance of about 10 kilometres.  This journey is what the lower part of the map above represents, from right to left on that map (and roughly ESE in direction).  The map shows moai (presumably representing intact ahu) near Ahu Hekii, Ahu Rai’i and Ahu Mahatua (the last being an ahu in Hanga Taharoa).

At the same time, a diversionary party of 230 men also went ashore proceeding to the West side of the island.  This was so that huge crowds of onlookers would not impede erecting the crosses.

The Rapanui seem to have been suitably impressed by the religious rituals of the two Spanish priests who accompanied the crosses.  Antonio reports that the women cried out Maca Maca as the priests walked past, incanting.  I presume their call was actually Make Make (perhaps in the sense of “Praise be to God”) and this could be a marker of the gradual replacement of the traditional religion with the newer one of Make Make.

They seem to me to have ministers or priests for their idols; because I observed that on the day which we erected the crosses, when our chaplains went accompanying the holy images, clothed in their cassocks and “pelliz”, chanting the litanies, numbers of natives stepped forward on the paths and offered their cloaks, while the women presented hens and pullets and all cried “Maca Maca”, treating them with much veneration until they had passed beyond the rocks by which the track they were following was encumbered.

When the Spanish had planted the crosses, they conducted a ceremony whereby Spain claimed the island.  They obtained “signatures” of available Rapanui, presumably to demonstrate their acquiescence, though the Rapanui can have had no idea what they were affixing their marks to.

A large moai toppled on the ahu at Akahanga. It's still in one piece. Setting sun in the background. (Sorry but the image is out of focus, no point zooming in).

26th April: Easter Island (Vinapu)

At mid-afternoon on the 26th we went to Ahu Vinapu O Tahiri, which is famous for its fine stone work, as you can see here.  (You can also click the image above for a much larger view.)

Alternatively, here is a detail.

This is probably the head re-erected by Thomson in 1889.

Here is another part of the ahu wall, which is 80 metres long by 12 metres wide.  People often wonder “How did they cut those stones?”.  Carving the moai from volcanic tuff using granite tools is one thing but ahu facing walls were often granite.  Perhaps the simple answer is they didn’t carve them, for the final fit at least.

My guess is that they put one stone on top of another (easy to say), perhaps with a wooden frame around the top one, and hauled on ropes to move the top stone back and forth and slowly grind the edges to match.  That way, there’s also no requirement for right angles.

Vinapu was cited in the past (for example by Heyerdahl) as evidence of Inca influence but the current consensus of archaeologists is to discount that.  For one thing, the technique is different.  Whereas the Incas used solid stone blocks, these are facing blocks for rubble fill.  You can see this from the side view, here.

Also, the average weight of the blocks here is about 7 tonnes and the largest 10 or 12 tonnes; the largest blocks in the Inca Sacsayhuamán fortress weighted somewhere between 120 and 360 tonnes!

Stepping back a bit, here is a side view of the ahu with toppled moai.   (You can also see in the distance the carpark and also the refinery poking its ugly head up between the moai and the ahu.)

Curiously, there is a dwelling space at the front of the ahu,  created after the fall of the moai, using the fallen moai itself as part of the roof.

There are actually two ahus at Vinapu. We have been looking at Vinapu I which paradoxically is the later of the two.  The image above and the next one is from Vinapu II, which has been dated as far back as 900AD.

The reason the numbering of the ahus is the wrong way round is because Thor Heyerdahl thought that the one with the finer stonework was made by South Americans prior to the arrival of Polynesians on the island but this has been refuted by carbon dating of charcoal buried under or around the ahus.

The ring of stones around the moai head in the foreground is not ancient; it is just to keep people back.

In the distance we can see the fallen moai on Ahu Vinapu II and over to the right a pukao or topknot.

In the front is a most unusual moai.  It is made of the soft red scoria, like the pukao, and is now greatly eroded.  Fortunately there is a description from the early nineteenth century when its form was still visible.  It was a female moai, with a vulva visible near the ground and lacking the usual male loincloth.  It also had two heads and had a special use for funerary functions.

They would wrap one or more dead bodies in bark cloth and suspend them on poles that rested between the two moai heads until the flesh rotted away.  Then the bones were washed and deposited inside the ahu.

The Rapanui also used cremation, uniquely for Polynesia.  There are, for example, cremating platforms behind Ahu Akivi and Huri A Urenga. The burial practices associated with this moai may therefore have been a later practice, after the supply of wood ran out.

Google Maps location (green arrow).

22nd April: Easter Island (Hanga Taharoa)

Hanga Taharoa (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 along this coast, which could have been at Hanga Taharoa or else a bit further west, at or near Ahu Te Pito Kura.

Two birds on fence-posts in front of a hare moa (chicken house) or tupa (tomb). The birds are Chimango Caracara, introduced from South America. There are no native land birds remaining on Easter Island (unless you count the moa or chicken). We are at Hanga Taharoa, about 80 metres back from the shoreline.

First Contact:  Roggeveen in 1722

The first European visitor to Easter Island was the Dutch Roggeveen in 1722, who arrived with three ships and 223 men.  There are two accounts of the landing, one by Roggeveen and another by Behrens.

This was not without incident.  Many Rapanui swam out to the ships or came by canoe and one was shot “by some misadventure”.  The Dutch landed with 143 men and “10 to 12” Rapanui were shot dead and others wounded when “they tried to lay hold of our weapons”.

The remains of an ahu that would have been part of the Hanga Taharoa village, about 100 metres back from the shoreline.

The Rapanui, though, were neither armed nor hostile and after the Dutch had assured them they had no desire to use their weapons, they continued to a remarkably exuberant welcome given the earlier incidents:

They kept up an uncommon yelling: women as well as children brought palm branches, red and white streamers, and various kinds of fruits, indian figs, large nuts, sugar-cane, roots, fowls, – alive, boiled and roast.  They even flung themselves at our feet, displayed the streamers in front of us, and prostrated the streamers on the ground in front of us, presenting their palm branches as peace offerings.  They also made tender of the womankind, asking whether we would accompany them into the huts, or had rather take them off to the ships.  However, we did them no ill, … and they gave 50 or 60 ells of brightly coloured cloth (probably 50 or 60 metres), coral baubles and mirrors and received large quantities of live fowl, sweet potatoes and other foods in return. (Behrens)

Most or all of the moai appear to be standing at this point.  The accounts are brief but do not include any mention of toppled moai.  There might have been some toppled in other areas because they probably wouldn’t see toppled moai from the ship and they were only ashore for a couple of hours.

We could see great numbers of heathen idols erected on shore.

Sunlight through the clouds, looking probably a bit North of West from Hanga Taharoa

Whatever had happened since the wood ran out, the traditional religion appears fully functional and there are several accounts of worship at the ahu by the people as well as of the appearance and behaviour or the priests.

In the early morning we looked out and could see from some distance that they had prostrated themselves towards the morning sun and had kindled some hundreds of fires, which probably betokened a morning oblation to their gods. (Behrens)

What form the worship of these people comprises we were unable to gather any full knowledge of, owing to the shortness of our stay amongst them; we noticed only that they kindle fire in front of certain remarkably tall stone figures they set up; and, thereafter squatting on their heels with heads bowed down, they bring the palms of their hands together and alternately raise and lower them. (Roggeveen)

… they relied in case of need on their idols which stand all along the sea shore in great numbers, before which they fall down and invoke them.  … I took some of the people to be priests, because they paid more reverence to the gods than did the rest; and they showed themselves much more devout in their ministrations.  One could distinguish these from the other people quite well, not only by their wearing great white plugs in their ear lobes, but in having the head wholly shaven and hairless. … They wore a headdress of black and white feather that were just like stork’s feathers…. (Behrens)

I have read about pyramidical ahus and presume this is one. They are a later development and would also be a grave for one or more persons. At Hanga Taharoa.

The place where they had landed appeared to be quite a substantial village, and with an abundance of planted crops in the vicinity.

There was, in the place where we were standing, a village of about twenty houses. (Behrens).  Roogeveen, however, cites six or seven hare paenga or houses.

The houses were from forty to sixty feet long, six to eight feet in width and similar height. As regards their subsistence it appears that it must be procured by tillage of the soil, as we saw it everywhere planted and bearing crops.  moreover, the fields and lands were all measured off with a cord and very neatly cultivated.

The island is a suitable and convenient place for refreshment, as all the country is under cultivation and we saw in the distance large tracts of woodland. (Behrens)

Wall of Ahu at Hanga Toharoa with view looking West.

Google map location (green arrow).

The Rapanui commonly had long earlobes stretching down to the shoulders.  When active, they might hitch their earlobes over the upper ears to keep them out of the way, which looked strange to the Dutch.  They could be naked (males or females), or wear cloaks or wraps about the waist or chest (the latter for women).  They made their clothing from the white inner bark of the paper mulberry tree.

Due to deforestation, the things they required most appeared to be wood and textiles.  They do not appear to have lacked for food though variety of protein was no doubt another matter.  As far as the brief record of a fleeting visit can attest, their traditional society appeared to be largely intact.

… (more in a following post on Second and Third contact (Gonzalez and Cook).)…

26th April: Easter Island (Ahu Hanga Kio’e)

Ahu Hanga Kio'e

We arrived at Ahu Hanga Kio’e before dawn, with only a few horses for company.

Ahu Hanga Kio'e

This is reputedly the last ahu built, in the mid 1600s.  The moai is in reasonably good repair and appears to have eye sockets so presumably the ivi atua (priests) would have inserted eyes on special occasions.

Ahu Hanga Kio'e

There is also a second, smaller ahu here with a fragment of a moai.  I haven’t featured it here but the rounded bump on the far right skyline is that moai fragment.

Ahu Hanga Kio'e

Moai contemplating the dawn.

Ahu Hanga Kio’e means ahu on Kio’e Bay and kio’e is rat so it’s the ahu on rat bay.  To us that might sound like noxious rodent ahu but the Rapanui were particularly short of meat and rats were part of their diet so maybe it was more like the ahu on fast food bay.

just behind the ahu

Just after dawn, a couple of riders ushered about 50 horses past on the road.  Ahu Hanga Kio’e is on the northern edge of Hanga Roa.  I am taking this photograph from beside the ahu so you can see how close some of the houses are.  The volcanic cone in the background is Maunga TangaroaMaunga Puna Pau, where the Rapanui excavated the pukao or topknots is probably visible but off frame to the right.

We are not far here from where we found some petroglyphs at the side of the road, unheralded on flat pieces of lava.  Lots of horses wandering around obviously accelerate erosion of the petroglyphs.

25th April: Easter Island (Ahu Te Peu)

A lone moai head beside the ahu

Ahu Te Peu, about 8 kilometres north of Hanga Roa , was once the focus of a significant community.  The main ahu is 70 metres long by 3 metres wide.  It was unfortunately damaged by the Thor Heyerdahl expedition in 1960 when they undermined the intact ahu during excavation.


Ahu Te Peu from the sea side


Looking out to sea from Ahu Te Peu, as the sun sets


After sunset …


The fall of the moai and the ahu

You have probably heard of the colourful account of Easter Island history that there was a revolution, the long ears against the short ears, with a climactic battle at the Poike Peninsula where the long ears got trapped in a ditch and all burnt.  Just another myth, actually.  Even the division between long ears and short ears appears to arise from a linguistic misunderstanding.  The terms probably mean fat people and thin people and refer to a class distinction rather than an ethnic or cultural one.  In any case there were many long-eared people into the late nineteenth century when the missionaries suppressed the practice.

There is also a theory that settlement may have been as late as 1200AD, that there may have been no population collapse in classical times and that all chaos and carnage was engendered by European contact, mainly in the nineteenth century.  I do not find this view credible and will stick to what I regard as the well-grounded view.

Ahu Te Peu – stonework at the ahu


Classical Easter Island society reached its apex about 1500, when environmental constraints became increasingly felt as we saw in an earlier post.  Most of the trees were chopped down and there was no wood left for canoes so fishing was restricted.  All the sea and land birds on the island had been killed and eaten apart from a few on small offshore islands. Soil erosion undermined the productivity of the agricultural land.  Clearing of the forests must also have exacerbated water retention and water supply because Easter Island has porous volcanic rock.  Burgeoning population threatened to overwhelm productive capacity and there was nowhere to migrate to and no capacity to do so.

In classical Rapanui society, the ariki mau (or paramount chief) had a direct line to the Gods, was in fact directly descended from them.  So to a lesser extent were the ariki of the clans and the ivi atua or priests.  They and their ancestors guaranteed the prosperity of the society, which in turn justified the huge effort of building ahu and moai dedicated to them.  The society had clearly been one without major conflicts because their monumental structures were places of worship rather than military fortifications.  This contrasts, for example, with New Zealand Maori who lived in fortified hill pas.  Erosion to the economic basis of Easter Island society not only undermined the credibility of the ariki, it set in motion fundamental social changes and civil war.

Ahu Te Peu – some of the stonework is particularly fine.


Rather than a sudden collapse, it was a slow process during the huri moai or decadent period, from 1500 to 1722, and maybe beyond.  While the pace of construction slowed after 1500, construction continued on ahus and moai possibly as late as 1680.  Inclusion of older and often broken moai into foundations of later ahu shows that the periods of construction and destruction overlapped.  At the same time, increasing shortage of resources led to destructive competition between tribal groups.  The warrior class matato’a, also known as tangata rima toto (the men with bloody hands) came to prominence and the mana (power, prestige) of the ariki declined. Archaeological sites from this period have a high incidence of very sharp obsidian spearheads (mata’a) that were lashed to wooden shafts.  Middens from this period also show a very high incidence of charred and fractured human bones, many from juveniles, which may indicate cannibalism.

Tribal conflicts and blood feuds overturned the moai of rival clans and despoiled their ahus.  Overturning moai also sought to eradicate the mana of the ariki ancestors, since these represented a now oppressive system that had failed to deliver prosperity.   Most moai were overturned onto a pile of stones designed to break them in half.  Moai overturned on their backs could have their eyes or eye sockets hacked out.  Actually, in most cases, the moai would not have had eyes at this stage for it is generally thought that there were few sets of eyes and they were inserted for special ceremonial occasions only.  Either way,  the clear intent was to destroy the mana of the moai.

Moai head at Ahu Te Peu, 15 minutes after sunset


When the first Europeans arrived in 1722, most or all of the moai were still 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 admittedly this was a  fleeting visit to a single location.  By this time perhaps half the population had died but they appeared to have stabilised with a new dominant religion and presumably a greatly modified social structure.  The classical society was overturned yet the ravages to the population and culture had barely begun.  Towards the end of the nineteenth century, due to the impact of external contacts, the population was around one percent only of what it had been at the peak of the classical era and much of the cultural memory was erased.

Ahu Te Peu

25th April: Easter Island (Ana Kai Tangata)

In the mid afternoon of the 25th, I visited Ana Kai Tangata, a cave just on the outskirts of the sole town Hanga Roa.

This is also known as the cannibal cave.  However, the name of the cave is ambiguous and it could mean the cave where men eat as well as the cave where men are eaten.  It has even been suggested it means the cave that eats men because they disappear into its black mouth.

There are many locations in Polynesia where cannibalism occurred to at least some extent; it is possible that cannibalism occurred on Easter Island and in this cave.  There are also some references to cannibalism in some Easter Island legends.  However, there is no archaeological evidence that cannibalism occurred on the island, so the true state of affairs is unknown.

Hanga Piko

Here is the little bay that the cave looks out onto.

Ana Kai Tangata paintings

Ana Kai Tangata paintings

Here we have the main reason to visit the cave, the paintings of manutara or sooty tern, the bird closely associated with the birdman cult that centred in nearby Orongo.  The Rapanui may have created the red, white and black pigments by mixing volcanic dust and powdered coral with shark oil.

You can see the layers of the flakes of rock in the cave.  Unfortunately, they are unstable, salt spray aggrevates erosion, and chunks fall off from time to time.  There used to be more paintings and over time there will be fewer and fewer.

Hanga Piko from the cave

Here is a view looking out through the entrance of the cave.

In the era when wood was scarce, the Rapanui also used the cave as something like a boatshed, a place to build vaka ama, which were small canoes of sewn planks.

Google map location.

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.