The moais of Easter Island, endangered statues?

In October 2022, a terrible fire struck the (tuff) quarry of the Rano Raraku volcano, in the heart of Easter Island, where the ancient Rapa Nui manufactured the majestic moais. This tragedy highlighted the progressive degradation suffered by these thousand-year-old statues.

A year and a half after the flames devoured more than 350 archaeological pieces, including 22 moais which were “severely damaged”, The Mau Henua indigenous community, administrator of the Rapa Nui National Park, has embarked on a project to preserve and clean just ten pieces, so five are ancestral stone figures of this indigenous people. Pedro Edmunds, the mayor of the island warns: “If a national preservation plan is not put in place today, the moais will degrade and be reduced to dust within a hundred years.”

The moais of Rano Raraku most affected by the fires are not visible from the path reserved for tourists. This is a heritage area unique to this island, where 416 stone statues are erected. Fire engines cannot access this area where the flames have ravaged around a hundred hectares of grassland – hence the extreme difficulty in controlling the fire.

“We are going to lose an important part of our history”

Some consider Easter Island to be a 160 km moais cemetery2, but the Pascuans do not see things that way. Carlos Edmunds, president of the island’s council of elders (and brother of the mayor), explains that the ancestors placed bones of the dead under the moais so that the deceased would continue to live in spirit. “The burning of the moais saddens me and makes me angry, affirms the leader of the indigenous ancestral institution. It’s as if my grandfather, the ancestors who commanded each tribe, had been set aflame.” :

Moai means ‘living face of people

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