I’m pretty sure you know why the statues on Easter Island all fell down. In fact, I’m 100% sure of it. So, rather than tell you how much I know about this… I now instead will be revealing just how little I know regarding the toppling of the Moai statues.
So. This seems as good a place as any to mention that while we call it Easter Island, its official name is in Spanish, Isla de Pascua. Because it’s governed by Chile. And its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui. And the people of the island are Rapa Nui. Though I’m not sure any of the island’s inhabitants are 100% Rapa Nui anymore, as many have intermarried with mainland Chileans over the years.
The time of the Moai being built, transported, and then demolished, is not very well documented. Or perhaps it was documented… I mean, they did have a written language, but no one can read it. It looks something like this, if you can see it here:
We do know there was some kind of internal struggle on the island in the mid 1800’s, and this likely occurred after Europeans had visited the island. Original reports mention seeing the Moai standing. But reports from 50 years later report the majority of the statues having been toppled. Also, somewhere during that time, the red hats began to appear on the statues. These make the statues taller, which was a desirable trait for a statue… because the taller it was, the further away you could see it, and the further away you could see it from, meant all that land belonged to the clan that descended from the ancestor the statue was modelled after or paid tribute to.
The red hats are called Pukao, or topknots. It’s thought that maybe the islanders got the idea for these from the visiting Europeans’ hats.
So yeah, after learning that the world’s bigger than just their small island, trouble began and/or accelerated between the clans. Perhaps this trouble was also because of dwindling resources. They’d probably been using trees to transport the statues, and less trees meant less of a lot of things. Less resources means more competition for resources, hence conflict. Toppling their enemies’ statues was a way to say “screw you” to said enemies.
I haven’t done a tonne of reading on this, and there are conflicting theories out there, and I probably got a little messed up by watching the 1994 epic movie Rapa Nui, which was “co-produced” by Kevin Costner. If you’re looking to gain any kind of solid knowledge of the island’s history… don’t watch that movie. I’m pretty sure it really scrambled whatever I may have learned by actually visiting the island.
So! After visiting the legendary quarry of Easter Island, we proceeded to follow the coastal road, visiting many more platforms… all of which featured fallen statues.
I think we were beginning to get overwhelmed by the vast amount of toppled statues. And I was getting worried about finding our way back to town. A feeling of desolation, or maybe isolation began to creep upon me. I felt like we had to keep moving before the sun set entirely. I felt weirdly far away from town… even though according to the map we were circling back around and were nearly there.
There was still one more stop we needed to make: the topknot quarry.