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Carved in History

02107 YF easter island tongariki moai
Eastern Island statues, by Richard Molitor

Capturing Easter Island’s symbol of Polynesian culture

AAA member Richard Molitor took this photo in September 2019, while on an all-day tour of Easter Island located more than 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile.

Centuries after they were carved, these human statues known as “moai” make for an awe-inspiring sight, commanding a rugged plain in one of the remotest places on Earth.

“I am a huge fan of all Polynesian culture, and Easter Island is the most remote Polynesian culture there is,” Bothell resident Molitor says. “It is one of the last places settled in the Great Pacific migrations. So, this sort of completed for me the Polynesian triangle, which is New Zealand, Easter Island and Hawaii. … It was kind of like finishing the puzzle.”

Easter Island, a 14-mile-long, 7-mile-wide patch of land, is famous for its roughly 900 moai (pronounced “mo-eye”), which were carved over several centuries and most likely depicted important ancestors of the Rapa Nui people.

Molitor estimates that the pictured statues range from about 15 to 25 feet tall, but a roughly 50-foot-tall behemoth remains cut into the rock in one of the two quarries near this site. By the mid-18th century most of the moai of Easter Island had been toppled over. These statues have been placed upright again on a stone platform called an “ahu.”

“The actual installation is almost on a delta,” Molitor says. “You see it when you are up in the quarry, where all of these were carved out from two stone quarries. If you look down into the valley, the moai are placed very close to the shoreline and they are facing inland toward the island, as is the custom. So, it is on sort of a flat, lowland plain in between a couple of rock quarries.”

Molitor feels fortunate to have visited the island. The Chilean government has taken steps to limit the number of tourists and permanent residents on Easter Island to curb environmental degradation.

“It will be more difficult to visit this amazing destination,” he says. “So, that makes this memory very special.”

– Written by John Woodworth

– This story originally appeared in the July/August 2021 edition of the AAA Washington member magazine, Journey.

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