Hoa Hakananai'a Easter Island statue

Contributed by British Museum

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This statue known as a moai comes from the Island of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. Rapa Nui in the Pacific Ocean is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Polynesians first settled on it before AD 800. Around 1000 moai were carved, probably to commemorate important former chiefs who were revered as divine. By 1600 the islanders ceased to make moai and they began to topple and even bury some of them.

Why did the Rapanui stop making moai?

Rapa Nui was deforested during the centuries people lived there and much of its birdlife became extinct. A birdman cult emerged that replaced the worship of moai. Birdman motifs can be seen on the back of this statue. The central ritual of this religion saw chiefs compete to capture the first sooty tern egg of the season. The triumphant chief would then become the birdman. Representing the creator god, he would live for one year in isolation, shaving his hair and growing his nails like talons.

Hoa Hakananai'a means 'stolen or hidden friend'

An ambassador for all time

Long ago, as a child of eight, I started to help my father by carrying surveying equipment to map certain places on the north and western side of the island. This was my first experience of the archaeological heritage of Easter Island.

My work in recent years has mainly been systematically locating, drawing and measuring all of the Easter Island statues, in the context of the island, and in museum collections. I have made a total of more than 4,000 drawings for the Easter Island Statue Project, directed and created by Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg in the 1980s.

Being in touch with the statues for so many years in so many places and seeing them from many sights, perspectives and views - some standing and some knocked down from their ancestral pedestals, decapitated and abandoned - I am still in search of my own past, a walk that will never have an end, because every single statue in context or out there in the world is unique, there aren’t two of them alike. They are all individuals with different features that match the feelings of different eras in order to meet the needs of a group of people. People who wanted their effort to be represented in things, to respect and recall the old, their ancestors – from the men who brought the biggest fish from the deepest blue, to the men who brought the sweetest potatoes from the highest hills, which underlined the importance of living in balance with nature.

Our ‘hidden friend’, the moai Hoa Hakananai'a is all that, and accomplishes the idea of showing changes – the old, the present, and the future. He could easily belong to any era. He was re-carved with new symbols on his back to match the requirement of a specific new situation – the coming of new ideas and beliefs with changes of politics and religion. Maybe that was his real message – to last.

I would be not be afraid to say that Hoa Hakananai'a is the perfect representation of those changes, and the ability of humans to adapt in order to survive.

The best ambassador for Easter Island - the one who is really going to last and to transcend all time.

Cristian Arevalo Pakarati, Easter Island

Comments are closed for this object


  • 1. At 15:49 on 15 August 2010, Nahaam wrote:

    This is amazing! I wonder how difficult it is to get to Rapa Nui? Does the British Museum actually have one of these statues in their possession?

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  • 2. At 09:26 on 24 August 2010, David Prudames wrote:

    - Nahaam
    Yes the British Museum does have a statue from Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in its collection - the one you can see above in fact. Known as Hoa Hakananai'a it is on display in Room 24: Living and Dying. If you want to know more about it you can follow this link: http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/aoa/h/hoa_hakananaia.aspx
    David Prudames, British Museum

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  • 3. At 13:56 on 27 August 2010, Karl wrote:

    Umm... I can't download this episode. Can anyone please fix it?

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  • 4. At 13:04 on 4 September 2010, dalispot wrote:

    Me and my two daughters went to Easter Island in July this year to see the solar eclipse and learn about its history. We felt very luck to have been there, and made our mission to revisit the British Museum last week to see the Moai from Orongo. My first thoughts were that we shouldnt have it here, till after listening to the programme last I learnt that it was a gift from Easter Islanders to the British. In reflection, I think the moai gives people a glimpse of what is on Rapa Nui, as it isnt an easy place to get to (20+ hours flying time) and time allows us to forgive and marvel in this islands colourful history

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Easter Island (Rapa Nui)


AD 1000


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