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Hoa Hakananai’a, a Moai from Easter Island

Hoa Hakananai'a - Moai from Easter Island - Joy of Museums 3

Hoa Hakananai’a – Moai from Easter Island

Hoa Hakananai’a although relatively small, is typical of the famous Easter Island sculptures. Easter Island statues are called by the Rapa Nui people, Moai. This example is distinguished by carvings added at a later date to the back, associated with the island birdman cult. The statue was identified as Hoa Hakananai’a by islanders at the time it was removed from the island in 1868. Hoa Hakananai’a is made from a block of dark grey-brown flow lava, commonly described as basalt.

Typical of Easter Island moai, Hoa Hakananai’a features:

  • a heavy brow
  • blocky face with a prominent nose and jutting chin
  • prominent nipples
  • thin, lightly angled arms down the sides and hands reaching towards the stomach
  • a raised Y-shape in the centre of the chin
  • eyes hollowed out
  • long, rectangular stylised ears
  • a line around the base of the neck and a semi-circular hollow

The back of the statue is covered with relief carvings. Either side and above the ring are two facing birdmen, stylised human figures with beaked heads said to represent frigate birds. Above these, in the centre of the statue’s head, is a smaller bird and on either side are ceremonial dance paddle, a symbol of male power and prestige. The birdmen are interpreted as a fertility god and chief god of the birdman cult. The cult involved an annual competition to retrieve the first egg laid by migrating sooty terns. The last ceremony is thought to have been held in 1866 or 1867.

The Rapa Nui are believed to have settled Easter Island between 300 and 1200 CE and have been found to be of Polynesian origin. The best-known aspect of the Rapa Nui culture is the moai, the 887 human figures carved between 1250 and 1500 CE and transported throughout the island. The moai were believed to be the living faces of ancestors, although they had all been toppled by 1868.

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Photo Credit: 1) JOM