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Hoa Hakananai’a, a Moai from Easter Island

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

Hoa Hakananai’a – Moai from Easter Island

Hoa Hakananai’a although relatively small, is typical of the famous Easter Island sculptures. The Rapa Nui people, call the Easter Island statues “Moai”. This Moai 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 many of the 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.

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

The back of the statue is covered with relief carvings.

Rapa Nui

The Rapa Nui are believed to have settled on Easter Island between 300 and 1200 CE and are 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. In 1979, a team of archaeologists discovered that the deep elliptical eye sockets were designed to hold coral eyes with either black obsidian or red scoria pupils. The discovery was made by collecting and reassembling broken fragments of white coral that were found at the various sites.

Interesting Easter Island Facts

  • Easter Island, also called Rapa Nui, is a Polynesian island in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Easter Island is one of the most remote communities in the world.
  • Its closest neighbour is the Pitcairn Islands, 2,000km (1,200mi) to the west.
  • The nearest continental land lies in Chile at a distance of 3,700km (2,300mi) to the east.
  • Easter Island is famous for having 887 massive statues, called Moai.
  • These statues known as Moai were carved by the Rapa Nui people between 1250 CE and 1500 CE.
  • The transportation of the island’s statues, “Moai” is remarkable and a mystery.
  • The Moai were moved 18km (11mi) across the island without the use of wheels, cranes or large animals.
  • Paro is the name of the tallest Moai erected at almost 10m (33ft) in height and 82 tonnes in weight.
  • The statue heads have bodies were attached to the heads, but they are generally buried and not visible.
  • The Moai have distinguished facial characteristics, such as the broad and elongated nose, rectangular ears, firm chin and deep eye slits.
  • The majority of the Moai were carved out from compressed volcanic ash known as tuff.
  • The average height of the Moai is 13.1 feet with an average weight of 12.5 tons each.
  • Only one-quarter of the statues were ever installed. Half have remained at the quarry site, and others are sitting along the way to their intended locations.
  • All the statues always faced inland, with one exception.
  • The first European visitor was Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. He called the place “Easter Island” because he arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722.
  • None of the Moai statues was standing when scientists first arrived, those upright today have been re-erected.
  • The island became a special territory of Chile in 1888.
  • Today, Easter Island had around six thousand residents.
  • Over 60% of the Easter Island population are descendants of the native Rapa Nui people.
  • The shortest journey to reach Easter Island is from Santiago, Chile with a five-hour flight.


  • What is the strangest fact about Eater Island and the Moai statues?
  • Why do these statues seem so familiar?
  • Recently archaeologists discovered that the deep eye sockets were designed to hold coral eyes. How much more is there to learn about these monoliths?

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Hoa Hakananai’a – Moai from Easter Island

  • Artefact:       Hoa Hakananai’a – Moai from Easter Island
  • Date:            1000 -1200 (approx)
  • Culture:        Rapa Nui
  • Made in:       Rano Kao, Easter Island, Rapa Nui
  • Materials:      Basalt
  • Dimensions:  H: 2.42 m; W: 96 cm; D: 47 cm
  • Museum:      The British Museum

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Information on The British Museum


“Easter Island isolated in the Pacific Ocean
— once the island got into trouble,
there was no way they could get free.”

-Jared Diamond


Photo Credit: 1) JOM