A truck has crashed into and destroyed one of the famous moai statues of Easter Island.
Police have arrested a Chilean man who lives on the legendary Easter Island and he has been charged with damaging a national monument and a BBC report says the mayor of Easter Island has called for “motor restrictions” after the truck collided with, and smashed, one of the famous sacred stone statues.
An Island Under Constant Pressure
Located at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania, Easter Island is a Chilean volcanic island and one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. It was previously called by its native name: Rapa Nui , by Polynesian sailors who arrived sometime around 1200 AD and created a thriving and industrious sea-locked culture of which the numerous enormous stone moai and many other artifacts remain.
Land clearing for cultivation and the arrival of the Polynesian rat led to gradual deforestation and by the time of the European landing of AD 1722 the island’s population was estimated to be 2,000–3,000. However, Peruvian slave raiding expeditions in the 1860s, new European diseases and emigration to other islands depleted the population to only 111 native inhabitants in 1877.
The truck entered the protected area and plowed into an ahu, which included a moai statue. (Image: Comunidad Indígena Ma’u Henua)
Incalculable Damage To Ancient Artifact
Nearly 900 monumental statues called moai were carved and raised during the 13th-16th centuries, the largest of which weigh 74 tons and stand 10 meters (33ft) tall, and these human figures with oversize heads rest on massive stone pedestals called ahus. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island now protected within Rapa Nui National Park and the indigenous Rapa Nui people believe the statues embody the spirits of ancestors.
Today, the island is one big open air archaeological park which attracts about 12,000 tourists a month, but Mayor Pedro Pablo Petero Edmunds Paoa, told local media that this latest incident had caused “incalculable damage” and that even the platform on which the statue has been mounted had been destroyed.
Both the statue and the platform have been destroyed. (Image: Comunidad Indígena Ma’u Henua)
Natives Are Very Sad And Outraged
“Everyone decided against establishing traffic rules for vehicles at the sacred sites,” said Mr Edmunds Poa, who told the El Mercurio newspaper that the council “knew very well what the rise in tourist and resident numbers could mean” and they “didn’t listen to us” so this is the result, he said. Furthermore, Camilo Rapu, president of the Chilean island’s Rapa Nui community told CNN “The Moai are sacred structures of religious value for the Rapa Nui people” and this damage of the Moai is “an offense to a culture that has lived many years struggling to recover its heritage and archaeology.” She added that the Rapa Nui people are “very sad and outraged.”
Moai statues of Easter Island with Pukao ( CC BY NC ND 2.0 )
Best known for their deep-set eyes and long ears, the moai wear impressive multi-ton hats and each one was considered to be a dead person’s living incarnation. One of the island’s statues (Hoa Hakananai’a) is today exhibited in the British Museum having been gifted by a British naval captain to Queen Victoria in the 1860s. However, Sky News reported that the Chilean government and the island’s authorities requested it be returned in 2018, but the mayor of the island said he would prefer “a financial commitment” from the museum to ensure the upkeep of the remaining moai on the island.
Increasing Attacks On The Islands Monuments
A $17,000 windfall hit the island in 2017 when Finnish tourist, Marko Kulju, 26, decided to chip an earlobe off a Moai before being spotted by a local Rapanui woman who reported the vandal to island police. This brainless criminal was only allowed to return home after paying the hefty fine and agreeing not to return to the island for three years, police told Spec. And at the prosecutor’s request Kulju also had to write a public apology for damaging the figure.
Kulju called his attempt at theft “the worst mistake of my life,” probably in the same reflective, and slightly vacant, gaze that is now shared by this truck driver, who will go down in history as one of the worst drivers to have ever missed the brake. I mean “how” on such a sparsely populated island, could anyone possibly hit one of the moai statues accidentally: a question which suggests it was perhaps done with deliberation, but only time will tell.
Top image: Easter Island moai statue destroyed by truck. Source: Comunidad Indígena Ma’u Henua
By Ashley Cowie