The story of the moai are an integral part of the history of Rapa Nui
. Not only do these haunting statues celebrate the height of culture on Easter Island
, but they are also a large contributing factor to its downfall.
When the first Polynesians arrived at the shores of Easter Island they were greeted by a lush forested landscape. This Garden of Eden-like paradise provided a strong resource foundation for a thriving population, society, and culture. Like most thriving populations from any era around the world, the Rapa Nui involved themselves in symbolic construction, in their case the Moai. Tributes to the spirits of their ancestors, their chiefs, and other V.I.Ms (Very Important Males) in a standardised design.
The Moai are cleverly carved utilising existing cracks in the volcanic rock, and form a head and torso statue which stand with their backs to the sea atop ahu platforms. Most of the moai were established between 1400 and 1600 A.D. The moai average around 14 tonnes each, so moving each to their ahu was no easy feat, but was managed by rolling the large stone statues on their side on tree logs. More trees were needed to lever the statue into upright position. A competition ensued between clans to build the biggest and the most numerous moai.
As the population increased to around 10,000, it reached a critical level that could no longer be sustained by its rapidly dimishing resources. The Rapanui clans began fighting for rights to the scarce resources that remained. However the fierce competition for moai building continued, furthering the destruction of the forests. Some moai were discovered resting exactly where they were carved, too large for transport. The largest measures 70 feet. And for those clans who could not keep up with the jones', they went around destroying the moai of other clans instead. The most fun one was placing rocks in the path of the moai so that it would be decapitated as it fell.
Thus the Rapanui continued until their entire society collapsed. Limited wood was available for the construction of boats, so no fishing could be done, and no fuel was available to burn. With the land bare from the cover of trees, erosion reigned. The population diminished to around 800. The culture was dominated by the Birdman Cult, which seemed to have a strange fetish for the eggs of the sooty tern.
All because they were more impressed with their 30ft moai than any 30ft tree.