A fire blazed through Easter Island this fall. It damaged some of the famous carved stone figures called moai (pronounced MO-eye).
The island has around 800 moai statues. About half of them are inside the Rano Raraku volcano crater. Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, belongs to Chile, though it is 2,000 miles away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. About 7,700 people live on Easter Island.
The fire particularly ravaged an area inside the volcano where around 100 moais can be found. As many as 20 were damaged.
Fire’s high temperature can make the stone crack. That could speed the crumbling of the statues, Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa says. The mayor blames locals for the fire. Farmers may have set fires to clear fields. He also accuses Chile’s government of neglecting the island.
This little island has many mysteries. It’s more than 1,000 miles from the nearest Polynesian island. Archaeologists think its settlers sailed from another island. But they aren’t sure exactly where they came from, when, or how they knew where to go.
Why did the Rapa Nui people make the giant statues? They carved the stone heads centuries ago—between 1100 and 1650. (Really, they are more than just heads. All have bodies, but sometimes only heads stick out of the ground.) Most are made from soft volcanic rock called tuff. They may have been symbols of religious and political power. Or maybe they were meant to honor ancestors. The sculptors might have believed that the statues held spiritual power.
Psalm 115:4-7 reminds us that man-made things can’t compare to the living God. “Their idols are . . . the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.”
Most moai weigh around 13 tons. One of the heaviest is over 80 tons! Legends say that the stone figures walked themselves to their resting places. But researchers have various theories of how the Rapa Nui people moved them. Maybe the sculptors used rope and log rollers or wooden sleds.
Local officials and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are studying just how much damage the fire caused. They will also draft a plan to prevent future fires.
Why? Artifacts like the moai statues help us understand people from the past better. The Rapa Nui people may not have known the true God, but they had God’s gifts of creativity and ingenuity.