Thor Heyerdahl’s camping place, with beach, statues, and palm trees!
The most romantic of all the Moai groups on the island is that at Anakena. Anakena lies on the north coast of the island, by the only good beach on the island, and a palm tree plantation has been planted on the flat ground adjacent, which is the first view of the site for visitors. At first, the statues are not visible, though the sea peeps out on the other side of the trees.
And then suddenly, the Moai are visible on the other side of the beach.
It was here that the great explorer Thor Heyerdahl made his camp when he came to investigate the island in 1955. Thor Heyerdahl was undoubtedly the greatest explorer and publicist of the island, even though his belief that that the island was originally populated by people from South America is plainly wrong.
Heyerdahl had long been convinced that Easter Island had originally been populated from South America, and in 1947 he built a balsawood raft, the Kon Tiki, in which he drifted across the Pacific in a voyage lasting 101 days, and the subsequent book of his adventures became a bestseller. He is an alluring writer and a highly successful fundraiser, and in 1956 he was able to acquire a converted Greenland trawler in which he sailed to Easter Island and spent a year there conducting excavations which form the foundation for much modern study.
However his belief that the Easter Islanders came up came from South America is generally considered to be quite wrong. The language they speak is a Polynesian language and he was forced to produce a revised theory that there were two invasions, an earlier one from South America, and a later one from Polynesia to the west. His ideas have been comprehensively repudiated in a book Easter Island, Earth Island by Paul Bahn and John Fenley. They point out among other things that the Kon Tiki raft was towed out for the first 50 miles from South America to get past the strong current that flows from south to north, and it arrived, not on Easter Island in the Tuamotu islands, near Tahiti, 2,000 miles further to the West.
While on the island, Heyerdahl, with the help of virtually the whole population of the island, re-erected one of the Moai statues, a single statue on its own platform. This was to be the first of a number of re-erections.
However the main re-erection took place 20 years later in 1978 and was done by Sergio Rapu, himself a native islander who still runs a very successful hotel, where we stayed. Sergio was the first native islander to be made a governor of the islands and is the first islander to have studied anthropology at the University of Hawaii.
Easter Island benefited greatly from President Pinochet, the controversial president of Chile, who was the first Chilean President to be a member of the Friends of Easter Island, the first and still the only president to visit the island, and he was the first to appoint a native of the island as governor. He also gave the island considerable money which enabled them to set up the museum, and also to re-erect these statues.
Right is a map of the island showing the position of Anakena. It is on the north coast, some distance from the only town of Hanga Roa and the airport, but there is now a fast asphalt road connecting the two, and it is only a 20 minute drive from Hanga Roa.
Anakena is also the site of the island’s main beach – though there is apparently a second beach adjacent to it. It is a good place for a swim.
The moai at Anakena are among the finest carvings on the island, and four of them have been preserved with their red ‘topknots’. These topknots were carved from a different stone, of a reddish colour, from a different quarry – Puna Pau. The addition of topknots was a late feature of the island and only some 10% of the statues had these topknots.
Note too the long ears, and also the prominently carved arms.
The statues are difficult to photograph as they face north west, but it is possible to have a good view of the back of the statues and the prominent wall of the platform on which they were set
The backs of most of the statues had carvings on them. Here are two spirals carved on the backs of one of the statues: did the chieftain in whose honour the statue was carved have spirals on his buttocks too?
This face, perhaps from an ancient moai, was re-used as a stone in the back wall of the platform.
This is one of the most enigmatic carving in the rear wall. It shows an ithyphallic man, that is a man with a prominent penis hanging down between his legs. Note too that he is a ‘birdman’, for his face has the beak of a bird projecting out in front of it.
Finally there is an overall view of the restored statues showing the elaborate platform, with Heyerdahl’s single statue set behind them on the extreme left.
Thanks to the work of the islanders under Sergio Rapu, Anakena is the most seductive of all the Easter Island statues, especially combined with the beach and the palm trees!