BRITISH MUSEUM, Moai Statue

Audio File length: 2.55
Author: STEFANO ZUFFI E DAVIDE TORTORELLA
English / USA Language: English / USA

 

Now let me tell you about a gem in the British Museum that you can't miss: the statue of Hoa Hakananai'a from the village of 'Orongo on Easter Island. This is one of the sculptural masterpieces of the Moai population.

It was brought here in the second half of the 1800s by the crew of the ship HMS Topaze. The translation of its name is unclear: it could mean "breaking wave", "surfing fellow", or be connected to a "lost or stolen friend".

It was found near a house on the southwestern tip of the island. Its back was turned to the sea and was facing the crater of an extinct volcano: but it's also likely that its original positioning was different.

Look at it: over two feet tall, the statue powerfully emerges from a large block of dark brown volcanic tuff. Stylistically, it's similar to the other Easter Island statues with a prominent nose, thin mouth, and jutting chin. Its deep-set eyes make its rounded forehead seem to protrude even more. It has large, well-defined ears, its chest is enhanced with the small nipples, its arms go down its sides, and its hands clasp its belly.

And now walk around it: in the back you can see that it has a sort of belt formed by three horizontal lines and a circle. Right below that, you can see a hint of its buttocks. The back of its head and shoulders is adorned with reliefs, but they were probably added later on. These reliefs are the most mysterious thing about the sculpture, because their meaning is still unknown. If you look closely you can see two figures that are half-man and half-bird, next to a smaller bird: they have been interpreted as a symbol of adoration that was paid to a divinity that was part-human and part-winged animal.

You should know that there are still about a thousand similar sculptures on Easter Island, but Hoa Hakananai'a is especially interesting because of the intricate and mysterious engravings I just mentioned.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to accurately date the sculptures of Easter Island. Now most scholars agree that these works' production began around the year 1000 and continued for five or six centuries. 

 

FUN FACT: every year the inhabitants of Easter Island had a ritual contest where they had to find the first egg laid by a certain species of sea swallow. They had to find the egg and bring it back to the island over the water, safe and sound. The winner was considered sacred until the following year.

And with this we have finished our tour of the British Museum. MyWoWo thanks you for staying with us, and will see you at the next Wonder of the World!

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