Rapa Nui’s sacred statues have ‘irreparable’ damage after fire Rapa Nui’s sacred statues have ‘irreparable’ damage after fire

A devastating fire that tore across Easter Island has significantly charred its heritage moai…
10 October 2022

A fire that swept across some parts of Rapa Nui – also called Easter Island – has caused ‘irreparable’ damage to its sacred statues.

Located more than 3,000 km off the coast of Chile in the South Pacific Ocean, Rapa Nui is known for being the home to more than 1,000 stone-carved giant heads, better known as moai.

Moai stone statues at Rano Raraku crater (Shutterstock)

However, Chile authorities have reported that a fire which started on Monday (3 October) had blazed across more than 100 hectares (247 acres) of the island. 

The fire is thought to have been started deliberately in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Rano Raraku crater, an area which includes wetland and many moai.

In a Facebook post, Ariki Tepano, Director of the Ma’u Henua community who manage the national park said: “The moai are totally charred and you can see the effect of the fire upon them”

He also stated that the damage is “irreparable and with consequences beyond what your eyes see.”

The moai are thought to have been carved more than 500 years ago by the indigenous Polynesian population who lived here. Many are up to four metres in height, with the heaviest weighing 74 tonnes.

“The cracking of an original and emblematic stone cannot be recovered, no matter how many millions of euros or dollars are put into it,” said Rapa Nui’s Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa in a broadcast on local radio. “The damage caused by the fire can’t be undone.”

Travel writer Shafik Meghji has previously visited the remote island on assignment for Wanderlust (read his story here). He said: ‘The news from Rapa Nui is absolutely devastating. It’s hard to overstate the cultural and spiritual significance of the moai, which represent revered ancestors and face inland, watching over the Rapanui people and providing protection when needed.

“At this stage, it’s unclear how many have been damaged, but Rano Raraku – a volcanic crater in which most of the moai were carved before being transported around the island – has been badly hit. There are almost 400 statues at this site alone.

“The fact the fire broke out just a few months after the island reopened for tourism – on which the local economy depends – is particularly cruel.”

It is thought the fire could not be controlled due to a ‘shortage of volunteers’, allowing it to reach the island’s important archaeological sites.

Rapa Nui only reopened three months ago after being closed for two years due to the coronavirus pandemic. Its economy strongly relies on tourism, usually receiving more than 160,000 visitors every year.

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