Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ahus Vinapu and Akahanga, Puna Pau quarry and Ovahe.

Easter Island has more than 600 moai, in various stages ranging from the beautiful restored sites to some fallen but still fairly intact and with distinguishable features to still others that through erosion and decay have virtually disintegrated. Although it may seem otherwise, these moai are not scattered around the island randomly. Most are organized and grouped in such a way that it is evident that some type of shrine was built, often close to the remnants and remains of ancient villages. In addition, almost all are aligned and oriented with their backs to the sea facing the center of the island, possibly overlooking their communities. While the effort to restore the ahus with the moai is impressive and the restored sites are truly spectacular, there is a stark quality to the sites in their demolished and unaltered state that is lost when they are restored. Although it is tempting, often for tourist reasons (the restored Ahu sites are a huge tourist draw) to raise all the moai that have been toppled due to war by doing so pieces of the island’s history is changed and lost and there are many islanders who still consider these sites sacred and do not wish them touched nor the moai moved. The first of the unrestored sites we visited is at Vinapu. The ceremonial center at Vinapu includes one of the larger burial sites on Rapa Nui. The stone ahu has some extraordinary masonry work consisting of large, carefully fitted slabs of volcanic basalt rock. Some archaeologists believe that the stonework is similar to that used by masons in Peru but this is dated earlier than the Peruvian work. Mark has his tablet with him and reads some of the history from a book he downloaded, giving the site a very real and poignant feeling. We then went to the large ceremonial center of Ahu Akahanga which consists of several ahu and has the highest concentration of toppled moai on the island. The site is about 55 ft (18 meters) in length and there are a dozen or more statues ranging from about 15 to 25 feet (7 – 8 meters) long, some lying faced down and others on their backs with their features remarkably discernible. There are some red scoria rocks laying around that make us wonder if originally some of the fallen moai had the “pukao” or topknot. Also visible at the entrance to the site are some well-preserved ruins of an ancient village with a number of earth ovens (uma pae) and boat-houses (hare vaka) as well as paved areas which help show a little of the layout of the village. As Mark again read from his book we learned that Akahanga is known as “the platform of the king”. According to popular legend, at Akahanga are the remains of Hotu Matua, the first king of the Rapa Nui, who came to govern the island around the fourth century. Apparently, the place was chosen by Hotu Matua as his final resting place because of its location on the island. At Ahu Akahanga the deceased monarch would be able to see both sides of the island equally and his spirit would continue to favor all of the inhabitants. A nice legend and as I turn in a 360 degree circle, in some bizarre way I can imagine sensing the goodwill emanating from the land and sea and can understand why many of the islanders are deeply spiritual, ritualistic and protective of these ancestral sites. I can also imagine that one day this might be another restored site and whilst it will be as spectacular as the others that have been restored, the spirituality and history of it will be lost and forgotten. Driving inland takes us to the red scoria quarry at Puna Pau. Puna Pau is where the Rapanui extracted the stone used in making the distinctive red pukao or topknots, which fitted on top of the heads of some moai. Although unknown, they may have represented hats, hair styles of the day or feather headdresses. We do know that they are a later innovation, so not all moai had them and only about 100 have been found. As we climb the side of the crater leading to the quarry, we can see a group of pukao moved out from the crater, awaiting transportation to unknown destinations. Their shape suggests rolling to move them though it is not known whether this occurred. Carving for the pukao was completed on the ahu, so the pukao here are larger than they would end up being and they are unfinished. However, even if unfinished, some have petroglyphs etched into them. The average pukao was 7.5 ft high, almost 5 feet in diameter and weighed between five to a staggering 12 ton. It appears that they may have been added to the moai statue using a ramp of small stones, after the moai were erected. The view from the top of Puna Pau gave us views of almost the entire island, coast to coast, north to south. It seems amazing that so much legend, history and folklore can be seeped into such a small place and I am again astounded at how little we really know about the lifestyle of this enigmatic group of people who saw the sense in carving stone statues of their ancestors to watch over them and because of that leaving us indelible and concrete proof of their existence. My reverie was broken by the group ready to move on to the beach for lunch. Our goal was to stop for lunch at Anakena again but first we want to visit the smaller pink sand beach at Ovahe. Difficult to find and even more difficult to get to, Ovahe beach is the other sandy beach on Easter Island but because of its location and size, not nearly as popular as Anakena. Turning from the main paved road and onto a dirt track, we follow a few sparse signs pointing to Ovahe beach. After getting lost twice, we finally arrived at a small parking area with a narrow path track leading up and over a rocky cliff. Did I say that this was difficult to get to? Well, after climbing over a cliff and scrambling down the other side, we saw another small mountain of rocks ahead of us. At high tide, this beach would be impossible to reach and as it was the waves kept surging over the sandy path but we had gotten this far and we were not going to be denied. With a helping hand now and again from one of the guys, I was able to keep up and we stepped onto the prettiest pink coral sand beach I have ever seen. I immediately took off my socks and shoes and waded in. Mike and Mark looked at me in astonishment. “I have gotten here; I will not be back so I want as well feel the sand between my toes and get a little wet”. Tom agreed to the logic of my remarks and joined me. We stayed perhaps 20 minutes or so but with the tide slowly coming in and encroaching over the rocks on the path out, we decided we better move. Anakena beach was much as we had seen it the day before. Quite a few people, clear sparkling water, swaying palms, glistening white/pink sand and those enigmatic moai. Tom and I went into the water again while Mike and Mark wandered over to get a closer look at the moai and walk around. We gathered for lunch at one of the open booth kiosks and planned our afternoon of cave adventures.

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