Stone faces Easter IslandRocky Easter Island
The mystical Easter Island mai sculptures are threatened by the environment.
And if you've always been fascinated by the enigmatic mai - the huge stone sculptures of Rafa Nui, also known as Easter Island - and they're on your must-do lists, don't hesitate. Head to this small, rugged, triangle-like and highly insulated island in the South Pacific, 9,354 kilometers eastwards of Brisbane.
"They are very brittle, they are brittle, they will not last forever," says Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg, an US archeologist who has been learning the mai for 30 years. Cristián Arévalo Pakarati, Dr. Van Tilburg's co-director of the Easter Island Statue Project, says there is no rush.
"I' ve seen sculptures fall to the floor for 27 years," he said. It'?s not a sculpture anymore. "A Chilean colony, Raffa Nui is particularly open to storms. "We' ve got the rains, we have the heavy winds, we have these extremes of temperature in summers and winters, where for example the sculpture would be left in the hot air for eight hrs and then all of a sudden a cloudy sky would appear," says Mr Pakarati.
" Doctor Van Tilburg says the menace to the moon is very serious. "We' ve got a data base where we can look at the statue images whenever we want, and when we go to see them in the fields, we can see that they don't look the same," she said.
" All of Dr. Van Tilburg and Mr. Pakarati have recorded and charted all of the moais on Rapa Nui - all 1,045. They are currently focusing on Mount 156, which they are digging up in the inner craters of the extinguished Rano Raraku vulcano. "At the end of a five-year timeframe, when we finish our work in this stone pit, we will be able to tell what we know the sculpture is under attack.
" As the oldest mai is up to 900 years old, it is perhaps not astonishing that some have not age well. Definitions of long stretched ear, deep-set eye, long hand shaped into grand pianos and head were either eliminated or even erased in some cases. However, some of the sculptures made from the toughest rocks and in protected places also stay in good condition.
The Polynesians who had travelled the Pacific for thousand of kilometers populated the area. It was thought that the moon had miraculous forces and were placed so that they could guard their clan and land. There is only one mai in Tahai, near the only city on the island, Hanga Roa, with constant eye-dog.
However, even without them, many projects are still possible due to their extraordinary dimensions and expressiveness. "There' are some Rape Nui folks who said to me when the sculptures die, that's natural," said Dr. Van Tilburg. "There is another aspect that says that when the ghost is no longer in the sculpture, the sculpture itself has no value.
"I' ll take charge of what happens to him (the moai), as well as restorers and archeologists and the great majority of the Rapa Nui group. "It is an image, a symbolic expression, something that reminds us of the enormous efforts of the peoples of this island to communicate with one single language, which is a huge work of man.
" Mister Pakarati says that the mai was an immense present to the Rapa Nui folk who drive Chilean and foreign tourists, who are the "wheel" of the Chilean business and provide lodging, meals and service for more than 50,000 each year. Therefore, he says, at least some of the mai must be preserved.
" The intermediate protector is tested in the shape of a spray agent which is chemically water-repellent and which has been deposited on the mai. As Dr. Van Tilburg says: "Could there be a permanent exhibition on the island where five or six, perhaps the most important sculptures, could be placed and preserved?
" It is a controversial subject for the Rapa Nui, for whom the mai have a profound outreach. It is the country of the mai and our forebears.