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The wrong traveller | by Frank Kehren
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The wrong traveller

Mōai Ha'ere Ki Haho - the "Traveling Moai", Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui


The Rapa Nui erected the Moai between 1250 and 1500 CE with the faces of their ancestors, facing inland to watch over the tribal lands and protect their descendants. When the natural resources of the island (wood) were exploited, civil wars broke out between the tribes in the 1770s during which the Moai of the opposing tribes were toppled forward to hide their faces and stop them from protecting their tribe. In 1960 a tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Chile swept the Moai of Tongariki inland. In the 1990s Ahu Tongariki was restored.


The Moai in front was used in 1955/56 by Thor Heyerdahl in 'walking' experiments to determine how the inhabitants originally moved the Moai. Those experiments damaged the Moai and left roap marks on head and belly.


In many publications and by the local tourist guides this Moai is called Mōai Ha'ere Ki Haho - the "Traveling Moai", for being the only Moai that ever left Rapa Nui and returned. He is said to have travelled to Japan to raise money and get japanese support for the restoration of Tongariki.


In fact however in 1968/69 the head of a Moai travelled to the USA and was shown in the Seagram Building's Plaza in New York, at the Pan American Union building in Washington DC and the Temple University in Philadelphia to raise money for the restoration of the Moai.

Ten concrete copies of the head were created - the first one of those was shown at the 1970 world fair in Osaka/Japan. Other copies are now in museums in the USA, Canada and Japan.

The head returned to Rapa Nui in late 1969 and was connected to his body during the restoration of Ahu Tongariki.

This actual traveling Moai is the second from the left standing on the Ahu in the background.


The only other Moai who has left the island is Hoahakananai’a, the “stolen friend”. He was found at Orongo on the western side of Rapa Nui by the crew of the Topaze in 1868 and brought to England as a gift to Queen Victoria. He is still in the British Museum in London.

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Taken on December 11, 2013