A car accident has been dominating discussions on the Easter Island in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean for weeks. On 1 March, a pickup truck hit a moai, one of the famous sculptures that are the island’s trademark. The stone sculpture was destroyed completely.
The story is especially controversial because moai are sacred to the Polynesian natives called Rapa Nui. They believe that moai are living embodiments of their ancestors. That’s why the incident is much more than just damage to property.
Emotions Are Boiling Over
According to initial investigations of the police, the cause of the accident was a brake damage of the pickup truck. The latter had been parked near the moai and then rolled down the hill. When it hit the sculpture, the moai fell from its base and was completely destroyed as can be seen in photos published by the Ma’u Henua community of Rapa Nui on their Facebook page.
The Rapa Nui community reported the owner of the truck. The Swiss newspaper “20 Minuten” quotes the community leader Camilo Rapu: “This is highly disrespectful. That’s why we pressed charges and hope that the authorities will take action and set a precedent by punishing the person. As a reminder, because something like this must not happen again.”
The driver was arrested. He is threatened with a fine for damaging a national monument, which, according to media reports, will amount to 2.5 to 10 million Chilean pesos (€5,300–€10,700).
Stricter Regulations for Religious and Cultural Heritage?
Also the mayor of Easter Island, Pedro Edmunds Paoa, calls for stricter traffic restrictions. The Rapa Nui National Park, which has been UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, covers an area of 6,800 hectares. About 800 moais are standing there, even though nobody knows the exact figures. In the future, cars will be banned from entering the area – at least if the politician gets what he wants. However, Edmunds Paoa points out, he already made such a proposal eight years ago; at that time nobody wanted a ban.
Now things could be different. Easter Island is located about 3,500 kilometres from Chile, to which it belongs politically. More and more visitors are flooding the small island, whose population rose from 8,000 to 12,000 in recent years.
It seems to be time to adapt the measures for protecting the cultural heritage of Easter Island.
You can inform yourself about moais on Rapa Nui by means of magnificent photos that are available in the Google Arts & Culture Project. However, the project focuses on a completely different issue: the risk from rising sea levels…