Easter Island (Chile), Sep 26 (EFE).- A year after the fire that devastated part of the remote Easter Island and affected more than 200 moais, the ancient sculptures in the shape of human heads are struggling against degradation and are crying out for funds to be restored.
The fire originated in some pastures on October 4 but got out of control and reached the crater of the Rano Raraku volcano, known as the moai quarry because that is where the ancient Rapa Nui Indians sculpted their iconic monoliths in tuff stone and distributed them around the island, declared a World Heritage Site in 1995.
With its slopes dotted with dozens of moais of different sizes, placed in different positions, Rano Raraku is much more than a gigantic ancestral workshop: it was the epicenter of the cultural apogee of Rapa Nui, the indigenous name of this island located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 3,700 kilometers from mainland Chile.
“It was like watching our ancestors burn. They are our history. The flames caused us great desolation,” Carlos Edmunds, president of the Council of Elders, an ancestral institution, told EFE.
Degradation is approaching
A report prepared by Unesco and experts on the island determined in June that the fire affected 222 moai, of which 22 show “serious alterations” and “must be treated in the short term.”
Daniela Meza, archaeologist and head of conservation of the Rapa Nui National Park, which occupies almost half of the island, explained to EFE that the statues did not suffer serious fractures because the exposure to the flames was not so long. Still, they did show soot stains and some heat changes.
These damages, she points out, “seem superficial at first sight.” Still, they weaken the tuff and accelerate the degradation suffered by the statues due to biological erosion.
“The moai are exposed to an environment that is constantly damaging them. There is a lot of wind. It rains frequently. Solar radiation is very strong,” the archaeologist explained.
“All these agents – added to other fires in the past – accumulate and in the long term produce cracks and fractures,” adds Meza, who also points to lichens as a source of erosion as they seep through the tuff.
To prevent the mysterious statues from falling apart, experts recommend expensive consolidation techniques to restore stability to the stone and water repellency to protect it from water.
Each sculpture involves two to three months of work, and the materials – used before on other moais – must be brought in from outside and applied by specialists.
“We can’t wait too long because many moais already present deplacements from before, which means that plates of tuff are falling off, and they become deformed, lose their characteristic features, and then cease to be moais,” warns the archaeologist.
“Resources from wherever”
Although there is clarity about the diagnosis and treatment, the great challenge facing the Ma’u Henúa indigenous community, which has managed the park since 2016, is the search for funds.
“We have to look for national, international, and our own resources from wherever,” Nancy Rivera, director of the Rapa Nui National Park, admits to EFE.
Rivera says that all conservation interventions must have prior permission from the Council of National Monuments of Chile. They are waiting for their approval to start raising resources.
They now have public funds to maintain the park, cut the grass, keep the paths clean, and build firebreaks to prevent new fires.
These funds were complemented with the income that the park received from tourism, the main economic activity of Rapa Nui, but the most distant inhabited island territory on the planet was shielded for two years due to the pandemic and began to open up little by little in August of last year.
During that time, the islanders maintained the park with their hands: “Each family organized themselves. We saw mothers with their children cutting the grass around the moais. It was very nice.”