The Ahu Akahanga can be considered, for its history and for the number of statues, one of the most important of Easter Island.
An ancient village
In Akahanga or Aka Hanga there are the remains of what was an old village near a small bay (hanga), located on the south coast of the island.
At the entrance of the enclosure, after crossing the wall, there are the stone foundations of several hare paenga or boat-houses, so called because of their elliptical shape reminiscent of a ship, where the old inhabitants lived. In front of the access of each house, there is a small area paved with round marine boulders (poro nui), which form a small square.
Very close to the houses, there are several umu pae or old stone ovens, which were used to prepare the umu. Pae in the Rapanui language means five, and refers to the number of stones that were usually used to make the oven.
On the right facing the sea, there is a small cave called Ana Akahanga whose entrance is reinforced with an added stone. The cavity, which is of the karava type due to its width and shallow depth, was used as a temporary refuge, mainly by fishermen, to shelter from the rain or spend the night.
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The fallen giants of Akahanga
The Ahu Akahanga stands on the left in front of the sea, a few meters from the agitated waves that beat against the rocks. This large platform of 18 meters in length has not been restored, which allows to get an idea of the state in which all the ahu were in the epoch of decadence of the island.
In most destroyed platforms, the statues lie face down with their hidden faces and their turned backs. However, in Ahu Akahanga, the 13 moai, which are between 5 and 7 meters in size, were knocked down both face-up and face-down. This allows to observe better its features and its carving. It is impressive to see these stone giants in such a vulnerable position, when once they stood proudly on their pedestal.
In front of the platform, there are several of the pukao or headdresses of volcanic red scoria that topped the statues. On the right, very close to the shore, there is a fallen moai forward that does not have carved eyes, but has preserved its features very well in spite of erosion.
In the back of the ahu, there is a crematorium and a rustic ramp to disembark canoes. Here it is possible to have a close view of the faces of the statues that fell on their backs. It also highlights a small moai of about 2 meters that lies on its back inside a circle of stones. Its rustic carving and its advanced state of erosion suggest that it is one of the first statues that were carved in Rano Raraku.
The tomb of the first king of the island
According to oral tradition, the first king of the island, the legendary ariki Hotu Matu’a was buried in this place. His sons moved him from the top of the Rano Kau volcano, where he had his final resting place, to Akahanga.
A legend says that after burying him under a mound of stones, Tu’u Maheke, the eldest son, cut off Hotu Matu’a’s head and buried it between some stones. Someone discovered it some time later, and after that the Ariki Tu’u Ko Ihu stole the skull of its last owner and hid it in his house in Ahu Te Peu. Finally it was recovered by the legitimate descendants of the king to benefit from the mana or spiritual power that emanated from such a precious object.
The excavations carried out have not yet found any vestige of the ancient king. It has been ruled out that the ariki is buried under the ahu, since its construction date is several centuries after the death of the king. It is possible that the hypothetical burial chamber is under a nearby mound of stones.
A brother and a sister linked by the sun
Akahanga is located in the center of the south coast of Easter Island. According to some researchers, the choice of this place as a burial site for Hotu Matu’a may be due to the fact that the supposed power emanating from the ariki, could be evenly distributed to both sides of the island, generating good harvests and fishing for all the people.
Curiously, Ava Rei Pua, the sister of Hotu Matu’a and wife of the aforementioned Ariki Tu’u Ko Ihu, was buried at the opposite end of the island, in Ahu Te Peu, her place of residence.
Recent research has established an astronomical and geometric relationship between these two sites. The two sites where both siblings of royal origin were buried are located at the ends of an axis between the dawn of the summer solstice and the dusk of the winter solstice, relating symbolically their resting place to the annual solar cycle.
It has been proven that when watching the sunset of the winter solstice from Akahanga, located on the southeast coast of the island, the last ray of sun is set in the direction of Te Peu, where tradition points to the tomb of Ava Rei Pua. In the same way, from Te Peu to the northwest of the island, it is possible to see the sun rising in the direction of Akahanga, burial place of King Hotu Matu’a, at the dawn of the summer solstice.
Perhaps, this fact is only a simple geographical coincidence. Although if it is seen from a more mystical and sentimental point of view, it may show how the ancient Rapanui people used their knowledge of geometry and astronomy to unite symbolically the last abode of two such transcendental brothers in the history of the island.
Tips for visiting Ahu Akahanga
The visit of the Ahu Akahanga can be done by hiring some of the excursions offered by most of the island’s tourism agencies. This archaeological site is usually included in any of the full day tours in which other places of interest are also visited.
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The other option is to do it on your own, but for this you will have to arrive by vehicle, since you are far enough from Hanga Roa to walk.
In any case, it is necessary to buy in advance the ticket to the Rapa Nui National Park to enter the site. The ticket is valid for 10 days to visit the different archaeological sites, which can be visited several times, with the exception of Orongo and the Rano Raraku volcano quarry that can only be done once.
More information about the Rapa Nui National Park
At the Ahu Akahanga it is necessary to present the ticket at the National Park ticket office located at the entrance of the enclosure, in front of an imposing wooden statue representing King Hotu Matu’a. The place remains open from 9:00 to 18:00 h.
Another fact to keep in mind is that there are no toilets or food services in the Ahu Akahanga for the use of visitors. The closest ones are in Rano Raraku.
How to get to Ahu Akahanga
To arrive by vehicle from the center of Hanga Roa, take the Hotu Matu’a avenue in the direction of Anakena, until you reach the crossroads indicating the road to Rano Raraku. You have to turn right and continue for 7 kilometers along the coast road until you reach Akahanga. There is a small parking lot and several stalls selling handicrafts.
Ahu Akahanga is located between other two archaeological sites less visited by tourists, since they are not usually included in the tours. These are the Ahu Uru Uranga Te Mahina, located a few steps to the west and the Ahu Oroi located to the east.