Te Tokanga is the biggest moai statue on Rapa Nui and still lies in the quarry on the southern slope of the Rano Raraku volcano, the origin of most of the carved stone statues on Easter Island.
- Te Tokanga, the giant moai of Rapa Nui
- Why does Te Tokanga stay in Rano Raraku?
- The biggest moai statues ever raised
- Tips for visiting the Te Tokanga moai
- How to get to the biggest moai statue in Rano Raraku
- Location map
- Nearby places
Te Tokanga, the giant moai of Rapa Nui
On the lower part of the southern slope of the Rano Raraku, where the rock begins to climb towards the top, there is a huge reclining statue that still remains in the niche in which it was carved.
This is Te Tokanga, “the giant”, which with a length of almost 22 meters and an estimated weight of 250 tons, could not have a more appropriate name. Its huge head measures 8.5 meters and its average width is about 4.5 meters.
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Moai, the giant statues of Easter Island
To realize its magnitude, we will say that this enormous stone man reaches the height of a seven-story building and has a weight similar to that of the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, the plane of the Latam company that transports tourists from Santiago de Chile to Rapa Nui.
Te Tokanga is the largest statue ever carved on Easter Island. On both sides, you can see the channels where the carvers were placed to carry out this incredible work. It seems that as the experience and skill of the sculptors increased, the size of the images grew. If you compare the 4.5 meters, which is the average height of a moai, with the more than 20 meters of Te Tokanga, you can understand the level of mastery and rivalry reached by the ancient inhabitants of Rapa Nui.
Why does Te Tokanga stay in Rano Raraku?
According to tradition collected by various archaeologists, the Te Tokanga moai could have been destined for the Ahu Tahira in Vipanu, one of the last platforms built, located on the slope of the Rano Kau volcano. However, it never reached its final destination because this enormous colossus did not even rise from its bedrock.
In fact, although this immense moai is known as “The giant”, in reality, the term tokanga, in the Rapa Nui language, refers to the residue of a thing, to what remains as a rest or as a stable part. There is no doubt that the literal meaning of its name also does it justice, since it is still a magnificent remains or residue of stone abandoned in the mountain.
There are several theories that try to explain why the figure of Te Tokanga, like many others, still remains in the stone cradle where he was born.
A giant moai impossible to move?
When this colossus was evicted, carvers were working on making trenches on the sides to detach it from the volcano. It was then, perhaps, that its ambitious and optimistic sculptors realized that they could never move a statue of such size, so they did not bother to finish it.
It seems that the greatest feat of the ancient workers was to carve and move two 10-meter-high statues, which reached the Ahu Hanga Tetenga on the south coast, and the Ahu Te Pito Kura on the north coast, in the La Pérouse sector, about six kilometers away from the quarry.
The moai of Hanga Tetenga is found broken in four parts on the platform and without cavities for the eyes, proof that they could not control the last impulse to put it in a vertical position.
They had more luck with the statue sent to Te Pito Kura, which we will talk about later, but mobilizing Te Tokanga seemed impossible. Even in our times, using the most advanced technology, it would not be easy to move a mass, with a weight equivalent to that of a commercial plane, from the quarry to Vinapu.
It seems that many statues were left unfinished due to problems with the construction material. Sometimes the rock did not have the quality necessary to continue working it and other times defects appeared on the surface that would have spoiled the finished statue. On both occasions, the statue was abandoned and they looked for a more conducive place to start carving again. Was this the reason why work on Te Tokanga did not continue?
Built not to move?
Another theory, suggested by archaeologist Katherine Routledge, holds that Te Tokanga was carved without the intention of being raised, like other effigies that remain in the quarry. In fact, although the statue is apparently finished, there is no indication of any work to separate it from the volcanic tuff cornice. In this way, more than a complete image, it could be considered as an immense petroglyph or high relief carved, probably, in memory of a high-ranking person.
End of an era?
Te Tokanga rests unfinished and seems to suggest that, in the last stage of the ancient Rapanui civilization, the various tribes had embarked on a competition to erect ever more monumental figures. The sheer need for ropes and scaffolding to move these rocky titans is thought to have contributed to the deforestation of the island and the decline of construction.
Other hypotheses argue that some natural cataclysm must have occurred, such as a great earthquake or tsunami that deeply affected Rapanui society, interrupting the making of statues forever.
However, it seems that the abandonment of work on Rano Raraku was not due to a single sudden and dramatic event. Rather, it was the consequence of a gradual decline in values and beliefs that affected the scarce resources available and provoked successive tribal wars that ended with the collapse of the system.
The biggest moai statues ever raised
In a hypothetical competition for size, there is no doubt that Te Tokanga, the largest moai statue carved on Easter Island, would win first place. But there are two other moais that would have the honor of sharing the podium.
Piro Piro Moai
Second place would go to the Piro Piro moai, whose massive 4-meter head welcomes visitors who walk the first meters of the main path of the Rano Raraku quarry. Piro Piro stands out, due to its formidable dimensions, among the other statues that remain buried on the slope of the volcano.
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Easter Island heads, myth and reality of the buried moai statues
The explorer Thor Heyerdahl excavated the floor of the moai and discovered that the buried part of the body was almost twice the height of the visible head. Adding both parts, the total length reached 11 meters, which made Piro Piro the largest moai ever extracted from the quarry and put on foot.
This discovery relegated the extraordinary moai of Te Pito Kura, an archaeological complex located in front of the Bay of La Pérouse, about two kilometers southeast of Ovahe beach, to third place. In this ceremonial center is the Ahu or Paro, whose only moai named Paro, remains in the same position in which it was left when it was demolished almost two centuries ago.
The Paro moai represents a milestone from the time when the statues were built, as it is the largest moai transported from the Rano Raraku volcano quarry and successfully erected on an ahu. Its dimensions are spectacular: 10 meters high, its ears alone measure 2 meters, and it is estimated that its weight must exceed 80 tons.
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Ahu, the ceremonial center of Easter Island
The moai lies face down and its body is split in half as a result of its collapse. Paro is believed to have been one of the last statues to be toppled from its platforms during the wars between the different clans. In front of his head lies his gigantic pukao, almost 2 meters high and about 10 tons in weight, also considered one of the most voluminous headdresses carved and transferred from the Puna Pau quarry.
Tips for visiting the Te Tokanga moai
The visit to Te Tokanga can be done by hiring one of the excursions that run through Rano Raraku and that are offered by most of the tourist agencies on the island. This archaeological site is usually included in any of the full day tours, which include a guide and transport, where 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 car, since you are far enough from Hanga Roa to walk.
In any case, it is necessary to buy in advance the entrance to the Rapa Nui National Park to enter the site. Although the entry is valid for 10 days to visit the different sites of interest, the visit to Orongo and the quarry of the Rano Raraku volcano can only be done once.
More information about the Rapa Nui National Park
The ticket must be presented at the ticket office of the National Park, whose access remains open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm. Here several explanatory panels of the place are exhibited. On the right there are the public toilets and on the left there is a building where there are several craft shops with prices quite similar to that of Hanga Roa and a cafeteria for visitors.
It is advisable to wear comfortable clothes and sports shoes with a thick sole, since the paths of the route are steep and can be slippery especially if it has recently rained. The Rano Raraku trails allow a circuit where you can observe the moai in an organized and safe way.
It is strictly forbidden to leave the marked trails and touch the statues. It is also not allowed to go beyond the limit of the path that leads to the statues inside the crater, and even less to ascend to the top due to its danger.
How to get to the biggest moai statue in Rano Raraku
Those people who do not wish to hire an organized tour, can get to Rano Raraku on their own in a simple way. To arrive by car from Hanga Roa, take the Hotu Matu’a Avenue, where the airport is located, in the direction of Anakena, then turn right at the crossroads indicating the road to Rano Raraku and continue for another 14 kilometers along the road that runs along the coast, while enjoying the scenery. You will come to a detour to the left with a sign indicating the road that leads for 1.5 kilometers to the visitor center of Rano Raraku, where you can park the vehicle.
Another quite recommendable alternative is to go by bicycle. It is possible to rent bikes in Hanga Roa where they also provide customers with maps and everything necessary for their tours.
The outward journey takes approximately 1 hour and a half doing it calmly. The coastal road offers the possibility of enjoying the sea breeze and the view of the cliffs during the whole journey, as well as stopping at other archaeological sites that are on this side of the island. You have to be careful with the horses that cross and with some sections with bad state asphalt where some bumps have formed.
You can also make the last stage on foot, arriving before by car or bicycle to the beginning of Te Ara or Te Moai, or the path of the moai. The beginning of the road is located 4 km from the volcano, and is indicated by a sign to the left of the road a few meters from a demolished statue. From here you can follow one of the trails used by the ancient Rapanui people to lead the statues from the quarry to each ceremonial platform, making the trip even more interesting.