Hoa Hakananai'a

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The Easter Island Head
Wellcome Trust Gallery + Living & Dying (Room 24).jpg
Material Basalt
Size Height: 2.42 metres (7.9 ft)
Created 1000-1200 (c.)
Place Orongo, ceremonial centre, made in Easter Island
Present location Gallery 24, British Museum, London
Registration 1869,1005.1

Hoa Hakananai'a is a moai (Easter Island statue) housed in the British Museum in London. The name Hoa hakanani'a is from the Rapa Nui language, and has been interpreted as meaning "stolen or hidden friend"[1] or "Master Wave-Breaker".[2] It was removed[3] from Orongo, Easter Island on 7 November 1868[4] by the crew of the English ship HMS Topaze, and arrived in Portsmouth on 25 August 1869.[5]


Whilst most moai were carved from easily worked tuff, Hoa Hakananai'a is one of just sixteen moai that were carved from much harder basalt.[6] It is 55 centimetres from front to back,[6] 2.42 metres high and weighs "around four tons".[7]

Hoa Hakananai'a is a human torso and head, with shrunken arms. The ratio of the head to torso is about 3:5, giving the overlarge head which is typical for moai. Originally the empty eye sockets would have had coral and obsidian eyeballs, and the body was painted red and white. However, the paint was washed off during its removal from the island.


The statue has a maro carving around its waist. This is a symbolic loincloth of three raised bands, topped (at the back) by a ring of stone just touching the top band.

Its back is richly decorated with carvings relating to the island's Birdman cult. These include two birdmen with human hands and feet, but with frigatebird heads, said by the Rapanui people to suggest a family or sexual relationship.

Above these is a fledgling with its beak open. It is similar to the Birdman petroglyphs on Easter Island and relates to the Manutara, a Sooty tern which heralded the annual return of the god Make-make. This bird is flanked by a pair of 'ao, ceremonial wooden paddles representing the male body. 'Ao were symbols of prestige bestowed on the year's reigning birdman. A third 'ao is carved into the rear of the left ear. The right ear has four vulvas, possibly indicating four influential female consorts, that "had the ear" of the birdman.[citation needed]

There are Y-shaped symbols at the top of the head (between the 'ao), the chin and under the Maro.

Images with greater detail
Front view
Rear view showing carvings
Rear of head showing central bird figure
Rear of left shoulder showing one of two bird-man figures

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.38
  2. ^ "RapaNui Sprache - Übersetzung Buchstabe N". Retrieved 2012-07-14. 
  3. ^ Van Tilburg, Jo Anne. (2006). Remote Possibilities: Hoa Hakananai'a and HMS Topaze on Rapa Nui. British Museum Research Papers. ISBN 0-86159-158-5.
  4. ^ Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.
  5. ^ Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.7
  6. ^ a b Van Tilburg, J. A. Hoa Hakananai'a (British Museum Press 2004), p.45
  7. ^ British Museum.org. Hoa Hakananai'a: Stolen or Hidden Friend. Retrieved: 09.02.2008.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
69: Statue of Tlazolteotl
A History of the World in 100 Objects
Object 70
Succeeded by
71: Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent