- Museum number
Object: Hoa Hakananai'a ('lost, hidden or stolen friend')
Object: Moai (ancestor figure)
Ancestor figure 'moai', called Hoa Hakananai'a (lost, hidden or stolen friend) made of basalt. The back of the figure features intricate petroglyphs associated with the bird man religion (tangata manu): birds, vulvas, dance paddles in the form of stylised human figures, a ring and a girdle design.
- Production date
- 1000 -1200 (approx)
Diameter: 47 centimetres
Height: 2.42 metres
Width: 96 centimetres
- Curator's comments
For associated drawings, see 2017.2018.1-4.
Ethnography Department Temporary Register, 1861-1921
It is understood that large stone sculptures or moai were made on Rapa Nui between AD 1100 and 1600. The size and complexity of the moai increased over time, and it is believed that Hoa Hakananai'a dates to around AD 1200. It is one of only fourteen moai made from basalt, the rest are carved from the island’s softer volcanic tuff.
This statue would have originally stood on a specially-built platform on the sacred site of Orongo. It would have stood with giant stone companions, their backs to the sea, keeping watch over the island.
Its eyes sockets were originally inlaid with red stone and coral and the sculpture was painted with red and white designs, which were washed off when it was rafted to the ship, to be taken to Europe in 1869. Over a few hundred years the inhabitants of this remote island quarried, carved and erected around 887 moai.
This sculpture bears witness to the loss of confidence in the efficacy of the ancestors after the deforestation and ecological collapse, and most recently a theory concerning the introduction of rats, which may have ultimately led to famine and conflict.
Around AD 1500 the practice of constructing moai peaked, and from around AD 1600 statues began to be toppled, sporadically. The island’s fragile ecosystem had been pushed beyond what was sustainable. Over time only sea birds remained, nesting on safer offshore rocks and islands. As these changes occurred, so too did the Rapanui religion alter – to the birdman religion.
A project to record and analyse the statue's carvings took place on 15th February 2012 in the Wellcome Trust Gallery. The techniques used were photogrammetry and polynomial texture mapping (PTM). It was conducted by Mike Pitts, Graeme Earl, James Miles and Hembo Pagi in collaboration with Southampton University. This is the first Easter Island statue to be so fully described.
For more detailed information see: Pitts, M., Miles, J., Pagi, H. and Earl, G., The story of Hoa Hakananai'a in British Archaeology: May/June 2013 and visit http://mikepitts.wordpress.com/easter-island-rapa-nui/
Hoa Hakananai'a is estimated to weigh approx. 4.2 metric tonnes (including the plinth it stands on, 5 tonnes) - 2013.
- On display (G24/od)
- Exhibition history
2010 Sept-Dec, London, BM History of the World 100 objects
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Removed from original location during the HMS Topaze expedition to Rapa Nui (captained by Powell) in 1868 and presented to Queen Victoria by the Lords of the Admiralty. She then gifted it to the British Museum in 1869.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number