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Moai Hava ('Dirty statue' or 'to be lost') / Moai (ancestor figure)

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • Moai Hava ('Dirty statue' or 'to be lost')
    • Moai (ancestor figure)
  • Description

    Ancestor figure or moai, called Moai Hava made of basalt, showing arms, torso and head. At the bottom of the statue's torso are carved hands and a loin cloth (hami).

  • Ethnic name

  • Date

    • 1100-1600
  • Production place

  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 1.56 metres (of figure from top of base)
    • Height: 200 centimetres (including base)
    • Width: 107 centimetres (of base)
    • Depth: 94 centimetres (of base)
  • Curator's comments

    Ethnography Department Temporary Register, 1861-1921. Eth.Doc.974. Eth.Doc.1108.

    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. Moai Hava is one of only fourteen moai made from basalt, the rest are carved from the island’s softer volcanic tuff.

    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 ultimately may have 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.

    The head of Moai Hava is tilted back and the chin is pointed towards the sky, the arms are thick and the carving shows the loin cloth or hami. The top of the head is badly broken, as is the bottom of the face, along the entire length of the chin; possibly during transportation to London and possibly during the production phase; the statue was almost fully buried when found.
    It has no eye sockets which indicated that it was not meant to be displayed on a platform or ahu. The reverse of the head is rough and unfinished which again points to the sculpture being incomplete.

    The statue weighs approximately 3.3 tonnes, base included (2011).

    See bibliography:
    Van Tilburg, J.A.,1992, 'H.M.S. Topaze on Easter Island: Hoa Hakananai'a and five other museum sculptures in archaeological context.' London: British Museum Press, Occasional paper 73.

    P. 60: 'The second British Museum statue Moai Hava, was taken from the area of Mataveri within the environs of the modern airport and runway. Routledge (n.d) describes 'Ahi Moi Hava' as being inland 'about hafl way [between] Matavery and Vinapui (sic). Some scattered stones, difficult of definition, may have been some sort of foundation.'
    P.61: 'The dorsal side of the statue possesses a carved design executed in low bas-relief (2 cm high). A single, raised line arcs around the small of the back and dies under the elbows on each side of the statue. Surmounting the arc is a single circle 20 cm in diameter. Beneath the circle is at the midpoint is a raised bas-relief ridge that forms an incomplete Y-shape at its apex. The total length of the ridge is 47 cm. This variation on the dorsal design may be an incomplete carving, although it resembles the design on one of the Santiago statues (4579).

    Van Tilburg, J.A., 1994, 'Easter Island, Archaeology, Ecology and Culture'. London: British Museum Press.
    Van Tilburg, J.A., 2004, 'Hoa Hakananai'a'. London: British Museum Press.
    Van Tilburg, J.A., 2006, 'Remote Possibilities: Hoa Hakananai'a and HMS Topaze on Rapa Nui'. London: British Museum Press.


  • Bibliography

    • Richards & Sitch 2015 p.36 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display

  • Exhibition history


    2011 22 Jan-7 Apr, London, Royal Academy, Modern British Sculpture
    2011-2015 May- 20 March, Liverpool, World Museum, National Museums, Atrium
    2015 - 2018 31 Mar-6 Sept, Manchester, Manchester Museum, 'Making monuments on Rapa Nui' LT Loan

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Collected 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.

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


Human figure made of stone.

Human figure made of stone.

Image description



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Object reference number: EOC3131

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