Moai Culture British Museum

The British Museum, 4 November 2009

With the British Museum housing the magnificent moai Hoa Hakananai'a, it was appropriate that the London events began at this prestigious venue. Dr Ian Conrich gave a guest talk on 4 November on the subject of Easter Island, Myths and Western Popular Culture, providing an overview and introduction to the exhibitions to follow.


Easter Island, Myths, and Western Popular Culture

The appeal of Easter Island has been most visible though the work of archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists, and the continuous flow of visiting tourists. How the moai were created, constructed, and seen have been the subjects of research that has repeatedly approached the stone figures within the island landscape. Yet, the moai have long held a popular appeal that has extended far into the cultural arenas of foreign territories, which have been drawn to fantasies of a detached and distant civilisation. Murder mysteries, alien visitors, time travel, and hidden treasure have been a part of the island through popular fictions that have depicted professors and archaeologists as both villains and heroes. Popular narratives have seen the island explored variously by Indiana Jones, Batman, and the Hardy Boys, with ancient tablets able to resurrect the moai, and the stone figures given the power to talk and walk.

In this paper, I seek to understand the popular appeal of Easter Island and the moai in particular. Fiction films, cartoons, computer games, novels, and comic books will be central to this study. As will objects of material culture, which position miniature replicas of the moai as glowing lamps, salt and pepper shakers, pieces in a board game, fruit machine symbols, and garden ornaments. It will be argued that the mythical appeal of the moai within popular and material culture reveals four central factors: the myth of creation, the myth of movement, the myth of power, and the myth of presence.