Images of the moai have regularly appeared in popular culture, from comic books, computer games, cartoons, and advertising, to film, animation, children's toys, and household objects. This page is an attempt to record, review and understand the many rich instances in which the moai have been popularised. Significantly, this has occurred predominantly in the cultural economies of the USA, Japan, and Western Europe. Initially, this page will focus on considering comic books, novels, animation, and film, with links made to the Education part of this website, where appropriate.


G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
'Operation: Mind Menace'
(season 1, episode 2, 1985)

The G.I. Joes are chased by monolithic moai

Inside one moai Cobra have mounted laser weapons

Flash and Airborne fly over Easter Island while trying to rescue a hostage lashed to the railings of a Cobra FANG helicopter. They fly between moai statues, drawn here so large that they dwarf the helicopters.Cobra have mounted laser guns in the eyes of one statue.

Meanwhile, the Joes’ scientists discover that Airborne’s little brother, Tommy, is telekinetic. Cobra agents break into the lab and kidnap Tommy, and it is revealed that Cobra have a secret training camp on Easter island for psionically gifted individuals, its entrance marked with a moai. Cobra use Tommy to bring two of the moai to life - the statues haul themselves out of the earth and lumber towards the Joes. Flash refers to them as "stone bozos".

Airborne and Flash are rescued by Duke and Lady Jaye as Easter Island explodes, sending the moai crashing into the sea. The action follows the Joes to Cobra's hideout in the Himalayas, and there the Joes thwart Cobra's plans regarding the psionically gifted individuals and rescue Tommy.

G.I. Joe is based upon the action figure first released by Hasbro in 1964 - his UK counterpart is known as Action Man. The line was relaunched in 1982 to provide vehicles and playsets, along with a story arc that followed the struggles between the G.I. Joe team and Cobra Command, a terrorist organisation seeking world domination. A cartoon began in 1983, consisting of two five-part mini series, until the regular series began in 1985. Created by Ron Friedman and produced by Sunbow Productions, series one consisted of 55 episodes, and episode 22, ‘Operation: Mind Menace’, first aired on 15 October 1985.

There is no single character named G.I. Joe, as the name refers instead to the team, described in each episode’s opening sequence as “America's daring, highly-trained, Special Mission force”. Each individual has special abilities that help them in their fight against Cobra. The series was primarily created in order to sell the toys, meaning that episodes often focused on particular characters and their individual adventures as they seek to end Cobra’s evil schemes. Every episode featured a public safety lesson at its conclusion, with the G. I. Joe characters giving tips to their young audience. These short scenarios gave birth to the catchphrase: "And knowing is half the battle".

Previous episodes in the first series include a cargo cult story, in which a military satellite crashes in the South Pacific and is then claimed by a primitive tribe as a god. The inclusion of the moai in the episode ‘Operation: Mind Menace’ is not surprising considering other storylines within the series. The moai are treated less as cultural artefacts in their own right, and more as monolithic props that can be moved around according to the story - even hosting weapons if it suits the needs of the plot. The island's history and culture is stripped back, becoming secondary to its existence as a location for a secret base. At no point is it considered that Easter Island may have its own local populace - the island provides more of an exotic location for the training base.

Laura Sedgwick

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Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs
‘Legend of the Lost World’
(episode 45, 1987)

On a faraway frozen planet, a line of moai on an ahu

The elders idolise a moai

Moai appear briefly in two segments in this episode. It is revealed that moai means “sweetness of life, when there is no more war”. The stone heads here are ancient symbols of peace across different planets and dimensions, where they also act as beacons for a fleet of spaceships dispersed following a space storm. Built by a civilisation scattered across space and time, the moai are intergalactic figures that are meant to be seen by telescopes and by a race attempting to reunite. They are best understood by peace-promoting elders, who idolise the moai. These brown-hooded-robe elders bear a similarity to key Jedi in the Star Wars films, whilst the epic narrative of a lost in space civilisation and spaceships protecting settlers appears indebted to the original Battlestar Galactica (1978-9).

Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs is an American version of the 1984 Japanese anime series Star Musketeer Bismarck and is a space western in the style of the film Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and the cartoon series BraveStarr (1987-8) and Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers (1986-9). At its core it displays many of the characteristics of mecha anime with giant robots, transformations, and teams of youthful fighters who combat aliens. The moai are depicted in a landscape that is not dissimilar to Easter Island, but also in the icy terrain of a faraway frozen planet. These beacons apparently appear throughout galaxies and act as symbols of hope.

Ian Conrich

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(season 2, episode 39, 1996)

Nokkar, an ancient sentinel from outer space, alongside one of the many moai carved in his honour.

Nokkar and Goliath the gargoyle: The mighty warriors meet.

Finding themselves on the shores of Rapa Nui, as part of their ongoing world quest, the travelling group of companions - living gargoyles Goliath, Angela, and the dog-like Bronx, along with New York City policewoman Elisa - investigate the dark and mysterious island. Though unbeknown to them, they are being watched by Nokkar, an alien with moai features, who resides in his spaceship buried within a hillside.

The alien temporarily kidnaps Elisa and erases her memory. Later she is discovered by Goliath being cared for by two archaeologists. Goliath tries to remind Elisa of her identity, but he is captured by Nokkar and imprisoned along with Angela and Bronx in the hidden spaceship. It is revealed that Nokkar is an ancient soldier who had been sent to the strategic outpost of Easter Island, to defend Earth from an army of interstellar invaders that has never emerged.

The gargoyles fail to assure Nokkar that they are native to Earth, leading to a clash of mighty powers. Goliath destroys the vessel's controls, with the companions escaping the spaceship. Above ground, Nokkar re-emerges and is about to blast the gargoyles with his space cannon, until Elisa intervenes leaving Nokkar to trust the human’s judgement and leave the gargoyles unharmed as friends rather than foe.

The cult animation series Gargoyles, was first aired in 1994 and ran for three years over 78 episodes. Created by Greg Weisman for Disney, this American television programe depicts the adventures of a clan of stone creatures who were hauled from Scotland centuries after their creation and placed into New York City were they act as urban guardians. In this episode, two mythical stone forms meet, but the moai carvings play no significant role other than as eerie figures within the landscape. Much of this episode of the animated series is shot during the night, with daylight permitted only at the end of the story.

Nokkar is a sentinel, an intergalactic protector, and a warrior, not unlike the almost mythical Japanese soldiers in World War II, who were found resolutely defending isolated Pacific islands long after the conflict had ended. The actions of Nokkar were so revered by the Easter Islanders of centuries past that he was honoured with moai erected in his image. This fantasy of the moai is not uncommon within popular fiction, and comic books in particular.

Whilst this animation is firmly within the realm of science fiction, one of the more surprising concepts within the story is the idea of a vast nine-storey high hotel, The Islander, providing hospitality to tourists. It belongs to another island culture and it is a building that is more akin to those on Hawai'i's Waikiki beach than to Easter Island.

Lauren Jenkins

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The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest
‘The Secret of the Moai’
(season 1, episode 21, 1996)

A moai skeleton, discovered on a spaceship

A metal rongorongo tablet beside the moai skeleton

An alien, with a distinctly moai-shaped head, is shown experimenting on an ape when a volcanic eruption seals the alien and the ape inside the alien’s spaceship on Easter Island. Years later, Dr Quest locates the spacecraft in a cave beneath the lava flow, and Jonny finds the skeleton of the ape and the alien inside. The alien bears a tablet covered in strange markings, and Dr Quest recognises it as a rongorongo tablet, although he has never seen a metal one before. The markings turn out to be music, instead of language, and they translate the characters into musical notes. The show’s villain, Surd, attempts to use the alien technology, which appears to be an evolution-device, to regress Dr Quest and his companion, Race Bannon, to an ape-like state. Another alien ship comes down and destroys both the rongorongo tablet and the skeleton, while returning Race and Dr Quest to normality. Surd and his cronies are transported to Peru.

The Jonny Quest franchise originally began with a series that aired in 1964 and 1965, produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions. By the mid-1980s, the show had become part of The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera, and thirteen new episodes were made in 1986. Work began on new episodes in 1993, and the creative team were keen to utilise accurate depictions of physics and machinery for the series. Research was even conducted into child psychology to ensure that the action would not create adverse effects on young viewers, while sci-fi and fantasy themes were explored in each episode as they investigated mysteries. The show, The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest, premiered in 1996. 65 episodes were originally planned, but the creative team was changed in order to finish the first 26 episodes, loosely collected under the title of 'season one'. A new team created another 26 episodes, originally intended for a separate series, but later released as a second season. The show was cancelled after 52 episodes, and the series ended in 1999.

The moai space traveller commences his experiments

Jonny Quest, the tourist, on Easter Island

Keeping in line with its remit to provide fantasy and sci fi mysteries for children, previous episodes in the first season investigated ghost pirates in Bermuda, the lost city of El Dorado, sea monsters, quartz statues, the Philosopher's Stone and the Mary Celeste. Alongside such narratives, the variety of myths surrounding the moai make Easter Island a rich choice as a setting. The episode ‘The Secret of the Moai’ explores the origin myths that see the statues related in some way to aliens or space travel as well as addressing ideas surrounding the evolution of mankind. However, the decision to focus upon the rongorongo tablets and not the heads is an interesting one, as it engages with the mystery of the as-yet-untranslated language. The discovery within the story that the language of rongorongo is actually musical notation is novel and differs from the warnings of doom that can occur within other Easter Island narratives.

This episode is essentially an evolution narrative, which positions the moai as being of superior intelligence and their technology as coveted devices for altering the future of mankind. Typical with such narratives the Easter Islanders are absent. Though in this story, there are, inexplicably, apes on the island. Presenting these primates as subjects of alien moai experimentation for the apparent evolution of apes into humans, positions the island as central to world science, yet it also denigrates the history and image of the island’s actual human inhabitants.

Laura Sedgwick

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Rex the Runt
'Easter Island'
(season 1, episode 3, 1998)

The Eddie Izzard voiced trio of moai from the planet Thribb, holidaying on Easter Island

To the rescue: Bad Bob, Vince, and Wendy arrive on the planet Thribb in their old tin can

Rex the Runt and his loyal gang - Bad Bob, Wendy, and Vince - get together once again, this time to go on holiday in New Zealand. Unfortunately, whilst flying their helicopter over the Pacific Ocean, they run out of fuel, crash-landing on the island of “people with big fat heads”, also known as Easter Island. Here, they are greeted by Moai and his travelling companions – brother-in-law Damien and old school friend Rick. Much like Rex and his gang, the moai state that they are on “a bit of an expedition, doing Earth type things”, caravanning on the Island as they do every few thousand years. The moai are from outer space and they abduct Rex and take him to planet Thribb, as a specimen and a mascot. Once there, Rex is put on display before a crowd of moai and treated as a “lower life form”. Not far behind, Bad Bob, Wendy, and Vince are travelling through space in a tin can they found on the beach. They crash on to planet Thribb, interrupting the proceedings, and rescue an ungrateful Rex.

This Aardman animation short, from their earliest television series, foregrounds their trademark plasticine animal escapades. The scenarios in which the gang find themselves are surreal, yet the charm of the animation invites the viewer to follow the fantasy and share in the adventure. The idea of four dogs travelling to New Zealand in a helicopter is absurd enough, but Aardman’s depiction of the moai as walking, talking aliens - voiced by Eddie Izzard - extends the bizarre nature of the narrative.

The moai begin as seemingly ominous characters, but soon emerge as talkative aliens on holiday. In this comedy, the moai are sophisticated pipe-smoking adventurers, which contrasts dramatically with the sausage-eating gang of dogs who are naïve and a bit dim. In particular, there is Bad Bob with his obsession with “meat derivatives” whose idiocy synchronises with Vince – "the one with the teeth". Crucially, the island is devoid of any local population, with the moai imagined as a foreign and unearthly presence.

Lauren Jenkins

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Flint the Time Detective
(season 1, episode 19, 1998)

Moah the friendly time shifter

Moah transformed into Moah Monster

Dr Goodman presents another adventurous assignment to Flint and the Time Team. They must retrieve Moah the time shifter who has been located on Easter Island. Flint and the team hop on to the time cycle, setting the co-ordinates for the year 1560 to the remote and “pretty” island of Rapa nui. Upon arrival, they are greeted by a cute looking Moah and the friendly islanders. But not all is as pretty as it seems following the arrival of Petra Fina and her cronies - the mischievous thieves of time itself.

Moah is turned by Petra Fina into a giant evil moai, which Flint and his team is initially unable to stop in his attempt to wreak destruction on the island. Eventually transformed back into the loving Moah, Petra Fina next sends a tsunami towards the island. Moah now transforms into Moah Monster and with a stamp of his mighty stone foot, he awakens the moai guardians who emerge from the sand and along the seafront, forming a huge seawall of statues. Proving their role as protectors, the large stone faces save the team and the islanders from the tsunami, enabling Flint, Moah and the time team to safely make it back to the Bureau of Time and Space.

This colourful anime, directed by Hiroshi Fukutomi, was first aired in Japan in 1998 as part of a series that ran for 39 episodes. The characters resemble those from Digimon and Pokemon in the way that they transform, fight, unite, and possess special powers. Moah, in particular, emphasises his shape shifting abilities as he transforms from the small stone face with big pink lips and large eyes, who is not dissimilar to a Mr Potato Head, to the ominous and indestructible giant Moah with a mighty stone fist for smashing and crushing, and molten lava gushing from the top of his head.

In popular culture the maoi are regularly represented as either aggressive or comic figures. Flint the Time Detective is no exception to this tradition as Moah, who is repeatedly referred to as the guardian of the island, portrays both character traits. Nevertheless, when the moai of the island emerge from the sand, they act as the final guardians forming a collective wall protecting the islanders from peril.

Although the moai are depicted facing out to sea when saving the islanders, they do in fact face inland, and this is a common misunderstanding in popular culture interpretations of Easter Island. However, there are references to Anakena beach and the sweet potato, which suggest a certain degree of basic research within the animation. At several points, the Time Team discuss the creation of the moai, and are advised that their origins remain a mystery. Drawn to the popular myth of creation, this programme ignores the fact that there is no ambiguity as to who created the moai.

Lauren Jenkins

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(season 2, episode 3, 1999)

The moai are displaced by large stone blue ducks in one episode of Dilbert, in which the office worker is given the task of manufacturing art. With the aim of exploiting the art world, Dilbert succeeds in creating an art phenomenon. In a scene which never made it to the final version of this episode, the moai are toppled over a cliff and lie on top of each other, as the blue ducks triumph. The episode is a satire demonstrating the fallacies of modern art. The supremacy and absurdity of the ducks is clear in which ancient stone wonders are pushed aside by false idols.

Ian Conrich

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Justice League
‘The Terror Beyond’
(season 2, episode 15, 2003)

Wonder Woman and Aquaman battle in a moai-filled arena

Aquaman employs a moai as a weapon against Wonder Woman

This episode sees erstwhile Justice League member Aquaman team up with Dr Fate and former gangster-turned-zombie Solomon Grundy to defeat an ancient evil. Superman, Wonder Woman and Hawkgirl track down Aquaman and Dr Fate, but to prevent anyone from further interfering with his plans, Dr Fate teleports everyone away from his headquarters. Aquaman and Wonder Woman are sent to Easter Island, where they engage in a battle among the moai. Here, the moai are depicted as silent monoliths. During the battle, Aquaman picks up one moai and drops it on Wonder Woman. She lifts it off herself and tosses it aside, demonstrating her Amazonian strength, before hurling Aquaman into a second statue, which leaves a crack in its forehead. Aquaman throws Wonder Woman into the ocean and their fight continues underwater. The rest of the episode is dedicated to the fight between the Justice League and the interdimensional creature that Dr Fate and Aquaman have been attempting to contain.

The Justice League series began in 2001 and ran for two seasons, becoming Justice League Unlimited after the end of season two in 2004. Both seasons consist of twenty-six episodes, with narratives that often span two or three episodes. 'The Terror Beyond' comprises episodes fifteen and sixteen, although the battle among the moai occurs in episode fifteen. The series is based on the Justice League of DC Comics, and is not dissimilar to Marvel Comics’ team The Defenders. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation, most of the characters retain their origin stories from their individual story arcs.

While this episode engages with Lovecraftian mythology and the legends surrounding Atlantis, ‘The Terror Beyond’ ignores the rich mythology of Easter Island. Instead, the island is presented as desolate and devoid of life. Moreover, it does not engage with the moai, which are scattered in a very haphazard style and which function as little more than set dressing. The moai are used as visual shorthand to ground the battle between Wonder Woman and Aquaman in a location that is ancient and far away. As within other popular fictions of Easter Island, the moai aid a narrative that needs to emphasise isolation and distance. Neither superhero shows any regard for the status of the moai, which is problematic since both characters have origins in mythical places: Wonder Woman originates among the Amazons and Aquaman hails from Atlantis. The sequence in which the moai appear is less than 90 seconds long.

Laura Sedgwick

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Time Warp Trio
‘Birdman or Bird Brain?’
(episode 15, 2006)

The time-travelling trio arrive on the island at the foot of a moai,
moments before it is toppled

Whilst trapped in a cave Samantha learns to read the
language of rongorongo

Freddi, Samantha, and Fred arrive on Easter Island, where they discover a giant moai. The statue is pushed over by Maki Puhi, a hostile local, and it narrowly avoids hitting the children. They are rescued by another islander, Kai. It is revealed that the trio have ended up on the island after the text in their time travelling book morphed into rongorongo script.

Kai believes that the children have arrived on the island to help him win the birdman competition so that he can oust Hanga Ui, the current birdman. Hanga Ui has become tyrannical after four years in charge and seeks to destroy all of the other clans. Kai and his uncle aim to end his rule, and the kids offer to help. Freddi has to climb down the cliff and swim to the birdman island, Motu Nui, where she not only finds the required sooty tern's egg, but also the copy of the book that they need to send them back to their correct period in time.

Meanwhile, Kai's uncle teaches Samantha how to read the rongorongo tablets while recounting the history of the island. This new knowledge enables her to read the found book, allowing her to translate it back into English. The trio's involvement sees Hanga Ui ousted from power, and Fred crowned as birdman, although he passes these powers onto Kai's uncle so that he may return home.

Time Warp Trio is an American/Canadian animated series, based on the children's books of the same name by Jon Scieszka. The show was originally aired on Discovery Kids in the US. Its original run lasted from July 2005 until September 2006, with 26 episodes aired. The series followed the adventures of Joe, who receives a book from his magician uncle that allows him to travel through space and time with his friends. Other episodes in the series deal with journeys to twelfth-century Mongolia, ancient Egypt, nineteenth-century New York and mediaeval Scotland. The educational remit of the series extends to the availability of teaching resources online, which accompany the episodes and further explore the mythology and history of the locations visited by the children.

Unlike many other cartoons, Time Warp Trio actively considers the Rapanui, their language and belief systems. This episode is divided between the action typical of cartoon series aimed at children - in this case following Freddi's quest to bring back a tern's egg - and an exploration of Rapanui's history and culture, with some words and concepts emphasised. The customs of the island form the basis of the narrative, particularly surrounding the birdman cult and the rongorongo tablets, and while the moai are depicted they do not constitute a central part of the story. The extent to which the language of rongorongo is featured is exceptional and the episode is largely accurate in covering the birdman cult. Dates are, however, muddled, with the story set in 1765. The destruction of the rongorongo tablets is blamed, for instance, on competing tribes in the mid eighteenth century, approximately one hundred years before many of the tablets went missing.

Laura Sedgwick

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‘Nosing 'Round the Mountain’
(season 11, episode 6, 2008)



The Pokémon series is known for presenting unusual characters and creatures who possess strange powers. A moai-like Pokémon made an appearance in the animation episode ‘Nosing ’round the mountain’. This rock-type Pokémon character is called Nosepass. In this episode, Turtwig, who belongs to the main character Ash, battles Alan who is the trainer of a Nosepass Pokémon. The battle takes place on Mt Coronet, the highest mountain in the Sinnoh region (a realm of the Pokémon world). The battle must take place on Mt Coronet otherwise Nosepass will not evolve into Probopass (an advanced form of Nosepass). The evolution into Probopass is successful, but then Team Rocket kidnap Probopass and take over his mind with their mind control machine. Alan, Ash and the rest of Ash’s friends join together to save Probopass.

This animation is part of the wider popular Pokémon (or Pocket Monsters) media franchise, which was created in Japan in 1996. In this episode Nosepass/Probobass have an electromagnetic energy force that they use to battle other Pokémon. Bizarrely, the main source of this power is located in the character’s big red nose. Combined with the hat, which Probopass wears and which resembles a pukao, this character would appear to have been influenced by the moai. Japanese popular culture has shown a significant interest in the moai and Easter Island and in a kid culture where power is acquired and employed, it is unsurprising that the moai have served as inspiration for such fantastic creatures.

Catherine Welsh

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The Simpsons, The Critic, Futurama, and American Dad

Sight gags and verbal references to Easter Island have occurred across a number of episodes of the popular television series The Simpsons, where the moai are used as easy references for an exotic and faraway holiday destination. In the episode ‘The Two Mrs Nahasapeemapetilons’ (season 9, episode 7, 1997), Moe mentions Easter Island as a place that he has been planning to visit “for years”, and his attraction to the location is further emphasised by an Easter Island T-shirt that he wears whilst working behind the bar. The T-shirt commercialises the island in a fantasy image that depicts two moai kissing, but the joke is on Moe, who in conversation with Homer appears unaware that there are “giant heads” on the island. In contrast, the much travelled Selma and Patty Bouvier have visited the island and a holiday snap appears in the episode ‘The Black Widower’ (season 3, episode 21, 1992), and a framed picture in ‘Much Apu About Nothing’ (season 7, episode 23, 1996). In the episode ‘The Wettest Stories Ever Told’ (season 17, episode 18, 2006), Bligh and his crew on The Bounty, disembark in Tahiti, where crew members that include Bart observe Easter Island heads being carved. The moai here are yet again short-hand gags for the exoticism of Polynesia, with Tahiti in the Simpson’s world able to unite a variety of South Pacific references into one location.

The producers of The Simpsons, Gracie Films, also made The Critic, a short-lived animation that lasted for just two seasons and 23 episodes between 1994 and 1995. In the series, there is a repeated gag about a boy from Easter Island who attends the United Nations High School in New York. The show’s surrealism extended to an awkward imagining of this native Easter Islander having a large moai-like stone head, its monstrosity and abstract form isolating and marking the child out from a number of social situations.

The Simpsons-inspired Futurama, similarly drew freely on popular culture and a simplified history of the world, with brief gags involving the moai. In the Emmy-nominated episode ‘Jurassic Bark’ (season 4, episode 7, 2002) the robot Bender aims to impress and show he can be like a dog, by fetching a large moai. The supposed difficulties in moving the moai and the distant location of Easter Island, make this ‘fetch’ particularly surreal. And in the episode ‘When Aliens Attack’ (season 1, episode 12, 1999), a group of moai appear at the tourist site Monument Beach, where other great monuments, such as Mount Rushmore and Big Ben, have been relocated since the 27th century thanks to the efforts of a super-villain. These beach-sited monuments positioned out of context echo the famous Statue of Liberty scene at the end of The Planet of the Apes (1968). But as aliens then proceed to destroy each monument, the scene also evokes the destruction in Mars Attacks! (1996).

A super-villian is also connected to Easter Island in the ‘For Black Eyes Only’ episode of American Dad (season 8, episode 13, 2013). As the second part of the 2-part episode ‘The Tearjerker Saga’, this is heavily indebted to James Bond and has CIA agent Stan Smith visiting Roger the alien in an Easter Island maximum security prison. Roger has various lives throughout the series, and in this episode he plays a bond super-villian, Tearjerker, who is so depraved that he is held captive in a prison cell deep under the ocean under Easter Island. Some of the world’s greatest maximum security prisons, such as Alcatraz and Devil’s Island, have been on inaccessible rocky lands, surrounded by sharks. The isolation of Easter Island within the Pacific, in shark-infested waters, lends itself to the surreal imagination of American Dad creator Seth MacFarlane. Once again within popular culture, Easter Island is fantasised as a location for a super-villian.

Ian Conrich

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SpongeBob SquarePants (1999- )

SpongeBob and Patrick outside Squidward’s home

Mrs Tentacles’ home

There is a popular perception that a moai features in the episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants. The series draws repeatedly on cultural aspects of the Pacific, in particular Hawai’i. The references can be quite abstract and in this context both Squidward’s home and Mrs Tentacles’ home are more a fishtank version of a tiki than a moai. There are elements of a moai in these homes, such as the elongated head and high forehead, but not enough to make them a significant form within Moai Culture.

Ian Conrich

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The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!, The Adventures of Tintin, and Hop

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!

The Adventures of Tintin

The 2012 claymation comedy The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (in the US titled: The Pirates! Band of Misfits) continues an interest in Easter Island that was previously shown by the producers Aardman in an episode of the animation short Rex the Runt. This feature-length film includes two short scenes featuring moai, one of which also shows Easter Island’s location on a map. In this film, the Pirate Captain and his crew team up with Charles Darwin to try to win the Pirate of the Year Award, while attempting to avoid the pirate-hating Queen Victoria. During the opening credits sequence, the pirate ship is shown crossing the globe and visiting certain islands and continents. Upon arrival on Easter Island, the ship knocks over several moai as if they were bowling pins (a gag found previously in the film Mars Attacks!) and continues on its way. In a later scene at Darwin’s home filled with artefacts collected during his sea voyages, the pirates are chasing after the thief of the Captain’s dodo bird when they fall into a bathtub which then crashes through the floor and slides at speed down the staircase. A moai is in the corner of the landing into which the bathtub collides, causing it to tumble face-first down the stairs. As exotic figures in the home of the founder of the theory of evolution, the moai alongside the dodo is an unusual pairing that briefly unites two powerful island myths.

In The Adventures of Tintin (2011), the most well-known moai which is now in the British Museum, Hoa Hakananai’a, appears in the background of a scene which takes place at the palace of the wealthy merchant Omar ben Salaad, in the fictional city of Bagghar, Morocco. The opera singer Bianca Castafiore is performing for ben Salaad and his guests, and many of his prized possessions can be seen behind Bianca as she sings. Similar to The Pirates!, the appearance of the moai in The Adventures of Tintin is rather brief and merely illustrates the importance of the owner.

Easter Island, the home of the Easter Bunny's candy factory in Hop

E.B leaves home by climbing down a moai's nose

Using Easter Island as the location of the Easter Bunny’s home and workshop is a recurring theme in fiction. It is not surprising that the Easter-themed film Hop (2011) places the Easter Bunny’s candy factory on the island. The Easter Bunny and his son, E.B., are shown entering the underground factory through the mouth of a moai, which lowers its lips to reveal an elevator. Later, the young E.B. decides that he does not want to replace his father as the next Easter Bunny and runs away to Hollywood instead to pursue his dream of becoming a drummer. Climbing out of the moai’s nose using a rope, E.B. enters a circle of moai facing each other where he chooses his destination on a computer screen. The eyes of the moai begin to shine and a hole opens in the ground in the centre of the circle into which E.B. jumps in order to be transported to Hollywood. This circle of moai is shown again when the Pink Berets, the royal guards, are sent to Hollywood to bring E.B. back to Easter Island. The moai are employed in this fiction as objects of power and mystery able to create a portal to another land. They are also a part of a common fantasy that the moai are supposedly hollow and contain secret lairs.

Jennifer Wagner

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Fiction Films

Godzilla vs Megalon (1973)

The Godzilla series of films are Japan-centric, yet this should not disguise the fact that the narratives are fantasies born from the wider Pacific. Godzilla is a creation of nuclear testing in the Pacific and Pacific islands feature throughout the series. Godzilla vs Megalon emphasises the high impact of nuclear testing (by foreign powers) in the Pacific, with earthquakes at the start of the film. The testing is also destroying the ancient kingdom of Mu/Lemuria, referred to here also as Seatopia, which is located under the Pacific Ocean. A third of their three million year old peace-abiding kingdom has been destroyed, so they awaken Megalon to annihilate the human race (with the help of an old Godzilla foe, Gigan).

Mu is a mythical kingdom, which was created by James Churchward in the 1890s (with his first such book published in 1926) in an attempt to convince people of a possibility of a lost continent of the Pacific, similar to Atlantis. Churchward presented Easter Island and the moai as remnants of Mu, and all that remains visible of the sunken continent. Godzilla vs Megalon continues the association with the citizens of Mu communicating with Easter Island, which is represented here by the line of moai at Tongariki. Mu itself is a futuristic vision very much design-dependent on the ideas of modernity of the early 1970s, with the sets and costumes all pure whites and silver. There is within this civilization a distinct cult of the moai, with a large silver moai standing over the citizens of Seatopia as they worship and dance at its feet. Such scenes are brief and appear to have been inspired in part by Beneath the Planet of the Apes, made three years earlier, with its hidden and evolved civilization who worship an atomic bomb.

Ian Conrich

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Sky Pirates
(1986, directed by Colin Eggleston)

Lieutenant Harris and Melanie in a publicity shot for the film

In ancient times, extra-terrestrials visited Earth and scattered artefacts across the globe, at Stonehenge, the great pyramids of Egypt, and the moai of Easter Island. Buried at the base of one moai was a sacred tablet that held a great energy, which if harnessed could be used for either good or evil. In 1886, a band of grave robbers dug up this tablet and split it  into three pieces. Only when pieced back together, can the true power of this extra-terrestrial key be possessed.

Fast forward to 1945 and Lieutenant Harris (John Hargreaves) is assigned the duty of flying a plane from Australia to Washington D.C. to deliver a mysterious cargo. Among his crew are fellow military man Savage (Max Phipps), and the Reverend Mitchell (Simon Chilvers). Whilst in the air, a drunken crew member opens the cargo crate and, in doing so, forces their aircraft into a supernatural thunderstorm, crashing them into the ocean and leaving them stranded 5000 miles off course. They leave their sinking aircraft via a rubber dingy and head for what they believe to be Easter Island. As they get closer, the island vanishes as if it was a mirage. After drifting for days without food or water, Savage makes one last bid for survival and fires off a flare gun at a passing ocean liner.

Back in Australia, Harris finds himself court martialled for striking a superior officer and leading the plane off course. He explains what happened, but no one believes him. With the Reverend nowhere to be seen, Savage testifies against him and Harris is escorted out of the building to serve a sentence in a military prison. Eager to find out what really did happen, he steals a gun from one of his escorts and escapes. His exit is interrupted, however, when he comes across the Reverend’s daughter Melanie (Meredith Mitchell) trapped inside an elevator that is about to crash. Upon rescuing her, Melanie explains that it was Savage who trapped her and that he is chasing after the three pieces of the sacred tablet; one of which belonged to her father and was the content of the cargo that Harris was told to deliver. Melanie adds that her father believes that the ancient people of Easter Island had mystical powers to move mountains and levitate stone structures with their minds. She explains that when the three pieces are put together, there is a source of unbelievable power. Harris and Melanie proceed to hijack a plane from the base, and chase after Savage, eventually landing on Easter Island.

On Easter Island, Savage is found in a cave with the tablet pieces and stood in front of a toppled moai. As these parts of the tablet are united they glow bright with energy and the toppled moai rises into an upright position. The third segment of the tablet that was buried on Easter Island then unearths itself from the dirt. Such is the power of the complete tablet that the moai glows with a blinding light and the cave begins to shake. As Harris and Meanie flee, avisible force fires from the moai towards Savage, reducing him to dust and bone. Observing this, Harris repeats the curse “He who disturbs the sacred Moai meets death”.

The Australian produced Sky Pirates (also known as Dakota Harris) is a clear attempt at an Indiana Jones style film. The success of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), led to imitations such as Savage Islands (1983), High Road to China (1983), King Solomon’s Mines (1985), Allan Quartermain and the City of Lost Gold (1986), and the TV series Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-3). In fact, Indiana Jones managed to visit Easter Island twice, once in a novel for the English market,and then again in a separate adventure as Young Indy, published solely for German readers. Sky Pirates imagines Easter Island as part of a series of ancient alien landing sites (that includes places such as Uluru). Within the completely uninhabited island the film presents a large cave network with the now clichéd Indiana Jones collapsing cave floors and hidden chambers filled with snakes and gold. The moai around the island are exploited for basic moments - accompanied by a soundtrack suggesting mystery - in which the figures whilst presented in situ are removed from the island's culture. Other than the final scene when a fallen maoi is effortlessly raised with the power given by an ancient tablet, they are poorly mythologised to serve the film's fantasies.

Savage raises a fallen moai with the power received from an extra-
terrestrial tablet

A secret cave of golden icons that includes golden moai kavakava

The film’s most interesting moment is at the end where Harris and Melanie confront Savage in an Easter Island cavern. In the preceding cave passages, golden icons are discovered and include, rather bizarrely, basic gold statues of moai kavakava and of tangata manu.  Even more fantastic, the film positions the western idea of a library of ancient books stored in this cave. Whilst the idea of a hidden library is far-fetched and the islanders never had books before the arrival of Europeans, the idea appears to be inspired by the rongorongo tablets, the earliest form of Polynesian writing of which the majority of examples have been destroyed.

Ian Conrich and Adam Crowther

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Rapa Nui
(1994, directed by Kevin Reynolds)

Two classes exist on Rapa Nui – the long ears and the short ears. The current reigning chief of the island, Ariki-mau (Eru Potaka Dewes), a long ear, requests that his grandson Noro (Jason Scott Lee) race for an egg in order for him to continue reigning as the birdman – Noro reluctantly agrees. In anticipation of the race, Ariki-mau asks the short ears to build an additional moai, even bigger than the last. They are given six moons to complete the carving; just in time for the race. Unknown to Ariki-mau, Noro is involved in a secret relationship with a girl he wishes to marry, a short ear by the name of Ramana (Sandrine Holt). Eventually, Noro asks his grandfather about the marriage, but upon hearing that the girl is a short ear he becomes outraged, claiming that an inter-marriage will anger the Gods. However, Ariki-mau agrees that if Noro wins the birdman race, he will allow the two to be wed. The only condition is that Ramana must remain in the 'cave of the white virgin' until the day of the competition. Despite the challenging nature of the cave, Ramana agrees. She is sent to the cave and Noro begins training for the race.

In the meantime, the short ears begin carving the larger moai. Tensions arise when the short ears are given less food than usual by the long ears. The short ears declare that they will stop work on the new moai, unless they receive a larger amount of food, as well as a chance to compete in the birdman race. Fearful that the Gods may be angered if the new moai is not constructed, Ariki-mau agrees to these demands. Noro's friend, Make (Esai Morales), stands forward as the short ear's race competitor. If he wins, he becomes the new birdman as well as acquiring the right to claim Ramana as his wife.

On the day of the race, Noro wins by a small margin, continuing the long ear rule. Ramana is released from the cave both pale and pregnant. Before celebrations can begin, an iceberg appears in the distance. Ariki-mau assumes this to be a white canoe sent from the Gods and departs to investigate. During this time, the Priest attempts to take rule of Rapa Nui and demands even more of the short ears. Angered at these demands and their loss, Make kills the Priest and the short ears begin a rebellion, killing many of the long ears. Baffled at the actions of those surrounding him, fearing for his life, Noro, Ramana and their newly born daughter depart the island on a canoe – a wedding gift from Ramana's father.

It is significant that this film was directed by Kevin Reynolds and produced by Kevin Costner. In the vein of their earlier films Dances with Wolves (1990), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991) and the later movies Waterworld (1995) and The Postman (1997), Rapa Nui is a fantasy that romanticises threatened folk cultures, and 'primitive' civilisations, and exploits cultural-histories of ingenuity, independence and isolation to explore geo-political eco-narratives. Various consultants were employed in making Rapa Nui, leading to a factual depth that is unusual for Rapa Nui fiction films. Moreover, the film was largely made on the island itself employing genuine locations. That said, the film was still unable to extricate itself from the demands of Hollywood and genre filmmaking, which dictated that the commercial value of the production lay in emphasising the drama, romance, and action of the film at the expense of sections of historical veracity.

The tribal divisions between the long ears (the rulers) and the short ears (the ruled) enable a convenient version of Romeo and Juliet, where the star-crossed lovers come from different clans. The central protaganist, played by Hollywood action star Jason Scott Lee (who in an earlier movie had played Bruce Lee), is given the opportunity to compete in the birdman (tangata manu) race, where his strength and athleticism can be foregrounded. The toppling of the moai - this film sees some of those, which have been broken, destroyed in a drive for perfectionism - provides moments of high drama and spectacle. Whilst the film's focus on the very last of the trees to be chopped down, which leads to a form of tree-hugging, reveals the narrative's Californiaised eco-politics and a subtext that employs the island as a parable of mankind's destructive nature.

Throughout this film the maoi loom large and are the production's most dominant image as can be observed from much of the marketing material. Here, whilst the maoi do not headline on the posters, they capture more of the promotional space and as the poster's narrative image are central to a promise of action and drama in which a monolithic stone figure is hauled into life.

Ian Conrich and Adam Crowther

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Mars Attacks! and Night at the Museum

Arguably the two most popular appearances of moai in film have been comic cameos in action-fantasy blockbusters. In the science fiction feature Mars Attacks! (1996), based on the trading cards and directed by Tim Burton, alien invasion includes the destruction of significant landmarks. In one brief sight-gag, the aliens treat a line of moai like skittles and bowl them over employing a giant bowling ball. The scene is short but for many is highly memorable.

More significantly, in the Night at the Museum films (2006, 2009 and 2014), a moai at New York’s Museum of Natural History comes alive after hours. This moai talks (but otherwise does not move) and repeatedly requests that he is given bubblegum. The humour is in the stupidity and in the simplicity and catchiness of the moai’s expressions: “dum-dum”,“gum-gum”, “fun-fun” and “son-son”. The nature of the statements, and the voice of this moai, suggests that this statue is devoid of intellect. Yet in most popular imaginings of the moai, in which they come alive, they are depicted as having a superior intelligence.

Ian Conrich

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Comic Books

Mystery In Space
'Riddle of the Runaway Earth!'
(no.40, October-November 1957, DC Comics)

Archeologist Joel Cobb discovers an unusual machine within a moai. It transmits a telepathic message to him revealing the history of a race of aliens, with facial features resembling the moai. Exploring the universe they found only lifeless planets until they reached Earth, which at this distant time was the ninth planet of the solar system. Discovering primitive ape-men the aliens constructed a “cosmic engine” within the planet to move it closer to the sun as “warmed by the sun … those primitive creatures will evolve”. Leaving behind the moai as representations of themselves they departed to outer space. As Cobb discovers this the earth suddenly leaves its orbit of the sun, seemingly returning to its position as the ninth planet in the solar system. Cobb suspects this is because the alien’s cosmic engine has somehow become reactivated. Digging beneath the moai he discovers a vast chamber containing the engine. He deciphers the controls and fixes the Earth’s course. As the Earth returns to its original orbit Cobb learns that it is about to collide with a white dwarf star and manages to stop the planet just in time. Earth returns to its position as the third planet from the sun and Cobb realises that the unexpected movement of the planet was designed to avoid a collision with this star. He hides the chamber the machine inhabits and destroys his research to prevent something of such power being abused in the future.

This highly fantastic story, published in 1957, can be seen as an example of the common portrayal of the moai in comic books and science fiction as being closely linked to extra-terrestrials. The story ignores entirely Easter Island’s native population and history, instead choosing to view the presence of the moai on the island as a complete mystery. Within the tale the moai were created by benevolent aliens in their own image in order to show that they had visited Earth and also as a marker of the site of their hugely powerful technology. Therefore, this is a story that can be seen to be engaging with both the myth of power and the myth of creation in its treatment of the moai.

The story follows the common trope that suggests that as the moai are such huge and weighty creations whoever created them must be in possession of a vast amount of power. In this instance, this power extends as far as being able to move the Earth itself. Whilst the aliens within the story are depicted as using this power for good it is important to note that the story takes a dimmer view of the human race. The lead character decides to conceal the presence of the earth-moving technology fearing that, if revealed, it will be used irresponsibly. The comic also engages with the myth of the Easter Island archaeologist as a great adventurer and with the idea that there may be a hollow moai concealing a secret to the island's activities.

Peter Munford

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Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane
'How Lois Lane Fell in Love with Superman!'
(no.53, November 1964, DC Comics)

Lois Lane is assigned to cover earthquakes on a remote jungle island and her editor arranges for Superman to fly her there. Upon arriving, Superman loses his powers due to a discovered piece of kryptonite. The island features large moai-like statues and is populated by oversized plants and creatures. Superman is required to use ingenuity rather than his powers to protect Lois. This impresses Lois and they kiss, but as they do a snake attacks them. Superman manages to defend Lois, but is bitten by the snake. The bite has no harmful effect though and Superman discovers his powers have returned.

In this comic book, the moai feature in a single panel of artwork. For the purposes of the story they are situated on the fictional Bamboo Island. Unlike many comic book stories featuring the moai this one offers no thoughts on their presence, and nor does it depict them as living creatures or of extra-terrestrial origin. Instead, they function purely to demonstrate the foreign, mysterious and, therefore, threatening nature of the island. This is reflected in Lois Lane’s remark “I want to film them!”, which positions the statues as objects of curiosity. This comic is therefore a clear example of how the moai became shorthand for denoting the exotic and the mysterious in Western Culture.

Peter Munford

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Captain Marvel
'The Invisible Aliens'
(no.1, April 1966, M.F. Enterprises)

On board a plane, Captain Marvel along with fifty passengers is caught in an electro-magnetic storm that forces them to land on a paradisiacal island. There, he discovers giant footprints and a colossal computer in the middle of a jungle. After deciphering an ancient tablet, he finds that the advanced civilisation that used to inhabit the island discovered the fourth dimension and was subsequently destroyed by ‘creatures’. A door opens and Captain Marvel enters the giant computer, where he meets these creatures who are shaped like giant stone heads, and battles them using his superpowers. The creatures are too strong and he is forced to escape through an underground tunnel. He makes his way back to the plane only to find the giant stone heads have encircled it and are asking the crew and passengers for help. Suspicious of their intentions, he follows them back to the computer where the giants ask the plane’s crew to seal a hatch, but when they become suspicious, the heads threaten to take them hostage in exchange for Captain Marvel. When the crew fight back, the heads beg for Marvel’s help as he is the only one who can help them get back to their own dimension. Captain Marvel agrees and helps to send them back home by using his body as a lightning conductor; in return, the giants help to teleport him back onto the plane.

M.F. Enterprises, who published this comic, were a minor outfit who began with this particular edition and had collapsed by the end of the following year. Captain Marvel was originally the name given to Fawcett Comics’ character between 1940 and 1953; M.F. Enterprises took the name and conceived a different superhero, most notably one who is capable of splitting his body into different parts. Although this particular story does not make a direct reference to Easter Island and the moai, the comic book clearly depicts moai-inspired stone figures as Captain Marvel’s ‘Invisible Aliens’. The ‘heads’, as Captain Marvel calls them, walk, talk and have superpowers, but they appear rather strange as they are shown as having a head, arms and legs but no body. Another aspect which hints at Easter Island is the mysterious ancient tablet written in a forgotten language, which is reminiscent of the rongorongo tablets. Today’s linguists and anthropologists are some way from understanding rongorongo, but the superhero that is Captain Marvel takes only seconds to decipher his tablet using his “computer-like brain”. The tablet is an oddity within the story and even Captain Marvel remarks on its anachronism: “Strange such an advanced civilization used tablets to write on…when they built a giant computer!”.

The presence of the computer, like the message left by the ancient civilisation which was destroyed by the heads, remain unexplored in the text, as the reader is given no developed explanation about the people and their ancient knowledge. Similar to other such texts, these natives are quickly put aside as the island becomes a mystery devoid of people, but inhabited by giant stone statues. The presence of the moai in this comic book is a simple way of exploiting the myths behind Easter Island in an attempt to create new adventures and villains for Captain Marvel to battle. This is understandable due to the period when the comic was released, 1966, when interest in Easter Island had risen significantly, due not least to the publication of Thor Heyerdahl’s 1958 book Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island.

Patricia Porumbel

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Where Monsters Dwell
'I Was Trapped By the Things on Easter Island'
(no.24, October 1973, Marvel Comics Group)

While flying over the South Pacific, a plane develops engine problems forcing its pilot to crash-land on Easter Island. In his quest to find some means of communication, the pilot stumbles upon a few moai heads. To his surprise, the moai begin to move and rise, pushing themselves out of the ground. The pilot hides near the statues so that he can learn more. He discovers that they are from outer space, and they are lying in wait for their orders to begin an invasion of Earth. Eventually discovered by the “things”, the pilot hides in a cave where he finds a native boat which he boards in order to escape. Back in the civilised world, he tells his story to the authorities, but he is met with disbelief and derision. Defeated, he returns to his home on a remote island in the Pacific. There, whilst falling asleep in his bed, he tries to convince himself that he imagined everything. Outside, the moai are gathered at his bedroom window, and now assured that the earthling believes this was all part of his imagination, the statues return to Easter Island to continue their wait for the signal to invade.

This story is an exact reprint of the publication that appeared in the Marvel comic, Tales to Astonish (September 1959). Clearly promoting the myths of movement and creation, the story imagines the moai statues as alien invaders who have been waiting for centuries to hear from their home planet. Their intention is to enslave earthlings and turn Earth into a colony of their mother-planet Lithodia Rex (which can be roughly translated into Kingdom of Stones). The myth of movement reveals the ability of the statues to walk, talk, see and hear. Apart from the obvious movement of the statues when they rise from the ground and chase the pilot, there is also the question of communication between these monoliths. The pilot is amazed at their ability to talk to each other and hides “within earshot” of the statues. Supporting the myth of creation, the pilot initially remarks that Easter Island has giant statues of unknown origins. Furthermore, the comic extends the popular notion that the island is devoid of people. However, the pilot does manage to find a native boat, which interestingly for the context in this story suggests the island once supported an indigenous culture.

To contain the broad fantasy, the narrative explores basic ideas of hallucination and delusion. The pilot’s entire experience takes place after a forced landing on the island. It is made clear from the beginning that he has hurt himself and that he suffers from a severe headache. This is re-enforced later on in the comic when he tries to relate his story to the authorities, who advise "you must've hurt your head real bad! It's given you hallucinations!". His story is considered so "fantastic" that in a self-reflexive approach, someone even suggests to the pilot that he sells his story to a science fiction magazine.

Patricia Porumbel

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Weird War Tales
'The Common Enemy'
(no.34, February 1975, DC Comics)

Spring 1942. Chief Petty Officer Phil Randel is washed onto a deserted island when the Japanese destroy his U.S. Navy boat. He finds a giant moai and assumes it represents a god and that he is on a “ceremonial island” that is seldom visited. Over the next two years, he builds a hut and survives by foraging. One day, he hears shots and sees that a Japanese soldier has also been washed ashore. They immediately engage in a gun battle. Neither is wounded and the Japanese soldier runs away. For the next few months, they continue to shoot at each other with neither man gaining the upper hand.

On one occasion Phil uses the top of the large moai as a lookout point, but when a grenade is then tossed by the Japanese soldier it causes a chain reaction to be unleashed in the statue. It rises up from the ground revealing hands, a torso, legs, and feet. Both men abandon their battle and turn their guns on this perceived new threat. Suddenly, a spaceship arrives and lands just out to sea. The moai walks out to meet it, climbs aboard, and departs. The two soldiers celebrate their survival together but suddenly the Japanese soldier resumes his attack on Phil. The comic ends with the two continuing their endless battle. A final caption states: “The war between the United States and Japan has been over for 29 years – except here, on this far-off battleground of – The Weird War!”.

Taking clear inspiration from the 1968 John Boorman film Hell in the Pacific, this comic book tale moves the basic narrative set-up of that film into the realm of science fiction with the addition of the moving moai. The island in this comic book is far from being the actual Easter Island as it is uninhabited and contains only one moai. Therefore, it is apparent that the moai is being used here as a marker of exoticism and mystery. Despite being published thirty years after the end of World War II the comic book employs very negative stereotyping in its depiction of the Japanese soldier. He is drawn with clichéd slanted eyes, is shown as the aggressor when he and the American soldier first meet, and he is the one to initiate conflict again at the story’s conclusion. This negative attitude towards the Japanese is reflected in the speech of the American soldier (and reader point of identification). He refers to the Japanese soldier as a “jap” and a “glory-hungry son of the Emperor” and the comic's depiction of the Japanese soldier suggests that it is not inappropriate for him to do so.

In contrast to the depiction of the human characters, the moai is presented as a peaceful being, beyond earthly concerns and generally uninterested in the way that it is attacked. Its only goal is to reach the spacecraft and return to its home in the stars. This contrasts with many depictions of the moai that engage with the myth of movement where the moai’s animation is shown in order to convey either threat or humour. The soldiers’ immediate response upon the revelation that the moai can move is to turn their weapons on it, which is followed by their quick return to fighting each other once it has departed. Within the story this indicates a negative view of the human race as a predominantly aggressive species.

Peter Munford

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The Mighty Thor
'A Kingdom Lost!'
(no 318, April 1982, Marvel Comics Group)

Thor’s evil brother Loki borrows "five norn stones" from the evil queen Karnilla. He then travels to Earth with the evil king Fafnir (a dragon) to gain vengeance on Thor. Loki deposits the norn stones on Easter Island and sets out to lure Thor there by creating a tidal wave. Thor flies to Easter Island and, upon his arrival, the evacuation of islanders is ongoing. An American rescue worker asks Thor to protect the island's town. He does this by throwing his hammer Mjolnir into the ground to create a huge earth and rock wall separating the town from the moai and the beach. The evacuation is completed by helicopter and Thor is left on the island alone. The tsunami arrives and uproots the moai but the wall created by Thor prevents it reaching the town.

When the wave recedes, Thor realises that the moai actually have bodies that were buried in the ground, leaving only the heads visible. Thor attempts to return the moai to their original positions, but the norn stones bring them to life. They try to attack Thor but they are slow and not particularly strong. Thor drives them further and further from the norn stones causing them to become even slower and weaker. This enables Thor to hammer them back into the ground with Mjolnir. Thor then confronts Loki in a cave on a neighbouring island. Fafnir appears and attacks Thor but Thor is able to defeat him. Thor and Loki's father Odin then appears and prevents Thor attacking Loki and Fafnir further. He banishes Fafnir back to his destroyed former kingdom of Nastrond, and returns Loki to Asgard to await punishment. The story ends with a group of men on the island puzzled by how the moai have been returned to their original positions. Thor, in his secret identity of Dr Donald Blake, overhears them and smiles.

This issue of The Mighty Thor was published twenty years after the character's first appearance and by this point the narrative of Loki attempting to defeat his brother Thor, through the use of trickery, was firmly established. This particular edition is a clear example of it and the use of Easter Island can be seen to be as an attempt to bring freshness to a somewhat familiar narrative through transposing it to an unfamiliar landscape. In contrast to many other comic stories that make use of an Easter Island setting, this particular issue does make a limited attempt to reflect the reality of the place. The acknowledgement that Easter Island is an inhabited island containing a modern day society is rare in Western popular culture. However, no interest is taken in the lives of this community, instead they are depicted as an anonymous group with no characteristics other than their need to be rescued. Moreover, the comic declares that the island has "91 permanent residents", a figure manageable to rescue quickly by helicopter within the fiction of the story, but one that was far short of the actual population in 1982, which was closer to 2000.

The story does not imbue the moai with any original mystical powers. It is only through the magical norn stones that they gain the ability to move and fire lasers from their eyes. This depiction does share with other comic books the tendency to have a moai as not just a "brooding" head, but actually a full stone body with the head the only part visible above ground. Unusually within popular fiction, there is a heritage message within this comic with the stated need to preserve the unique culture of the island and to protect it as much as possible from the tsunami. The moai are correctly regarded as highly significant carvings, whilst the island's town is protected by tidal destruction by Thor, as "the last vestige of an ancient kingdom".

Peter Munford

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Lais and Ben 1
(text: Joachim Friedmann; drawings: Henk Wyniger; Hamburg: Carlsen, Edition Comic Art, 1990)

Lais and Ben are close friends and German students in Frankfurt am Main. While Ben is fervently pursuing his studies, Lais is unhappy with his life and is in search of new hedonistic pleasures. To this end he experiments with mind-expanding drugs and shamanic rituals. So when he comes across a book called ‘Anamarama’ (the cave of light), written by an English ship’s doctor who had landed on Easter Island on a slave traders’ ship in the nineteenth century, and reads about a secret Easter Island cult, he spontaneously decides to travel to Easter Island. In his report, the doctor mentions a mind-expanding drug called Anamarama, which Lais hopes to find and experience.

Ben finds some clues to Lais’s plans and follows him to Easter Island. There, Ben is warned by a native Rapanui of the caves, but he is determined to enter them whereupon he manages to find Lais. The two friends are now captives of the Rapanui who feed them the Anamarama drug during a secret ceremony. Consequently, they are to be prevented from ever leaving the island. In their drugged state the two protagonists have an intense mind-altering psychedelic experience, of which they remember little upon awakening. A native helps them to escape whilst the rest of the Rapanui are still under the effects of the drug. They just manage to leave Easter Island by airplane, and back in Germany they have only vague recollections of their adventure.

This 48-page comic is, surprisingly, one of the very few illustrated German attempts to deal with Easter Island and its culture. And it is drawn using the classical style of the ‘ligne claire’ (clear line) of the Franco-Belgian comics, that began with the illustrated adventures of Tintin by Hergé (Georges Remi). The comparatively simple plot depicts the topography of the island, the volcano Rano Raraku, the moai and the ceremonial village of Orongo in a relatively realistic manner, though the row of moai at Anakena are incorrectly depicted as looking out to sea. Unfortunately, the depiction of the Rapanui, who drink the drug during a ceremony inspired by the birdman cult, is very problematic, as they appear primitive, barely clothed, and almost entirely depicted as unwelcoming and hostile, whilst the atmosphere on the island is rather depressive.

Unusual for a comic, the depiction of the island’s petroglyphs, and the carvings of Makemake, Moai kavakava and a Rapa ceremonial paddle, appear often within the individual frames of the story. The German flat shared by Lais and Ben even contains several Moai kavakava figures with one maltreated with a bra flung over its body when Lais brings a woman home from a club on a one-night stand. The ceremonial interiors of the caves on the island are a distinct fantasy and are reminiscent of Inca architecture and it is a leap of imagination to depict giant moai within these cavernous underground spaces and to have an exit as leading out through a secret opening in the head of a hollow moai above ground. That said, it is remarkable that the moai are allotted only a minor role in the story.

Most interestingly in this comic, the language of the Rapanui within the cave ceremony is presented in speech bubbles as rongorongo hieroglyphs. And as rongorongo remains undeciphered the reader can only wonder what is being said at these points in the story. Appearing to be set sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s the colourful psychedelic drawings of the effect of taking drugs and their association with adventure suggests a lack of criticism of drugs in general. The renderings of the two main protagonists, Lais and Ben, have a likeness to the authors of this comic, Joachim Friedmann and the cartoonist Henk Wyniger, whose photos appear on the inside cover of this volume.

Hermann Mückler

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Jonny Quest
'The Eyes Of Rapa Nui'
(no.12, September 1997, Dark Horse Comics)

Jonny Quest, his father, and their friends fly to Easter Island to investigate the origins of the moai. On landing, Quest’s father goes off to work with the already resident Professor Fuentes, whilst Quest and his friends attend a tour given by a local youth. Quest’s father is suddenly taken captive by Fuentes, who reveals that his real name is Barnard, that he is on the island to find buried gold, and that the real Fuentes has been killed. Johnny befriends a local boy named Miguel who offers to show him a cave of treasure. Miguel leads Jonny to the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku, teaching him about the island as they go. They bump into Jonny’s friends who join them on their trip to the treasure. On their way they also encounter Barnard’s German henchman, Kurt, who takes them captive. Jonny tells Barnard about the treasure cave to save his father’s life, but to get there involves descending a cliff face by rope. Kurt goes first and confirms the presence of the cave. Upon hearing this Barnard shoots him, with Quest then setting his dog on Barnard. However, Kurt is not dead and emerges from the cliff face. He tries to throw a grenade at the group but it is deflected before exploding and instead topples a pukao (topknot) from a moai. The pukao from the moai falls on to Kurt and kills him. Later, Miguel shows the group his treasure cave and reveals that the treasure is in fact the sacred eyes that used to be a part of the moai.

This comic book is somewhat unique in that it demonstrates a willingness to establish a story that in part engages with the reality of contemporary Easter Island as well as acknowledging the island’s supposed history. The island is shown as a modern society populated by intelligent and rational human beings. This contrasts greatly with many other depictions where the island is either deserted or has a population of tribesmen or savages. Clearly, the main appeal of comic books such as these is the characters and narratives. However, through the character of Jonny Quest (the reader’s primary point of identification), and his interactions with Miguel, an educational quality is introduced to the comic that does not feel forced and nor does it distract from the plot. The comic book’s depiction of the moai is natural in that they are not assigned any fantastical powers or qualities. Moreover, they are positioned within an archaeological context that recognises contemporary challenges. In one scene, an ‘imager’ is discussed, which would be “an important breakthrough for archaeology…a device that translates subsurface radar impulses into 3-D holographic images”. As one character correctly asserts, “excavation is rarely allowed on this island”. It was the archaeological work of Sergio Rapu Haoa and his team who, in 1979, realised that the moai eye sockets held eyes of white coral, and red scoria or black obsidian for the pupils. These sacred carvings were believed to be the last addition to selected moai, and were positioned once the stone figures were in place. The mata (eyes) helped to transform the moai into an aringa ora (living face) and for something so precious they are a worthy treasure within the Jonny Quest adventure.

Peter Munford

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Batman Adventures
'The Balance'
(no.4, September 2003, DC Comics)

On Easter Island, Batman realisies there is an underground chamber beneath a hollow moai. Suspecting his enemy Ra’s Al Ghul is inside the chamber, he enters the hollow moai, and descends a long series of steps. Once at the bottom, it is revealed that the moai are not just stone heads, but beneath the earth they have extended full bodies complete with legs and raised hands. Batman is attacked by four men and as he battles them is struck by a tranquilizer dart fired by Ra’s Al Ghul’s daughter Talia. Waking up, Batman discovers there is a Lazarus pit (which has given immortality to Ra’s Al Ghul) in the underground chamber. He is lectured by Ra’s Al Ghul, who reveals he has been a regular visitor to Easter Island, ever since he was part of Captain Cook’s eighteenth century voyage to the Pacific. Batman is able to break free and attack Ra’s Al Ghul, who orders his henchmen to kill Batman. Talia is struck by their bullets and falls into the lazarus pit. Ra’s Al Ghul pulls her out and finds the pit has driven her mad. She attacks her father, and Batman stops her by firing at her one of her own tranquiliser darts. Batman ties up Ra’s Al Ghul and takes him away. Upon waking up, her sanity returned, Tania emerges from the chamber to find she has been left been behind. The final panel depicts her stood beside the moai, abandoned.

A very early panel, and a strong establishing shot for this comic book story, features Batman stood beside a cliff-top moai looking inland. Many of the comic book superheroes have visited Easter Island, and often in such fiction it is to find a master criminal or demonic alien whose lair is hidden within the arcane landscape. The Lazarus pit adds to the fantasy and the supposed power of this land of the moai, and evokes the lost world narratives of immortality that are found in H. Rider Haggard’s She (1887), and James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (1933). There actually is an extensive cave network on the volcanic Easter Island, but nothing as cavernous as the story’s depiction of a vast chamber. Moreover, the bodies of many of the moai have been found to be buried beneath the earth, but none are such hollow monoliths as revealed in this story.

Crucially, the comic’s narrative does not have any real relationship to the location of Easter Island. The story’s events could quite easily have taken place in an underground chamber anywhere else in the world. The character of Ra’s Al Ghul makes a small but very interesting reference to Captain Cook’s Pacific voyages, but this one brief moment does not offer any insight into either the psychology of the character or the events taking place within the comic. Batman Adventures no. 4 can be seen as another example of Easter Island being used in popular culture purely to provide an exotic or unusual location in order to give a new sheen to the generic events of the narrative.

Peter Munford

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Scooby-Doo! World of Mystery: Chile - Easter Island
'Who's a Big-Head?!'
(no.26, 2005, De Agostini)

The gang are invited to Easter Island to investigate the apparition of a ‘birdman’, who appears to be interfering with the research of Professors Smith and Jones. Together with Professor Smith, the gang set off to explore a cave but the birdman halts them at the entrance. Soon after, they discover nearby a rongorongo tablet featuring a lost language, which back at the centre becomes the subject of an argument between the two professors about research methodologies. The gang return to where they last saw the birdman and discover that the moai on which he was standing is hollow, has a trapdoor, and is made of fibreglass. The birdman suddenly appears again at the site where Professor Smith discovers another rongorongo tablet. The birdman then disappears, but the gang suspect he is inside the moai, and tip it over, exposing Professor Jones as the villain. He had planted fake rongorongo tablets on the island with the aim of simplifying the decipherment of the language, and he had dressed as the birdman to draw attention to their placement. Leaving the two researchers to argue about their scientific abilities, the gang drive off to their next adventure.

Intended to educate young readers about different global cultures, this comic is part of a series that each issue is focused on specific heritage sites and famous places around the world. To a degree, it is accurate, mentioning most noticeably the existence of a birdman - although this figure remains undeveloped, and he appears largely as a man in a bird costume that is a fantasy of the original. The comic has also clearly done some basic research into rongorongo, emphasising the intense research world of the few specialists of this undeciphered language, who are all desperately trying to crack the writing system. Within the story, there is the correct assertion that "natives never had metal tools", and that Ana Kai Tangata means the "cave where men are eaten".

In contrast to its educational aims, there are other parts to the comic that reveal its entertainment value. In a style similar to the successful Horrible Histories, the comic connects with the unique environment of Easter Island with rongorongo inspired puns such as "Rightorighto!", and moai humour that includes "talking heads", "big-headed", "head start", "headache", and "two heads are better than one".

Of the Myths of Easter Island the moai are most dominant. Few comic books have engaged with the myths of the rongorongo tablets and fewer still with the birdman cult. For those reasons this comic is rather exceptional. However, it is a shame that the birdman, in particular, is so exploited within this Scooby story. Later in the comic there is a 'Velma's Fab Facts' page that establishes some information about the birdman and the annual race for the egg of the sooty tern, providing a useful mini context. That said, for the purposes of this comic, the birdman is little more than an excuse to establish another Scooby mystery in which a villain in a costume needs to be exposed.

Patricia Porumbel

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Fiction (novels)

Tom Swift and His Subocean Geotron – Victor Appleton II
(London: Collins, 1969)

The Tom Swift Science Adventures is a 1960s young adult science fiction series following young scientist-adventurer Tom Swift. In this instalment, Tom receives a message from friendly aliens that they are looking for a cache of information on earth. The aliens ask the Swifts to retrieve the capsule from the Pacific Ocean, 150 miles south of Easter Island. Tom and his pilot friend Bud begin searching the ocean floor with their submarine, but unable to find the cache they visit Easter Island to question the locals. Here, an American archaeologist offers to take the boys to visit Rano Raraku. Returning to their ship, they are stopped by three horsemen wearing masks who ask Tom if he is the Birdman. The men then force Tom and Bud into a canoe and drop them at a small islet (Motu Nui). They leave the boys, telling them that if they bring back a bird egg, they can have the sacred stone. The boys build rafts out of reeds, and Tom takes a tern’s egg back to the mainland, unintentionally completing the birdman challenge. The native men drop to their knees and call Tom ‘Ariki’ (chief), before giving him a stone tablet. The boys realise that the etchings on the stone are the same as the language that the friendly aliens used in their messages. The stone tells of a land that sank beneath the ocean. Tom realises that the space cache is where they had originally thought, buried under the ancient sunken island of Lemuria. Tom creates what he calls the Geotron, and the boys use it to drill into the bedrock, finding the glowing space cache within a subocean cavern and returning it to the friendly aliens.

In Tom Swift and his Subocean Geotron, Easter Island is described as “strange” and the Moai as “eerie ruins”. However, the novel also includes credible descriptions of the island, including reference to the island’s town of Hanga Roa. Furthermore, Tom and Bud are instructed to greet the locals with “Ia-o-rana korua” which they are told is a traditional greeting meaning “Good day, everyone!”. An archaeologist also tells them the legend of Chief Hotu Matu’a and explains the tangata manu (birdman) competition to the boys, as well as the rongorongo tablets.

The birdman features as a plot device for Tom to gain the tablet and link the lost language with the aliens. However, the significance of Tom becoming the birdman is only mentioned when Bud jokes about him being a King, and later when the three horsemen tell Tom they watched over his camp as he is their ‘Ariki’.

As is common, Easter Island is associated in this novel with the myth of creation and outer space, but this is through the hieroglyphs of the birdman tablet, which is linked to rongorongo. Interestingly, the moai are not a part of the myth and attention is subsequently moved to the mythical sunken island of Lemuria, where the cache is hidden. This link between Lemuria, Easter Island and the aliens is not further explored in the book.

Considering this young adult novel was published in 1969, and Easter Island only features in three chapters, it is unexpectedly engaged and educational in relation to the island.

Bree Tinsley

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Inside UFO 54-40 - Edward Packard
(New York: Bantam Books, 1983)

Edward Packard’s Inside UFO 54-40 is what is known as a ‘choose your own adventure book’. Novels such as these engage the reader on an interactive level; they present questions and choices and the reader decides their own story path by skipping back and forth between specific pages. As a result, Inside UFO 54-40 does not have a single narrative. Instead, it features an overarching plotline with numerous narrative pathways and multiple endings.

The story begins with an unnamed protagonist (presumably left unnamed for reader immersion) aboard Concorde. Before long, the reader is teleported into a huge white UFO – the galactic ship of Rakma. “You have been chosen to be a specimen in the galactic zoo on the imperial planet of Ra”, the book reads. Many of the narrative pathways revolve around an escape from the ship and a return to Earth. Some of these paths allow the reader to encounter other trapped ‘”Earth people” and some allow the reader to destroy the U-TY Masters who are in charge, and take control of the ship. The moai elements are present in the “idol” pathway, in which the reader is presented with an idol shaped like a moai, by an unknown inhabitant of the ship. The U-TY Masters inform the reader that the idol has power and can lead them to Ultima – the planet of paradise. During this narrative pathway, the reader is given the option to land on the “Island of the Gods”. Doing so takes the reader to Easter Island.

Inside UFO 54-40 is a book aimed at young readers, as acknowledged by the simple (and sometimes short) pathways, as well as the illustrations that adorn many of the pages. Due to the nature of ‘choose your own adventure books’, the moai element is not prominent in many of the pathways, and not present at all in some. However, when it is, the author draws on two myths: the myth of power and the myth of presence. It is the moai-shaped idol given to the protagonist that holds the greatest power and the key to Ultima. Moreover, in order to access Ultima, the idol must be presented in the presence of the actual moai on Easter Island. Combining the moai with sci-fi narratives is a common approach in popular culture. Similarly, other fiction has drawn on the idea of a precious object – an idol, tablet, or stone – which will unlock the forces or mysteries of Easter Island.

Adam Crowther

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The Easter Island Incident – Terrance Dicks
(London: Piccadilly, 1999)

When an archaeologist is crushed by a moving moai on Easter Island, narrator Matthew and his father—paranormal researchers who work with British intelligence services—are sent to investigate. With help from local driver Carlos, Matthew and his father arrive at the site of the accident to find that the statue has gone. After questioning the archaeological team at the site about the accident, they are chased by a moai which subsequently rolls straight off the edge of the island. Matthew begins to believe that something is guiding the statues rather than them moving by their own volition. He believes the mana (power) that is said to have helped the natives originally create and move the moai must be a form of telekinesis.

Matthew starts to suspect Professor Abernathy, the leader of the archaeological dig. However, Anna, one of the archaeology students, tells the pair that the site was discovered by graduate student Mike Fallon, and that he had persuaded Abernathy to open a mound in the dig site at moonrise. When they arrive at the site, Professor Abernathy is chased by a gliding moai, and he is rescued just in time by Matthew.

The group then makes their way to the centre of the dig site to find Fallon dressed in traditional native costume. Fallon summons a figure from the mound. The figure is an alien on which the moai was modelled. Fallon tries to make the alien give him power but Matthew interjects, telling the alien of Fallon’s selfish and evil intentions. The alien then disappears and three moai glide toward Fallon, crushing him.

Matthew and his father conclude that Fallon must have stumbled upon an alien communication device at the dig site, and that the moai must originally have been created to try to bring the aliens back to the island. With Fallon dead and the site cordoned off, they believe the island is safe again.

This novel focuses significantly on the myth of movement, as the moai can roll, hover and glide to chase and kill people. Interestingly, however, is the focus on the fact that the moai are not alive but are controlled by a high priest. When Fallon tries to use this power for his own gain, he is thwarted, as mana should only be harnessed to move the moai for their original intention – to call the aliens back. With the moai associated with outer space, the novel also establishes a myth of creation. In this story the moai are said to be modeled on alien beings that gave the natives on the island power to create and move the huge statues.

This is an informative young adult novel, featuring facts about Easter Island. For example, when Matthew recommends traveling to Easter Island to investigate the moai, his father mentions Thor Heyerdahl’s research, stating it provides “perfectly rational explanations for the creation and transportation of those statues” . His father continues by saying that Matthewmust prefer Erich von Daniken’s writings which state, “that the statues were constructed by shipwrecked alien astronauts who set them up as a signal to any passing spaceships”.

The story focuses on the moai but it also approaches Easter Island as a whole, with Matthew and his father sight-seeing when they first arrive on the island. They travel to Rano Raraku to see where many of the moai were carved (although it is misspelled as Ranu Raraku) as well as visiting the fifteen moai at Tongariki and those at Anakena. Matthew also mentions that archaeologists restored of the moai at Tongariki that had been destroyed ‘by the sea”.There is also mention of the birdman as Fallon tells the group that he is ‘”Tangata Manu, the sacred birdman, ruler of the Rapanui” before he summons a figure from the mound. These facts as well as accurate descriptions of Easter Island’s climate, location and political system make The Easter Island Incident an informative and adventurous young adult novel.

The novel is part of a group of 12 children’s books of mystery, fantasy and adventure in a series titled ‘The Unexplained’. Titles include The Bermuda Triangle Incident, The Inca Alien Incident, The Transylvanian Incident, and The Pyramid Incident. All of these books are written by Dicks, who is most known for his work in relation to the Doctor Who television series.

Bree Tinsley

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Racing for the Birdman – Katrina O' Neill, illustrated by Brenda Cantell
(Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005)

Experienced archaeologist, 'Uncle' Earl, travels to Easter Island, at the request of the mayor, to observe the recent outbreak of red rain. The mayor explains that the rain has the Rapanui people very concerned for the island. Accompanying Earl on his journey are his niece Mia and her friend Ricky. After the initial meeting with the mayor, Earl discovers that the islanders believe it is Makemake, the God of creation, that is the cause of the red rain. They think that the God has become upset and vengeful.

The following day, Mia and Ricky go for a bicycle ride around the island and visit the moai. Whilst standing next to one, Ricky receives what feels like an electric shock, and is left with a burn mark on his arm in the shape of the birdman. Ricky and Mia head to the local medicine woman, and she advises that the electric shock was a warning from Makemake about the upcoming birdman race. The medicine woman explains that Tameki, one of the islanders who plans to run for the birdman, has an older brother Rano, who intends to cheat in the race by employing an egg that has been obtained in advance. She believes that this has made Makemake angry and he has therefore brought about the red rain. She insists that Ricky must place the egg back on Motu Nui, the small rocky island, near to Easter Island, where the sooty tern nests. Ricky reluctantly agrees.

On the day of the race, Ricky is given the egg and wished good luck as he climbs down the steep cliff and he dives into the shark-infested ocean waters, for the swim to Motu Nui. There, he places the egg next to a rock carving of Makemake, for protection, before hastily leaving the area. After a struggle with Rano, Tameki captures the egg and is declared the birdman, accompanied by a cessation in the red rain. Mia and Ricky are both congratulated for their efforts and are presented with stone talismans as a reward, as the island celebrates.

This children's novel features many observations about Easter Island and it reveals a depth of research that is quite unusual for popular fiction drawn to this region of the Pacific. Yet, most notably, the moai are not a dominant focus within the book. Instead, the main focal point of the narrative is the birdman cult. The moai are not completely ignored, however, and they are referenced at various points and appear in several illustrations, whilst the electrical charge that Ricky receives from one statue establishes them as powerful constructs within the novel and conduits for the force and energy of Makemake.

The last birdman was proclaimed in either 1866 or 1867, with the details of this cult recorded in a way that is absent for the moai. Consequently, the book treats the birdman and the race for the egg very factually. The accurate cultural descriptions highlight the educational value of the book as a text for young children. The book presents a very clear and vivid image of Rapa Nui; indigenous names of places are used as well as descriptive passages that relate to the weather and climate of the island and the surrounding waters. Building upon this, the book contains a post-narrative section which discusses some of the customs of Easter Island, as well as providing a glossary for specific terms that had been used throughout the book.

Adam Crowther

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The Day the Stones Walked – T. A. Barron, illustrated by William Low
(New York: Philomel Books, 2007)

The Day the Stones Walked presents the story of the young Rapanui boy Pico, and his encounter with a 'Great Wave', which strikes the island. Pico's mother warns of the coming of the wave and instructs him to inform his father of this and for both of them to head for higher ground. Pico finds his father near the island's edge, carving the final touches into a moai. Whilst adding these carvings the father speaks of the power of the moai and how, one day, when the people are in trouble, the figures will begin to move on their own to protect the people and the island. Pico finds his father's words to be foolish and insists that the moai are stone and nothing more. As Pico is gazing out to the surrounding waters the wave hits; submerging both him and the shoreline. As he reaches drowning point, Pico feels something at his feet; a force that seems to be pushing him upwards. It is the moai – it is as if they are walking, he thinks to himself. Once he is washed ashore, Pico's thoughts about the moai are changed because of this incident. He comments that he will never forget the day the stones walked.

T. A. Barron's book is one of few words and appears to be aimed at younger audiences. In place of a longer word count are hand painted illustrations provided by William Low, which adorn each page. These illustrations depict the island, its inhabitants and the moai. In specific places in the text Rapanui words are used such as mana (powerful) and hami (loin cloth). These words appear in such a way that suggest a cultural sensitivity and signals that there is an educational side to the fiction.

The story itself works with existing myths surrounding the moai, most notably, the myths of movement and power. Of course, even in the story the moai do not move on their own nor possess a power which saves Pico, it is simply the force of the wave and the levels of water. Nonetheless, the two myths are addressed and the boy's father and eventually Pico himself are convinced they are genuine. The idea that the moai can be moved by a flood of water is not a far-fetched notion and in the past at least one tsunami has struck Easter Island, pushing the moai in-land. A further myth, the myth of creation, is disregarded in the book as we see the boy's father actually working on a moai. This explains that they were created by the islanders and dispels other, quite fantastic creation theories.

In addition to the story featuring the moai and related myths, there is also a focus on the island's inhabitants. This aspect has often been disregarded altogether in other outlets of popular culture in order to make the island seem like a lost or fallen civilisation. Through both the written narrative and the illustrated pages, the islanders are presented performing everyday tasks such as hunting and preparing food. This creates a more accurate depiction of the indigenous islanders and one which is much less derogatory than many other publications.

Adam Crowther

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Computer and Video Games

Super Mario Land
Year: 1989
Platform: Nintendo Game Boy
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Platformer

Super Mario Land was the first handheld version of Nintendo’s renowned Super Mario franchise. This is a platformer game in which the player must help Mario traverse various levels, avoiding pitfalls, traps and enemies before fighting a boss at the end of the third level of each world. Mario must make it to the end of the final world in order to save the kidnapped Princess Daisy.

Moai appear in World 3 of the game as an enemy. The first form is a Moai with arms and legs that throws projectiles at Mario. The second form is a Moai with just legs, who rushes towards Mario with the aim of creating damage. The third form is a Moai with wings, which bounces around the screen. Mario must dodge all of these; in order to defeat them he must jump on their heads.

Adam Crowther

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Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft
Year: 1998
Platform: Sony Playstation/PC/Mac
Developer: Core Design
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Genre: Action Adventure

Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft is the third instalment of the vastly successful Tomb Raider franchise. It is an action adventure game in which the player takes control of the protagonist Lara Croft as she globetrots in search of ancient artefacts. The player must navigate obstacles, fight enemies and solve an array of increasingly complex puzzles.

Moai are present in the opening scene of the game, which provides exposition to the narrative. Here, the statues are simply discovered in a snowy landscape by a group of research scientists.

Adam Crowther

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Konami Krazy Racers
Year: 2001
Platform: Nintendo Game Boy Advance
Developer: KCEK
Publisher: Konami
Genre: Kart Racer

Konami Krazy Racers is a kart racing game in the same vein as Mario Kart, featuring characters from a variety of other Konami franchises. The aim of the game is simply for the player to win the race. As well as racing skill, each character can also utilise a set of attacks to assist them in winning. Each racer has a different set of attacks based upon their character type and the game in which they originally appeared. This moai character originally appeared in the Konami shooter Gradius.

Adam Crowther

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Year: 2012
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Simulation

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is the fourth instalment of the popular Animal Crossing series. The game is a life simulator in which the player must take control of characters and items within the game and help develop the village they live in as well as assist the other villagers.

Moai in the game are present as furniture that can be purchased with game currency. The moai statue can be used to decorate a garden or included in an exhibition. In some ways the game is copying real life in which moai statues can be acquired to adorn private gardens.

Adam Crowther

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The myths that circulate around Easter Island have led to a range of magazine and television adverts that have used the moai to sell anything from cars and airlines to headphones, alcohol, hair care products, toothpaste and washing-up liquid. Despite the commercial diversity, the ways in which the moai have been employed within the adverts remains quite consistent and engages with all four of the moai myths: the myth of creation, myth of movement, myth of power and the myth of presence.

With the exception of two early examples all of the known advertising is post 1989, and covers more than twenty-five ads. Within them, Easter Island is populated foremost by the moai with only an important Chilean advert for Quix washing-up liquid presenting the Rapanui, the people of the island. The adverts can be divided between 1) commercials for domestic and consumable products targeting a specific foreign market, and 2) commercials for service industries often addressing an international market.

Moai are frequently humanised, or given movement within the adverts – significantly within a comic context. Sony headphones, Iodosan toothpaste, Smirnoff vodka, Qantas airlines, EDF energy and Elations dietary supplements re-imagine the static rock monoliths as agile, energised and animated, and with the ability to smile, hear, dress hip, perform handstands and become pregnant.

The moai are so iconic there is a powerful effect in remodelling them or placing products next to the real thing. The effect suggests that the products are of equal wonder, strength, quality or longevity, as can be observed in the British television advert for Organics hair care, and a later Sony advert that emphasises the ‘monumental range’ of their headphones.

The earliest advert for Easter Island, for Canadian Club Whisky, in 1939, appeared long before the remote island became more accessible with organised tourism starting in the late 1960s. This whiskey advert perceives a visit to Easter Island as a great adventure, a unique experience of male bonding and camaraderie that is aided by a “ship’s store of Canadian Club”; “we had the time of our lives”.

Easter Island’s geographical isolation is worked into adverts for packaging, couriering and travel, with promotionals for the Container Corporation of America, DHL and Suva travel insurance, making it clear that these companies are not thwarted by distance and that they cover all parts of the globe.

The immense size and weight of the colossal moai is also exploited in adverts that are designed to convey capacity. Commercials for the Fiat Ducato, DHL and Emirates are clearly designed with the moai as immobile statues that have somehow managed to be removed from the island thanks to the generous space and carriage offered by a van, a courier, and an airline.

As ancient or prehistoric carvings, the moai are imagined within popular culture myths as silent observers of time and markers of history. In a 1999 television advert for the UK’s Millennium Dome, and a French advert (television and magazine) for EDF energy, the moai point to both the past and the future.

Ian Conrich

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Canadian Club Whisky
‘Change today, as thousands have’
(1939, USA)

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Container Corporation of America
‘No land is strange to U.S. paper packages today’
(1944, USA)

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Sony headphones
‘Listen to your head’/ ‘Monumental range’
(1989, UK)

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Isuzu Stylus
(1990, USA)

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Pontiac Sunfire
(January 1995, USA)

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Organics, from Elida Hair Institute, hair care
(1996, UK)

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‘Have you been getting a less than enthusiastic response to your presentations lately?’
(February 1998, USA)

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(1998, Hong Kong)

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Viña San Pedro
‘There are two things that you know about Chile’
(July 1998, Chile)

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Smirnoff vodka
(1999, UK)

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Millennium Dome Experience
(1999, UK)

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‘Heavy load? Fiat Ducato’
(October 2001, Brazil)

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Elations dietary supplements
‘Joy for joints’
(December 2001, USA)

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(July 2002, Brazil)

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Suva accident insurance
‘Medical assistance around the world’
(November 2003, Switzerland)

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American Express
‘When you earn miles faster, everything gets closer’
(March 2004, Canada)

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Musée du quai Branly
‘Cultures are made for dialogue’
(January 2006, France)

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Emirates airline
‘Extra baggage allowance’
(October 2006, Germany)

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‘For future generations, we develop the energies of tomorrow’
(2006, France)

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Iodosan toothpaste
‘A healthy smile for everyone’
(2007, Italy)

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TAM Airlines
‘Fly faster’
(November 2010, Chile)

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Qantas Oneworld
‘See the world with a single fare’
(June 2013, Australia)

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‘Some things should never be shipped separately’
(March 2014, Brazil)

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The Abs Company, Ab Solo, abdominal exercise machine
‘Compared to this, sculpting abs is easy’

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Quix washing-up liquid
(n.d., Chile)

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