The inscription on the front of moai RR-002-077
A number of Easter Island moai – especially in the area around Rano Raraku – have been punctured by holes and rows of cupules (fig. 1). In all probability, these were not part of the original design but added in a much later period. It has been suggested by Lee (1992:124) that their addition "may be a case of trying to extract the mana from them, or to release, and thus destroy, the mana inherent in them". This would have been a plausible theory, had it not been for some facts that contradict this scenario and suggest that if it holds any truth
(1) For dotted 'water-patterns', see for example the tattoo designs recorded by Thomson, Routledge and Stolpe, for the 'water-spheres', see the page on the fish-boathouse sculpture.
(2) See the detail page on vai.
(3) See fig. 1 in Disyllabic signs.
(4) Stolpe (1899:11) claims that he found also traces of these intermediate figures on the neck of the Belfast figure: "von den Rauten mit markirtem Mittelpunkte bei Tepano sind auch auf dem Tapabilde schwache Spuren zu erkennen". This was probably a mistake as the photographs show no markings in these areas. On the two other figures in the Peabody Museum – the existence of which was not known to Stolpe as they came only into the possession of the museum in 1899, the year of his publication – these supposed motifs are also lacking.
(5) POLLEX, retrieved 2011-12-12.
(6) Pukupuku; mingo: Churchill, 1912:244;228; karukaru: Fuentes, 1960:757.
(7) The misunderstanding of the story's pun, has given rise to some implausible explanations, e.g., Barthel, 1974:294-295.
(8) POLLEX, retrieved 2011-12-12.
(9) Drawing by C.A. Pakarati.
(10) Fuentes, 1960: 705.
(11) Churchill, 1912:267.
(12) Lee, 1992:186.
(13) E.g., on Pukapuka (Cook Islands), the frigate bird was known as kotawa kolokolo kula: "red-throated frigate bird" (POLLEX, retrieved 2011-12-04).
Added: 2011-12-16 Modified: 2013-10-14
The original design of moai RR-002-077 is not unlike many others which were erected on the slopes of Rano Raraku and in other sites. The features which are most important in this respect are the distinctive fishhook-shaped curl of the nostrils and the protruding slightly bent lips (fig. 3). Both can not only be seen in many other moai at Rano Raraku but for example also in the statue of Hoa-haka-nana-ia in the British Museum in London (fig. 4).
The double fishhook is a familiar motif in Easter Island sculptures and petroglyphs. When the fishhook (rou) is taken as a representation of the verb ro'ou ("to take care of", "to steer", "to rule"), its association with a range of other symbols can be explained. On the head of the moko in the Musée du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, for example, the combination of ro'ou (fig. 5a) with the hare-glyph ("house", "family") directly below it (fig. 5b) must have designated this humanoid lizard as a safe keeper of the house and its inhabitants (for further examples, see the page on rou).
It would appear that the rou-fishhooks on the great stone moai can be understood as functioning in exactly the same way if the motif immediately below the protecting 'wings' of the fishhooks, the mouth, is also interpreted as symbolizing a particular concept. What this could be is not hard to establish if the back motif of belts and hooks is brought to mind (fig. 6). Apparently, the similar canoe-shaped forms of the girdle and the mouth were used to provide a symbolical and phonetic representation of the vaka, which must have been an important political unit in the Easter Island society of old.
On moai RR-002-077, as well as on a number of others, the double fishhook-motif is repeated in the elegant curves outlining the chest. These can perhaps be observed best on moai Hoa-haka-nana-ia as this statue has been excellently preserved being hewn from the more durable basalt (fig. 7).
It cannot be ruled out that some punning is at work here as the point of a fishhook was called mata and the word for "nipple" is matau (from mata, "eye", and u, "breast"). The same type of rebus can be found in a rock panel at Tongariki where the eye (mata) of a fish overlaps with the extremity (mata) of a fishhook (fig. 8). In the painted tattoos on two tapa figures the motif of the mata-spearhead appears in the same area of the body. The specimen in Belfast has two on either side of the chest and one of the figures in Cambridge has a large mata in the middle of the chest directly above the nipples (3).
it can only provide a partial explanation. Cupules appear – individually or in rows – in a wide range of settings. They can be found in the petroglyphic inscription on the cave wall of Ana O Keke as well as in a large number of flat rock panels. They appear as dots and dotted patterns in tattoos and as spheres in sculptures (1). In none of these designs their presence suggests any special function – such as a 'mana extraction' – which sets them apart from the rest of the imagery. On the contrary, they are clearly an integral part of the designs. Their frequent association with sea animals and canoes suggests that they are depictions of the ocean, and therefore the phonetic value vai, "water", has been proposed (2). One example of such a design containing water and canoes can be found on the back of moai RR-001-156.
In this page, the front side of another moai catalogued as RR-002-077 will be examined (fig. 2). The importance of this particular statue lies in the fact that – in addition to the cupules – it is adorned with other motifs that are frequently used in the visual arts of Easter Island. As these too can be interpreted as carriers of phonetic values they provide clues for the understanding of the function and meaning of these cupules.
Although fishhook-shaped nostrils, belts with fishhook-appendages and chest lines curved like fishhooks are shared by a large group of moai, it appears that only few of them possess all three features like the Hoa-haka-nana-ia statue.
Since to my knowledge RR-002-077 has not been excavated, it is probably not known whether its back has a raised belt motif with ring(s) and fishhooks in addition to the face and chest motifs.
The feature which makes this statue stand out however is not its fishhooks but the design of lines on the neck which it shares with only very few others (fig. 9). As these are not in bas-relief but incised they must have been applied in situ and
at a considerably later date. The motif consists of a series of wavy lines grouped in pairs (fig. 10). Although there is at least one other example of this distinct pattern on a fallen moai at Ahu Tongariki (fig. 11), moai RR-002-077 is the only one where traces of red paint have been preserved in the sheltered area below the chin (fig. 9).
The distinct neck pattern appears to have been widespread in Easter Island culture as it is also found on all three surviving tapa cloth figures. On both sides of their necks, three pairs of lines extend from the chin to the shoulders. The top of
each set is loosely connected to a circle. Fig. 12a shows the neck of tapa figure nr. 53542 from the Peabody Museum with the circle on the first pair clearly visible.
Fig. 12b is one of the sketches of the tapa figure in the Ulster Museum in Belfast made by Stolpe (1899:12) in 1893.
Fig. 12c shows a detail of an etching that was made from his photograph of a man from Easter Island named Tepano, whom he had met on Tahiti in 1884. With one of the circles just visible below the ear, it is clear that this man's neck was tattooed in the same motif, which alternated with
another one consisting of a double line half the length of the wavy lines and three or four squares with dots in the middle (4).
It is proposed here that these pairs of wavy lines are in fact ko-glyphs (fig. 13a).which have been fused with the circular ro-signs (fig. 13b) in the manner of fig. 13c, roa, "long", "deep", to form the words koro and koro-koro. The rongorongo inscriptions have only a few occurrences of the word koro (fig.
13d), usually, in the meaning of "if", "in case", for example, koro ngaaha: "If (you) break loose" from line Ev7 (fig. 13e) and too koro rapa: "(The light) will be intercepted if (it) shines" from line Aa7 (fig. 13f).
The reduplicated form korokoro is not present, the closest match being the unrelated kokoro, "wide", in line Er2: anga pu kokoro: "(to) make gaping wounds" (fig. 13g).
only exception is korone, "necklace", "wreath" which is recorded by Fuentes (1960:769). He notes that the word is thought to originate from the Spanish word corona, "crown", but he also mentions that "there are some indications that lead to the belief that both have different origins". Unfortunately, no information is given on what these indications are. In the inscriptions on wood, the only possible candidate for koro meaning "neck" appears in line Br8 (fig. 13d).
There are a number of Polynesian languages which have words for the wrinkling and looseness of the skin around the neck and of the skin in general which are closely connected to koro as "neck" and "throat", for instance Maori korokoro: "loose", "slack", and korukoru, "looseness of the skin, as in aged persons" and Hawaiian 'olo, "double chin", "sagging skin", "jowls". Again the Rapanui lexicon, which has unrelated words like pukupuku, mingo and karukaru for "wrinkled" (6) seems to lack a direct link. The only word which appears to be related in some way is korokoro for "turkey" – a bird with a prominent reddish and wrinkled neck. If the name is not an onomatopoeia as Fuentes (1960:769) claims and if it was not imported together with the bird, it may be an indication that korokoro for "wrinkled neck" was still in use on Easter Island in a relatively recent period.
Fortunately, a more conclusive piece of evidence for this can be found in a curious legend that was recorded by Métraux (1940:296-297). It is connected to the origin of the carving of the stone images and it establishes a clear link between the terms "neck" and "wrinkled" which suggests that at one time in the Rapanui language koro or korokoro was used for both.
'The image carver lived in Hotu-iti where he made the first image called Tai-hare-atua. When the statue was finished, he did not find it pretty at all because it had no neck. He said to two men, "You go to Apina-nui and ask how they carve the neck of the images. When they tell it to you, come back." The two went
to Apina-nui. They saluted a man, and the man returned their greetings. The young men entered his house and they stayed there. The owner of the house lit the oven and put in it chicken and sweet potatoes. In the evening he opened his oven and invited the young men to eat. The owner sat at one side of the house and the young men at the other. They slept. One of the young men said, "This man does not ask any questions." Next day the young men prepared to go. The owner of the house asked, "Where are you going?" "We came to see you in order to learn how to make the neck of the images." He answered, "Just go on, the neck of the images is with you." The young men turned back and arrived at ahu Ohau-para. They felt the need to urinate. The younger one went aside and urinated. He looked at his penis and said to the other, "Listen, it was true, the neck of the image is with us, here below." They returned and told the image carver the story. They set out to make good images. This time they made them well. From then on they always carved good statues.
This story makes little sense unless it is assumed that the two men exclusively wanted to carve statues with wrinkled necks. Given the fact that there are very few moai with this pattern suggesting the looseness of the skin this seems unlikely. However, if the men simply wanted to learn how to carve a neck – and the text does not suggest anything else – and koro or korokoro could mean "neck" as well as "wrinkled" at the time the story was made up, then its final part can be easily understood as a word play on both of these meanings (7).
With regard to the subject under consideration, the most important meaning of koro however is "father". According to Englert (1978:180), this term was probably older than matu'a tamaroa. It is also found in Maori meaning "father" as well as "old man". In the latter, the connection with "wrinkled" is apparent and it can therefore be linked to other words such as Rapanui korohua, "old", "old age", "old man", Maori koroua, "grandfather", "old man", Marquesan ko'oua, "old man" and koromatua which is "chief" in Maori, "learned man" or "priest" in Rarotongan and "a wise person" in Tuamotuan (8).
Since the combination of roou and vaka in which the word koro appears on statue RR-002-077 occurs in several other inscriptions with concepts such as atua, "ancestral spirit", mata, "tribe", ao, "ruler", "rulership", hare, "family", this clearly suggests that the usage of koro on statue RR-002-077 was not limited to merely naming or describing a body part. It provided the third element in the very familiar setting of roou and vaka reading roou vaka koro: "The boathouse-community is protected (or ruled) by the fathers (or elders)". This means that the front of RR-002-077 can be seen as a variation of the inscription which appears as back design on a significant group of moai such as RR-001-156 which reads roou vaka atua: "The boathouse-community is protected by the ancestral spirits!" Whether the term koro was used exclusively for the living or
whether it was also used to refer to the deceased, i.e. the forefathers, is something that cannot be established from this with certainty.
What we do know is that the message was not only engraved on the great moai but also encoded in the intricate constructions of the moai kavakava and moko sculptures and in the tattoo designs which have been recorded by the early explorers and which have survived on three tapa figures (cf. the pages on atua, roou and vaka). In its most elaborate formulation it can be found in the tattoo
designs of the Belfast tapa figure (fig. 14). It contains a hierarchy of protection and rulership stretching from the netherworld of the ancestral spirits to the world of the living: roou atua riva i koro, "The benign ancestral spirits protect the elders", roou hare mata ao, "The families of the tribe are protected by the ruler, roou vaka mata, "(He) protects the boathouse-communities of the tribe".
This leaves two parts of the engravings of statue RR-002-077 to be discussed. The first is the 'eye-nose-mask' on the statue's left shoulder which is also clearly an addition from a later period (fig. 15) (9). It may have been added as a stand-alone cry for roou, "protection", but there is also the distinct possibility that it was intended as a clarification or reinforcement of the original inscription.
The other one is the collection of pits which appear in different places on the head and body but most clearly run down in an irregular row from the side of the cheek. Where they appear to be connected to the
eyes - as they are on the tapa idols - it is tempting to interpret them as matavai, "tears" or "grief". Interestingly, on two of the three tapa figures the dotted patterns also appear connected to the mata-spearheads, thus enabling the same reading.
Two other possibilities present themselves when the cupules are read as vaai, :to give", "to grant", "to deliver", "to concede" (10), "to "alienate". "to give away (11). Either roou has been changed to vaai roou, "give protection" or vaai was meant to replace the original roou in which case the text would change to vaai vaka koro: "The boathouse-community is abandoned by the forefathers!"
Could these – not necessarily mutually exclusive – interpretations be evidence of a period of crisis in which the ancestors were urgently requested to assist or in which it was felt that they had abandoned their living relatives?
Statue RR-002-077 with its unique painted neck decoration has some important insights to offer regarding the interaction of imagery and phonetic values in Easter Island sculpture. The skillful manipulation of the diverse components gives evidence of a highly developed visual art in which there is an unmistakable presence of phonetic writing. As such it establishes an important connection with the rongorongo writing of the wooden tablets and objects. It points to a remarkable continuity in the way the original message incorporated in the moai design was understood over time but also shows how specific adaptations took place within that framework. Whether the message was inscribed on the front or on the back, whether it had the atua as subject (fig. 16a) or the ao (fig. 16b), the basic concept stayed unaltered.
When moai RR-002-077 was erected the original facial inscription lacked this written subject. The reason for this must have been that the statue itself was thought of as such since it was a portrait of a specific ancestor or atua. While
the double fishhook could be incorporated in the nostrils and the canoe could preserve its shape while it was transformed into a mouth, the atua-ring which is always present in the back designs must have been considered a too problematic element to be turned into a part of the face.
It is tempting to ascribe the addition of the koro-lines to a change of focus from the ancestral spirits (atua) to another group called koro – whether these were elders, priests or warriors. Against this, however, speak the relatively recent tattoo designs of the tapa dolls and the man named Tepano: they all have the koro-lines in the neck but also the atua-mark on the nose. It is therefore proposed that the koro-lines were intended as an addition and not a substitution of the original concept. Perhaps a new group in Easter Island society wanted to share in the accumulated prestige of the ancestors rather than attempt to eradicate it. Thus, while the original message was still perfectly understood, it was modified and expanded to roou vaka koro: "The boathouse-community is protected (or ruled) by the fathers!"
It would be interesting to know whether the ro-components which were still part of the neck tattoos of the 19th century were also engraved under the chin of RR-002-077. The vaguely circular depressions on the neck of the broken down moai at Tongariki seem to suggest the possibility (fig. 11). Other questions remain concerning the red paint. Was the neck the only painted area or was the now heavily eroded surface more elaborately painted? Was the paint applied at the same time as the neck was engraved with wavy lines or could this also have been done at a later date? Was it only a reference to the mana generally associated with the color red (12) or could it have pointed to a more specific cultural trait, for instance to the cult of the frigate bird with its distinct red pouch (13) which emerged with the rise to prominence of the warrior class of the matatoa?