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Moai

I have saved the best for last. The final Arts & Culture card from Conquest of Paradise to be described here, is the Moai card. Moai is the Polynesian word for the famous monuments of Rapa Nui (Easter Island).

The appearance of stone statues on Easter Island is neither mysterious nor unexpected. There is a long history of carving stone statues in Polynesia. They are found in Hiva (the Marquesas), Tubuai (the Austral Islands), and Tahiti. Although each island group displays some variation in form and style, they are clearly related, and spring from common belief systems and religious practices. But on Rapa Nui, they took it to an extreme.

The average moai stands 15 feet high, but they range anywhere from 8 feet to an unfinished example over 70 feet high. Most were carved from soft volcanic tuff at Rano Raraku, an extinct volcanic crater that served as the primary statue quarry. Despite the use of this relatively light stone, the average moai weighs 18 tons; some of them have been estimated to weigh as much as 80 to 90 tons. Maoi are characterized by long sloping noses, strong brows, deeply inset eyes, and prominent chins. Some examples also wear a hat-like cylinder made of red stone on their heads, which may represent a headdress or elaborate hairstyle. Some appear to have only heads, although they are really full figures that have been nearly buried by soil over the centuries. The exact number of moai on Rapa Nui is unknown, because many lie buried in piles of rubble or beneath the soil at the statue quarry; the estimates vary from 800 to 1,000. Moai are found in nearly all localities around the island.

All of the completed statues stood on an "ahu", a stone platform. Ahu are an outgrowth of the marae found elsewhere in Polynesia. These shrines followed a similar pattern: in Tahiti, upright stone slabs stood for chiefs. When a chief died, his stone remained. It is a short step from this concept to the use of a statue to represent a sacred chief. The stone figures were generally erected along the coast, where they faced inland, to keep watch over the local community.

Each moai was commissioned by a specific individual or group and created by a team of expert stoneworkers under the direction of a master carver. As many as fifteen people began by quarrying a large rectangular block using basalt picks on the volcanic tuff rock. Once the figure was roughed out, the master carver and his assistants added the fine details, usually beginning with the head and face. Afterwards, a team of workers used ropes and levers to move the sculpture down the quarry slope. It was then set upright and the remainder of the carving was completed. The finished sculpture was then moved to its final destination.

But how were they moved? The generally accepted belief is that they were transported on sledges or log rollers, greased with crushed sweet potatoes, and then levered erect into place using piles of stones and long logs. It required about 40 people to move an average-sized moai, and roughly 300 to 400 people to produce the rope and food required. Thor Heyerdahl, whose books Kon-Tiki and Aku-Aku stirred great interest in Easter Island, conducted an experiment showing that an upright stone statue could be moved using ropes, tilting and swiveling it along. But the experiment was conducted on a flat surface for only a short distance, and this theory, like many of Heyerdahl's theories, is not considered plausible.

Rapa Nui tradition says that the statues were moved and erected by "mana"- a magical force. Great kings of a long-gone era simply used their mana to command the moai to move to the distant sites and stand there. The people of Rapa Nui believed that the moai themselves also possessed mana, which was instilled at the time their white coral eyes were put in place. The moai used their mana to protect the people of the island. Today none of the moai have genuine coral eyes - and thus the mana is no more.

In game terms, the Moai card provides its owner two Victory Points. It is the only card with a base value of 2 VP, because moai are certainly the most remarkable achievement of Polynesian culture! If the player also has Rapa Nui, he gains a third Victory Point. But that extra point comes at a cost: the player must remove one village on Rapa Nui when the card is revealed, to represent the economic strain of producing moai at such a grand scale.


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