Jun 17, 2015

Easter Island: Phallic Statues and Penis Festivals

If you thought Mongolia was remote for Westerners, try Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui).  From New York, you fly to Miami, then to Panama City, and finally to Santiago, Chile (about 24 hours).  From there, only one airline flies to the town of Hanga Roa on Rapa Nui, once a day (about 6 hours).

It's a tiny island, about 15 miles long and 8 miles wide, alone in the Pacific Ocean, probably settled from the Marquesas Islands, 2000 miles away.

Once the early Polynesians got there, they became very interested in the penis.

1. Most Rapa Nui men incorporated the word Ure, "Penis," into their names, but in the 19th century Christian missionaries put an end to the practice.

2. The Moai, "Easter Island Heads," are actually complete torsos, over 800 of them, 20-30 feet high, weighing over 80 tons, sculpted and installed over a period of 300 years (1200-1500 AD).  They took so much time and energy that the islanders had little time left for other pursuits, and so many trees were felled to facilitate transport that the island is now almost entirely treeless.

The noses of the figures have often been interpreted as phallic symbols.  Indeed, some scholars interpret the Moai themselves as giant phallic symbols, representing the sexual potency of the Rapa Nui men. There's a legend still common on the island that a penis served as the model.

3. Rongo Rongo, the Easter Island script, appears on dozens of tablets and ceremonial objects.  By the time the Europeans arrived, no islander remembered how to read it, and it remains untranslated.  But at least one of the glyphs is called "Tangata Ure Huki" "Man with Erect Penis"

4. The Tapati Fesival, held every year during the first two weeks of February, is a celebration of the island's history, culture, and penises.  There are parades, dances, athletic contests like haka pei (sliding down a mountainside on a tree trunk), and a race called the Tau'a Rapa Nui: men wearing only skimpy loincloths race through town carrying bunches of phallic-symbol bananas.

See also: The Beefcake Festival of the Andes.

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