Easter Island is bouncing back after a wildfire burned its statues

RAPA NUI, Chile (AP) — The Rano Raraku volcano hill in Rapa Nui looks like a place frozen in time.

Embedded in grass and volcanic rock, nearly 400 moai – the monolithic human figures carved centuries ago by the Rapanui people of this remote Pacific island – remained untouched until recently. Some are buried from the neck down, the heads apparently observing their surroundings from underground.

Around them there was a pervasive smell of smoke from still-smoldering vegetation – a remnant of a forest fire that broke out in early October. Over 100 moai were damaged by the flames, many of them blackened with soot, although the impact on the stone remains undetermined. UNESCO recently allocated nearly $100,000 for assessment and remediation plans.

In this Polynesian territory that now belongs to Chile and is widely known as Easter Island, the loss of any moai would be a blow to ancient cultural and religious traditions. Each of the moai – nearly 400 on the volcano and more than 500 others elsewhere on the island – represents an ancestor. A creator of words and music. A protector.

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