The Surreal World: Rapa Nui

Moai-Susanne Rempt 2017
Moai-Susanne Rempt 2017

As I noted in a previous post, Redraw the Map, Re-Write History and Re-Invent Reality concerning the Surrealist Map of the World, Easter Island and its mysterious, magnificent moai held a special place in the Surrealist imagination. The Pope of Surrealism, Andre Breton began collecting Easter Island moai kavakava (small wooden statuettes) and masks from the age of 15 and had amassed a major collection by the time of his death. The heads of the moai featured in the Thursday section of Max Ernst’s collage novel Une Semaine de Bonte, which also feature prominently bird-headed humans. Given Ernst’s marked obsession with birds and hybrid birds figures, (Loplop, Superior of Birds) it is tempting to think that he was familiar with the Rapa Nui’s Birdman cult and its representations found in petroglyphs across the island.

Easter Island also featured in Surrealist literature, not least this deceptive tale of longing and imagination by Jean Ferry (see Kafka, Or “The Secret Society”) that is included below, as well as examples of Rapa Nui art and selections from Une Semaine de Bonte. The header image is by S.R of Blackpenart, of a moai that has seemingly lost its way and ended up in a tree-lined city park in Germany.

Rapa Nui

I reached Easter Island on February 13th 1937. For thirty years, I have been waiting for this moment; for thirty years of my life and times I have been thinking of my immense desire to see Easter Island, I thought I’d never get to go, that it was too difficult, that it was a wild dream. And since things must be desired so stubbornly that they come true, on that day- February 13th 1937 – I set foot on the soil of Easter Island.

Since I had been thinking about it for thirty years, you would think I’d worked out my schedule in advance. Besides, I had no time to lose, as the Chilean training ship that had brought me was only putting in at port for two days. I am not lying when I say I was trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun; I had a very hard time convincing myself this wasn’t the same old dream again, the dream where I dream I’ve reached Easter Island, trembling with emotion under a strange, pale sun. But no, it was all real; the wind, the black cliff, the three rippling volcanoes. There really were no trees, no springs. And, faithful to a date set at the dawn of time, the great statues awaited me on the slopes of Rano Raraku.

I know that at this point, to avoid disappointing anyone, I should describe the dreadful bitterness of dead desire, desire fulfilled. I should say that, face to face with the sisters of Hoa Hakananai’s, I realised that it wasn’t worth waiting so long, coming so far for something so simple, so real. I should complain about the insects, the Rapa Nui who kept pushing on me hollow-bellied statuettes clearly made the night before. Too bad for those born to despair. Who I was in the depth of the crater is nobody’s business but my own. Quite simply, I knew why I was there, why for thirty years I’d so stubbornly wanted to be here someday. And I was. At last…

Not a line of the above is true, except that for thirty years, I’ve wanted to go to Easter Island, where something awaits me. But I’ve never yet been, and I probably never will.

Jean Ferry-1950

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An over-sized Easter Island (Ile de Paques) on the Surrealist Map of the World-1929
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Moai-Rano Raraku

Moai at Ahu Tongariki
Moai at Ahu Tongariki

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Moai kavakava
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Moai Kavakava
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Moai with Birdman petroglyphs
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Rapa Nui-Rongorongo script

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Max Ernst-Une Semaine du Bonte
Max Ernst-Une Semaine du Bonte
Max Ernst-Une Semaine du Bonte