Does "aku-aku" mean anything?

This term amy relate to Easter Island and the idols there. Does anyone know what “aku-aku” might mean, or to what it refers? - Jinx

It’s the title of the book Thor Heyerdahl wrote about his expedition there, back in the 1950’s. I’m pretty sure that he explains the meaning there, but I can’t recall it.

Heyerdahl has a somewhat tarnished rep among anthropologists, but even as a kid (when I first read his books) I was able to distinguish between his claims and absolute proof – something he was always careful to point out. His sailing a balsa raft from South America to the South Pacific, or his setting-up of Easter Island statues with three poles, a lot of help, and a lot of rocks doesn’t prove anything, either, except that these things certainly can be done without superhuman effort.


And here I thought this was going to be a Styx question…
(it’s also a song by Styx for those who don’t know)

Heyerdahl refers to the aku-aku in a number of ways in the book of the same name. Primarily it seems to be a sort of spirit guardian that all the islanders have. It’s also a trickster. Thor supposes that perhaps there are evil aku-aku as well as regular aku-aku. Aku-aku are also guardians of heirlooms hidden in island caves, and many aku-aku live in these caves. Aku-aku is a ceremonial line written in a book. Aku-aku are protectors, and common sense thinking. They are also mentioned as beings who helped raise the moai statues.

To quote: “I tried to visualize the mayor’s aku-aku. It was doubtful whether he himself had any clear picture of its outward appearance. But behind its magic veil it must have been the personification of his own thoughts, conscience, intuition, all that could be put together to convey the idea of an invisible spirit: something free and unconstrained, without bones, which could lead the body to do the strangest things while it lived, and still remain behind alone to guard a man’s cave when he himself and his crumbling bones had vanished.”

This has to be one of the most useful words I’ve come across lately - thanks!

<as you were :D>


Heyerdahl came to the conclusion that the statues were more likely moved lying down. On the advice of one native, “Mayor” Pedro Atan – who initially insisted the statues moved by themselves – they gathered a bunch of villagers, put some ropes on a supine statue, and pulled. It moved. Given enough time and people, he theorized they could move anything anywhere.

Another statue was pivoted upright by a long, careful process of levering and shoving small stones under the head end until it was vertical. This was likely done at the end of its journey from the quarry.

It always seemed absurd to me that anyone would suggest that the multi-ton statues were transported upright (with other than supernatural means, of course). Can you imagine how difficult it would be to move a 50-ft tall, upright statue across miles of uneven terrain without having it fall over? The amount of bracing or guying needed, or the size of a platform it was anchored to? The difficulty of “rocking” it without tipping it? Yet a (non-historical) movie made in 1994, Rapa Nui, showed just that method, as if that were the only logical way.

It’s also the name of the witch doctor mask/spirit guide that helps the goods guys in the Crash Bandicoot series of video games… What?

Easter Island, though owned by Chile and close to South America is a part of Polynesia and was originally inhabited by seafaring Polynesians. The languages used by Polynesians are discrete languages, but related in much the same way that the romance languages of Europe (Spanish, French Italian) are. Consequently, many of the root words in one Polynesian language will be the same, though with dialect differences, in the others.

Looking to The Hawaiian Dictionary, Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert, 1957, University of Hawaii Press, we do find a word, aküakü * which is translated to mean: “1. Swaying, as a canoe in royugh sea; not steady; bumpy, as a road.” which would seem to relate somewhat to the definition cited in a dubious site by engineer_comp_geek, but I suggest we look further.

  • (The letter ü is used to represent the letter ‘u’ with a horizontal line above it, which I couldn’t figure out how to make on this page.)

There was also mention that the word relates to spirits of several kind.

In Hawaiian, the term for spirit, god, God or ghost is akua. That term is also used to refer to statues (usually, tiki or ki`i) that represented Hawaiian gods or ancestral spirits. To Polynesians, spirits were the remains of a person that existed after death and which usually hung around the dead body or bones of the person. Some of these spirits could be tricked away to serve the means of kahuna, native spiritual practitioners. Others could be provided spiritual energy (mana), in the form of bits of food or sacrifices, and could gain strength to become mighty spirits or even, if the ancestry also conferred it, gods. Powerful spirits.

The word ku has, for one of it’s more common meanings, the concept of ‘upright.’ A mast, or flagpole was considered ku. Other similar meanings are ‘to rise,’ ‘to stand,’ and ‘to appear.’

If we take the Hawaiian phrase akua ku one meaning is ‘upright god/spirit’ and could refer to the Easter Island tiki as a representation of the spirit that is in the form of an upright statue.

Pronunciation is key here. We have no diacritical marks for the referenced aku-aku to determine if it is *aküakü * or akua ku, and the breakdown of the word into two words is no help because Polynesian was not a written, but spoken language converted to writing by non-linguists. *aküakü * has a specific pronunciation distinct from akuaku, but akuaku and aku aku and akua ku are all pronounced identically, and a non-Polynesian cannot tell one from the other.

To determine exactly what “aku-aku” means would require a linguist and a native speaker. This Polynesian cultural anthropologist’s best guess based on available documents would be that “aku-aku” means the same as akua in Hawaiian, that is spirit, god, ghost or representation thereof.


aku-aku …Isn’t that the guy Samauri Jack fights with :smiley:

Yeah, I’ve been noticing. It seems that a lot of my son’s toys (Bionicles) and some of his TV programs (I don’t keep track of the names) borrow heavily from Hawaiiana, Polynesian culture and Hawaiian history.

A ‘power word’ or spell used by one cartoon character:

Kamehameha - who was the first king of the united Hawaiian islands.

I’ve heard of Polynesian words describing ‘masks,’ cartoon characters, etc.
The bionicles “Toa” is the Tahitian word for warrior! And lots of the bionicles manifestations use Polynesian words, too. Some of them even appropriately!

Polynesia’s new popularity.
Isn’t it time to ditch cartoons and start reading books? Not yet? OK…


Isn’t that actually the Japanese “aku,” meaning something along the lines of “evil?”

swings his katana

Rapa Nui shows the statues being moved on their backs, by means of rollers made from the trees on the island. Unfortunately, they eventually felled all of the trees. The film depicts the chopping down of the last tree.

I don’t recall them moving the statues upright, but rather erecting them once they got them to their sites.

What are the Easter Island statues called?

And where can I get copies of them, in a variety of sizes? I’d Google, but I’m not sure what to enter… :confused:

They’re called maoi. I think it’s pronounced “mao-eye”, but I stand ready to be corrected.

When I was little, back in the mid-'60s, the guy across the street had fiberglass moulds with which he would make maoi out of concrete. IIRC, they were about five feet tall.

And let us not forget – it depicts some nice native breasts, too. :cool:

Perhaps your copy is different from mine, or your memory faulty? I happen to have a copy right here, and at about 51:00 minutes, shown from several angles, a traditional statue, lashed to a sled, is shown being pulled upright over log rollers.

This was NOT the method Thor Herdahl postulated was used.

And Heyerdahl, in his book Aku-Aku, spells them moai, not maoi. I believe the pronunciation is MOH-eye.

Musicat: I stand corrected on the spelling. The funny thing is that I know how to spell it; but I not only transposed the letters in the word, and also in the pronunciation. :o

As for transporting the statues, my memory may be faulty. It’s been months since I’ve seen Rapa Nui, and I didn’t have time to put in the tape this morning.

Isn’t it the sound of a Chinaman sneezing twice?

ok…ok…I’m leaving…

Ah, yes. {sigh} So many tapes, so little time. :slight_smile: