A wink at ... Easter Island's History


Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it is known today, is part of Polynesian islands and positioned in the Pacific Ocean, around 3,500 km (2,180 mi) west of continental Chile. It is one of the world's most isolated inhabited islands, its nearest inhabited neighbor (Pitcairn Island), located some 2,075 km (1,289.35 mi) to the west.

The history of this island is captivating and still mysterious to this day, mainly because of the nearly 900 monumental statues, called Moai that were created by the early Rapa Nui people. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with much of the island is the protected area of Rapa Nui National Park.


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The first known painting of Easter Island in 1775 by William Hodge (Source : Wikipedia)

The remnants of these massive Moai statues, were hypothetically representation of past chiefs of each villages. The early settlements of the island were located along the coastline and Moai were erected there to watch over their descendants, this is why they were facing inland towards the living and they had their backs toward the spirit world in the sea. Archeologist have found the remains of men under the Moai statues, it is thought that each statue represents one important chief.

Toppling of the statues

Like most cultures. as population increased it came to have many villages and internal war was inevitable between clans. The first navigator to find the island was on Easter day in 1722, he was a Dutch navigator named Jacob Roggeveen, he named it Easter Island. In is reports it is said that the island was lined with massive stone statues.

The next expedition that went by the island was in 1770, and it was still lined with statues. This time it was two Spanish ships sailed by Captain Felipe Gonzalez y Haedo who claimed Easter Island for Spain and renamed it San Carlos.


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Ancestral house foundations

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stitch Rano Raraku 1 111111111 Rano Raraku "The quarry where all the Moai come from"

DSCF026722222 Maunga Terevaka : View from the top "Highest point of the island"

James Cook then visited the island in 1774, he noted that several Moai were lying face down. From then the topplings of the Moai continued into the 1820's because of internal fighting between the Rapa Nui clans, and in 1825 the British ship HMS Blossom reported seeing no standing statues.

History

It is believed that the initial inhabitants arrived between 700–1000, and they got to the island in canoes or catamarans from the Marquesas Islands of Polynesia. The Rapa Nui culture had a thriving culture and customs. However, the clans activities and the rising population led to gradual deforestation and extinction of a lot of the natural resources, it caused the downfall of the Rapa Nui civilization.

When European arrived in 1722, the island's population was only of about 2,000–3,000, it is thought that it has been of close to 15,000 in it highest point only a century earlier. Diseases carried by European sailors and Peruvian slave raiding of the 1860's further reduced the Rapa Nui population, down to 111 in 1877.

What were the reasons of fighting between the Rapa Nui clans over it's history. There are many hypothesis : the need for more land for agriculture, the difference in ideas, the change that occurred once European first came to the island.

In the 1870s, because of many unsolveable disputes, the missionaries now on the island decided to evacuate most of the Rapa Nui population to the Gambier islands. By the end of the decade a mere 100 people lived on the island, and much of its cultural knowledge had been lost.

And by then the surviving Rapa Nui people were confined to the settlement of Hanga Roa, which is now the only town on the island. The rest of the island was then used and rented by sheep farmers named Williamson-Balfour Company.

Easter Island was annexed by Chile on September 9, 1888, and the validity of that annexation is still contested by many of the Rapa Nui still to this day.

At that time the surviving Rapa Nui were confined to the settlement of Hanga Roa. The rest of the island was rented to the Williamson-Balfour Company as a sheep farm. It was believed that the deforestation of the island had been caused mainly because of the use of wood to roll the statues into place, but there is also but the sheep farms on the island were what really caused the forest to grow thinner and thinner because the sheep would eat any new regrowth of trees.

In 1914, a British citizen Katherine Routeledge visited the island and stayed for a yearlong expedition. It was the first time that there was in-depth study of local artifacts and inhabitants. She and her team found connections between elders’ tattoos and the Moai. Some tattoos were also found sculpted on the statues. She was able to give a detailed clan system in a 1919 book called "The Mystery of Easter Island".

In the mid-1950's, Thor Heyerdahl organized the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island. After many months of living on the island the expedition published two large volumes of scientific reports.

In 1966, Chile declared Easter Island a province and the Rapa Nui given Chilean citizenship.

In 1995 the airport was built and the island was then managed by the Chilean Navy. It has been since then a very popular tourist destination with a growing number of curious people like me going to visit and explore this unusual and mysterious place.


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Anakena site and beach

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Ahu Tongariki "The largest site and biggest restoration project"

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Rano Raraku Volcano "Quarry Site"

The official language of the island is Spanish, since it is owned by Chile, but the Rapa Nui ancestral language still exists and is spoken by many locals. Many speak English for tourism purpose, but I was surprised to see that many locals also speak French. My guess is that some have immigrated from French Polynesia that is among the closest neighbors. One little anecdote I have is that I took a taxi and when the woman driver realized that I also spoke french, she started being so much more friendly, I mean much more friendly. She almost gave me her phone number, but I did not get in the flirt simply because she was much older than me, but I had a good laugh with her and we had a great conversation, in both French and Spanish.

Parts of the story from the movie 'Rapa Nui' is true, but maybe not all of it. I do recommend seeing the movie if you feel like having a sense of how the Rapa Nui people lived or just curious to see some of the great landscapes from the island. It really was filmed on the island in many locations and archeological sites and it explains pretty well the history and mysteries of the Rapa Nui people., but keep in mind that it is a fictional movie, not a historical one.


Preview of the 'Rapa Nui' movie


The Rapa Nui tribes back in history have created something that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. There is only on this island that Moai statues have been made. Their whole history and civilization has been completely one of a kind because of how isolated from the rest of the world they were.

So whether you are just curious or passionate about the history and the mystery of Easter Island, you will be satisfied. Not only very interesting, but a little paradise of a place. If you would ever feel like visiting the island, see by post on the time I spend on Easter Island for some tips & tricks and more pictures.

To situate where Easter Island is exactly, follow this link to Google Maps

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