November 2009
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Easter Island in the South Pacific – home of the mysterious statues

For people interested in mysteries, Easter Island figures in the top list along with the mysteries of who built the massive pyramids (and how they build those huge structures). Easter Island is famous for its isolated location (thousands of miles from any known habitation, and acknowledged to the most remote inhabited place) and more importantly for the huge statues (887 huge monumental statues called moai) that can be found on the island, and which are protected under a national park that is also designated as a World Heritage site. And the island, even though it is inhabited, there is a mystery as to why they were built. Another question is to why the name of the island is ‘Easter Island’ ? Simple enough – the Island was discovered to the outside world by the first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, on Easter Sunday in the year 1722 AD. He was searching for David’s Island, and called it the Dutch equivalent of Easter Island (in Dutch, Paasch-Eyland). The island also has a Polynesian name, “Rapa Nui” or “Big Rapa”.
The island has other unique characteristics besides these large number of statues. The island at one time had a flourishing civilization, but as the population increased to a total of 10,000, the resources available on the island were not enough to sustain this population, with the entire eco-system of this small rock in the South Pacific being destroyed by this huge population. The species present were wiped out, the lush forests were destroyed. As the ecosystem spiralled into a disaster, there was a major disruption of the social order with society turning onto itself, and eventually this collapse also meant the pulling down of all these statues. Eventually however, recent archaelogical effort caused the current 887 statues to be on display, and these are the ones that tourists come to see. The island otherwise is a rocky, treeless island.
There is a huge amount of confusion (not at all settled) as to where the original settlers came from. Thor Hyderhal (the one who did the famous experiment with the raft made of raw material available far back to show that ancient people could travel far) hypothized that the original settlers came from Peru, since there is some similarity between the Inca civilization and the stonework in Easter Island. Other thesis base that the original settlers came from Polynesia around 400 AD. However, there is no good explanation as to why they built these huge statues, and of course, there are some who use this opportunity to suggest that there is some influence by extra-terrestials. Nearly all the moai are carved from the tough stone of the Rano Raraku volcano.

How to get there:
Since Easter Island is close to both Chile and Tahiti (although close is a misnomer, with the distance being at the closest around 2,000 miles), there are connections from both of these places, with flights and tourist packages available. Since the island now depends primarily on tourism, there are a number of local homes, guesthouses and hotels run by the islanders (and it may be a nice experience staying in a facility run by an islander, just as long as you have done enough research).

Blogs / Sites about Easter Island:

1. History of Easter Island (link), with many photos

Easter Island is the world’s most isolated inhabited island. It is also one of the most mysterious. Easter Island is roughly midway between Chile and Tahiti. The triangular shaped island is made mostly of volcanic rock. Small coral formations exist along the shoreline, but the lack of a coral reef has allowed the sea to cut cliffs around much of the island. The coastline has many lava tubes and volcanic caves. The only sandy beaches are on the northeast coast. Ovahe Beach, North Shore.
All but a few of the moai of Easter Island were carved at Rano Raraku, a volcanic cone that contains a crater lake. It is an eerie spot. Scattered all around Rano Raraku are 394 moai in every stage of evolution. Some are fallen – a common sight around the island – and some appear to have only heads, although they are really full figures that have been nearly buried by soil over the centuries. For reasons that remain a mystery, it appears that the workers at Rano Raraku set down their tools in the middle of a multitude of projects – and the moai-building abruptly ceased.

2. Easter Island on Wikipedia (link)

The island was populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Marquises islands (3200 km away) or Tuamotou islands (Mangareva, 2600 km away) or Pitcairn (2000 km away). When Captain Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, who was a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. In 1999, a voyage with reconstructed Polynesian boats was carried out, reaching Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days.
According to legends recorded by the missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a very clear class system, with an ariki, king, wielding absolute god-like power ever since Hotu Matu’a had arrived on the island. The most visible element in the culture was production of massive moai that were part of the ancestral worship. With a strictly unified appearance, moai were erected along most of the coastline, indicating a homogeneous culture and centralized governance.

3. Attempting to replicate the movement of a moia (link)

This is the story of a team of archaeologists and a 75-person crew who sought to unravel a central mystery of Easter Island: how hundreds of giant stone statues that dominate the island’s coast were moved and erected. For one month, the team struggled to raise a 10-ton moai, using only the tools and materials available to the ancient Easter Islanders.

4. Sacredsites (link)

n the early 1950s, the Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (famous for his Kon-Tiki and Ra raft voyages across the oceans) popularized the idea that the island had been originally settled by advanced societies of Indians from the coast of South America. Extensive archaeological, ethnographic and linguistic research has conclusively shown this hypothesis to be inaccurate. It is now recognized that the original inhabitants of Easter Island are of Polynesian stock (DNA extracts from skeletons have confirmed this), that they most probably came from the Marquesas or Society islands, and that they arrived as early as 318 AD (carbon dating of reeds from a grave confirms this). It is estimated that the original colonists, who may have been lost at sea, arrived in only a few canoes and numbered fewer than 100. At the time of their arrival, much of the island was forested, was teeming with land birds, and was perhaps the most productive breeding site for seabirds in the Polynesia region. Because of the plentiful bird, fish and plant food sources, the human population grew and gave rise to a rich religious and artistic culture.

5. Map of Eastern Island (link)
6. A description along with photos of many of the Eastern Islands locations (link)
7. A comparison of what happened on Easter Island to current (link)

Among all such vanished civilizations, that of the former Polynesian society on Easter Island remains unsurpassed in mystery and isolation. The mystery stems especially from the island’s gigantic stone statues and its impoverished landscape, but it is enhanced by our associations with the specific people involved: Polynesians represent for us the ultimate in exotic romance, the background for many a child’s, and an adult’s, vision of paradise. My own interest in Easter was kindled over 30 years ago when I read Thor Heyerdahl’s fabulous accounts of his Kon-Tiki voyage.

Photo / Image Gallery:

1. Unique South America Travel Experience (link)
2. Photos from JPL at along with text (link)
3. Many beautiful photos at Easter Island Quest (link)
4. Photos at World Nomads (link)

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