Easter Island (Isla de Pascua)

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Well what a wonderful place. We arrive at around 11:00 on the 19th January 2006. Mummy goes off to arrange a hotel while me and daddy queue to put our bags through the radar machine. Easter Island is tiny, the most remote inhabited place on Earth, with a population of around 3800 and about 1500 tourists at any one time. There was a lady with a board advertising the Taura’a hotel in arrivals. Mummy went over and asked if they had room and luckily they did so we are taken to the hotel and given a lovely big room with a double and two single beds for me.

Waiting in the hotel minibus at the airport

Our room at the Taura'a hotel

We tried a walk through town – a single road place and the only on the island and then went down to the beach. The coast line is very harsh and volcanic but there are quite a few surfers in the water. It was so hot however that we had to turn back and have a rest in the coolness of our room. We meet some of the other guests and spend the evening on the veranda getting to know each other.

Easter Island, also Rapa Nui (Spanish, Isla de Pascua), triangular-shaped island belonging to Chile, in the south Pacific Ocean, about 3,700 km (2,300 mi) west of the Chilean coast. The island is formed from three extinct volcanoes, and has an area of 117 sq km (45 sq mi). Swept by strong trade winds, the area is warm throughout the year. Indigenous vegetation consists mainly of grasses. Potatoes, sugar cane, taro roots, tobacco, and tropical fruits are grown in the fertile soil. The prime source of fresh water is the rain that gathers in the crater lakes. In 1722, when the first Europeans arrived, several thousand Polynesians inhabited the island, but disease and raids by slave traders reduced the number to fewer than 200 by the late 19th century. Some intermarriage has taken place between the Polynesians and the Chileans.

The island was named by the Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen, who landed there on Easter Day in 1722. The Chilean government annexed the island in 1888. An area on the western coast is reserved by the government for the indigenous population; the remainder is used as grazing land for sheep and cattle.

Easter Island is of considerable archaeological importance both as the richest site of the megalithic monuments of the Pacific island groups and as the only source of evidence of a form of writing in Polynesia.

Very little is known about the people who made the megaliths and carved the wooden tablets. One belief is that settlement of Easter Island took place about 18 centuries ago, although some scholars contend that the settlement occurred more recently. Archaeological and botanical evidence suggests that the island's original inhabitants were of South American origin. The ancestors of the present Polynesian population are thought to have travelled in canoes from the Marquesas Islands, massacred the inhabitants, and made the island their home. Many archaeologists believe that at the time of the invasion the megaliths, including about 600 statues, were standing throughout the island and that many were destroyed by the Polynesians during a period of violence on Easter Island.

Largest of the extant stone monuments are the great burial platforms, called ahus (ahu moai), which were used to support rows of statues. The ahus were situated on bluffs and in other positions commanding a view of the sea. Each ahu was constructed of neatly fitted stone blocks set without mortar. The burial platform usually supported 4 to 6 statues, although one ahu, known as Tongariki, carried 15 statues. Within many of the ahus, vaults house individual or group burials.

About 100 statues still stand on the island; they vary in height from 3 to 12 m (10 to 40 ft). Carved from tuff, a soft volcanic rock, they consist of huge heads with elongated ears and noses. Material for the statues was quarried from the crater called Rano Raraku, where modern explorers found an immense unfinished statue, 21 m (68 ft) long. Many of the statues on the burial platforms bore cylindrical, brimmed crowns of red tuff; the largest crown weighs approximately 27 tonnes.

Excavations have also disclosed hidden caves containing decayed remains of tablets and wooden images, and numerous small wooden sculptures. The tablets are covered with finely carved and stylized figures, which seem to be a form of picture writing. The Rapa Nui National Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Population (1989 estimate) 2,095.

 

We had arranged a days tour for today the 20th January but woke up to torrential rain. Luckily Bill – the hotel owner – was rained off the job he had planned and said he would give us the ‘quick’ island tour after a late breakfast. In fact, we were lucky that the weather was overcast – cool – and we managed to avoid any rain, so we had a comfortable tour.

First stop is the mine where all the statues were cut out of the rock. It is an extinct volcano and when we had climbed to the top we could see a lake inside. All around there are partially completed statues. There are also lots of broken ones too. The theory is that as each statues was completed, it was slid down the mountainside on rollers then transported to it's position at the edge of the island. All this was carried out by hand and it is thought that this is the reason there are now no trees left on the island. The statues all look in towards the middle of the island from their positions around the coast. If a statue broke en route then it was just left where it fell.

We were told that the various statues ( I have forgotten the correct name for them) were mined over a period of nearly 1000 years. We were told that the population managed to produce 2 a year on average. Apparently there was a population of 20,000+ during this period. There are odd records in ships logs of various western visits from 17 something onwards – including Captain Cook. Several moments in history decimated the population most importantly the collection of 1500 slaves. At a later date the Bishop of Tahiti had enough influence to insist that all the Polynesian Islanders be freed and returned. This was a disaster. From the 1500 taken from Easter Island 140 were put on a ship from Peru to return. Just 9 survived the trip and were returned to the island. Unfortunately they had smallpox which decimated the population. In fact, it would have been better had they not returned. It seems that the maximum population could have been upward of 20,000 and following the culls by disease or tribal feuds the minimum just 100 or so. The gene pool is still very low and the islanders are required to marry off the island.

Bill's wife had 11 brothers and 11 sisters – all produced by the same woman. However, the children’s generation – mummy and daddy's age – were forced to marry off the island because the gene pool was just too small. Amazingly, just 15 years ago the place was a primitive spot visited by no one. No cars, no roads no nothing. There was some TV from the mainland but that stopped at midnight and then everyone went to the disco for the rest of the night.

We go out for another fine meal in the evening with all our friends from the hotel. We only stay on the island for three days - well it is very small - and manage to complete a super full island tour and also meet lots of interesting people as well.

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