Easter Island – The Cliff Note History
Easter Island (known in the native language as Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua in Spanish) is an island in the South Pacific Ocean belonging to Chile. Located 2,300 west of Chile and 1,300 miles east of Pitcairn Island. Easter Island was known to be one the most isolated inhabited islands in the world but I do not agree because I can get to the island on a big plane; whereas Pitcairn Island can only be accessed by boat. It was named Easter Island because it was discovered by the Dutch on Easter Sunday, 1722. Easter Island is triangular in shape about 63 square miles and has a population of 4,000 which live in the capital of Hanga Roa. Easter is made up of three volcanoes: Poike, Rano Kau and Terevaka.
The island is famous for its numerous moai, the stone statues located along the coastlines. There has been much controversy and confusion concerning the origins of the Easter Islanders. It is thought that the people who built the statues were of Peruvian descent, due to a similarity between Rapa Nui and Incan stonework. Some have suggested that Easter Island is the remnant of a lost continent, or the result of an extra-terrestrial influence. Archaeological evidence, however, indicates discovery of Easter Island by Polynesians at about 400 AD – led, according to legend, by Hotu Matua. In addition to the statues, the islanders possessed the Rongorongo script; the only written language in Oceania.
Ancient Island legends speak of a clan chief called Hotu Matu’a, who left his original home in search of a new one. When he died, the island was divided between his six sons and later sub-divided among their descendants. The islanders may have believed that their statues would capture the chiefs’ “mana” (supernatural powers).
They may have believed that by concentrating mana on the island good things would result, e.g., rain would fall and crops would grow. As the years went on the population of Easter Island reached its peak at perhaps more than 10,000, far exceeding the capabilities of the small island's ecosystem. Resources became scarce, and the once lush palm forests were destroyed – cleared for agriculture and moving the massive stone Moai. As a result of cutting down all the trees the locals no longer had the materials to build boats big enough to leave the island so they became trapped on this island with no way to escape. Thereafter, a thriving and advanced social order began to decline into bloody civil war and, evidently, cannibalism.
Eventually, all of the Moai standing along the coast were torn down by the islanders – they even took it a step further by not just knocking down all the statues (Moai) but making sure they broke them into pieces when they fell down. When Western world first made contact with the island in the 17th century the local population of Easter Island was further reduced through slavery and disease and by the 19th century the population was down to a few 100 locals.