Easter Island

Easter Island

Coordinates: 27°7′S 109°22′W / 27.117°S 109.367°W / -27.117; -109.367

Easter Island
Rapa Nui
Isla de Pascua
Easter Island map showing Terevaka, Poike, Rano Kau, Motu Nui, Orongo, and Mataveri; major ahus are marked with moai
Easter Island map showing Terevaka, Poike, Rano Kau, Motu Nui, Orongo, and Mataveri; major ahus are marked with moai
Capital Hanga Roa
27°9′S 109°25.5′W / 27.15°S 109.425°W / -27.15; -109.425
Official language(s) Spanish, Rapa Nui [1]
Ethnic groups (2002) Rapanui 60%, European or mestizo 39%, Amerindian 1%
Demonym Rapa Nui or Pascuense
Government Special territory of Chile[2]
 -  Provincial Governor Carmen Cardinali
 -  Mayor Luz Zasso Paoa
Annexation to Chile 
 -  Treaty signed September 9, 1888 
 -  Total 163.6 km2 
63.1 sq mi 
 -  2011 estimate 5,034[3] 
 -  2002 census 3,791 
 -  Density 30.77/km2 
79.78/sq mi
Currency Peso (CLP)
Time zone EAST (UTC−6)
 -  Summer (DST) EASST (UTC−5)
Internet TLD .cl
Calling code +56 32
Easter Island is located in Pacific Ocean
Easter Island
Location of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean

Easter Island (Rapa Nui: Rapa Nui, Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapanui people. It is a World Heritage Site (as determined by UNESCO) with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park. In recent times the island has served as a warning of the cultural and environmental dangers of overexploitation. Ethnographers and archaeologists also blame diseases carried by European colonizers and slave raiding[4] of the 1860s for devastating the local peoples.

Easter Island is claimed to be the most remote inhabited island in the world.[5]



Easter Island, Sala y Gómez, South America and the islands in between
Orthographic projection centered on Easter Island

The name "Easter Island" was given by the island's first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday 1722, while searching for Davis or David's island. Roggeveen named it Paasch-Eyland (18th century Dutch for "Easter Island").[6] The island's official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means "Easter Island".

The current Polynesian name of the island, Rapa Nui or "Big Rapa", was coined after the slave raids of the early 1860s, and refers to the island's topographic resemblance to the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands of the Austral Islands group.[7] However Thor Heyerdahl argued that Rapa was the original name of Easter Island, and that Rapa Iti was named by refugees from there.[8]

Claims about the "original" Polynesian name for Easter Island include Te pito o te henua, meaning "The Navel of the land" or "The ends of the land". Pito means both navel and umbilical cord, which was considered to be the link between the world of the living (kainga) and the spiritworld Po, lying in the depths of the ocean further east. Since Easter Island is the easternmost Polynesian island, the name may refer to it being the "end" of the world of the living; however after Alphonse Pinart translated it as "the Navel of the World" in his Voyage à l'Île de Pâques, published in 1877, this second meaning was lost. According to some oral traditions, the island was first named Te pito o te kainga a Hau Maka, or "The little piece of land of Hau Maka".[9] Another name, Mata-ki-Te-rangi, means "Eyes looking to the sky".

Location and physical geography

Easter Island is one of the world's most isolated inhabited islands. Its closest inhabited neighbour is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 km (1,289 mi) to the west, with fewer than 100 inhabitants. Easter Island's latitude is close to that of Caldera, Chile, and it lies 3,510 km (2,180 mi) west of continental Chile at its nearest point (between Lota and Lebu). Isla Salas y Gómez, 415 km (258 mi) to the east, is closer but is uninhabited.

The island is about 24.6 km (15.3 mi) long by 12.3 km (7.6 mi) at its widest point; its overall shape is triangular. It has an area of 163.6 square kilometres (63.2 sq mi), and a maximum altitude of 507 meters (1,663 ft). There are three Rano (freshwater crater lakes), at Rano Kau, Rano Raraku and Rano Aroi, near the summit of Terevaka, but no permanent streams or rivers.


Easter Island is a volcanic high island, consisting mainly of three extinct coalesced volcanoes: Terevaka (altitude 507 metres) forms the bulk of the island. Two other volcanoes, Poike and Rano Kau, form the eastern and southern headlands and give the island its roughly triangular shape. Lesser cones and other volcanic features include the crater Rano Raraku, the cinder cone Puna Pau and many volcanic caves including lava tubes.[10] Poike used to be a separate island until volcanic material from Terevaka united it to the larger whole. The island is dominated by hawaiite and basalt flows which are rich in iron and show affinity with igneous rocks found in the Galápagos Islands.[11]

Easter Island and surrounding islets such as Motu Nui and Motu Iti form the summit of a large volcanic mountain rising over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) from the sea bed. The mountain is part of the Sala y Gómez Ridge, a (mostly submarine) mountain range with dozens of seamounts. The range begins with Pukao and next Moai, two seamounts to the west of Easter Island, and extends 2,700 km (1,700 mi) east to the Nazca Ridge.[12] The ridge was formed by the Nazca Plate floating over the Easter hotspot.[13] The movement of Nazca and formerly the Farallon Plate over the hotspot has created a long underwater ridge, the Nazca Ridge, whose eastern end is being subducted under Peru. Only at Easter Island, its surrounding islets and Sala y Gómez does the Sala y Gómez Ridge form dry land.

Pukao, Moai and Easter Island were formed in the last 750,000 years and are the ridge's youngest islands. The most recent eruption was a little over 100,000 years ago.

In the first half of the 20th century, steam reportedly came out of the Rano Kau crater wall. This was photographed by the island's manager, Mr Edmunds.[14] According to geologists the last volcanic activity on the island occurred 10,000 years ago.

An alternative explanation for the islands is the activity of the Easter Fracture Zone.

Climate and weather

The climate of Easter Island is subtropical maritime. The lowest temperatures are recorded in July and August (18 °C or 64 °F) and the highest in February (maximum temperature 28 °C or 82 °F[15]), the summer season in the southern hemisphere. Winters are relatively mild. The rainiest month is April, though the island experiences year-round rainfall.[16] Easter Island's isolated location exposes it to winds which help to keep the temperature fairly cool. Precipitation averages 1,118 millimetres or 44 inches per year. Occasionally, heavy rainfall and rainstorms strike the island. These occur mostly in the winter months (June–August). Since it is close to the South Pacific High and outside the range of the ITCZ, cyclones and hurricanes do not occur around Easter island.[17]

Climate data for Easter Island
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 36
Average high °C (°F) 25
Average low °C (°F) 21
Record low °C (°F) 15
Precipitation cm (inches) 9
Source: Weatherbase "World Weather Information Service – Easter Island". http://weatherbase.com. 


Rapa Nui National Park *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island
Country Chile
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iii, v
Reference 715
Region ** Latin America and the Caribbean
Inscription history
Inscription 1995 (19th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO

The history of Easter Island is rich and controversial. Its inhabitants have endured famines, epidemics, civil war, slave raids, colonialism, and near deforestation; its population declined precipitously more than once.

Ahu Tongariki near Rano Raraku, a 15–moai ahu excavated and restored in the 1990s

Estimated dates of initial settlement of Easter Island range from 300 to 1200 CE, approximately coinciding with the arrival of the first settlers in Hawaii. Rectifications in radiocarbon dating have changed almost all of the previously-posited early settlement dates in Polynesia. Rapa Nui is now considered to have been settled about 700–1100 CE. An ongoing study by archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo suggests a still–later date: "Radiocarbon dates for the earliest stratigraphic layers at Anakena, Easter Island, and analysis of previous radiocarbon dates imply that the island was colonized late, about 1200 CE. Significant ecological impacts and major cultural investments in monumental architecture and statuary thus began soon after initial settlement."[18][19]

According to oral tradition, the first settlement was at Anakena. Jared Diamond notes that the Caleta Anakena landing point provides the best shelter from prevailing swells, as well as a sandy beach for canoe landings and launchings, so it seems likely to have been an early place of settlement.[20] However, this hypothesis contradicts radiocarbon dating, according to which other sites preceded Anakena by many years, especially the Tahai, whose radiocarbon dates precede Anakena's by several centuries.

The island was most likely populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Marquesas Islands, 3,200 km (2,000 mi) away, or the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2,600 km (1,600 mi) away). When James Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. The language most similar to Rapa Nui is Mangarevan with an 80% similarity in vocabulary. In 1999, a voyage with reconstructed Polynesian boats was able to reach Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days.[21]

According to oral traditions recorded by missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a strong class system, with an ariki, high chief, wielding great power over nine other clans and their respective chiefs. The high chief was the eldest descendent through first-born lines of the island's legendary founder, Hotu Matu'a. The most visible element in the culture was the production of massive statues called moai that represented deified ancestors. It was believed that the living had a symbiotic relationship with the dead where the dead provided everything that the living needed (health, fertility of land and animals, fortune etc.) and the living through offerings provided the dead with a better place in the spirit world. Most settlements were located on the coast and moai were erected along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the sea.

Diamond suggested that cannibalism took place on Easter Island after the construction of the Moai contributed to environmental degradation when extreme deforestation destabilized an already precarious ecosystem.[22] Archeological record shows that, by the time of the initial settlement, the island was home to many species of trees, including at least three species which grew up to 50 feet or more: Paschalococos - possibly the largest palm trees in the world at the time, Alphitonia zizyphoides, and Elaeocarpus rarotongensis, as well as at least six species of native land birds. Barbara A. West wrote, "Sometime before the arrival of Europeans on Easter Island, the Rapanui experienced a tremendous upheaval in their social system brought about by a change in their island's ecology... By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island's population had dropped to 2,000 – 3,000 from a high of approximately 15,000 just a century earlier." [23] By that time, 21 species of trees and all species of land birds went extinct through some combination of overharvesting/overhunting, rat predation, and climate change, the island was largely deforested, and it did not have any trees more than 10 feet tall. Loss of large trees meant that residents were no longer able to build seaworthy vessels, significantly diminishing their fishing abilities. This was further exacerbated by the loss of land birds and the collapse in seabird populations. By the 18th century, residents of the island were largely sustained by farming, with domestic chickens as the primary source of protein.[24]

As the island became overpopulated and resources diminished, warriors known as matatoa gained more power and the Ancestor Cult ended, making way for the Bird Man Cult. Beverly Haun wrote, "The concept of mana (power) invested in hereditary leaders was recast into the person of the birdman, apparently beginning circa 1540, and coinciding with the final vestiges of the moai period."[25] This cult maintained that, although the ancestors still provided for their descendants, the medium through which the living could contact the dead was no longer statues, but human beings chosen through a competition. The god responsible for creating humans, Makemake, played an important role in this process. Katherine Routledge, who systematically collected the island's traditions in her 1919 expedition,[26] showed that the competitions for Bird Man (Rapanui: tangata manu) started around 1760, after the arrival of the first Europeans, and ended in 1878, with the construction of the first church by Roman Catholic missionaries who formally arrived in 1864. Petroglyphs representing Bird Men on Easter Island are exactly the same as some in Hawaii, indicating that this concept was probably brought by the original settlers; only the competition itself was unique to Easter Island.

European accounts from 1722 and 1770 mention standing statues, but Cook's 1774 expedition noted that several moai were lying face down, having been toppled in war.

Motu Nui islet, part of the Birdman Cult ceremony

According to Diamond and Heyerdahl's version of the island's history, the huri mo'ai—"statue–toppling"—continued into the 1830s as a part of fierce internal wars. By 1838 the only standing moai were on the slopes of Rano Raraku, in Hoa Hakananai'a in Orongo, and Ariki Paro in Ahu Te Pito Kura. There is little archaeological evidence of pre–European societal collapse. Bone pathology and osteometric data from islanders of that period clearly suggest few fatalities can be attributed directly to violence.[27][citation needed]

The first–recorded European contact with the island was on April 5 (Easter Sunday), 1722, when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen visited the island for a week and estimated a population of 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants. The number may have been greater, since some may have been frightened into hiding by a misunderstanding that led Roggeveen's men to fire on the natives, killing more than a dozen and wounding several more. The next foreign visitors (on November 15, 1770) were two Spanish ships, San Lorenzo and Santa Rosalia. The Spanish reported the island as largely uncultivated, whose seashore was lined with stone statues. Four years later, in 1774, British explorer James Cook visited Easter Island; he reported that some statues had fallen over. The British ship HMS Blossom arrived in 1825 and reported seeing no standing statues. Easter Island was approached many times during the 19th century, but by then the islanders had become openly hostile to any attempt to land, and very little new information was reported before the 1860s.

A series of devastating events killed or removed most of the population in the 1860s. In December 1862, Peruvian slave raiders struck. Violent abductions continued for several months, eventually capturing around 1,500 men and women, half of the island's population.[28] Among those captured were the island's paramount chief, his heir, and those who knew how to read and write the rongorongo script, the only Polynesian script to have been found to date. When the slave raiders were forced to repatriate the people they had kidnapped, they disembarked carriers of smallpox together with a few survivors on each of the islands. This created devastating epidemics from Easter Island to the Marquesas islands. Easter Island's population was reduced to the point where some of the dead were not even buried. Tuberculosis, introduced by whalers in the mid–19th century, had already killed several islanders when the first Christian missionary, Eugène Eyraud, died from this disease in 1867. About a quarter of the island's population succumbed along with him. In the following years, the managers of the sheep ranch and the missionaries started buying the newly available lands of the deceased, and this led to great confrontations between natives and settlers.

"Queen Mother" Koreto with her daughters "Queen" Caroline and Harriette in 1877

Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier bought up all of the island apart from the missionaries' area around Hanga Roa and moved a couple of hundred Rapanui to Tahiti to work for his backers. In 1871 the missionaries, having fallen out with Dutrou–Bornier, evacuated all but 171 Rapanui to the Gambier islands.[29] Those who remained were mostly older men. Six years later, only 111 people lived on Easter Island, and only 36 of them had any offspring.[30] From that point on the island's population slowly recovered. But with over 97% of the population dead or gone in less than a decade, much of the island's cultural knowledge had been lost.

Alexander Salmon, Jr., a the son of an English Jewish merchant and Pōmare dynasty princess, eventually worked to repatriate workers from his inherited copra plantation. He eventaully bought up all lands on the island with the exception of the mission, and was its sole employer. He worked to develop tourism on the island, and was the principal informant for the British and German archaeological expeditions for the island. He sent several pieces of genuine Rongorongo to his niece's husband, the German consul in Valparaíso, Chile. Salmon sold the Brander Easter Island holdings to the Chilean government in 1888 January 2 and signed as a witness to the cession of the island. He returned to Tahiti in December of that year. He effectively ruled the island from 1878 until his cession to Chile in 1888.

Easter Island was annexed by Chile on September 9, 1888, by Policarpo Toro, by means of the "Treaty of Annexation of the Island" (Tratado de Anexión de la isla). Toro, then representing the government of Chile signed with Atamu Tekena, designated "King" by the Chilean government after the paramount chief and his heir had died. The validity of this treaty is still contested by some Rapanui. Officially, Chile purchased the nearly all encompassing Mason-Brander sheep ranch, comprised from lands purchased from the descendants of Rapanui who died during the epidemics, and then claimed sovereignty over the island.

Until the 1960s the surviving Rapanui were confined to Hanga Roa. The rest of the island was rented to the Williamson-Balfour Company as a sheep farm until 1953.[31] The island was then managed by the Chilean Navy until 1966, at which point the island was reopened in its entirety. In 1966 the Rapanui were given Chilean citizenship.[32]

21st century

On 30 July 2007, a constitutional reform gave Easter Island and the Juan Fernández Islands (also known as Robinson Crusoe Island) the status of "special territories" of Chile. Pending the enactment of a special charter, the island continued to be governed as a province of the V Region of Valparaíso.[33]

A total solar eclipse visible from Easter Island occurred for the first time in over 1300 years on July 11, 2010, at 18:15:15.[34]

According to a BBC report, on December 3, 2010, at least 25 people were injured when Chilean police using pellet guns attempted to evict a group of Rapa Nui from buildings they had occupied for three months, claiming that the land the buildings stood on had been illegally taken from their ancestors.[35]


View of Easter Island from space, 2001. The Poike peninsula is on the right.

Easter Island, together with its closest neighbor, the tiny island of Isla Sala y Gómez 415 kilometers (258 mi) further east, is recognized by ecologists as a distinct ecoregion, the Rapa Nui subtropical broadleaf forests. The original subtropical moist broadleaf forests are now gone, but paleobotanical studies of fossil pollen and tree moulds left by lava flows indicate that the island was formerly forested, with a range of trees, shrubs, ferns, and grasses. A large extinct palm, Paschalococos disperta, related to the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), was one of the dominant trees as attested by fossil evidence. Like its Chilean counterpart it probably took close to 100 years to reach adult height. The Polynesian rat, which the original settlers brought with them, played a very important role in the disappearance of the Rapanui palm. Rat teeth marks can be observed in 99% of the nuts found preserved in caves or excavated in different sites, indicating that the Polynesian rat impeded the palm's reproduction. That, and the clearance of the palms to make the settlements, led to their extinction almost 350 years ago.[36] The toromiro tree (Sophora toromiro) was prehistorically present on Easter Island, but is now extinct in the wild. However the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Göteborg Botanical Garden are jointly leading a scientific program to reintroduce the toromiro to Easter Island. With the palm and the toromiro virtually gone, there was considerably less rainfall as a result of less condensation. After the island was used to feed thousands of sheep for almost a century, by the mid 1900s the island was mostly covered in grassland with nga'atu or bulrush (Schoenoplectus californicus tatora) in the crater lakes of Rano Raraku and Rano Kau. The presence of these reeds, which are called totora in the Andes, was used to support the argument of a South American origin of the statue builders, but pollen analysis of lake sediments shows these reeds have grown on the island for over 30,000 years.[citation needed] Before the arrival of humans, Easter Island had vast seabird colonies containing probably over 30 resident species, perhaps the world's richest.[37] Such colonies are no longer found on the main island. Fossil evidence indicates five species of landbirds (two rails, two parrots and a heron), all of which have become extinct.[38]

The immunosuppressant drug sirolimus was first discovered in the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus in a soil sample from Easter Island. The drug is also known as rapamycin, after Rapa Nui.[39] It is now being studied for extending longevity in mice.[40]

Panorama of Anakena beach, Easter Island. The moai pictured here was the first to be raised back into place on its ahu in 1955 by islanders using the ancient method.

Trees are sparse, rarely forming natural groves, and it has been argued whether native Easter Islanders deforested the island in the process of erecting their statues,[41] and in providing sustenance for an overpopulated island.[citation needed] Experimental archaeology demonstrated that some statues certainly could have been placed on "Y" shaped wooden frames called miro manga erua and then pulled to their final destinations on ceremonial sites.[41] Other theories involve the use of "ladders" (parallel wooden rails) over which the statues could have been dragged.[42] Rapanui traditions metaphorically refer to spiritual power (mana) as the means by which the moai were "walked" from the quarry.

Given the island's southern latitude, the climatic effects of the Little Ice Age (about 1650 to 1850) may have exacerbated deforestation, although this remains speculative.[41] Many researchers[43] point to the climatic downtrend caused by the Little Ice Age as a contributing factor to resource stress and to the palm tree's disappearance. Experts, however, do not agree on when exactly the island's palms became extinct.

Jared Diamond dismisses past climate change as a dominant cause of the island's deforestation in his book Collapse which assesses the collapse of the ancient Easter Islanders. Influenced by Heyerdahl's romantic interpretation of Easter's history (as he acknowledges in chapter 2 of Collapse), Diamond insists that the disappearance of the island's trees seems to coincide with a decline of its civilization around the 17th and 18th centuries. He notes that they stopped making statues at that time and started destroying the ahu. But the link is weakened because the Bird Man cult continued to thrive and survived the great impact caused by the arrival of explorers, whalers, sandalwood traders, and slave raiders.

Midden contents show a sudden drop in quantities of fish and bird bones as the islanders lost the means to construct fishing vessels and the birds lost their nesting sites. Soil erosion because of lack of trees is apparent in some places. Sediment samples document that up to half of the native plants had become extinct and that the vegetation of the island drastically altered. Polynesians were primarily farmers, not fishermen, and their diet consisted mainly of cultivated staples such as taro root, sweet potato, yams, cassava, and bananas. Chickens were more important protein sources than fish. Cannibalism occurred on all Polynesian islands in times of both plenty and famine. Its presence on Easter Island (based on human remains associated with cooking sites, especially in caves) is not definitive evidence for the collapse of civilization.[citation needed]

View toward the interior of the island

Benny Peiser[4] noted evidence of self-sufficiency when Europeans first arrived. The island still had smaller trees, mainly toromiro, which became extinct in the 20th century probably because of slow growth and changes in the island's ecosystem. Cornelis Bouman, Jakob Roggeveen's captain, stated in his logbook, "... of yams, bananas and small coconut palms we saw little and no other trees or crops." According to Carl Friedrich Behrens, Roggeveen's officer, "The natives presented palm branches as peace offerings." According to ethnographer Alfred Mètraux, the most common type of house was called "hare paenga" (and is known today as "boat house") because the roof resembled an overturned boat. The foundations of the houses were made of buried basalt slabs with holes for wooden beams to connect with each other throughout the width of the house. These were then covered with a layer of totora reed, followed by a layer of woven sugarcane leaves, and lastly a layer of woven grass. There were reports by European visitors who said they had seen "boles of large palm trees".[citation needed] Peiser claims that these reports indicate that large trees existed at that time, which is perhaps contradicted by the Bouman quote above. Plantations were often located further inland, next to foothills, inside open-ceiling lava tubes, and in other places protected from the strong salt winds and salt spray affecting areas closer to the coast. It is possible many of the Europeans did not venture inland. The statue quarry, only one kilometre from the coast with an impressive cliff 100 m (330 ft) high, was not explored by Europeans until well into the 19th century.

Easter Island has suffered from heavy soil erosion in recent centuries, perhaps aggravated by agriculture and massive deforestation. This process seems to have been gradual and may have been aggravated by sheep farming throughout most of the 20th century. Jakob Roggeveen reported that Easter Island was exceptionally fertile. "Fowls are the only animals they keep. They cultivate bananas, sugar cane, and above all sweet potatoes." In 1786 Jean-François de La Pérouse visited Easter Island and his gardener declared that "three days' work a year" would be enough to support the population.

Rollin, a major in the Pérouse expedition, wrote, "Instead of meeting with men exhausted by famine... I found, on the contrary, a considerable population, with more beauty and grace than I afterwards met in any other island; and a soil, which, with very little labor, furnished excellent provisions, and in an abundance more than sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants."[44]

According to Diamond, the oral traditions (the veracity of which has been questioned by Routledge, Lavachery, Mètraux, Peiser and others) of the current islanders seem obsessed with cannibalism, which he offers as evidence supporting a rapid collapse. For example, he states, to severely insult an enemy one would say, "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth." This, Diamond asserts, means the food supply of the people ultimately ran out.[45] Cannibalism, however, was widespread across Polynesian cultures.[46] Human bones have not been found in earth ovens other than those behind the religious platforms, indicating that cannibalism in Easter Island was a ritualistic practice. Contemporary ethnographic research has proven there is scarcely any tangible evidence for widespread cannibalism anywhere and at any time on the Island.[47] The first scientific exploration of Easter Island (1914) recorded that the indigenous population strongly rejected allegations that they or their ancestors had been cannibals.[26]


Birdmen (Tangata manu) paintings in the so-called "Cave of the Men Eatresses"


The most important myths are:

  • Tangata manu, the Birdman cult which was practiced until the 1860s.
  • Makemake, an important god.
  • Aku-aku, the guardians of the sacred family caves.
  • Moai-kava-kava a ghost man of the Hanau epe (long-ears.)
  • Hekai ite umu pare haonga takapu Hanau epe kai noruego, the sacred chant to appease the aku-aku before entering a family cave.

Stone work

The Rapa Nui people had a Stone Age civilization and made extensive use of several different types of local stone:

  • Basalt, a hard, dense stone used for toki and at least one of the moai.
  • Obsidian, a volcanic glass with sharp edges used for sharp-edged implements such as Mataa and also for the black pupils of the eyes of the moai.
  • Red scoria from Puna Pau, a very light red stone used for the pukao and a few moai.
  • Tuff from Rano Raraku, a much more easily worked rock than basalt, and was used for most of the moai.

Moai (statues)

The large stone statues, or moai, for which Easter Island is world-famous, were carved from 1100–1680 CE (rectified radio-carbon dates).[citation needed] A total of 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections so far.[48] Although often identified as "Easter Island heads", the statues are actually torsos, with most of them ending at the top of the thighs, although a small number of them are complete, with the figures kneeling on bent knees with their hands over their stomachs.[49][50] Some upright moai have become buried up to their necks by shifting soils.

Almost all (95%) moai were carved out of distinctive, compressed, easily worked solidified volcanic ash or tuff found at a single site inside the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. The native islanders who carved them used only stone hand chisels, mainly basalt toki, which lie in place all over the quarry. The stone chisels were sharpened by chipping off a new edge when dulled. The volcanic stone was first wetted to soften it before sculpting began, then again periodically during the process. While many teams worked on different statues at the same time, a single moai took a team of five or six men approximately one year to complete. Each statue represented the deceased head of a lineage.

Tukuturi, an unusual bearded kneeling moai
Two ahu at Hanga Roa. In foreground Ahu Ko Te Riku (with a pukao on its head). In the mid-ground is a side view of an ahu with five moai showing retaining wall, platform, ramp and pavement.
Ahu Akivi, one of the few inland ahu, with the only moai facing the ocean

Only a quarter of the statues were installed, while nearly half remained in the quarry at Rano Raraku and the rest sat elsewhere, probably on their way to final locations. The largest moai ever raised on a platform is known as "Paro". It weighs 82 tons and 9.8 m (32.15 ft) long.[51] Several other statues of similar weight were transported to several ahu on the North and South coasts. It is not yet known how they transported the statues. Possibilities include employing a miro manga erua, a Y-shaped sledge with cross pieces, pulled with ropes made from the tough bark of the hau-hau tree,[52] and tied around the statue's neck. Anywhere from 180 to 250 men were required for pulling, depending on the size of the moai. Some 50 of the statues were re-erected in modern times. One of the first was on Ahu Ature Huke in Anakena beach in 1958. It was raised using traditional methods during a Heyerdahl expedition.

Recently, a large Moai statue was excavated from the ground, suggesting that the statues are much older and larger than previously thought. http://www.eisp.org/3879/


Six of the fifteen moai at Ahu Tongariki

Ahu are stone platforms. Varying greatly in layout, many were reworked during or after the huri mo'ai or statue–toppling era; many became ossuaries; one was dynamited open; and Ahu Tongariki was swept inland by a tsunami. Of the 313 known ahu, 125 carried moai—usually just one, probably because of the shortness of the moai period and transportation difficulties. Ahu Tongariki, one kilometer from Rano Raraku, had the most and tallest moai, 15 in total. Other notable ahu with moai are Ahu Akivi, restored in 1960 by William Mulloy, Nau Nau at Anakena and Tahai. Some moai may have been made from wood and were lost.

The classic elements of ahu design are:

  • A retaining rear wall several feet high, usually facing the sea
  • A front wall made of rectangular basalt slabs called paenga
  • A facia made of red scoria that went over the front wall (platforms built after 1300)
  • A sloping ramp in the inland part of the platform, extending outward like wings
  • A pavement of even–sized, round water–worn stones called poro
  • An alignment of stones before the ramp
  • A paved plaza before the ahu. This was called marae
  • Inside the ahu was a fill of rubble.

On top of many ahu would have been:

  • Moai on squareish "pedestals" looking inland, the ramp with the poro before them.
  • Pukao or Hau Hiti Rau on the moai heads (platforms built after 1300).
  • When a ceremony took place, "eyes" were placed on the Statues. The whites of the eyes were made of coral, the iris was made of obsidian or red scoria.

Ahu evolved from the traditional Polynesian marae. In this context ahu referred to a small structure sometimes covered with a thatched roof where sacred objects, including statues, were stored. The ahu were usually adjacent to the marae or main central court where ceremonies took place, though on Easter Island ahu and moai evolved to much greater size. There the marae is the unpaved plaza before the ahu. The biggest ahu is 220 meters (720 ft) and holds 15 statues, some of which are 9 meters (30 ft) high. The filling of an ahu was sourced locally (apart from broken, old moai, fragments of which have also been used in the fill).[53] Individual stones are mostly far smaller than the moai, so less work was needed to transport the raw material, but artificially leveling the terrain for the plaza and filling the ahu was laborious.

Ahu are found mostly on the coast, where they are distributed fairly evenly except on the western slopes of Mount Terevaka and the Rano Kau and Poike[54] headlands. These are the three areas with the least low–lying coastal land, and apart from Poike the furthest areas from Rano Raraku. One ahu with several moai was recorded on the cliffs at Rano Kau in the 1880s, but had fallen to the beach before the Routledge expedition.[26]

The "Navel of the World" image cut from a laser scan collected by nonprofit CyArk
A Hare Moa, a Chicken House, image cut from a laser scan collected by nonprofit CyArk

Navel of the world

There is an unusual "Navel of the World" stone site bordering Ahu Te Pito Kura, near Anakena, with a round water worn beach boulder similar to those found in New Zealand. Rapanui today say the central round stone was brought by Hotu Matu'a from his native land. Geologists consider the rock to be locally sourced, which coincides with earlier oral traditions. They say that the rock was found by the clan that occupied Vinapu who used it as a boundary marker. They lost it to the Miru clan, from the Northern clan alliance, who took it to Te Pito Kura as a war prize. The fact that the stone is large and was naturally round indicated that it was charged with "mana" and could be used as a talisman. The navel has iron and its magnetic polarity varies like many of the stones found in the coast of Vinapu.

Stone walls

One of the highest-quality examples of Easter Island stone masonry is the rear wall of the ahu at Vinapu. Made without mortar by shaping hard basalt rocks of up to seven tons to match each other exactly, it has a superficial similarity to some Inca stone walls in South America.[55]

Stone houses

Two types of houses are known from the past: hare paenga, a house with an elliptical foundation, made with basalt slabs and covered with a thatched roof that resembled an overturned boat, and hare oka, a round stone structure. Related stone structures called Tupa look very similar to the hare oka, except that the Tupa were inhabited by astronomer-priests and located near the coast, where the movements of the stars could be easily observed. Settlements also contain hare moa ("chicken house"), oblong stone structures that were used to house chickens. The houses at the ceremonial village of Orongo are unique in that they are shaped like hare paenga but are made entirely of flat basalt slabs found inside Rano Kao crater. The entrances to all the houses are very low, and entry requires crawling.

In early times the people of Rapa Nui reportedly set the dead out to sea in small funerary canoes, as did their Polynesian counterparts in other islands. They later started burying people in secret caves in order to save the bones from desecration by enemies. During the turmoil of the late 18th century, the islanders seem to have started to bury their dead in the space between the belly of a fallen moai and the front wall of the structure. During the time of the epidemics they made mass graves that were semi-pyramidal stone structures.


Petroglyphs are pictures carved into rock, and Easter Island has one of the richest collections in all Polynesia. Around 1,000 sites with more than 4,000 petroglyphs are catalogued. Designs and images were carved out of rock for a variety of reasons: to create totems, to mark territory or to memorialize a person or event. There are distinct variations around the island in terms of the frequency of particular themes among petroglyphs, with a concentration of Birdmen at Orongo. Other subjects include sea turtles, Komari (vulvas) and Makemake, the chief god of the Tangata manu or Birdman cult.[56]

Petroglyphs are also common in the Marquesas islands.


The island and neighboring Motu Nui are riddled with caves, many of which show signs of past human use for planting and as fortifications, including narrowed entrances and crawl spaces with ambush points. Many caves feature in the myths and legends of the Rapa Nui.

Sample of rongorongo


It is not clear whether the undeciphered Easter Island script rongorongo was created without outside influence ex nihilo or after contact with Europeans. The islanders' brief exposure to Western writing during the Spanish visit in 1770 may have inspired the ruling class to establish rongorongo as a religious tool.[57] Rongorongo has few similarities to the petroglyph corpus;[58] and none is carved in stone despite thousands of petroglyphs and other stonework.

Rongorongo was first reported by a French missionary, Eugène Eyraud, in 1864. At that time, several islanders said they could understand the writing, but all attempts to read it have been unsuccessful. According to tradition, only ruling families and priests were ever literate. This contributed to the total loss of knowledge of how to read rongorongo in the 1860s, when the island's elite was annihilated.

Of the hundreds of objects (mainly wooden tablets, but also stones, staffs, breastplates, and sculptures) reportedly displaying rongorongo, only 28 survived. The specimens are scattered in museums around the world, with very few remaining on Easter Island. The language remains undeciphered. The only scholarly agreement is that rongorongo is pictographic and meant to read in reverse boustrophedon style.

Wood carving

Skeletal statuette
Atypical tubby statuette

Wood was scarce on Easter Island during the 18th and 19th centuries, but a number of highly detailed and distinctive carvings have found their way to the world's museums. Particular forms include:[59]

  • Reimiro, a gorget or breast ornament of crescent shape with a head at one or both tips.[60] The same design appears on the flag of Rapa Nui. Two Rei Miru at the British Museum are inscribed with Rongorongo.
  • Moko Miro, a man with a lizard head
  • Moai kavakava, grotesque and highly detailed human figures carved from Toromiro pine, representing ancestors. The earlier figures are rare and generally depict a male figure with an emaciated body and a goatee. The figures' ribs and vertebrae are exposed and many examples show carved glyphs on various parts of the body but more specifically, on the top of the head. The female figures, rarer then the males, depict the body as flat and often with the female's hand lying across the body. The figures, although some were quite large, were worn as ornamental pieces around a tribesman's neck. The more figures worn, the more important the man. The figures have a shiny patina developed from constant handling and contact with human skin.[citation needed]
  • Ao, a large dancing paddle

Twenty-first century culture

The Rapanui sponsor an annual festival, the Tapati, held since 1975 around the beginning of February to celebrate Rapanui culture. The islanders also maintain a national football team and three discos in the town of Hanga Roa. Other cultural activities include a musical tradition that combines South American and Polynesian influences and woodcarving.


Polynesian dancing with feather costumes is on the tourist itinerary

2002 census

Population at the 2002 census was 3,791;[61] 60% were Rapanui, Chileans of European or castizo descent were 39% of the population, and the remaining 1% were Native Americans from mainland Chile.[citation needed] Castizos may include people of European and Rapanui or European, Native American, and Rapanui descent. Rapanui have also migrated out of the island. Population density on Easter Island is only 23 inhabitants per square kilometre (60 /sq mi). The Rapanui today are trying to restrict immigration of mainland Chileans, which requires a change in the Chilean constitution.

Demographic history

The 1982 population was 1,936. The increase in population in the last census was partly caused by the arrival of people of European or castizo descent from the Chilean mainland. However, most married a Rapanui partner. Around 70% of the population were natives. Estimates of the pre–European population range from 7–17,000. Easter Island's all-time low of 111 inhabitants was reported in 1877. Out of these 111 Rapanui, only 36 had descendants, but all of today's Rapanui claim descent from those 36.

Administration and legal status

Hanga Roa town hall

Easter Island shares with Juan Fernández Islands the sui generis constitutional status of "special territory" of Chile, granted in 2007. As of that time a special charter for the island was under discussion: therefore it continued to be considered a province of the Valparaíso Region and containing a single commune (comuna). This is unique in Chile, since all other provinces consist of more than one commune. Both the province and the commune are called Isla de Pascua and encompass the whole island and its surrounding islets and rocks, plus Isla Salas y Gómez, some 380 km (236 mi) to the east.[62]


Within the electoral divisions of Chile, Isla de Pascua belongs to the 13th electoral district and 6th senatorial constituency. Together with the commune of Juan Fernández, the people are represented in the Chamber of Deputies by Joaquín Godoy (RN) and Aldo Cornejo (PDC). Constituents are also represented by two senators, Francisco Chahuán Chahuán (RN) and Ricardo Lagos Weber (PPD).

Fishing boats on Easter Island
  • Municipal council, directly elected for four years (2008–2012):
    • Marta Raquel Hotus Tuki (PDC)
    • Ximena Trengove Vallejos (PDC)
    • Julio Araki Tepano (UDI)
    • Eliana Amelia Olivares San Juan (UDI)
    • Alberto Hotus Chávez (PPD)
    • Marcelo Pont Hill (PPD)

Notable people


Easter Island is served by Mataveri International Airport, with jet service (currently Boeing 767's) from Lan Airlines and, seasonally, subsidiaries such as Lan Peru.

See also


  1. ^ Portal Rapa Nui
  2. ^ Pending the enactment of a special charter, the island will continue to be governed as a province of the Valparaíso Region.
  3. ^ National Statistics Office (INE).
  4. ^ a b B. Peiser (2005) From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui Energy & Environment volume 16 No. 3&4 2005
  5. ^ "Welcome to Tapa Nui - Isla de Pascua - Easter Island" on Portal RapaNui, the island's official website
  6. ^ An English translation of the originally Dutch journal by Jacob Roggeveen, with additional significant information from the log by Cornelis Bouwman, was published in: Andrew Sharp (ed.), The Journal of Jacob Roggeveen (Oxford 1970).
  7. ^ William Thompson (1891) Invention of the name "Rapa Nui"
  8. ^ Heyerdahl 1961 Heyerdahl's view was that the two islands were about the same size, and that "big" and "small" were not physical but historical attributes, "big" indicating the original. In reality, however, Easter Island is more than four times bigger than Rapa Iti. Heyerdahl also stated that there is an island called "Rapa" in Lake Titicaca in South America, but so far there is no map available showing an island of that name in the lake.
  9. ^ Thomas S. Barthel: The Eighth Land: The Polynesian Settlement of Easter Island (Honolulu: University of Hawaii 1978; originally published in German in 1974)
  10. ^ "Easter Island". Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution. http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=1506-011. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  11. ^ Baker, P. E.; Buckley, F.; Holland, J. G. (1974). "Petrology and geochemistry of Easter Island". Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology 44 (2): 85–100. Bibcode 1974CoMP...44...85B. doi:10.1007/BF00385783. http://www.springerlink.com/content/q752224584lr8qk1/fulltext.pdf. 
  12. ^ Inst of Petrology Vol 38 Haase, Stoffers & Garbe-Schoneberg 1
  13. ^ Inst of Petrology Vol 38 The Petrogenetic Evolution of Lavas from Easter Island and Neighbouring Seamounts, Near-ridge Hotspot Volcanoes in the SE Pacific – Haase, Stoffers & Garbe-Schoneberg 15
  14. ^ Rapanui: Edmunds and Bryan Photograph Collection. Libweb.hawaii.edu. Retrieved on 2010-11-06.
  15. ^ Enjoy Chile – climate
  16. ^ Easter Island Article in Letsgochile.com
  17. ^ Weather Easter Island Foundation
  18. ^ Hunt, T. L.; Lipo, CP (2006). "Late Colonization of Easter Island". Science 311 (5767): 1603–6. doi:10.1126/science.1121879. PMID 16527931. 
  19. ^ Hunt, Terry; Lipo, Carl (2011). The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island. Free Press. ISBN 1-43915031-1. 
  20. ^ Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
  21. ^ "The Voyage to Rapa Nui 1999–2000". Polynesian Voyaging Society. http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/hawaiian/voyaging/pvs/rapanuiback.html. 
  22. ^ Bo Rothstein (2005). Social traps and the problem of trust. Cambridge University Press. p. 20. ISBN 0521848296
  23. ^ Barbara A. West (2008) Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. p. 684. ISBN 0816071098
  24. ^ Diamond 2005, pp. 103–107
  25. ^ Beverley Haun (2008). Inventing 'Easter Island'. University of Toronto Press. p. 8. ISBN 0802098886
  26. ^ a b c Routledge 1919
  27. ^ Owsley et al. 1994
  28. ^ Diamond 2005, p. 171
  29. ^ Routledge 1919, p. 208
  30. ^ Collapse of island's demographics in the 1860s and 1870s
  31. ^ "Annexation by Chile". http://www.netaxs.com/~trance/annex.html. 
  32. ^ Diamond 2005, p. 112
  33. ^ Chilean Law 20,193, National Congress of Chile
  34. ^ "Eclipse fever focuses on remote Easter Island". www.msnbc.msn.com. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38166769/ns/technology_and_science-space/. 
  35. ^ "Easter Island land dispute clashes leave dozens injured". www.bbc.co.uk. December 4, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-11917511. 
  36. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2008. Chilean Wine Palm: Jubaea chilensis, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. N. Stromberg
  37. ^ Steadman 2006, pp. 251, 395
  38. ^ Steadman 2006, pp. 248–252
  39. ^ "Rapamycin — Introduction". http://www.ch.ic.ac.uk/local/projects/russell/index.html. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  40. ^ "Rapamycin Extends Longevity in Mice". http://www.medpagetoday.com/Geriatrics/GeneralGeriatrics/15016. 
  41. ^ a b c David T. Jones (2007). "Easter Island, What to learn from the puzzles?". American Diplomacy. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7052/is_2007_Nov_6/ai_n28472343/pg_1. 
  42. ^ Diamond 2005, p. 107
  43. ^ Finney (1994), Hunter Anderson (1998); P.D. Nunn (1999, 2003); Orliac and Orliac (1998)
  44. ^ Heyerdahl 1961, p. 57
  45. ^ Diamond 2005, p. 109
  46. ^ Pacific islands archaeology
  47. ^ Flenley & Bahn 2003
  48. ^ "Easter Island Statue Project". http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/ioa/eisp/. Retrieved 2009-030-30. 
  49. ^ Skjølsvold, Arne "Report 14: The Stone Statues and Quarries of Rano Raraku In Thor Heyerdahl and Edwin N. Ferdon Jr. (eds.) 'Reports of the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and the East Pacific'", Volume 1, Archaeology of Easter Island, Monographs of the School of American Research and The Museum of New Mexico, Number 24, Part 1, 1961, pp. 339-379. (esp. p. 346 for the description of the general statues and Fig. 91, p. 347, pp. 360-362 for the description of the kneeling statues)
  50. ^ Van Tilburg, Jo Anne. Easter Island. Archaeology, Ecology and Culture, British Museum Press 1994:134-135, fig. 106
  51. ^ NOVA Online|Secrets of Easter Island|Paro. Pbs.org. Retrieved on 2010-11-06.
  52. ^ Flenley, J. R.; King, Sarah M. (1984). "Late Quaternary pollen records from Easter Island". Nature 307 (5946): 47. doi:10.1038/307047a0. 
  53. ^ Heyerdahl 1961
  54. ^ Heavy erosion and landslides may have buried them in soil.
  55. ^ Heyerdahl 1961 However, Alfred Metraux pointed out that the rubble filled Rapanui walls were a fundamentally different design to those of the Inca, as these are trapezoidal in shape as opposed to the perfectly fitted rectangular stones of the inca. See also this FAQ
  56. ^ Lee 1992
  57. ^ Fischer, p. 63.
  58. ^ Fischer, pp. 31, 63.
  59. ^ Routledge 1919, p. 268
  60. ^ Wooden gorget (rei miro). British Museum.
  61. ^ Primeros datos del Censo: Hay 37.626 mujeres más que hombres en la V Región. Estrellavalpo.cl (2002-06-11). Retrieved on 2010-11-06.
  62. ^ (Spanish) "Territorial division of Chile" (PDF). National Statistics Institute. 2007. http://www.ine.cl/canales/chile_estadistico/territorio/division_politico_administrativa/pdf/DPA_COMPLETA.pdf. Retrieved 14 March 2011. 
  63. ^ (Spanish) "Gobernadores". Government of Chile. http://www.subdere.gov.cl/1510/w3-article-67516.html. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  • McLaughlin, Shawn (2007). The Complete Guide to Easter Island. Los Osos: Easter Island Foundation. 
  • Diamond, Jared (2005). Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-14-303655-6. 
  • Fischer, Steven Roger (1995). "Preliminary Evidence for Cosmogonic Texts in Rapanui's Rongorongo Inscriptions". Journal of the Polynesian Society (104): pp. 303–21. 
  • Fischer, Steven Roger (1997). Glyph-breaker: A Decipherer's Story. New York: Copernicus/Springer-Verlag. 
  • Fischer, Steven Roger (1997). RongoRongo, the Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0198237103. 
  • Heyerdal, Thor (1961). Thor Heyerdahl & Edwin N. Ferdon Jr.. ed. The Concept of Rongorongo Among the Historic Population of Easter Island. Stockholm: Forum. 
  • Heyerdal, Thor Aku-Aku; The 1958 Expedition to Easter Island.
  • Metraux, Alfred (1940). "Ethnology of Easter Island". Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin (Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press) (160). 
  • Routledge, Katherine (1919). The Mystery of Easter Island. The story of an expedition. London. ISBN 0404142311. 
  • Steadman, David (2006). Extinction and Biogeography in Tropical Pacific Birds. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-77142-7. http://books.google.com/?id=vBZXJQ3HDg0C. 
Further reading
  • Altman, Ann M. (2004). Early Visitors to Easter Island 1864–1877 (translations of the accounts of Eugène Eyraud, Hippolyte Roussel, Pierre Loti and Alphonse Pinart; with an Introduction by Georgia Lee). Los Osos: Easter Island Foundation. 
  • Englert, Sebastian F. (1970). Island at the Center of the World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  • Hunt, Terry L. (September–October 2006). "Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island". American Scientist (94): p. 412. 
  • Lee, Georgia (1992). The Rock Art of Easter Island. Symbols of Power, Prayers to the Gods. Los Angeles: The Institute of Archaeology Publications. ISBN 0917956745. 
  • Thomson, William J. (1891). "Te Pito te Henua, or Easter Island. Report of the United States National Museum for the Year Ending June 30, 1889". Annual Reports of the Smithsonian Institution for 1889 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution): pp. 447–552. in Google Books
  • van Tilburg, Jo Anne (1994). Easter Island: Archaeology, Ecology and Culture. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 0714125040. 
  • Vergano, Dan. "Were rats behind Easter Island mystery?" USA Today (November 15, 2009)

External links

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