"In the middle of the Great Ocean,
in a region where no one ever passes, there is a mysterious and isolated
island; there is no land in the vicinity and, for more
than eight hundred leagues in all directions, empty and moving vastness
surrounds it. It is planted with tall, monstrous status,
the work of some now - vanished race, and its past remains an enigma."
Pierre Loti, L'Ile de Paques, 1872
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RapaNui (or Easter Island) is the most remote inhabited island on the face of the planet.
Pierre Loti summed up the isolation well when he said that an empty and moving vastenss surrounds it.
The population of 2000 make their home in just
one town. Rapa Nui is famous for its "monstous" status, the Moai - enormous heads carved out of
local rock that stand guard over the once
great tribes that inhabited the Island.
The story of RapaNui is nobel, adventerous and ultimately sad, from the settling of the Island, to the
rise of the 'long ears' and their domination of the 'short ears'. The birdman festival, the creation of the moai and ahu,
the deforestaion and ultimate annihalation of the 'long ears' at Poike ditch. The slave traders from South America
, decimating the population and finally the annexation by Chile and the rise once more of the Moai.
Where is it?
RapaNui is a small triangular multi - volcanoed mound, roughly 14 miles long by seven miles wide.
It lies 2,400 miles west of the coast of Chile and 2,500 miles east of Tahiti. Its closest human neighbors
are 1,400 miles to the west on Pitcairn Island.
Whether the first inhabitants came from South America or from Polynesia has never been definitely established. Regardless of their
origins, one thing remains clear: they were an intelligent and artistic people who left a treasure trove of art and architecture
that still fascinates man today.
RapaNui, is home to the enigmatic stone statues called moai. Those moai standing watch over the inhabitants of the island are
the ones that have been restored in recent years to their proper place of honor atop the altars, or ahu.
Statues average 12 to 25 feet in height, and the largest finished figure known to be transported to an Ahu is 32 feet tall and
weighs 50 tons. Over 240 shrines, or ahu, built to honor the sprits of deceased relatives, snake along the coast and the Moai
associated with them all have their backs to the sea. But inland on the long slope of the volcano Tereuaka is Ahu Akivi, with seven
moai facing the sea (the only such occurrence on the island). An explanation for this disparity remains elusive.
Typically, the moai were carved out of volcanic ash, using hand picks of a tear-drop design. The statues were cleverly carved from
the rocks. First, the surface of the volcanic ash made it a little softer by moistening it with water. Then, using the hand picks,
a line was pecked down until it was an inch deep. This was re-done about three-quarters of an inch over. This then produces two
grooves with a keel in the middle. This keel could be then easily knocked out. By repeating this process, it is possible to carve
out a figure in a much quicker time than you would expect. A wooden sled was then used to drag the statue to its proposed site and
then erected by using a simple method of levers and rock piles. What seems an incredible - almost impossible - task is completed
using very basic technology and skill.
The island is not only a testament to its peoples' sculpting skills - petroglyphs as well are found throughout the island. The most
impressive of these relief s are at the ancient ruins of the Orongo where a jumbled mass of rocks are covered with relief
sculptures elaborating the rituals of the cult of the Birdman.
Civil wars ravaged most of the population. By the end of the 17th century, only a few of a once-vibrant and artistic people
remained. Questions which so far cannot be answered yet cannot be ignored continue to haunt us: who were these people who, isolated
as they were, developed an as yet undeciphered written language, quarried stone, transported it for miles and erected the awesome
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 . 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 themselves; recent archaeological efforts have
raised all of the statues now erect.
Contacts with western
"civilization" proved even more disastrous for the island population which, through
slavery and disease, had decreased to approximately 111 by the
turn of the century. Following the annexation by Chile in 1888,
however, it has risen to more than 2,000, with
other Rapanui living in Chile, Tahiti and North America. Despite a growing Chilean presence, the island's
Polynesian identity is still quite strong .
Pith & Particulars
In the deciduous tropical rainforest
that has overcome the massive monuments there's a lot of criters
lurking. For instance :
The toromiro, which used to grow in great numbers on RapaNui, is a
small leguminous tree with yellow flowers. Its beutiful and resistant
wood was used for making, among other things, the famous moai 'kava kava'.
At the time Thor Heyerdahl visited RapaNui in 1956, there was but one, very sick,
toromiro left. Found by Thor at the base of the Rano Koa crater, he removed a
single living branch bearing seed-filled pods and had it deliverd to Professor Selling,
who in turn took them to the Botanical Garden of Gotebourg.
By 1980, there were two toromiro plants alive in Gotebourg and it was decided to attempt to reintroduce
the plant to Rapa Nui. This and a second attempt in 1988 resulted in failure, due to a root
nematode that killed all the seedlings.
As of 1995 there are still no well-established toromiros on Rapa Nui and all the Rapanui samples
originate from just one tree.
However, all is not lost, in 1994 four European botanic gardens, including the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew,
set up a special Toromiro Management Group to co-operate in the reintroduction project
and the enlarging of the dangeroulsy low genepool of Rapa Nui toromiro.
Must Do It
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