There’s one domestic flight from Chilean capital Santiago that doesn’t head north or south along the spine of the Andes, but turns west and heads out over the Pacific, where it keeps going for 2000 miles. It’s the flight to Easter Island – Rapa Nui, a remote outpost, 1,200 miles away from its nearest inhabited neighbour, Pitcairn Island (of mutiny on the Bounty fame).
I would love to visit Easter Island, because I love a mystery. The mystery of Easter Island is, of course, the great statues. Who carved them? Why? How long ago? And what happened to the carvers?
There are a total of 887 moai, or statues on the island. And while we may think of them as heads, apparently many are full statues, with buried bodies. The amount of work, carving with stone hand chisels, is stupefying; one statue took a team of five or six a year to carve. They are huge – up to 10 metres tall, and heavy at up to 80 tonnes. This does seem to be a significant economic commitment for a small island (63 square miles – 15 x 7). Just to see these hulking stone memories would be a reason to visit in itself: to see the levels that people will go to in celebration of their ancestors, as it’s understood that the moai are representations of their ancestors.
The other mystery of Easter island is the fate of the indigenous population. The island gained its western name when it was sighted on Easter Day 1722 by the Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen, who stayed for a week. Of course, the indigenous population had long been established on the island; most estimates placing their arrival in the 700-1100. There are disputes over how large this population grew to, but a visit in the 1770 by an emissary from the Spanish viceroy of Peru calculated the population at about 3000, while only four years later, Captain James Cook found only 6-700 men, and 50 women. This population recovered, though, to 2000 in 1786; during the next century, the population crashed again thanks to slave raids and smallpox. The romantic ideal of Easter Island is that for a long time, it was a pastoral idyll where men and women lived in harmony with nature, but that’s another of the great mysteries; what was the relationship between the indigenous population and the land? And how did that change over time?
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Post sponsored by Lanchile