Easter Island • Chile

From: Easter Island Travel Guide

See also: Easter Island Tours

and: Where is Easter Island?What is Easter Island?

Easter Island History
The island of Rapa Nui has had a turbulent history with many mysteries still unsolved about what exactly caused the decline of both the island and its inhabitants.

The island has been called by several names initially Te Pito O Te Henua which means Navel of the world and then later Easter Island by Admiral Roggeveen who arrived at the island on Easter Day in 1722 and today the island is formerly known as Rapa Nui although many still call it Easter Island.

The early Polynesian settlers are thought to have been led to the island under the leadership of the Polynesian King Hotu Matua and it was not long after that, that the islanders began carving out monoliths, ahu platforms, topknots petroglyph's and even had their own form of script known as Rongoronga, a sample of which is displayed in the museum in Hanga Roa. Unfortunately none of the Rapa Nui descendents know how to read the script so unfortunately what is displayed remains a mystery.

The birdman cult was an important part of the early inhabitants culture and during this time the birdman competition would ensue. Those involved first having to climb down the incredibly steep cliffs at Orongo, which is close to the Ranu Kau volcano, those that survived that would then swim across to the nearby islet of Motu Nui and collect a bird egg from the island. A treacherous swim back with the egg and a climb back up the cliffs would reveal the victor, who would then have enjoyed certain rights or privileges on the island.

The first settlement is thought to have been around Anakeena beach at the northern end of the island and is where some of the most artistic Moai can be found, this is also the location of where an original Moai eye made out of coral was first discovered.

It is thought that due to the island rich supply of food that over the centuries the numbers of inhabitants quickly rose and it is this that threatened the harmony of the people, as population numbers increased food shortage on the island gradually became more scarce and with the decline in trees and vegetation available conflict between the inhabitants ensued.

During this time the conflict is thought to have led to the toppling of many of the Moai statues around the island and quite possibly other natural disasters may well have led to the destruction of the islanders and the Moai statues that they had once had prized so highly.

The arrival of several Europeans landing on the island notably Admiral Roggeveen who named it Easter Island after setting foot on the island 1722 on Easter Sunday as well as Captain Cook and La Perouse must have also taken its toll on the island.

However one of the most devastating episodes in the islands history was by Peruvian slavers who in 1862 kidnapped it is thought around a thousand of the islanders including the King at the time and shipped them out to work on plantations and mines.

It was only after Florentin-Etienne Jaussen who was Bishop of Tahiti protested about the outrage that the islanders were returned to their homeland, however illness and diseases such as small pox wiped out the majority retuning home from their ordeal and they in turn infected the remaining islanders on Rapa Nui leaving a now incredibly depleted colony who's culture had been irreversible altered.

A few years after the return to their homeland, Catholic missionaries arrived on the island followed by the arrival of Jean-Baptiste Dutroux-Bornier, who introduced sheep to the island for the wool trade and who over the next few years bought up much of the land on the island from Rapa Nui people.

Chile claimed Rapa Nui island back in 1888 and the wool trade continued on until in 1953 forcing the islanders to remain within Hanga Roa to the south west of the island.

In recent times the Moai in areas such as Ahu Tongariki, Ahu Akivi and Orongo have been carefully restored and placed back upon their platforms and even some with their topknots as well.

Rapa Nui is now largely centered around tourism with plenty of restaurants, accommodation and resources available to accommodate the never ending supply of the curious and intrepid traveller wishing to explore this totally unique island.