I recently returned from a two-week working vacation, giving lectures on the cruise ship, Crystal Symphony. Sailing out of Valparaiso, Chile, the Symphony reached Easter Island on the fifth day, 3700 km (2300 miles) from Valparaiso, and an equal distance from Tahiti. Often touted as one of the most isolated islands in the world, communication satellites are not beamed into this part of the Pacific, and internet was unavailable for almost the entire 12-day voyage.
Easter Island is a virtual speck 117 square km (45 square miles) in area in the Pacific Ocean covering 165 million square km (64 million square miles). According to modern archaeologists, the island was first inhabited around the year 400 by Polynesians who navigated in a pair of open canoes from Tahiti. Under Hotu Matu’a, their chief, leading them through the uncharted waters, they brought with them their fowl, their religious idols and other memories of their culture on Tahiti. They named the island “Rapa Nui,” as it is still known by the islanders. Then on Easter Sunday in 1722 the Dutch explorer Admiral Jacob Roggeveen came upon the island, abused the inhabitants, and gave the island its present name. Fifty-two years later still Captain Cook came upon the island, and wrote with disdain about the poverty and the frustration of not being able to stock up on provisions for his ships. The worst abuse, however, came in the 19th century by Spanish slavers who transported thousands of natives to South America. Although some were returned to Easter Island at the behest of a Jesuit priest, their numbers were reduced to a fraction, especially from the diseases brought over from Europe. Neither Roggeveen, nor Cook, nor the Spaniards ventured any theories about the moai. Archaeologists in the 20th century determined that these monolithic rocks, close to a thousand in all, were carved by native artists from hardened volcanic magma during the period from 1250 to 1500, a practice virtually denuding the island of trees (logs presumably had to be used as rollers to transport statues weighing up to 86 tons, with an even more massive one weighing 270 tons that had never left the quarry). According to native lore, "...they walked into place." This has served as a clue for a group of modern archaeologist to propose a new theory that they were moved standing upright. They were never lifted off the ground, but rocked back and forth by large groups of people using ropes.
The moai most likely represented ancestors, there to protect them. They all face inward, as seen in this photo. With steady gazes into the horizon, they make haunting figures, silent witnesses to history. No definitive explanation has been given for whence the practice of creating came, or why it was abruptly abandoned. Visitors now are kept 5-10 yards from the statues, lest they damage them. In 2008 a Finnish tourist was fined $17,000 for breaking off an ear as a souvenir.
The itinerary from start to finish appears in the workshop. Between the distance flown and the distance sailed, it covered 27,400 km (17,00 miles). For reference, at the equator the circumference of the earth is 40,000 km (25,000 miles).
Craig McIntosh (macjake) recently posted a series of excellent shots from this isolated island, including this beauty. Having spent more time there than I did, he also clarified a question I had. How is it that this stage like setting, with the palm trees offering shade for the Moai and a beach, exists only in this corner of the island? According to Craig, it was the Spanish who imported the sand and planted the palm trees.
Regards to all,