DixPix Photographs

     

EASTER ISLAND

 
     
  ISLA DE PASCUA : RAPA NUI  
     

 

Easter Island is a long way from the Southern Cordillera, some 3600 km. to the West, in fact, but it would be amiss to treat Chile and prehistory without at least a brief mention.  It is the most isolated of islands and famous for its monumental statues (known as moai), and more recently as an example of a "failed civilization" in having cut all their trees and faced environmental hardships. Perhaps they should be remembered as an example of human ingenuity instead.  Although there were signs of upheaval when first contacted by the outside world (1722), and some of the moai had already been pulled down, the real devastation was wrought by Europeans.  A mixture of their diseases, Peruvian slave raids, and exports of convenience by missionaries wiped out some 97% of the population within one or two decades.

Easter Island (Isla de Pascua) is administered as a special region by Chile.  Oddly, Chile is likely the only country where the word "Pascua" is usually applied to Christmas rather than Easter.  Rapa Nui is the Polynesian term, but the original inhabitants likely used "Te Pito".

 

I wonder what the first European mariners thought when they saw this remote island lined with such immense rock figures.  This photo also shows the heartless black cliffs of basalt which ring most of the coastline. Click to see big picture (640x404 pixels; 81 KB)
The coastal moai face inland, away from the sea, and likely overlooked settlements. Click to see big picture (640x313 pixels; 83 KB)
But there were also moai inland, such as this line. Click to see big picture (640x417 pixels; 77 KB)
Though ship's logs relate that many of moai were still standing at early contact, almost all of the moai were eventually thrown face down.  Presumably this was some mixture of clan warfare and the change to the "bird-culture" regime. Click to see big picture (640x401 pixels; 82 KB)
Those moai standing today have been re-erected, some in broken condition as seen here. Click to see big picture (616x480 pixels; 106 KB)
Originally most of the moai had top "hats", and likely some paint, as represented in this example. Click to see big picture (584x480 pixels; 74 KB)
It has been suggested that the Moai represented important ancestors, and indeed each is different.  This one has a prominent nose.  Most have long ears, a sign of status.  In fact the ruling class is sometimes referred to as the "long ears". Click to see big picture (327x480 pixels; 69 KB)
Although the whole island (some 164 square kilometers) is made of basaltic lava, the moai were all quarried at one site, and moved to their localities. Click to see big picture (640x437 pixels; 100 KB)
The moai were sculptured near the quarry.  Just how ( and why) they were moved across the rugged island is still a matter of discussion.  It must have used up a lot of the island's resources. Click to see big picture (310x480 pixels; 63 KB)
After some 14,000 years of largely hereditary rule, the regime of the long ears and the moai was overthrown.  The last king died a slave in Peru in 1780, and a chaotic system dubbed the "bird cult" took over.  This is one of their carvings at Orongo, on the southwest nose of the island. Click to see big picture (327x480 pixels; 96 KB)
Another relief from that period.  Contact with the outside world may have had a lot to do with the break down in the old beliefs. Click to see big picture (640x387 pixels; 146 KB)
The pinnacle is Motu (Isle) Kau Kau, and beyond Motu Nui.  To some extent, clan hierarchy was set each year by a race between representative "birdmen". In a dangerous crossing, the first to swim out and come back with a tern egg won. Click to see big picture (640x417 pixels; 101 KB)
The first birdman ruled in 1780, the last in 1866.  Soon after this there was little left to rule, and even the terns no longer nest there.  But their carvings have inspired some modern interpretations. Click to see big picture (313x480 pixels; 63 KB)
Most of the food on the island at time of contact came from crops the original settlers had brought with them.  This fish petroglyph brings to mind the question of how could they fish without trees for boats. Click to see big picture (640x325 pixels; 130 KB)
In fact, most of the island coasts are wild, and some are major cliffs. Click to see big picture (640x455 pixels; 74 KB)
There are only a few friendly beaches, such as this on the north coast. Click to see big picture (640x476 pixels; 82 KB)
Part of the answer lies here in the swamps of the Rano Kau, one of three volcanic craters.  The original settlers planted reeds here, from which buoyant boats were constructed.  There are no watercourses on the island, only these crater lakes. Click to see big picture (640x453 pixels; 92 KB)
These are petroglyphs in what is called the "Cave of the Virgins", on the high, eastern lobe of the island.  I am sure some would say that this shows the extra-terrestrials who helped levitate their moai into place. Click to see big picture (640x324 pixels; 75 KB)
One must descend part way down these cliffs to the entrance.  Such caves were apparently hiding places in the epochs of strife and warfare. Click to see big picture (598x480 pixels; 115 KB)
And the inhabitants of the island actually developed a written script.  Most of it was unfortunately destroyed by the missionaries and other catastrophes, and what little is left has not been deciphered. Click to see big picture (640x428 pixels; 145 KB)