Easter Island: Wikis


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Coordinates: 27°7′S 109°22′W / 27.117°S 109.367°W / -27.117; -109.367

Easter Island
Rapa Nui
Isla de Pascua
Easter Island map showing Terevaka, Poike, Rano Kau, Motu Nui, Orongo, and Mataveri; major ahus are marked with moai
Capital Hanga Roa
27°9′S 109°25.5′W / 27.15°S 109.425°W / -27.15; -109.425
Official language(s) Spanish, Rapa Nui [1]
Ethnic groups (2002) Rapanui 60%, European or mestizo 39%, Amerindian 1%
Demonym Rapa Nui or Pascuense
Government Special territory of Chile[2]
 -  Provincial Governor Pedro Pablo Edmunds Paoa
 -  Mayor Luz Zasso Paoa
Annexation to Chile 
 -  Treaty signed September 9, 1888 
 -  Total 163.6 km2 
63.1 sq mi 
 -  2009 estimate 4,781[3] 
 -  2002 census 3,791 
 -  Density 29.22/km2 
75.69/sq mi
Currency Peso (CLP)
Time zone Central Time Zone (UTC-6)
Internet TLD .cl
Calling code 56 32
Easter Island, Sala y Gómez, South America and the islands in between
Orthographic projection centered on Easter Island

Easter Island (Rapa Nui: Rapa Nui, Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile annexed in 1888, Easter Island is widely famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai (pronounced /ˈmoʊ.аɪ/), created by the early Rapanui people. It is a World Heritage Site (as determined by UNESCO) with much of the island protected within the Rapa Nui National Park. In recent times the island has been used as a cautionary tale for the cultural and environmental dangers brought upon by the overexploitation of resources, however this theory is now being contested by ethnographers and archaeologists alike who argue that the introduction of diseases carried by European colonizers and slave raiding,[4] which devastated the population in the 1800s, had a much greater social impact than environmental decline and that introduced animals, first rats and then sheep, were greatly responsible for the island's loss of native flora which came closest to deforestation as recently as 1930-1960.



The name "Easter Island" was given by the island's first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday 1722, while searching for Davis or David's island and named it Paasch-Eyland (18th century Dutch for "Easter Island").[5] The island's official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means "Easter Island".

The current Polynesian name of the island, "Rapa Nui" or "Big Rapa", was coined following the slave raids carried out in Rapa Nui in the early 1860s because of Easter Island's geographic resemblance to the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands of the Austral Islands group.[6] However, Thor Heyerdahl has claimed that the naming would have been the opposite, Rapa being the original name of Easter Island, and Rapa Iti was named by its refugees.[7]

There are several hypotheses about the "original" Polynesian name for Easter Island, including Te pito o te henua, meaning "The Navel of the land" or "The ends of the land". Pito means both navel and umbilical cord which was considered to be the link between the world of the living (kainga) and the spiritworld Po, lying in the depths of the ocean further East. Since Easter Island is the easternmost Polynesian island it's possible the name refers to it being the "ends" of the world of the living, however after Alphonse Pinart translated it as "the Navel of the World" in his Voyage a l'Ile de Paques published in 1877, this second meaning has been lost. Some oral traditions claim that the island was first named Te pito o te kainga a Hau Maka, or the "Little piece of land of Hau Maka".[8] Another name, Mata-ki-Te-rangi, means "Eyes looking to the sky."

Location and physical geography

Easter Island is one of the world's most isolated inhabited islands. Its closest inhabited neighbor is Pitcairn Island, with fewer than a hundred inhabitants 2075 kms to the West. It has a latitude close to that of Caldera, Chile; lies 3,510 km (2,180 mi) west of continental Chile at its nearest point (between Lota and Lebu). (Isla Salas y Gómez, 415 kilometres to the east, is closer but uninhabited).

The island is approx 24.6 km (15.3 mi) long by 12.3 km (7.6 mi) at its widest point — its overall shape has been described as a triangle. It has an area of 163.6 km² (63 sq mi), and a maximum altitude of 507 metres. There are three Rano (freshwater crater lakes), at Rano Kau, Rano Raraku and Rano Aroi, near the summit of Terevaka, but no permanent streams or rivers.

Climate and weather

The climate of Easter Island is subtropical maritime. The lowest temperatures are registered in July and August (18 °C (64 °F) and the highest in February (maximum temperature 28 °C (82 °F)[9]), the summer season in the southern hemisphere. Winters are relatively mild. The rainiest month is April, though the island experiences year-round rainfall.[10] As an isolated island Easter Island is constantly exposed to winds which help to keep the temperature fairly cool. Precipitation averages 1,118 mm (44.02 in) per year. Occasionally, heavy rainfall and rainstorms strike the island. These occur mostly in the winter months (June-August). Since it is close to the Pacific High and outside the range of the ITCZ, cyclones and hurricanes do not occur around Easter island.[11]


The underlying island geology is one of extinct volcanoes. Easter Island is a volcanic high island, consisting mainly of three extinct coalesced volcanoes: Terevaka (altitude 507 metres) forms the bulk of the island. Two other volcanoes, Poike and Rano Kau, form the eastern and southern headlands and give the island its roughly triangular shape. There are numerous lesser cones and other volcanic features, including the crater Rano Raraku, the cinder cone Puna Pau and many volcanic caves including lava tubes.[12] Poike used to be an island until volcanic material from Terevaka united it to Easter Island. The island is dominated by hawaiite and basalt flows which are rich in iron and show affinity with igneous rocks found in Galapagos Islands.[13]

Easter Island and surrounding islets such as Motu Nui, Motu Iti are the summit of a large volcanic mountain rising over two thousand metres from the sea bed. It is part of the Sala y Gómez Ridge, a (mostly submarine) mountain range with dozens of seamounts starting with Pukao and then Moai, two seamounts to the west of Easter Island, and extending 2,700 km (1,700 mi) east to the Nazca Ridge.[14]

Pukao, Moai and Easter Island were formed in the last 750,000 years, with the most recent eruption a little over a hundred thousand years ago. They are the youngest mountains of the Sala y Gómez Ridge, which has been formed by the Nazca Plate floating over the Easter hotspot.[15] Alternative explanation is the activity of the Easter Fracture Zone. Only at Easter Island, its surrounding islets and Sala y Gómez does the Sala y Gómez Ridge form dry land.

In the first half of the 20th century, steam purportedly came out of the Rano Kau crater wall. This was photographed by the island's manager, Mr Edmunds.[2]. According to geologists the last volcanic activity on the island occurred 10,000 years ago.


Rapa Nui National Park*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Moai at Rano Raraku, Easter Island
State Party  Chile
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iii, v
Reference 715
Region** Oceanic Continent
Inscription history
Inscription 1995  (19th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The history of Easter Island is rich and controversial. Its inhabitants have endured famines, epidemics, civil war, slave raids and colonialism, and near deforestation; their population has declined precipitously more than once. They have left a cultural legacy that has brought them fame disproportionate to their population.

Ahu Tongariki near Rano Raraku, a 15-moai ahu excavated and restored in the 1990s

300–400 CE has been put forward as a date for initial settlement of Easter Island, which would coincide approximately to the arrival of the first settlers on Hawaii. However, rectifications in radiocarbon dating have changed almost all of the early settlement dates in Polynesia and Rapa Nui is now considered to have been settled between 700 to 1,100 CE. According to oral tradition the first settlement was located in Anakena. There is an ongoing study by archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo that suggests: “Radiocarbon dates for the earliest stratigraphic layers at Anakena, Easter Island, and analysis of previous radiocarbon dates imply that the island was colonized late, about 1200 CE. Significant ecological impacts and major cultural investments in monumental architecture and statuary thus began soon after initial settlement.”[16] Jared Diamond points out in "Collapse" that Caleta Anakena is the landing point which provides the best shelter from prevailing swells, together with a sandy beach for canoe landings and launchings, so it seems likely to have been an early place of settlement. All of this however, contradicts archeological data where the radiocarbon dating of other sites precedes Anakena by many years, especially that of the Tahai, which precedes Anakena's dates by several hundred years.

The island was most probably populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Marquesas Islands (3200 km away), or the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2600 km away). When Captain Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, who was a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. The language most similar to Rapa Nui is Mangarevan with an 80% of similarity in words. In 1999, a voyage with reconstructed Polynesian boats was carried out, reaching Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days.[17]

According to oral traditions recorded by the missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a very clear class system, with an ariki, high chief, wielding great power over nine other clans and their respective chiefs. The high chief was the eldest descendent through firstborn lines of the island's legendary founder, Hotu Matu'a. The most visible element in the culture was the production of massive statues called moai that represented deified ancestors. It was believed that the living had a symbiotic relationship with the dead where the dead provided everything the living needed (health, fertility of land and animals, fortune, etc.,) and the living through offerings could provide the dead with a better place in the spirit world. Most settlements were located on the coast and moai were erected all along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the sea.

As the island became increasingly overpopulated and resources diminished, warriors matatoa gained more power and the Ancestor Cult ended making way for the "Birdman Cult" which maintained the idea that the ancestors were to provide for their descendants but the medium through which they would contact the dead were no longer statues, but human beings chosen through a competition in which the god Makemake, the god responsible for creating humans, played an important role. Katherine Routhledge (who systematically collected the island's traditions in her expedition in 1919) showed that the competitions for birdman (Rapanui: tangata manu) started around 1760, after the arrival of the first Europeans, and ended in 1878 with the construction of the first church by Roman Catholic missionaries who had formally arrived on the island in 1864. Petroglyphs representing Bird Men on Easter Island are exactly the same as some petroglyphs in Hawaii, indicating that this was probably a concept that the original settlers brought with them and that only the competition itself was unique to Easter Island.

European accounts from 1722 and 1770 mention seeing standing statues, but Cook's expedition who visited the island in 1774 mentioned that several moai were lying face down and had been toppled in warfare.

Motu Nui islet, part of the Birdman Cult ceremony

According to Diamond and Heyerdahl's version of history, the huri mo'ai - the "statue-toppling" - continued into the 1830s as a part of fierce internal wars. By 1838 the only standing moai were on the slopes of Rano Raraku, and Hoa Hakananai'a in Orongo, and Ariki Paro in Ahu Te Pito Kura. However, there is very little archaeological evidence of pre-European societal collapse. In fact, bone pathology and osteometric data from islanders of that period clearly suggest few fatalities can be attributed directly to violence (Owsley et al., 1994).

The first recorded European contact with the island was on April 5 (Easter Sunday), 1722 when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen visited the island for a week and estimated there were 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants on the island. The number may have been greater however, since some may have been frightened into hiding by a misunderstanding that led Roggeveen's men to fire on the natives killing more than a dozen men and wounding several more. The next foreign visitors (on November 15, 1770) were two Spanish ships, San Lorenzo and Santa Rosalia. They reported the island as largely uncultivated, with a seashore lined with stone statues. Four years later, in 1774, British explorer James Cook visited Easter Island, he reported the statues as being neglected with some having fallen down. In 1825, the British ship HMS Blossom visited and reported having seen no standing statues in the places they visited. Easter Island was approached many times during the 19th century, but by then the islanders had become openly hostile towards any attempt to land, and very little new information was reported before the 1860s.

A series of devastating events killed or removed almost the entire population of Easter Island in the 1860s. In December 1862, Peruvian slave raiders struck Easter Island. Violent abductions continued for several months, eventually capturing or killing around 1500 men and women, a great percentage of the island's population. Among the great many people they captured was the island's paramount chief and his heir as well as those who knew how to read and write Easter Island's rongorongo script, the only evidence of Polynesian script to have been found to date. When the slave raiders were forced to repatriate the people they had kidnapped in several Polynesian islands, they knowingly disembarked carriers of smallpox together with a few survivors on each of the islands, creating devastating epidemics from Easter Island all the way to the Marquesas islands. Easter Island's population was reduced to the point where some of the dead were not even buried. Tuberculosis introduced by whalers in the mid 1800's had already killed several islanders when the first Christian missionary, Eugène Eyraud, died from it in 1867 taking a quarter of the island's population with him. In the following years, the managers of the sheep ranch and the missionaries started buying the newly available lands of the deceased, and this led to great confrontations between the two.

"Queen Mother" Koreto with her daughters "Queen" Caroline and Harriette in 1877

Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier bought up all of the island apart from the missionaries' area around Hanga Roa and moved a couple of hundred Rapanui to Tahiti to work for his backers. In 1871 the missionaries, having fallen out with Dutrou-Bornier, evacuated all but 171 Rapanui to the Gambier islands.[18] Those who remained were mostly older men. Six years later, there were just 111 people living on Easter Island, and only 36 of them had any offspring.[19] From that point on and into the present day, the island's population slowly recovered. But with over 97% of the population dead or having left in less than a decade, much of the island's cultural knowledge had been lost.

Easter Island was annexed by Chile on September 9, 1888, by Policarpo Toro, by means of the "Treaty of Annexation of the Island" (Tratado de Anexión de la isla). Toro, then representing the government of Chile signed with Atamu Tekena, designated "King" of Easter Island by the Chilean government once the paramount chief and his heir had died. The validity of this treaty is being contested by some Rapanui today.

Until the 1960s, the surviving Rapanui were confined to the settlement of Hanga Roa while the rest of the island was rented to the Williamson-Balfour Company as a sheep farm until 1953.[20] The island was then managed by the Chilean Navy until 1966, at which point the island was reopened in its entirety. In 1966, the Rapanui were given Chilean citizenship.[21]

On July 30, 2007, a constitutional reform gave Easter Island and the Juan Fernández Islands (a.k.a Robinson Crusoe Island) the status of special territories of Chile. Pending the enactment of a special charter, the island will continue to be governed as a province of the V Region of Valparaíso.[22]


View of Easter Island from space, 2001. The Poike peninsula is on the right.

Easter Island, together with its closest neighbor, the tiny island of Isla Sala y Gómez 415 kilometres (258 mi) further east, is recognized by ecologists as a distinct ecoregion, the Rapa Nui subtropical broadleaf forests. The original subtropical moist broadleaf forests are now gone, but paleobotanical studies of fossil pollen and tree moulds left by lava flows indicate that the island was formerly forested, with a range of trees, shrubs, ferns, and grasses. A large now extinct palm, Paschalococos disperta, related to the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), was one of the dominant trees as attested by fossil evidence and like its Chilean counterpart probably took close to 100 years to reach its adult height. Work carried out by Tony Hunt and others indicates that the Polynesian rat, which the original settlers brought with them, played a very important role in the disappearance of the Rapanui palm. Rat teeth marks can be observed in 99% of the nuts found preserved in caves or excavated in different sites, indicating that the Polynesian rat impeded the palm's reproduction. That, together with the fact that palms were cleared to make the settlements, led to their extinction almost 350 years before present.[23] The toromiro tree (Sophora toromiro) was prehistorically present on Easter Island, and is now extinct in the wild. However, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Göteborg Botanical Garden are jointly leading a scientific program to reintroduce the toromiro to Easter Island. With the palm and the toromiro virtually gone, there was considerably less rainfall as a result of less condensation. After the island was used to feed thousands of sheep for almost a century, by the mid 1900's the island was mostly covered in grassland with nga'atu or bulrush (Schoenoplectus californicus tatora) in the crater lakes of Rano Raraku and Rano Kau. The presence of these reeds, which are called totora in the Andes, was used to support the argument of a South American origin of the statue builders, but pollen analysis of lake sediments shows these reeds have grown on the island for over 30,000 years[citation needed]. Before the arrival of humans, Easter Island had vast seabird colonies containing probably over 30 resident species, perhaps the world's richest.[24] Such colonies are no longer found on the main island. There is fossil evidence for five species of landbirds (two rails, two parrots and a heron), all of which have become extinct.[25]

The immunosuppressant drug sirolimus was first discovered in the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus in a soil sample from Easter Island. The drug is also known as rapamycin, after Rapa Nui.[26] and is now being tested for having shown to extend longevity in mice.[27]

Panorama of Anakena beach, Easter Island. The moai pictured here was the first to be raised back into place upon its ahu in 1955 by islanders using the ancient method.

Trees are sparse on modern Easter Island, rarely forming natural groves and it has been argued whether or not the native Easter Islanders deforested the island in the process of erecting their statues,[28] and in providing sustenance for an overpopulated island.[citation needed] Experimental archaeology has demonstrated that some statues certainly could have been placed on "Y" shaped wooden frames called miro manga erua and then pulled to their final destinations on ceremonial sites.[28] Other theories involve the use of "ladders" (parallel wooden rails) over which the statues could have been dragged.[29] If they used palms to transport the statues, why were the Easter Islanders carving the largest statues in the late 1600s at a time when the palms are close to extinction; how did they plan to move them? Rapanui traditions metaphorically refer to spiritual power (mana) as the means by which the moai were "walked" from the quarry.

Given the island's southern latitude, the climatic effects of the Little Ice Age (about 1650 to 1850) may have exacerbated deforestation, though this remains speculative.[28] Many researchers [Finney (1994), Hunter Anderson (1998); P.D. Nunn (1999, 2003); Orliac and Orliac (1998)] point to the climatic downtrend caused by the Little Ice Age as one of the contributing factors to the problem of resource stress and to the disappearance of the palm tree from the Island. Experts, however, do not agree on when exactly the island’s palms became extinct.

Jared Diamond dismisses past climate change as a dominant factor on the island's deforestation in his book Collapse which offers his perspective into the collapse of the ancient Easter Islanders. Influenced by the romantic interpretation of Easter's history by Thor Heyerdahl's (as he acknowledges in chapter 2 of Collapse), Diamond insists that the disappearance of the island's trees seems to coincide with a decline of its civilization around the 17th and 18th century. This is linked to the fact that they stopped making statues at that time and started destroying the ahu. But the link is weakened because the Bird Man cult continued thriving and survived the great impact caused by the arrival of explorers, whalers, sandalwood traders, and slave raiders.

Midden contents show a sudden drop in quantities of fish and bird bones as the islanders lost the means to construct fishing vessels and the birds lost their nesting sites. Soil erosion because of lack of trees is apparent in some places. Sediment samples document that up to half of the native plants had become extinct and that the vegetation of the island was drastically altered. However, Polynesians were primarily farmers, not fishermen, and their diet consisted mainly of cultivated staples such as taro root, sweet potato, yams, cassava, and bananas, while chickens were more important sources of protein than fish. Cannibalism occurred in all Polynesian islands at both times of plenty and times of famine so the fact that it occurred in Easter Island (based on human remains associated with cooking sites, especially in caves) is not really good evidence for a collapse of civilization.

View toward the interior of the island

In his article "From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui", Benny Peiser notes evidence of self-sufficiency on Easter Island when Europeans first arrived. The island still had smaller trees, mainly toromiro, which became extinct in the 20th century probably because of its extremely slow growth and changes in the island's ecosystem. Cornelis Bouman, Jakob Roggeveen's captain, stated in his log book, "... of yams, bananas and small coconut palms we saw little and no other trees or crops." According to Carl Friedrich Behrens, Roggeveen's officer, "The natives presented palm branches as peace offerings. According to ethnographer Alfred Mètraux, the most common type of house was called "hare paenga" known today as "boat house" because the roof resembled an overturned boat. The foundation of the houses were made of buried basalt slabs with holes for wooden beams to connect with each other throughout the width of the house. These were then covered with a layer of totora reed, followed by a layer of woven sugarcane leaves, and lastly a layer of woven grass. There were reports by European visitors claiming to have seen "boles of large palm trees".[citation needed] Peiser considers these reports to indicate that considerable numbers of large trees still existed at that time, which is perhaps contradicted by the Bouman quote above. It should be considered that the plantations were often located further inland, by foothills, inside open-ceiling lava tubes, and other places protected from the strong salt winds and salt spray affecting areas closer to the coast. It's possible many of the Europeans didn't venture too far inland, especially if one considers that the statue quarry which is only one kilometer from the coast and has an impressive cliff 100 m (328.08 ft) high was not explored until well into the 1800s.

Easter Island has suffered from heavy soil erosion in recent centuries, perhaps aggravated by agriculture and massive deforestation. This process seems to have been gradual and may have been aggravated by extensive sheep farming of the Williamson-Balfour Company throughout most of the 20th century. Jakob Roggeveen reported that Easter Island was exceptionally fertile. "Fowls are the only animals they keep. They cultivate bananas, sugar cane, and above all sweet potatoes." In 1786 Jean-François de La Pérouse visited Easter Island and his gardener declared that "three days' work a year" would be enough to support the population.

Rollin, a major in the Pérouse expedition of 1786, wrote, "Instead of meeting with men exhausted by famine... I found, on the contrary, a considerable population, with more beauty and grace than I afterwards met in any other island; and a soil, which, with very little labour, furnished excellent provisions, and in an abundance more than sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants."[30]

According to Diamond, oral traditions (the veracity of which has been questioned by Routhledge, Lavachery, Mètraux, Peiser and others) of the current islanders seem obsessed with cannibalism, which he readily suggests as evidence supporting a rapid collapse. For example, he states (Diamond, 1995), to severely insult an enemy one would say, "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth." This, Diamond asserts, means the food supply of the people ultimately ran out;[31]. Cannibalism, however, was widespread across Polynesian cultures, rendering his conclusion rather speculative.[32]. Human bones have not been found in earth ovens other than the ones behind the religious platforms indicating that cannibalism in Easter Island was a ritualistic practice. Contemporary ethnographic research has proven there is scarcely any significant or tangible evidence for the practice of cannibalism (at the very least, as a widespread phenomenon) anywhere and at any point in time in the Island (Flenley and Bahn, 2003). Not surprisingly, the first scientific exploration of the Easter Island (1914), recorded that the indigenous population strongly rejected allegations that they or their ancestors had ever been cannibals (Routledge, 1919).


Birdmen (Tangata manu) paintings in the so-called "Cave of the Men Eatresses"


The most important myths are:

  • Tangata manu, the Birdman cult which was practiced until the 1860s.
  • Makemake, an important god.
  • Aku-aku, the guardians of the sacred family caves.
  • Moai-kava-kava a ghost man of the Hanau epe (long-ears.)
  • Hekai ite umu pare haonga takapu Hanau epe kai noruego, the sacred chant to appease the aku-aku before entering a family cave.

Stone work

The Rapa Nui people had a Stone Age civilization and made extensive use of several different types of local stone:

  • Basalt, a hard, dense stone used for toki and at least one of the moai.
  • Obsidian, a volcanic glass with sharp edges used for sharp-edged implements such as Mataa and also for the black iris of the eyes of the moai.
  • Red scoria from Puna Pau, a very light red stone used for the pukao and a few moai.
  • Tuff from Rano Raraku, a much more easily worked rock than basalt, and was used for most of the moai.

Moai (statues)

Moai with replica eyes at Ahu Ko Te Riku in Hanga Roa, with Chilean Navy ship Buque Escuela Esmeralda behind

The large stone statues, or moai, for which Easter Island is world-famous, were carved from 1,100-1,680 CE (rectified radio-carbon dates). A total of 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections so far.[33] Although often identified as "Easter Island heads", the statues are actually complete torsos, the figures kneeling on bent knees with their hands over their stomachs. Some upright moai have become buried up to their necks by shifting soils.

Almost all (95%) moai were carved out of distinctive, compressed, easily worked solidified volcanic ash or tuff found at a single site inside the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. The native islanders who carved them used only stone hand chisels, mainly basalt toki, which still lie in place all over the quarry. The stone chisels were re-sharpened by chipping off a new edge when dulled. The volcanic stone the moai were carved from was first wetted to soften it before sculpting began, then again periodically during the process. While many teams worked on different statues at the same time, a single moai would take a team of five or six men approximately one year to complete. Each statue represented the deceased head of a lineage.

Tukuturi, an unusual bearded kneeling moai
Two ahu at Hanga Roa. In foreground Ahu Ko Te Riku (with a pukao on its head). In the mid-ground is a side view of an ahu with five moai showing retaining wall, platform, ramp and pavement.
Ahu Akivi, one of the few inland ahu, with the only moai facing the ocean

Only a quarter of the statues were installed, while nearly half still remain in the quarry at Rano Raraku and the rest elsewhere on the island, probably on their way to final locations. The largest moai ever raised on a platform is known as "Paro" weighing 82 tons and 9.8 m (32.15 ft) long.[34] There are several other statues of similar weight that were transported to several ahu on both the North and South coasts. It is not yet known how they transported the statues, but some have suggested that they required a miro manga erua, a Y-shaped sledge with cross pieces, pulled with ropes made from the tough bark of the hau-hau tree,[35] and tied fast around the statue's neck. Anywhere from 180 to 250 men were required for pulling, depending on the size of the moai. Some 50 of the now standing statues have been re-erected in modern times. One of the first moai to be re-erected was on Ahu Ature Huke in Anakena beach in 1958. It was raised using traditional methods during an expedition to the island by Thor Heyerdahl.


Ahu are stone platforms which vary greatly in layout. Many have been significantly reworked during or after the huri mo'ai or statue-toppling era; many became ossuaries; one was dynamited open; and Ahu Tongariki was swept inland by a tsunami. Of the 313 known ahu, 125 carried stone moai—usually just one, probably because of the shortness of the moai period and difficulties in transporting them. Ahu Tongariki, one kilometer from Rano Raraku, had the most and tallest moai, 15 in total. Other notable ahu with moai are Ahu Akivi, restored in 1960 by William Mulloy, Nau Nau at Anakena and Tahai. Some statues may have been made from wood, now lost.

The classic elements of ahu design are:

  • A retaining rear wall several feet high, usually facing the sea.
  • A front wall made of rectangular basalt slabs called paenga,
  • A facia made of red scoria that went over the front wall (platforms built after 1300).
  • A sloping ramp in the inland part of the platform, extending outward like wings.
  • A pavement of even-sized, round water-worn stones called poro.
  • An alignment of stones before the ramp
  • A paved plaza before the ahu. This was called marae.
  • Inside the ahu was a fill of rubble.

On top of many ahu would have been:

  • Moai on squareish "pedestals" looking inland, the ramp with the poro before them..
  • Pukao or Hau Hiti Rau on the moai heads (platforms built after 1300)
  • When a ceremony took place, "eyes" were placed on the Statues. The whites of the eyes were made of coral, the iris was made of obsidian or red scoria.

Ahu evolved from the traditional Polynesian marae in which the word ahu was a small structure sometimes covered with a thatched roof where sacred objects, including statues, were stored. The ahu were usually adjacent to the marae or main central court where all the ceremonies took place, though on Easter Island ahu and moai evolved to a much greater size, and the marae is the unpaved plaza before the ahu. The biggest ahu is 220 meters long from one end of the platform to the other and holds 15 statues some of which are 9 meters high. The filling of an ahu was sourced locally (apart from broken, old moai, fragments of which have also been used in the fill).[36] Also individual stones are mostly far smaller than the moai, so less work was needed to transport the raw material, but artificially leveling the terrain for the plaza and filling the ahu was a tremendous amount of work.

Ahu are found mostly on the coast, where they are distributed fairly evenly except on the western slopes of Mount Terevaka and the Rano Kau and Poike[37] headlands. These are the three areas with the least low-lying coastal land, and apart from Poike the furthest areas from Rano Raraku. One ahu with several moai was recorded on the cliffs at Rano Kau in the 1880s, but had fallen to the beach by the time of the Routledge expedition in 1914.

Navel of the world

The "Navel of the World" image cut from a laser scan

There is an unusual "Navel of the World" lithic site bordering Ahu Te Pito Kura, near Anakena, with a round water worn beach boulder similar to those found in New Zealand. Rapanui today say the central round stone was brought by Hotu Matu'a from his native land, though Geologists consider the rock to be locally sourced, which coincides with earlier oral traditions that tells the story of how it was found by the clan that occupied Vinapu and used as a boundary marker before the clan lost it to the Miru clan from the Northern alliance of clans who took it to Te Pito Kura as a war prize. The fact that the stone is large and was naturally round indicated that it was charged with "mana" and could be used as a kind of large talisman. Like many of the stones found in the coast of Vinapu it has iron and its magnetic polarity differs in certain parts.

Stone walls

One of the highest-quality examples of Easter Island stone masonry is the rear wall of the ahu at Vinapu. Made without mortar by shaping hard basalt rocks of up to seven tons to match each other exactly, it has a superficial similarity to some Inca stone walls in South America.[38]

Stone houses

A Hare Moa, a Chicken House, image cut from a laser scan

There were primarily two types of houses in the past hare paenga, a house with an elliptical foundation made with basalt stone slabs covered with a thatched roof that looked like an overturned boat, and hare oka a round stone structure. There are also stone structures called Tupa which look very similar to the round Hare Oka, with the difference that these were inhabited by astronomer priests and they were located in places by the coast where one could easily observe the movements of the stars. In the settlements you also find hare moa ("chicken house"), oblong stone structures that were used to store the chickens at night. The houses at the ceremonial village of Orongo are unique in that they are shaped like a hare paenga but are made entirely with flat basalt slabs found inside Rano Kao crater. The entrances to all the houses were very low, and getting in required crawling.

In the beginning the Rapa Nui reportedly set the dead out to sea in small burial canoes the same as their Polynesian counterparts in other islands. They later started burying people in secret caves in order to save the bones from desecration by enemies. During the turmoils of the late 18th century, the islanders seem to have started to bury their dead underneath the space that formed between the belly of a fallen moai and the front wall that held the structure. During the time of the epidemics they made mass graves that were semi-pyramidal stone structures.


Petroglyphs are pictures carved into rock, and Easter Island has one of the richest collections in all Polynesia. Around 1,000 sites with more than 4,000 petroglyphs are catalogued. Designs and images were carved out of rock for a variety of reasons: to create totems, to mark territory or to memorialize a person or event. There are distinct variations around the island in terms of the frequency of particular themes among petroglyphs, with a concentration of Birdmen at Orongo. Other subjects include sea turtles, Komari (vulvas) and Makemake, the chief god of the Tangata manu or Birdman cult. (Lee 1992)

Petroglyphs are also common in the Marquesas islands.


The island and neighbouring Motu Nui are riddled with caves, many of which show signs of past human use for planting and as fortifications, including narrowed entrances and crawl spaces with ambush points. Many caves feature in the myths and legends of the Rapa Nui.

Sample of rongorongo


It is not clear whether the undeciphered Easter island script rongorongo was created without outside influence ex nihilo or after contact with Europeans. Alternatively, the islanders' brief exposure to Western writing during the Spanish visit in 1770 may have inspired the ruling class to establish rongorongo as a religious tool.[39] Rongorongo has few similarities to the petroglyph corpus;[40] and there is not a single line of rongorongo carved in stone despite thousands of petroglyphs and other stonework.

Rongorongo was first reported by a French missionary, Eugène Eyraud, in 1864. At that time, several islanders claimed to be able to understand the writing, but all attempts to read them were unsuccessful. According to tradition, only a small part of the population was ever literate, rongorongo being a privilege of the ruling families and priests. This contributed to the total loss of knowledge of how to read rongorongo in the 1860s, when the island's elite was annihilated by slave raids and disease.

Of the hundreds of objects (mainly wooden tablets, but also stones, staffs, breastplates, and sculptures) reportedly having rongorongo writing carved on them, only 28 survive, scattered in museums around the world with very few remaining on Easter Island. Numerous attempts to decipher them have proved fruitless, and the academic community does not agree on anyone having deciphered it. What they do agree upon is that it seems to be pictographic and that its meant to read in reverse boustrophedon style.

Wood carving

Skeletal statuette
Atypical tubby statuette

Wood was scarce on Easter Island during the 18th and 19th centuries, but a number of highly detailed and distinctive carvings have found their way to the world's museums. Particular forms include:[41]

  • Reimiro, a gorget or breast ornament of crescent shape with a head at one or both tips.[42] The same design appears on the flag of Rapa Nui. Two Rei Miru at the British Museum are inscribed with Rongorongo.
  • Moko Miro, a man with a lizard head.
  • Moai kavakava, grotesque and highly detailed human figures carved from Toromiro pine and represent deceased ancestors. The earlier figures are rare and generally depict a male figure with an emaciated body and a goatee. The figures' ribs and vertebrae are exposed and many examples show carved glyphs on various parts of the body but more generally, on the top of the head. The female figures, which are far rarer then the males are, depict the body as flat and often the female's hand lying across the body. The figures, although some quite large, were worn as ornamental pieces around a tribesman's neck, the more figures worn, the more important the man. The figures have a shiny surface, this patina developed from constant handling and contact with human skin.[citation needed]
  • Ao, a large dancing paddle.

Contemporary culture

Polynesian dancing with feather costumes is on the tourist itinerary

The Rapanui have:

  • An annual cultural festival, the Tapati, held since 1975 around the beginning of February to celebrate Rapanui culture.
  • A national football team.
  • Three discos in the town of Hanga Roa.
  • A musical tradition that combines South American and Polynesian influences (see music of Easter Island).
  • A vibrant carving tradition.


2002 census

Population at the 2002 census was 3,791[43]. 60% were Rapanui, Chileans of European or castizo descent were 39% of the population, and the remaining 1% were Native Americans from mainland Chile.[citation needed] Castizos may include people of European and Rapanui or European, Native American, and Rapanui descent. Rapanui have also migrated out of the island. Population density on Easter Island is only 23 inhabitants per km² (60 per sq mi).The Rapanui today are trying to restrict immigration of mainland Chileans to the island which requires a change in the Chilean constitution.

Fishing boats on Easter Island

Demographic history

The population was 1,936 inhabitants in 1982 Census. This increase in population in the last census is partly caused by the arrival of people of European or castizo descent from the mainland of Chile. However most of these immigrants are married to a Rapanui partner. In the 1982 Census around 70% of the population were Rapanui (the native Polynesian inhabitants). It is almost impossible to calculate the height of Easter Island's population in ancient times. Some sources say as few as 7,000, others as much as 17,000. As mentioned earlier, Easter Island's all-time low of 111 inhabitants were reported in 1877. Out of these 111 Rapanui, only 36 had descendants, but all of today's Rapanui claim descent from those 36.

Administration and legal status

Easter Island shares with Juan Fernández Islands the sui generis constitutional status of special territory of Chile, granted in 2007. A special charter for the island is currently being discussed: therefore it continues to be considered a province of the Valparaíso Region, containing a single commune.[citation needed] Both the province and the commune are called Isla de Pascua and encompass the whole island and its surrounding islets and rocks, plus Isla Salas y Gómez, some 380 km to the east.


  • Provincial governor: Pedro Pablo Edmunds Paoa (2010-). Appointed by the President of the Republic.
  • Mayor: Luz Zasso Paoa (PDC), directly elected for four years (2008–2012). Municipality located in Hanga Roa.
  • Municipal council, directly elected for four years (2008–2012):
    • Marta Raquel Hotus Tuki (PDC)
    • Ximena Trengove Vallejos (PDC)
    • Julio Araki Tepano (UDI)
    • Eliana Amelia Olivares San Juan (UDI)
    • Alberto Hotus Chávez (PPD)
    • Marcelo Pont Hill (PPD)

Notable figures

See also


  1. ^ Portal Rapa Nui. http://www.portalrapanui.cl/rapanui/informaciones.htm
  2. ^ Pending the enactment of a special charter, the island will continue to be governed as a province of the Valparaíso Region.
  3. ^ National Statistics Office (INE).
  4. ^ B. Peiser (2005) From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui Energy & Environment volume 16 No. 3&4 2005
  5. ^ An English translation of the originally Dutch journal by Jacob Roggeveen, with additional significant information from the log by Cornelis Bouwman, was published in: Andrew Sharp (ed.), The Journal of Jacob Roggeveen (Oxford 1970).
  6. ^ Invention of the name "Rapa Nui"
  7. ^ Heyerdahl claimed that the two islands would be about the same size, meaning that "big" and "small" would not be physical, but historical attributes, "big" indicating the original. In reality, however, Easter Island is more than four times bigger than Rapa Iti. Heyerdahl also claimed that there is an island called "Rapa" in Lake Titicaca in South America, but so far there is no map available showing an island of that name in the lake.
  8. ^ Thomas S. Barthel: The Eighth Land: The Polynesian Settlement of Easter Island (Honolulu: University of Hawaii 1978; originally published in German in 1974)
  9. ^ Enjoy Chile - climate
  10. ^ Easter Island Articlein Letsgochile.com
  11. ^ Weather Easter Island Foundation
  12. ^ "Easter Island". Global Volcanism Program, Smithsonian Institution. http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=1506-011. Retrieved 2010-03-18. 
  13. ^ http://www.springerlink.com/content/q752224584lr8qk1/fulltext.pdf
  14. ^ Inst of Petrology Vol 38 Haase, Stoffers & Garbe-Schoneberg
  15. ^ Inst of Petrology Vol 38 The Petrogenetic Evolution of Lavas from Easter Island and Neighbouring Seamounts, Near-ridge Hotspot Volcanoes in the SE Pacific - Haase, Stoffers & Garbe-Schoneberg
  16. ^ Hunt, T. L., Lipo, C. P., 2006. Science, 1121879. URL “Late Colonization of Easter Island”
  17. ^ "The Voyage to Rapa Nui 1999-2000". Polynesian Voyaging Society. http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/rapanuiback.html. Retrieved 2009-09-06. 
  18. ^ Katherine Routledge The mystery of Easter island page 208
  19. ^ Collapse of island's demographics in the 1860s and 1870s
  20. ^ "ANNEXATION BY CHILE". http://www.netaxs.com/~trance/annex.html. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  21. ^ Diamond, Jared (2005), Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive, page 112.
  22. ^ Chilean Law 20,193, National Congress of Chile
  23. ^ C. Michael Hogan. 2008. Chilean Wine Palm: Jubaea chilensis, GlobalTwitcher.com, ed. N. Stromberg
  24. ^ Steadman (2006) p. 251, p. 395
  25. ^ Steadman (2006) pp. 248-252
  26. ^ "Rapamycin — Introduction". http://www.ch.ic.ac.uk/local/projects/russell/index.html. Retrieved 2009-07-10. 
  27. ^ "Rapamycin Extends Longevity in Mice". http://www.medpagetoday.com/Geriatrics/GeneralGeriatrics/15016. 
  28. ^ a b c David T. Jones (2007). ""Easter Island, What to learn from the puzzles?"". American Diplomacy. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_7052/is_2007_Nov_6/ai_n28472343/pg_1. 
  29. ^ Diamond, Jared, Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Viking, 2005, p. 107 ISBN 978-0670033379
  30. ^ (Heyerdahl & Ferdon, 1961:57).
  31. ^ Diamond 2005:109
  32. ^ Pacific islands archaeology
  33. ^ "Easter Island Statue Project". http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/ioa/eisp/. Retrieved 2009-030-30. 
  34. ^ http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/explore/paro.html
  35. ^ Flenley JR. & King SM 1984. Late Quaternary pollen records from Easter Island. Nature 307: 47-50
  36. ^ See Heyerdahl, with pictures.
  37. ^ Heavy erosion and landslides may have buried them in soil.
  38. ^ See Heyerdahl, with pictures.(however Alfred Metraux pointed out that the rubble filled Rapanui walls were a fundamentally different design to those of the Inca, as these are trapezoidal in shape as opposed to the perfectly fitted rectangular stones of the inca. See also http://islandheritage.org/faq.html#ancient_Peru)
  39. ^ See Fischer, page 63.
  40. ^ See Fischer, pages 31 and 63.
  41. ^ The mystery of Easter island, routledge page 268
  42. ^ Wooden gorget (rei miro). British Museum.
  43. ^ [1]

Selected bibliography

  • Altman, Ann M. (2004). Early Visitors to Easter Island 1864-1877 (translations of the accounts of Eugène Eyraud, Hippolyte Roussel, Pierre Loti and Alphonse Pinart; with an Introduction by Georgia Lee). Los Osos: Easter Island Foundation. 
  • Barthel, Thomas (1958). Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift. Hamburg: Cram, de Gruyter. 
  • Butinov, Nikolai A.; Yuri V. Knorozov (1957). "Preliminary Report on the Study of the Written Language of Easter Island". Journal of the Polynesian Society 66 (1). 
  • Diamond, Jared (2005). Collapse. How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.. New York: Viking. 0-14-303655-6. 
  • Englert, Sebastian F. (1970). Island at the Center of the World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  • Fedorova, Irina K. (1965). "Versions of Myths and Legends in Manuscripts from Easter Island". in Heyerdahl et al.. Miscellaneous Papers: Reports of the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and East Pacific 2. Stockholm: Forum. pp. 395–401. 
  • Fischer, Steven Roger (1995). "Preliminary Evidence for Cosmogonic Texts in Rapanui’s Rongorongo Inscriptions". Journal of the Polynesian Society (104): pp. 303–21. 
  • Fischer, Steven Roger (1997). Glyph-breaker: A Decipherer's Story. New York: Copernicus/Springer-Verlag. 
  • Fischer, Steven Roger (1997). RongoRongo, the Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. 
  • Guy, Jacques B.M. (1985). "On a fragment of the “Tahua” Tablet". Journal of the Polynesian Society 94: pp. 367–87. 
  • Guy, Jacques B.M. (1988). "Rjabchikov’s Decipherments Examined". Journal of the Polynesian Society 97: pp. 321–3. 
  • Guy, Jacques B.M. (1990). "On the Lunar Calendar of Tablet Mamari". Journal de la Société des Océanistes 91:2: pp. 135–49. 
  • Heyerdal, Thor (1961-65). Thor Heyerdahl & Edwin N. Ferdon Jr.. ed. The Concept of Rongorongo Among the Historic Population of Easter Island. Stockholm: Forum. 
  • Heyerdal, Thor Aku-Aku; The 1958 Expedition to Easter Island.
  • Hunt, Terry L. (September-October 2006). "Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island". American Scientist (94): p. 412. 
  • Hunter-Anderson, R. (1998). "Human vs climatic impacts at Rapa Nui: did the people really cut down all those trees?". in Stevenson, C.M.; Lee, G. & Morin, F.J.. Easter Island in Pacific Context. South Seas Symposium: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Easter Island and East Polynesia. Easter Island Foundation. pp. 85–99. 
  • Lee, Georgia (1992). The Rock Art of Easter Island. Symbols of Power, Prayers to the Gods. Los Angeles: The Institute of Archaeology Publications. 
  • Mellén Blanco, Francisco (1986). Manuscritos y documentos españoles para la historia de la isla de Pascua. Madrid: CEHOPU. 
  • Metraux, Alfred (1940). "Ethnology of Easter Island". Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin (Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press) (160). 
  • Pazdniakov, Konstantin (1996). "Les Bases du Déchiffrement de l'Écriture de l'Ile de Pâques". Journal de la Societé des Océanistes 103:2: pp. 289–303. 
  • Routledge, Katherine (1919). The Mystery of Easter Island. The story of an expedition. London. 
  • Shepardson, B. (2006). "On the Shoulders of Giants". British Archaeology January/February: pp. 14–17. 
  • Steadman, David (2006). Extinction and Biogeography in Tropical Pacific Birds. University of Chicago Press. 978-0-226-77142-7. 
  • Thomson, William J. (1891). "Te Pito te Henua, or Easter Island. Report of the United States National Museum for the Year Ending June 30, 1889". Annual Reports of the Smithsonian Institution for 1889 (Washington: Smithsonian Institution): pp. 447–552. in Google Books
  • van Tilburg, Jo Anne (1994). Easter Island: Archaeology, Ecology and Culture. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. 
  • Vargas, Patricia; Claudio Cristino and Roberto Izaurieta (2006). "1000 años en Rapa Nui". Arqueologia del Asentamiento (Santiago: Editorial Universitaria). 956-11-1879-3. 

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Oceania : Easter Island
Moai statues on Easter Island
Moai statues on Easter Island

Easter Island [1] (Spanish: Isla de Pascua, Polynesian: Rapa Nui) is one of the most isolated islands on Earth. Early settlers called the island "Te Pito O Te Henua" (Navel of The World). Officially a territory of Chile, it lies far off in the Pacific Ocean, roughly halfway to Tahiti. It is most famous for its enigmatic giant stone busts, built centuries ago, which reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of the most isolated Polynesian culture.


The English name of the island commemorates its European discovery by a Dutch exploration vessel on Easter Sunday in 1722.

Ever since Thor Heyerdahl and a small party of adventurers sailed their raft from South America to the island, a controversy has raged over the origin of the islanders. Today DNA testing has proved conclusively that the polynesians arrived from the west rather than the east, and that the people of Easter Island are descendants of intrepid voyagers who set out from Taiwan thousands of years ago.

In brief, the prehistory of Easter Island is one of supreme accomplishment, flourishing and civilization, followed by environmental devastation and decline. Although it is not agreed when people first arrived on Easter Island (with estimates ranging from several hundred to more than one thousand years ago), consensus seems to be that the first peoples arrived from Polynesia. Rather than being inhabited by mistake or chance, evidence has suggested that Easter Island was colonized deliberately by large boats with many settlers -- a remarkable feat given the distance of Easter Island from any other land in the Pacific Ocean.

The first islanders found a land of undoubted paradise -- archaeological evidence shows that the island was covered in trees of various sorts, including the largest palm tree species in the world, whose bark and wood furnished the natives with cloth, rope, and canoes. Birds were abundant as well, and provided food for them. A mild climate favored an easy life, and abundant waters yielded fish and oysters.

The islanders prospered due to these advantages, and a reflection of this is the religion which sprouted in their leisure, which had at its centerpiece the giant moai, or heads, that are the island's most distinctive feature today. These moai, which the island is littered with, are supposed to have been depictions of ancestors, whose presence likely was considered a blessing or watchful safekeeping eye over each small village. The ruins of Rano Raraku crater, the stone quarry where scores if not hundreds of moai sit today, is a testament to how central these figures were to the islanders, and how their life revolved around these creations. It has been suggested that their isolation from all other peoples fueled this outlet of trade and creativity -- lacking any other significant way to direct their skills and resources. The birdman culture (seen in petroglyphs), is an obvious testament to the islanders' fascination with the ability to leave their island for distant lands.

However, as the population grew, so did pressures on the island's environment. Deforestation of the island's trees gradually increased, and as this main resource was depleted, the islanders would find it hard to continue making rope, canoes, and all the necessities to hunt and fish, and ultimately, support the culture that produced the giant stone figureheads. Apparently, disagreements began to break out (with some violence) as confidence in the old religion was lost, and is reflected partly in the ruins of moai which were deliberately toppled by human hands. By the end of the glory of the Easter Island culture, the population had crashed in numbers, and the residents -- with little food or other ways to obtain sustenance -- resorted sometimes to cannibalism and a bare subsistence. Subsequent raids by powers such as Peru and Bolivia devastated the population even more, until only a few hundred native Rapa Nui were left by the last century.

Today, Rapa Nui National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its residents rely much on the tourism and economic links to Chile and daily flights to Santiago. As with many native peoples, the Rapa Nui seek a link to their past and how to integrate their culture with the political, economic, and social realities of today.

Map of Easter Island
Map of Easter Island

Due to its extreme geographic isolation, many people assume that only the highly intrepid traveler can get to Easter Island. In fact, the island is accessible by regular commercial air service, and tourism is the main industry of the island.

Still, it is rather "out of the way" for most people, with a minimum of more than 5.5 hours in the air from the nearest continent, and very limited routes to get there. The only regular flights are via LAN Airlines [2], several times each week on the route between Tahiti and daily to Santiago de Chile. [3] With no competition for fares on an objectively lengthy and obscure flight, fares range between US$300-US$1200 round trip from Santiago. About the only scenario in which Easter Island is "conveniently located" is on a round-the-world voyage, in which it provides an interesting stop on the way between Polynesia and South America, and will help bolster others' perception that you went "everywhere".

If you want to take the intrepid route Tallship Soren Larsen sails to Easter Island from New Zealand once a year. The voyage takes 35 days, crossing the point on earth furthest from land.

Get around

Easter Island is extremely small, so it is possible to get around fairly easily. There are rental cars, generally jeeps, available from a few rental agencies in Hanga Roa, as well as a few dirtbikes. With a car, it's possible to see most of the sites on the island in a few hours. Most hosts will also rent out their jeep to you (at a very competitive rate) if you simply ask. Be aware, you will not get insurance with your car hire. Bicycles can be hired on a daily basis. For those on a tight schedule, a rental car is really quite advantageous, and sometimes not much more expensive than other options and offering more independence for more curious or adventurous visitors than an organized tour. Bicycling may be tried, but note that aside from the main paved roads in Hanga Roa or the single smooth paved road to Anakena, roads to many main sites are of dirt and sometimes quite uneven and potholed, so the benefit of a car cannot be overstated for some parts of the island. Note that for motor scooters and motorbikes, a valid driver's license specifically for these vehicles is required. Otherwise, driver's licenses for cars will allow the use of cars or 4x4 quad bikes. Some example prices are as follows (all in CLP).

Bicycle (24 hours): 10000, (8 hrs) 8000

Motor Scooter (8 hrs): 23000

Small Jeep/car (8hrs): 20000

Larger cars (8 hrs): 25000-40000

At the time of October 2009, fuel/gasoline cost approximately 480 CLP per liter.

One reliable, friendly, and relatively cheap rental location is "Paomotors", found next to Supermarket Eixi. It seems the closer you get to Farmacia Cruz Verde, the higher the prices for various rentals.

See and Do

The biggest tourist attractions on Easter Island are, of course, the Moai. Please note that the Moai are archaeological features and should be treated with care as they are far more fragile than they seem. Often Moai will be placed upon ceremonial platforms and burials called Ahu. Do not walk on the Ahu as it is an extremely disrespectful gesture. Even if you see others walking on the Ahu do not do so yourself.

All of the sites, which can be visited for free (with one exception), are mostly found along the coastline of the island. First time vistors may be struck by how many archaelogical sites there are around the island, where you can be virtually alone as the only people visiting. Each village typically had an ahu if not several moai, and thus on a drive around the south coast of the island, every mile contains several sites where you might see ruins.

Two exceptional sites are the volcanic craters of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku. The slightly inland quarry at "Rano Raraku" is where the moai carvings were born, out of the hillside of the volcanic rock where hundreds of laborers must have carved full-time. This 300 foot volcano remnant provided the stones for the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as scattered partially-finished figures. A climb to the left side of the crater, over the top, and into the bowl, is well worth it. Hiking to the opposite lip of the crater, where the most moai are found, is one of the most dramatic sites on the island.

Similarly, Rano Kau is the remains of a volcanic cinder cone, which like Rano Raraku, is filled with fresh rainwater and has a mottled unearthly appearance that is breathtaking.

Easter Island features two white sand beaches. Anakena, on the north side of the island, is an excellent shorebreak bodysurfing location with a bit of north swell. Even the 1" waves barrel (it's also possible to surf in the harbor at Hanga Roa and many of the locals do so). The second beach is a gem so hidden, it doesn't even have a name. Found along the southern shore of the island near Ahu Vaihu (along the road from Hanga Roa to Ahu Akahanga), this beautiful and desolate beach is much larger than that at Anakena and is surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. Note of caution: the path leading down to the beach is somewhat treacherous and unstable and best reached by foot - driving off-road (contrary to the misguided and somewhat callous actions of some tourists) on most of the island is illegal anyway.

Scuba diving and snorkeling is popular near the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti (well known for "The bird man culture") who are located about 1 km south of the island. There is at least one shop where it is possible to rent the equipment and from there get on a guided tour to the islets.

An often overlooked but particularily fascinating and "otherwordly" aspect of Easter Island is its extensive cave systems. While there are a couple of "official" caves that are quite interesting in their own right, there is also real adventure to be had in exploring all of the numerous unofficial caves on the island, most of which are found near Ana Kakenga. While the openings to most of these caves are small (some barely large enough to crawl through) and hidden (amid a rather surreal lava strewn field that has been likened to the surface of Mars), many of them open up into large and inhibitingly deep and extensive cave systems. Note of caution: these caves can be dangerous in that quite a few run extremely deep. A person left without a torch/flashlight will be immersed in utter blackness with little hope of finding their way out soon...if ever. The caves are also extremely damp and slippery (the ceilings in some have collapsed over time from this water erosion).

Also worth a stop is the Rano Kau. This is a Chilean National Park site, so you will have to pay an entry fee to really look around. Even without entering the park, there is a great view of most of the island from this vantage point.

Also of note is a total solar eclipse coming on July 11th, 2010. The path of totality crosses directly over the island and cloud cover probability for that time of year suggests that this will be a prime viewing spot. It is too early to say how this will affect travel and reservations, but Lan controls access to the island by air and there is limited space on the island for visitors, travelers should prepare for this trip well in advance.


Most, if not all of the commerce on this island occurs in the port town of Hanga Roa. There are a number of small shops geared toward tourists, as well as an open market. If you join an organised tour, expect to see the same souvenir-sellers at each site selling the same items - generally a plethora of moai-inspired trinkets. The official currency is the Chilean Peso, as opposed to on the mainland, transactions can be performed in US Dollars.

When buying souvenirs it is best to use cash. Often the vendors will have a very high minimum charge or will tack on a service fee for using a credit card (about 10-20%). This is only if the vendor accepts credit cards at all; many small vendors will only accept cash.

Two ATMs are available on the island: one from Banco Estado on Tu'u maheke, Hanga Roa, which only accepts Cirrus, Maestro and Mastercard branded cards but NOT Visa. The other one inside the bank Santander, a bit further, on Policarpo Toro, which accepts Visa, Cirrus, Maestro and Mastercard.

The local bank can do cash advances against a Visa card, but the bank opening times are limited and the lines can be long.


There are around 25 restaurants catering to tourists on the island. A few can be found close to the dock in Hanga Roa, with a few others scattered in the surrounding areas. Menus tend to be limited, as most of the food on the island needs to be imported. The range of fish, though, is considerable - as is true for most of Chile. There are also a few "supermarkets" where visitors can pick up snacks, limited sundries, booze, etc.

Like the souvenir vendors on the island many restaurants do not accept credit cards or will have a high minimum charge. Also tipping is appreciated but should be done in moderation, usually spare change or less than 10% works.

As a result of the increased amount of tourists, some of the restaurants may be a kind of "tourist trap," so don't hesitate to ask your guide or your host for advice where to go.

  • Te Moana - Quite possibly the best restaurant on the island. The Tuna Sandwich is particularly good. A live band is often playing on Wednesdays and the weekends. Get to Te Moana early or it is likely that you will not get a table.
  • La Taverne du Pêcheur - A small restaurant in the port section of the village held by a resident of Rapa Nui who lived for some time in the French Polynesia. Very good seafood, the most expensive restaurant on the island.

For those on a backpackers budget or seeking simple food, two options were found to be quite appealing:

-- next to the main Kai Nene supermarket is an empanada shop, where a variety of cheap and tasty made-to-order on the spot empanadas can be had, ranging from 1200 to 2500 CLP, including Atun y queso, camarones, champignons, etc. Closes 8pm?

-- at the end of the main street walking towards the east, are several food stands, which prepare hot dogs with many toppings, chicken sandwiches, to slightly more elaborate meals such as mashed potatoes and steak, in a pleasant outdoor seating area. from 1200 to 3000 CLP. Open until 10pm.


Pisco, a hard alcohol made from fermented grapes, is the unofficial drink of the island. Try a pisco sour, which is pisco mixed with lemon juice. Another common cocktail is the piscola - pisco and coke. Drinking pisco straight is possible, as it has less of a kick than Vodka, although Chileans would not advise it.

  • Hetu u, 552163. 10am-11pm. Awesome food. Awesome staff. Highly recommend the shrimp as well as the tuna. The soapiallas are to die for. Believe me. Unreal cuisine, the best on the island! $15-40.  edit


Most of the accommodation on Easter Island is "guest houses". Representatives of the guest houses will generally come to the airport to greet travellers who may wish to stay with them. Rates are usually quite reasonable. The proprietors of these guest houses will be happy to help you find places to eat, drink, hire cabs, and generally get around.

A number of guest houses describe themselves as hotels, and certainly would pass for them elsewhere in the world as well. These hotels frequently have restaurants offering at least breakfast, and often dinner as well.

  • Tauraa Hotel [4], Atamu Tekena, Hanga Roa, (56-32) 100 463. Very clean guest house, less than 5 minutes from the airport. Bill and Edith are very nice to talk to, and they can talk about the island for hours. Good breakfast, different everyday. Together with the hotel is a tour company, which offers visits of basically the whole island in 2 days. A bit on the pricey side however, 150$ per night.
  • Kona Tau [5], Avaraipau, Hanga Roa. Tel: +56-32-2100321. A very nice hostel, and quite cheap taking the island in mind (10000 peso per night). The rooms are very basic, as is the breakfast. Scooters are rented out and they have a table football game. One of the guys employed at the hostel (he mainly cleans) cooks cheap empanadas (1000 each) most nights.

Get out

LAN airlines can take you eastward to Santiago de Chile or westward to Tahiti. If you are departing for a foreign country from the airport, there will be a small exit fee, which must be paid in cash.

If you've managed to sail to Easter Island on your own, a logical next stop would be the infamous Pitcairn Islands, one of the island's "nearest" neighbors and another contender for "most isolated", with no air access and little tourism at all.

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Easter Island
by Robert Ervin Howard
First published in Weird Tales, December 1928

How many weary centuries have flown
Since strange-eyed beings walked this ancient shore,
Hearing, as we, the green Pacific's roar,
Hewing fantastic gods from sullen stone!
The sands are bare; the idols stand alone.
Impotent 'gainst the years was all their lore:
They are forgot in ages dim and hoar;
Yet still, as then, the long tide-surges drone.

What dreams had they that shaped these uncouth things?
Before these gods what victims bled and died?
What purple galleys swept along the strand
That bore the tribute of what dim sea-kings?
But now, they reign o'er a forgotten land,
Gazing forever out beyond the tide.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EASTER ISLAND (Rapanui, i.e. Great Rapa), an island in the eastern part of the South Pacific ocean, belonging to Chile (since 1888), in 27° 8' S. and 109° 28' W., 1400 m. E. of Pitcairn, and 2000 m. from the South American coast. It is roughly triangular in shape, with its hypotenuse 12 m. long running north-east and south-west, and its three angles marked by three volcanic peaks, of which the north-eastern reaches 1768 ft. of altitude. The area of the island is 45 sq. m. The coast has no good natural harbour, and landing is difficult. There is no lack of fertile soil, and the climate is moist enough to make up for the absence of running water. Formerly the island appears to have been wooded, but it now presents only a few bushes (Edwardsia, Broussonetia, &c.), ferns, grasses, sedges, &c. The natives grow bananas in the shelter of artificial pits, also sugar-canes and sweet potatoes, and keep a few goats and a large stock of domestic fowls, and a Tahitian commercial house breeds cattle and sheep on the island.

It is doubtful whether Rapanui was discovered by Davis in 1686, though it is sometimes marked Davis Island on maps. Admiral Roggeveen reached it on Easter day 1722; in 1774 Captain Cook discovered it anew and called it Teapi or Waihu. It was subsequently visited by La Perouse (1776), Kotzebue (1816), &c. At the time of Roggeveen's discovery the island probably contained from 2000 to 3000 inhabitants of Polynesian race, who, according to their own tradition, came from Rapa Iti (Little Rapa) or Oparo, one of the Tubuai or Austral group. In 1863 a large proportion of the inhabitants were kidnapped by the Peruvians and transported to work at the guano diggings on the Chincha Islands. The next year a Jesuit mission from Tahiti reached the island and succeeded in the task of civilization. The natives, who number scarcely one hundred, are all Christians.

Easter Island is famous for its wonderful archaeological remains. Here are found immense platforms built of large cut stones fitted together without cement. They are generally built upon headlands, and on the slope towards the sea. The walls on the seaside are, in some of the platforms, nearly 30 ft. high and from 200 to 300 ft. long, by about 30 ft. wide. Some of the squared stones are as much as 6 ft. long. On the land side of the platforms there is a broad terrace with large stone pedestals upon which once stood colossal stone images carved somewhat into the shape of the human trunk. On some of the platforms there are upwards of a dozen images, now thrown from their pedestals and lying in all directions. Their usual height is from 14 to 16 ft., but the largest are 37 ft., while some are only about 4 ft. They are formed from a grey trachytic lava found at the east end of the island. The top of the heads of the images is cut flat to receive round crowns made of a reddish vesicular tuff found at a crater about 8 m. distant from the quarry where the images were cut. A number of these crowns still lie at the crater apparently ready for removal, some of the largest being over 10 ft. in diameter. In the atlas illustrating the voyage of La Perouse a plan of the island is given, with the position of several of the platforms. Two of the images are also represented in a plate. One statue, 8 ft. in height and weighing 4 tons, was brought to England, and is now in the British Museum. In one part of the island are the remains of stone houses nearly loo ft. long by about 20 ft. wide. These are built in courses of large flat stones fitted together without cement, the walls being about 5 ft. thick and over 5 ft. high. They are lined on the inside with upright slabs, on which are painted geometrical figures and representations of animals. The roofs are formed by placing slabs so that each course overlaps the lower one until the opening becomes about 5 ft. wide, when it is covered with flat slabs reaching from one side to the other. The lava rocks near the houses are carved into the resemblance of various animals and human faces, forming, probably, a kind of picture writing. Wooden tablets covered with various signs and figures have also been found. The only ancient implement discovered on the island is a kind of stone chisel, but it seems impossible that such large and numerous works could have been executed with such a tool. The present inhabitants of Easter Island know nothing of the construction of these remarkable works; and the entire subject of their existence in this small and remote island is a mystery.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Wikipedia has an article on:


Proper noun

Easter Island

  1. An island in the south Pacific, belonging to Chile.


Simple English

Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle. The capital city is Hanga Roa. It is famous for its 887 huge statues called Moai, created by the early Rapanui people. Easter Island also has a huge crater called Rano Kau at the edge of the island In the crater there is a natural lake and it is one of the only three bodies of fresh water on the island. Easter Island a World Heritage Site (as determined by UNESCO) with much of the island protected within the Rapa Nui National Park. In recent times the island has served as a cautionary tale about the cultural and environmental dangers of overexploitation. Ethnographers and archaeologists now say that the introduction of diseases carried by European colonizers and the slave raiding, that devastated the population in the 1800s had a much greater social than environmental impact. Introduced animals, first rats and then sheep, were largely responsible for the island's loss of native flora.

= History


The history of Easter Island is rich and controversial. Its inhabitants have suffered famines, civil war, slave raids, and near total loss of forests. The population has declined steeply more than once. The islanders have left a cultural legacy that has famous. 300–400 CE was thought to be the date of the first settlement of Easter Island, which is about the same time as the arrival of the first settlers on Hawaii. However, new results in radiocarbon dating have changed almost all of the early settlement dates in Polynesia and Rapa Nui is now considered to have been settled between 700 to 1,100 CE. Oral tradition says that the first settlement was in Anakena. The island was most probably settled by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Marquesas Islands, 3,200 km (2,000 miles) away, or the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2,600 km (1,600 miles) away. When Captain Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, who was a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. The language most similar to Rapa Nui is Mangarevan with about 80% of similar words. In 1999, they reached Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days. According to oral traditions written down by missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a very clear class system, with an ariki, high chief, who had great power over nine other clans and their chiefs. The high chief was the eldest descendent, through firstborn lines, of the island's legendary founder, Hotu Matu'a. The most visible part of the culture was the making of very large statues called moai that represented deified ancestors. It was believed that the living had a relationship with the dead where the dead provided everything the living needed (health, fertility of land and animals, fortune, etc.,) and the living through offerings could provide the dead with a better place in the spirit world. Most settlements were located on the coast and moai were erected all along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the sea.

[[File:|thumb|left|275px|Ahu Tongariki near Rano Raraku, a 15-moai ahu excavated and restored in the 1990s]]


The most important myths are:
Tangata manu, the Birdman cult which was practiced until the 1860s.
Makemake, is an important god.
Aku-aku, the guardians of the sacred family caves.
Moai-kava-kava a ghost man of the Hanau epe (long-ears.)

Climate and weather

The climate of Easter Island is subtropical maritime. The lowest temperatures are in July and August (18 °C) and the highest in February (maximum temperature 28 °C), the summer season in the southern hemisphere. Winters are quite mild. The rainiest month is April, though the island has year-round rainfall. As an isolated island Easter Island is constantly exposed to winds which help to keep the temperature fairly cool. Rainfall averages 1,118 millimetres or 44 inches per year. Occasionally, heavy rainfall and rainstorms strike the island. These occur mostly in the winter months (June-August). Cyclones and hurricanes do not occur around Easter Island.


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