Easter Island History
On Easter Sunday in 1722, a Dutch explorer by the name of Admiral Jacob Roggeveen made landfall on an uncharted island in the Southeast Pacific. The story of Roggeveen’s arrival on Easter Island––called Rapa Nui in the native tongue––is that several of his men were violently murdered by natives within minutes of having stepped ashore. And while this tale, as with many stories of exotic and untamed lands from the era of exploration, may well be apocryphal, it gives a taste of the aura of mystery that surrounds the island.
As with much of Easter Island’s shadowy history, there is still very little known about the now-iconic stone statues that litter the island. The most likely theories claim that they were carved and erected as tributes to the population’s gods, or perhaps to their ancestors. What is clear, however, is that an incredible effort that must have gone into producing the figures and hauling them to where they now stand. Interestingly, it is also theorized that the transportation of these giant Maoi required enormous amounts of wood, and so necessitated a vast deforestation project that ultimately contributed to the food scarcity that devastated the island’s large population
It was also recently discovered that the statues scattered across the island have bodies, buried naturally by sediment, and are much larger than previously believed. The excavation of two statues has uncovered that these ‘heads’ have impressively full bodies. Evidence of red pigment has also recently been found, suggesting that the statues were once brightly painted, with prominent eyes.
But perhaps the most tantalizing mystery of Easter Island is its ancient script. ‘Rongorongo’ is the written language of the Rapa Nui , and is the language in which some two-dozen surviving texts are written. Nearly two-dozen texts written in this language survive and would no doubt provide astounding insights into the life and history of East Island, but despite many attempts, linguists have been unable to translate the script.
Visiting Easter Island Today
Today, 40,000 tourists each year visit the island to explore its many mysteries. It can be reached by a 5-hour flight from Santiago, Chile or from Papeete, Tahiti. Lan Airlines is currently the only airline offering flights to and from the island. Getting to Easter Island will require some advance planning, especially if you plan to visit in the peak season between January and March, because only 4-5 flights per week are offered. Keep in mind that the best weather is in Jan/Feb, and that it can sometimes get a bit chilly during in July and August.
Once you arrive, there are a number of options for getting around. Visitors can walk, mountain bike, rent motorcycles, or hire a Jeep. When planning your daily explorations, be sure to pack plenty of food and water, because there is very little development on the island and few places to eat in certain regions. Also, keep in mind that it is best to bring a supply of US dollars to last the duration of your stay on the island. While credit cards are accepted in most places, vendors and agents charge steep convenience fees.
Another little known fact to keep in mind when visiting is that Easter Island is one of the premier surfing spots on the globe. Because it is isolated and relatively difficult to get to, it has some of the most pristine and uncrowded breaks to be found anywhere. Coupled with the fact that the water is warm year round and that the swell is completely unhindered for thousands of miles, you will start to see what makes this fascinating island a surfer’s paradise.
Clearly, Easter Island has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty, fascinating history, and recreational activities. I haven’t had time or space here to mention the enigmatic bass reliefs of birds and fish, the mysterious texts hewn from wood not indigenous to the island, the tales of birdman cults, or the histories of slave raids and aggressive epidemics. There is enough mystery on Easter Island to fill a library, and the only way to immerse yourself in it is to go there and conduct your own investigations.
About The Author: This guest post is brought to you by the travel bloggers at House Trip, where you can find great vacation apartment rentals in Barcelona, New York and around the world.
Photo Credits – CC Flickr: #1 robertnyman, #2 & 3 ndcam, #4 puppiesofpurgatory