When most people think of Easter Island their minds immediately go to the giant statues that are located on the island. The statues are very distinct and could likely be pointed out by anyone even if they haven't ever been to Easter Island. Easter Island isn't only about these large strange statues. There is a lot of culture and history behind Easter Island and these statues give us a look into the island's past. The natives of the island moved there to be secluded away from the rest of the population. While this seemed like a good idea at the time it would eventually lead to disaster for the natives.
There is a lot of questions and mystery that surround the island. Most of these questions have still yet to be answered as there isn't much left of the original natives of the island. The only thing that is left is the giant statues that litter the island. Through these statues, people have started to piece together the history of the natives and the island. Through this people have theorized different things about the island that are covered in this list.
Probably one of the most asked questions about Easter Island is where the name comes from. For some, it is a more important question then how did the statues get there in the first place. The island was originally discovered by an explorer by the name of Jacob Roggeveen who founded the island on Easter Sunday in 1722. Therefore, the island was named after the holiday. Fun fact, the locals don't call it Easter Island and instead call it Rapa Nui. The island was also called 'the world's navel' at some point under the phrase Te Pito O Te Henua.
The islands origins are often questioned as much as the name. The origin has been pinpointed as being a result of several volcanic eruptions occurring in the Pacific Ocean. The eruptions vary in time, the oldest being over three million years ago. The more recent eruptions occurred around a hundred thousand years ago. Luckily, most of the volcanoes that formed the island are now inactive and visitors can even take a tour of one of the extinct volcanoes. That is if you get tired of looking at all of the strange statues that litter the island.
The giant statues that litter the island have intrigued people ever since they were discovered. One of the main questions is what they are called. When people find out they are called Moai, they ask why? There are over 800 Moai statues across the island according to factslegend.org. The statues themselves and the word Moai are meant to represent chiefs and other higher-ups that watched over the native people who inhabited the island. The word Moai literally translates to So That He Can Exist. This is to represent those who have passed still watching over the island and keeping the peace.
There isn't too much known about the native people of Easter Island. One of the things that we do know is that they came around on the island around 1,500 years ago. A chief by the name of Hotu Matu’a brought his people to the uninhabited island to start a new culture known as the Rapa Nui. The Rapu Nui were led to believe that they were the only people in the world and strived to be isolated from the rest of the world. They couldn't have chosen a better place than this island.
It may be hard to believe when you are seeing large grassy hills that now represent Easter Island, but the island used to be a tropical forest. Soon after the native people set up civilization on the island it was only a matter of time before the forest had to go as well. A process of deforestation started and soon the island would no longer be a tropical forest and instead be the hilly green pastures we know of now. However, the forest wasn't enough to sustain the civilization there and the numbers dwindled largely when the European's founded the island.
The act of deforestation didn't spell doom for the island and its potential resources. Many of the natives believed that the trees would simply grow back but they didn't and one major contributing factor to this was the introduction of the Polynesian rat. The rats were likely brought over from the natives who inhabited the island. The rats had much to eat as the new trees were trying to grow. The rats feeding on the growing trees stopped the process and therefore ruined part of the island's ecosystem. The rats weren't the only ones who were able to eat. The Rapu Nui ate the rats as a food source.
The Napa Rui people weren't believed to be very lucky people. On top of their problem with lacking resources and overpopulation, it is also believed that they were involved in a civil war. Tension arose between residents of the island due to lacking resources and starvation. That on top of the fact that there was no way to leave the island things started to get heated. The island formed two separate sides and a war plagued the island resulting in much of the population to collapse leaving only a few thousand left on the island. A few statues were even toppled over during the war.
Around the time the Europeans discovered the island most of the Moai statues were toppled over and not standing up straight. This was due to the war that broke out over the Napa Rui people. At some point, since the European's landed on the island, the statues were brought back up to stand again. This was due to the potential in tourism for the island. Whoever had that thought had a million dollar idea because the island became a prime tourist destination when the giant Moai statues were advertised. The Moai statues are certainly something you have to see in person.
At first glance of the Maoi statues, they just appear to be large heads that come out of the ground. However, they are much more than giant stone heads. The Maoi statues have bodies that are buried underneath the ground. There were several excavations done in the early 1900s that revealed the Maoi's bodies. Many of the people who visit the Easter Island think that the Moai statues are only heads. It wasn't until more recent excavations were performed that images were uploaded to the internet showing that the heads were actually full-blown bodies.
It doesn't take but a few pictures for someone to realize that the Maoi statues are huge. The largest one that has been recorded stands at 33 feet and weighs 82 tons. This wasn't even planned to be the biggest one as an incomplete statue was found and would have reached heights of 70 feet and would have weighed just under 300 tons. So how did these humungous statues get moved to where they were found. Many scientists have suggested the use of wooden log rollers, ropes, and wooden sleds to help them move the giant statues but this is just a hypothesis.
The Maoi statues have very distinct features. So much so that anyone can point out when they see a Maoi statue where it is from. The statues facial features make them stand out the most with large burly brows, elongated noses, and sharp facial edges including the chin. Not only that but the statues also reach below the neck and reveal that underground the Maoi have slender hands and fingers with missing legs. The heads are by far the most distinguishable thing about the Maoi statues and they take up around 3/8ths of the entire statue.
While most of the island's statues are very distinguishable and all share similar facial features there is one statue that is completely different from the rest of them. Many have called this statue the 'ugly duckling' of the island. However, it is the statue that looks most like a human being. The statue is known as Tukuturi and it is much smaller than all of the other statues. Not only that but its full body is showing unlike the Moai's which have parts of their bodies hidden. It is even made out of a different material which has led many to believe that Tukuturi was made as a new experiment for making the statues.
When people look at the statues one of the main questions that pop into their heads is how they were originally made. Most of the Maoi's are all made out of a similar material which is volcanic rock known as tuff. The Rapa Nui had a quarry that allowed them to get loads of volcanic rock. Around half a dozen workers would be assigned to a statue and they would make one over the course of a year. Considering there are over 800 of the statues it must have taken them a few decades to complete all of them.
Like many other things on the island, the symbolism behind the giant Moai statues remains a mystery. A few theories base the Maoi statues to be a symbol of political or religious reasons. Many theories suggested that the Moai acted as guardians who looked over the island while others say they represent those in power who continue to lead the island. The Moai statues were also astronomically aligned which many believe were done for a reason. The 18 large Maoi statues weren't just aligned like that by accident, were they? The 18 statues all point towards the sunset during the equinox.
A doctor by the name of Dr. Anneliese Pontius who is a professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School suggested that the Moai statues had a bigger reason than just being protectors of the island. She suggested that the statues were constructed to heal people of a disease known as leprosy. The disease was present on the island and it would affect the people by causing extensive damage to their skin. She believed that the reason the statues looked the way they do is that the islanders wanted to overcorrect the way humans look to reverse the effects of the disease. It is an interesting theory but we may never know if is actually correct or not.
Another theory as to the purpose of the statues is linked to the way the statues are facing. If you have ever visited the island you may have realized that most of the statues are facing inward on the island instead of outward into the ocean. This is true for all the Moai statues except for one. This statue is placed at Ahu Akivi which is seen as a special place for the natives of the island. The Moai were built looking into the island to act as a sort of wall and overseer into the island to protect them. They wouldn't be able to look over the islanders if they were facing out into the water.
The Moai statues aren't the only interesting things to have come out of the island. The Rongorongo Scripture is known as kohau rongo rongo by the natives which means 'the great study'. There is also another meaning for the phrase which translates to 'the great message'. So, what exactly is this message? Scientists have studied the piece of wood with the scripture written on it, but it has yet to be deciphered. Theories suggest that the scripture was written by Hotu Matu’a the leader of the native people. On the scripture are words of wisdom for the natives to follow.
A tourist in 2008 decided he wanted to take a piece of Easter Island home with him. He decided to do this in the strangest way he thought possible. He took an ear from one of the Moai statues. Luckily, he was caught before he could make it off the island with one of the ears. The man was placed under house arrest and charged 17,000 dollars for his crime. Who knows what he would have tried to do with the ear or how he even managed to get the ear off the statue in the first place. Perhaps his plan was to sell the ear...
The island is a great place to vacation and seems like a great place to visit. However, many of the tourists who visit don't know that the island is in danger and may not be around in the future. The biggest danger in this is the effect of climate change which could increase the sea level causing great damage to the Moai statues. With the lack of trees on the island, the island is prone to erosion which it can't afford. In the coming years if something isn't done the Easter Island could one day become a distant memory.
There is a large festival that is held on the island every year that is called the Tapati Rapa Nui. The festival is held for the first two weeks in February. The island and its tourists are divided into two teams and they are to compete in different activities that include music, sculpture, sports, body painting, fishing, and many others. There is a queen of each team and the winning team's queen is crowned 'queen of the island' for that year. That is quite something to put on a resume.