Because They Arrived on Easter Sunday

A special thank you to Tom Lang and Steve Dutton (two of our fellow World Cruise travelers) for their kindness in providing us with photographs of Easter Island.  Our afternoon shore excursion to the Island was cancelled at the last minute due to deteriorating sea conditions. Tom and Steve were on the morning excursion so they graciously gave us copies of their photographs.  Thank you both so very much!

Moai 14

Very unsafe sea conditions for the tenders

Moai 15

Moai 16

Moai 17

Easter Island, also known as Rapu Nui, is known all over the world for its mysterious statues that have puzzled archaeologists and historians for centuries. It is fairly clear from the archaeological evidence that the first islanders did not really arrive by mistake but traveled there from Tahiti about 400 AD. While it may be true that they had not planned to settle permanently on this particular island, they carried plants, animals and tools they would need to survive in a new land.


By 1500 the population had increased greatly; all the trees had been removed and the crops failed – Ecocide!  Clan wars began between the long ears and the short ears – the two groups on the island. (The ears were slit and weights attached to elongate part of the earlobe.) About 1680 the long ears killed most of the short ears. (It is interesting to note that most of the statues have long ears.) After the wars began between the two groups, cannibalism was practiced.

Moai 2

About 1700 the Birdman culture began which lasted until about 1750, in which two young men, each representing one of the two clans, dove off a cliff and swam to a nearby island to collect an egg from a tern’s nest.  The first one to safely return to Easter Island, climb the cliff, and present the egg to the King was the victor, gaining control of the Island and food supply for the coming year for his clan (the long ears or short ears).

Moai 3

The Island was given its common name by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen who “discovered” it on Easter Sunday – April 5, 1722.  At that time there were about 3,000 people living there, but disease and slave traders reduced their numbers in later years.  When British Captain James Cook arrived in 1774, the population was about 2,000 and appeared very stressed. By 1860 there were only 111 people there; and the last Rapa Nui king died as a slave in a South American copper mine. In 1888 the island with it 200 people was annexed by Chile. Today there are about 3,000 people who live on Easter Island and most of them work in military or government service.

Moai 4

This remote destination, is separated from South America by 2,500 miles, but is still a part of Chile. It is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world.  Pitcairn Island is Easter Island’s closest neighbor. Easter Island does have, however, an extra long airport runway that was built as a shuttle emergency landing option, thanks to NASA.

Moai 5

Tourism is thriving with the Moai being the central attraction. These huge statues made of soft volcanic rock, or tuff, leave many questions in one’s mind after viewing them.  Who carved them, why were they carved, how were they moved from the quarry, how were they initially erected?

Track to the stone quarry

Track to the stone quarry

Some of Easter Island’s 600 statues have been resurrected.  Each is about 18 feet tall.  All have similar features.  The significance of the face and deep-set eyes will probably never be known. Most of the eyes (made of white coral and black obsidian) have been removed from the statues and are now in private collections throughout the world. It is no surprise that the statues command reverence.

Unfinished statue left in the stone quarry.

Unfinished statue left in the stone quarry.

There are still 397 statues in different states of completion on the slopes of the three extinct volcanoes that make up the Island. The fifteen Moai of Ahu Tongariki were toppled in the seventeenth century, it is believed as a result of tribal warfare. The statues were struck by misfortune again in May 1960, when an earthquake caused a tsunami that scattered the statues and altars from their bases.

Moai 10

The statues look inward, not out to sea!

In October 1992, in accordance with the agreement signed between the government of the Republic of Chile and the Moai Restoration Committee of Japan, the project to restore the Moai of Ahu Tongariki was initiated.  This work was finished in 1996, thanks to the cooperation of Chilean and Japanese archaeologists as well as the people of Easter Island.

Moai 6

Moai remain the greatest tourist attractions along with the breathtaking shoreline scenery. The island initially forested with 60-foot tall palm trees that were cut down leaving the soil bare between the lava rocks. Houses were constructed of stone and terraces built for agricultural use. Early construction resembled that found in Inca communities.

Moai 9

The Rapa Nui people had an ancestor worship cult and sought to protect and revere their ancestors by the carving and erection of these huge statues. The statues are clustered in some areas and also ring the island, with all of them facing inward. There are many unfinished statues in the quarry at one corner of the island.

Moai 11

The method of moving the statues is still under study.  National Geographic contends that men attaching ropes to the statue and moving it an inch at a time in an upright position walked them to their permanent platform.  But our Amsterdam geophysicist speaker contended that they were rolled on a wooden sled over logs to their permanent location and then raised a bit at a time using small rocks to support the weight as the work progressed, using poles and ropes to raise and steady the statue until it reached its upright position.

Moai 13

Anakena Beach

Anakena Beach


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