The island has a tortured history. It is believed that Polynesian people first settled the isolated dot in the Pacific around the 12th century AD. From a peak of approximately 15,000 souls, the islands population had dropped to around 2,500 when Europeans arrived. There are many theories about what transpired--deforestation, civil wars, even cannibalism--but the situation deteriorated even further after contact with the Western world. Slave trading, smallpox, and forced evacuations left a population in 1877 of a mere 111 people. The island was annexed by Chile in 1888, and today the population is approximately 7700, with 45% considering themselves to be native Polynesians, or "Rapa Nui."
Reconstruction of a communal home
Reconstruction of a stone chicken coop
No Moai remained standing when French missionaries arrived in the 1860's. It is believed that they were all toppled during the island's long period of civil wars. If one group knocked another's statutes to the ground, it believed that their rival's socio-spiritual power was destroyed. Each statue represented a deceased person of importance, somewhat akin to a 'chieftain.'
Many of the statues remain at the quarry site, Ranu Raraku, where they were typically carved from soft volcanic tuff.
This would have been the largest Moai ever sculpted.
This was the first Moai returned to an upright position, in a project headed by famed explorer Thor Heyerdahl.
Anakena, the only beach on Easter Island
This was the largest Moai ever moved and erected.
Exactly how the Moai were moved remains controversial. Two leading theories are that they were slid on logs, or 'walked' upright using ropes to wobble the statues forward.
These Moai, at Ahu Tongariki, were restored in the 1990's with Japanese assistance.
The ceremonial village of Orongo
Bird Man competitors began by running down this cliff to the sea.
Ranu Kau crater lake
This is where the topknots for Moai were carved, from red scoria.
Site of the only Moai who overlook the sea, below
View from our restaurant 'downtown'. Tuna fish is plentiful in the surrounding waters and ubiquitous on island menus. Even fish and chips is prepared with fresh tuna.
Easter Island is definitely off the beaten track, but to witness the haunting faces of the unique Moai makes any visit simply unforgettable.