Sunday, February 10, 2013

Easter Island and Its Statues, Part 1


Byter Leo recently onsent me an email, headed “Bodies on Easter Island”, with the following paragraph: 
Why did it take so long for someone to get out a shovel just to see if there was anything under the heads. This is absolutely incredible. Here we've been thinking for all these years that they were just heads. They are going to be absolutely huge when they are completely excavated. It all just adds to the mystery of these amazing sculptures. Maybe now they can get more information about them seeing as they have writings on them. The Stone Statues in Easter Island have bodies! 
This was followed by various photographs of the statues, with bodies revealed. Leo commented: 
“Wow Otto, what a byte. Does it mean that they were actually once full length statues and were covered by a volcanic eruption at some stage which killed off the culture as well?” 
At various times I have been tempted to write about the Easter Island statues but it is one of those topics that requires major reading and analysis, like explaining the lyrics of American Pie, another topic I have sometimes thought about but then put aside. 

Leo’s questions have prompted me to do so and, in the process, I have become fascinated by the information and revelations. 

Before looking at the topic, which will be in two parts, consider also the following: 


One other quick preliminary note. Much of what follows is reflected in Rapa Nui, an excellent movie that was co-produced by Kevin Costner. Some of the issues presented, such as the transportation of the statues and the denuding of the trees from the island, are now subject to contrary opinion by some archaeologists and writers but there are no clear answers on these issues. The film remains both informative and entertaining. 

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Easter Island is located in the South Pacific Ocean and belongs to Chile. It comprises about 163sq k (63 sq miles). It is best known for the 887 statues located at various parts of the island. 


The island was named by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen (below) in 1722 after discovering it on Easter Sunday. 


The Polynesians call the island Rapa Nui, meaning “Big Rapa”, to distinguish it from another island called Rapa. The islanders are known by the same name, Rapa Nui.  For the Polynesians, Rapa Nui was known as the “navel of the world”. 

Estimated dates of first settlement have varied from 900 to 1,800 years ago, the first settlers likely being Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Gambier Islands about 2,600 km (1,600 mi) away. One of Captain James Cook’s crew members, a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui when Cook visited the island. 

The social system of the islanders, who numbered about 15,000 in the 17th century, was based on a high chief presiding over 9 clans. Between then and the first European arrival in 1722 the population had dropped to 2,000-3,000 as a result of overpopulation and overuse of resources. Whereas the island had numerous species of trees at initial settlement, including 3 species exceeding 20 metres in height, by the time of European arrival the island had been deforested, suggested by American author and scientist Jared Diamond as being due to use of the timber as rollers for transporting of the statues. The loss of the trees through overharvesting was coupled with overhunting, rat infestation and climate change (the period of cooling between 1650 and 1850 known as the Little Ice Age).  The end result was the extinction of bird life on the island and diminished fishing as a result of inability to build boats through lack of timber. By the 18th century the Rapa Nui were surviving largely by farming chickens. 

After Roggeveen’s first contact in 1722 (when his crew killed a dozen of the islanders), the island was visited intermittently by European ships but the islanders were hostile to such visits. In the 1860’s the Rapa Nui suffered further disastrous events: abduction of half of the 3,000 population by slave traders, smallpox and tuberculosis epidemics and clashes between the remaining islanders and settlers. By 1880 111 islanders lived on Easter Island, only 36 had offspring and 97% of the island population had disappeared in one  decade. Much of the island’s cultural history and knowledge was lost. 

Between 1878 and 1888 the island was ruled and owned by Albert Salmon Jnr:


Salmon sought to rebuild the Rapa Nui cultural tradition, buitd up native numbers and sought and preserved as much as he could of the Rapa Nui oral culture and history. In 1888 he ceded the island to Chile by a treaty the validity of which is still questioned by some of the Rapa Nui. The island was managed by the Chilean Navy until 1966 when the island was reopened and the Rapa Nui given Chilean citizenship. A 2007 constitutional reform gave Easter Island the status of a "special territory" of Chile. 

Next part: Statues and Relevant History
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Bonus item:

I have posted the following quotation previously but it is too good not to include in the present item. . . 

"You look like an Easter Island statue with an arse full of razor blades." 

- Paul Keating in the Australian Parliament 
to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, 1983 

Paul Keating:



Malcolm Fraser:

 

Statues:

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