In the South Pacific Ocean, about 2,300 miles west off the coast of Peru sits an island referred to as Easter Island or Rapa Nui. This island is separated from the other Polynesian islands as it was formed by a volcanic eruption which occurred on the Pacific Ocean floor. This 45 square mile island houses three extinct volcanic craters which are currently now lakes and are considered to be the very few fertile areas left on the island as the rest is bleak and grim. Although it was not always like this, there is credible evidence to suggest the land was once rich in plant life and animals.
A Dutch admiral named Jakob Roggeveen landed on the island mistakenly on Easter Sunday in 1722 and was one of the first outsiders to do so. Upon landing on the island, he encountered a regressive race which lived in caves and primitive huts and was still involved in cannibalism. What stood out to him the most were the remarkable stone carved monolithic statues, or ‘moai’, which stood guard throughout the island. Modern enthusiasts believe there are about a thousand of these figures, standing anywhere between 12 to 25 feet high, and weigh up to 20 tons. The largest one found is 90 tons and up to a height of 65 feet tall. However, when Roggeveen initially stepped ashore, he noticed many of the statues had been torn down by the savage natives.
The dawning of the Easter Island natives is a matter of discord. Another early visitor, that which came after Roggeveen was Captain James Cook. Luckily, for Captain Cook, he managed to have a sailor aboard his ship who could comprehend the indigenous language. This indicated that the local tongue was Polynesian, and the common agreement was that they were a progeny of an ancient Polynesian tribe. However, another theory suggests the Easter Island locals could have came from South America since vegetation such as sweet potatoes found on the island happens to be native from that continent.
The populace of Easter Island settled on the island within the first millennium AD and commenced building their culture and monolithic statues shortly afterward. The early settlers established a specific skill for generating the statues by using material from the volcanic craters. By utilizing a complex arrangement of ropes and logs they would place the stone men on a stone platform, which they called an ‘ahu’, where they would bury the bodies of expired elders. It is suspected that the monolithic stone statues functioned as a totem, as they were positioned away from the ocean, to watch over and protect the island people. They thought of it as depositing the sacred spirit into the base of the statue. Upon completing the ceremony, they would place coral eyes with either black obsidian or red scoria pupils to signify a spirit has entered the monolithic stone figure.
The Easter Island story is a quintessential island tale consisting of a rise, and a fall. When the first Polynesian settlers landed on the small island, it was wallowing in abundance of natural produce. The island was coated in vegetation, fruit, and native meat sources. With such great conditions, the people prospered by building outstanding houses and overall enjoying life. However, in the mid-second century, a cult called ‘Makemake’ or ‘the cult of the birdman’ arrived from across the sea. Not too long afterward, resources began to decline as crops began to fail due to overpopulation and poor island management. This caused the different tribes to began quarreling with each other, even tossing over each other’s monolithic statues, as a popular legend on the island conveys a fierce skirmish between clans of ‘short ears’ and a clan of ‘long ears’.
In just a few hundred years, Easter Island became a devastated wasteland occupied by savages and as time went on, life only became worse. The tribal battles relentlessly carried on until 1862, where a fleet of ships arrived and enslaved thousands of men to labor in the Peruvian mining industry. These oppressed islanders quickly became ill in the unknown territory, and some returned home carrying back diseases. By 1877, a mere fifteen years later, the population was reduced to a little over a hundred. The people survived with the help of European missionaries, but many Easter Island secrets were lost for good.