Easter Island - Enormous stone busts on a remote Pacific island (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Easter Island
CENTURIES AGO, Easter Island’s Polynesian society erected hundreds of huge, masterfully carved stone statues. But why did islanders undertake the enormous work of building and moving the towering volcanic stone busts? They made a subsistence living by farming, clearing the heavily forested land for agriculture. And so why—as some speculate—did they continue the strenuous construction on the statues when it became clear they were deforesting their home, disrupting its fragile ecosystem, and threatening their own society?
Before those questions can be examined, there’s an even larger one: How did the islanders even reach this tiny speck of land? Located a full 1,300 miles (2,092 km) from the nearest inhabited island (Pitcairn), it’s one of the most remote places on Earth.
Historians have only some of the answers. The people who built the massive statues (known as moai) likely made a treacherous cross-ocean journey in canoes from the Marquesas Islands somewhere from A.D. 800 to 1200. They called their new home Rapa Nui.
Over the centuries, they began to construct the long-faced moai as a form of ancestor worship. The enormous heads averaged 14 tons (12.7 metric tons), and 13 feet (4 m) tall. Some had coral eyes and hats or topknots of contrasting red stone.
By the 17th century, the island’s population had become embroiled in civil war and destruction. When a Dutch explorer—the first known European visitor—arrived on the island on Easter Sunday in 1722, he found a population of several thousand. But within a few decades, most of the islanders had died, probably from infighting and smallpox, and nearly every statue had been toppled.
Only in the last century have the moai been re-erected, and today much of the island is administered as a national park. The most striking sight is on a beachfront called Tongariki, where 15 somber-faced figures stare inland into an empty distance, with the surf at their backs. Another must-see is Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai were cut from the tufa stone and carved. Workers somehow hauled the enormous statues across the island, perhaps using timber as skids.
The surviving Rapa Nui people are reinstituting their culture. Every February, they celebrate a two-week festival called Tapati, and visitors can hear the island’s Polynesian language on the radio and at Catholic church services.
But it’s easy to find solitude here. Trails cross the north side of the island, and with little effort visitors find themselves alone, staring out to the ocean and contemplating the silent, steadfast stone heads that alone have witnessed the passing centuries.