Easter Island in the Polynesian Triangle
Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian Triangle. Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people.
However, human activity, the introduction of the Polynesian rat and overpopulation led to gradual deforestation and extinction of natural resources, which caused the demise of the Rapa Nui civilization.
By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island’s population had dropped to 2,000–3,000 from a high of approximately 15,000 just a century earlier.
The nearest inhabited land (50 residents) is Pitcairn Island 2,075 kilometers (1,289 mi) away, the nearest town with a population over 500 is Rikitea on island Mangareva 2,606 km (1,619 mi) away, and the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, 3,512 kilometers (2,182 mi) away.
The island was most likely populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2,600 km (1,600 mi) away) or the Marquesas Islands, 3,200 km (2,000 mi) away.
When James Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. The language most similar to Rapa Nui is Mangarevan with an 80% similarity in vocabulary. In 1999, a voyage with reconstructed Polynesian boats was able to reach Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days.
Tuberculosis, introduced by whalers in the mid-19th century, had already killed several islanders when the first Christian missionary, Eugène Eyraud, died from this disease in 1867. About a quarter of the island’s population succumbed along with him.
In the following years, the managers of the sheep ranch and the missionaries started buying the newly available lands of the deceased, and this led to great confrontations between natives and settlers.
For such a small island, Easter Island has a rich and complicated history. Most experts believe the island’s original inhabitants to have been Polynesian. However, many locals say that the islands original inhabitants came from two different races – one called Hanau eepe (or Long Ears) who had fair skin and red hair, and the other called Hanau momoko (Short Ears) who were dark skinned and more generally Polynesian looking.
In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage site. It is now home to a mixed population, mostly of Polynesian ancestry and made up of the descendants of the Long-Ears and Short-Ears. Easter Island’s most dramatic claim to fame is an array of almost 900 giant stone figures that date back many centuries.
The statues reveal their creators to be master craftsmen and engineers, and are distinctive among other stone sculptures found in Polynesian cultures. There has been much speculation about the exact purpose of the statues, the role they played in the ancient civilization of Easter Island and the way they may have been constructed and transported.
If we all take the time to learn about the historical places in the world, we would be surprised about what we might learn. It is good to know our history and where we are coming from.