Select The World’s Most Dangerous and Beautiful Adventure Places-10.Easter Island (Chile)

Easter Island (Chile)

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui in the native language, is an island in the South Pacific Ocean, located about 3,600 to 3,700 kilometers west of Chile, the country to which it belongs. It is one of the most isolated and mysterious places on Earth, famous for its giant stone statues called moai, which were carved and erected by the ancient Rapa Nui people. It covers an area of 163.6 square kilometers, and has a triangular shape, formed by three volcanoes. It is a special territory and a province of the Valparaíso Region of Chile.

History

The history of Easter Island is shrouded in mystery, as there are no written records of its origin and development. The island’s original inhabitants passed down a legend that their ancestors, led by a chief named Hotu Matu’a, arrived on the island in one or two canoes. Anthropologists have debated the origin of the islanders, but it is undisputed that they are descendants of Polynesians, who speak a dialect of the Polynesian language, Rapa Nui. In 1774, when British explorer James Cook visited the island, a Tahitian crew member could communicate with the locals. It is speculated that the Rapa Nui people’s ancestors sailed from the Marquesas Islands in the west, using the Polynesian double-hulled canoes, and crossed thousands of kilometers of ocean, guided by the trade winds and the stars. The Polynesians were renowned for their seafaring skills, and could navigate the vast South Pacific long before the Europeans. It is unclear when the Polynesians reached the island, but most sources and linguistic studies suggest that it was around 300-400 AD, which is also the time when Hawaii was first settled. However, some scientists, based on radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples from the island, suggest that the date may be as late as 700-800 AD.  Some also argue, based on different materials, that the island was inhabited around 1200 AD, which is when the island’s forests began to disappear.

Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl pointed out the similarities between the Rapa Nui culture and the South American indigenous cultures, and suggested that there might have been contact or coexistence between the Peruvian Indians and the Polynesians on the island. However, current archaeological evidence indicates that the Rapa Nui civilization was not influenced by non-Rapa Nui cultures. Unlike Heyerdahl’s time, modern scientists can use DNA analysis to test the genes of the original inhabitants of the island, and the results show that they are indeed of Polynesian descent. However, most of the original inhabitants of the island were captured or forced to leave the island in the 19th century, and the remaining population may have been only 1-2% of the historical peak. DNA analysis can only show that those who remained were of Polynesian origin. Heyerdahl also found that the staple food of the Rapa Nui people was sweet potato, which is a plant native to South America. However, some argue that, given the Polynesians’ superior sailing skills, it is more likely that they reached the South American coast and brought back the plant, than that the South Americans brought the sweet potato to the island.

Civilization

Easter Island today is a barren and desolate place, with sparse vegetation, poor soil, and severe erosion. But when the Polynesians first arrived, it was far from that. Pollen analysis of the island’s ponds and marshes sediments showed that the island was once covered by a dense subtropical broadleaf forest, composed of trees, shrubs, ferns, and herbs. The volcanic ash from the eruptions provided ideal nutrients for plant growth, and the island was a natural paradise. The island had a tree called hauhau, whose fibers could be used to make ropes, and another tree called toromiro, which was dense and suitable for carving and burning. The most common tree on the island was the Rapa Nui palm, which was similar to the Chilean wine palm, and could grow up to 82 feet high and 6 feet in diameter. Its trunk had no branches, and was ideal for making tools and boats. Its fruits could be eaten, and also used to make sugar and wine. However, the Rapa Nui palm is now extinct.

The Rapa Nui people developed a complex and sophisticated civilization, based on agriculture, fishing, and stone carving. They built ceremonial platforms called ahu, where they erected the moai, which are statues of human-like figures with large heads and elongated ears. The moai are believed to represent the ancestors or chiefs of the clans, and to serve as guardians and mediators between the people and the gods. The moai vary in size and shape, but the largest ones can reach up to 10 meters high and weigh up to 80 tons. The moai were carved from volcanic tuff at a quarry called Rano Raraku, and then transported and erected on the ahu, using wooden sledges, ropes, and levers. Some of the moai also had red stone hats called pukao, which were carved from another quarry called Puna Pau, and placed on top of the moai, using ramps and ropes. The moai are considered one of the greatest engineering and artistic achievements of humanity, and are a symbol of the island’s culture and identity.

The Rapa Nui people also had a unique writing system called rongorongo, which consisted of glyphs carved on wooden tablets. The glyphs represent geometric shapes, animals, plants, and human figures, and are read from left to right and bottom to top, in a reverse boustrophedon manner. The meaning and origin of the rongorongo are still unknown, as there are no surviving speakers or interpreters of the script. The rongorongo is one of the few independent writing systems in the world, and one of the mysteries of the island.

Decline

The Rapa Nui civilization reached its peak around 1400-1600 AD, with a population of about 10,000 to 15,000 people, and a high degree of social and political organization. However, the civilization soon began to decline, due to a combination of factors, such as environmental degradation, overpopulation, resource depletion, warfare, and external contact. The island’s forests were gradually cleared for agriculture, firewood, and moai transport, resulting in soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, and reduced rainfall. The island’s resources, such as food, water, and wood, became scarce and insufficient to support the population, leading to famine, disease, and social unrest. The clans competed and fought for the control of the resources, and the moai were toppled and destroyed by rival groups. The island’s culture and religion also changed, as a new cult emerged, centered on the worship of the birdman, or tangata manu. The birdman was a sacred figure, who was chosen annually by a competition among the warriors of the clans, who had to swim to a nearby islet, collect the first egg of the sooty tern, and bring it back to the main island. The winner became the birdman, and his clan gained prestige and privileges for a year.

The Rapa Nui civilization was further affected by the contact with the Europeans, who brought diseases, slavery, and colonization. The first European to visit the island was the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who arrived on Easter Sunday, 1722, and named the island after the Christian holiday. He reported seeing about 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants, and about 600 moai standing on the ahu. The next European visitor was the Spanish navigator Felipe González de Ahedo, who claimed the island for Spain in 1770, and named it Isla de San Carlos. He reported seeing about 3,000 inhabitants, and about 500 moai standing on the ahu. The most famous European visitor was the British explorer James Cook, who arrived in 1774, and was accompanied by a Tahitian Polynesian, who could communicate with the locals. He reported seeing about 700 inhabitants, and only 50 moai standing on the ahu. He also noticed signs of poverty, hunger, and violence among the people.

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