Easter Island Hotels and Easter Island Accommodation
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Easter Island Travel Introduction
Easter Island gained its English name from the first recorded European visitor to the Island - Dutch sailor Jacob Roggeven, who arrived on Easter Sunday in 1722 and referred to it as “Paasch-Eyland”, which was 18th century Dutch that translated into Easter Island in English. In Spanish this translates to “Isla de Pascua” and the Polynesian, locals call it “Rapa Nui”, but it is also affectionately referred to as the “belly-button” of the World due to its tiny size amid the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and its remote location as well as historic references to it being “the navel of the World” by the original Polynesian settlers. The closest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island (with a population of around 200 inhabitants) which is approximately 1,900 km northwest, and central mainland Chile which is approximately 3,500 km due east.
Chile Easter Island Main Setlement
There is one village on Easter Island and it is called Hango Roa, home to approximately 4,000 people, and also where the airport is located (the run way of which was extended and paid for by NASA a number of years ago in order to have an emergency landing run way at this location for the space shuttle).
Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888 and retains political and economic administration to the present day, which is often contested by a small minority of the locals. It is also a World Heritage site as determined by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization), and declared a National Park of Chile. Such dual status means that there is little development or investment into infrastructure on the Island and if there is any it is strictly controlled. It also means that Hanga Roa is, in many respects, still a “rustic” village that appears, in many areas, to lack care for its appearance, giving a natural, but “unkempt” impression.
Easter Island Location
The Island is located just south of the Tropic of Capricorn and enjoys a maritime sub-tropical climate that is heavily influenced by maritime sea currents and sea breezes. Average annual temperature is 21 C (70ºF), with most rain falling in April and May and the hottest months being January and February. Daily rain showers are common.
There are two natural, small sandy beaches, offering the Pacific Island stereotype image of white sand and palm trees, albeit the palm trees here have been planted by man. The principal of these two beaches is called Anakena, about 8 km from Hanga Roa and where most Islanders and tourists come to visit.
Easter Island is famous for its Moai Statues (there are 887 dotted around the Island). These are mystic statues of human-like figures carved out of rock from specific “quarry” locations and mostly erected, at various locations around the Island. Some are erected in a single line on top of ceremonial earthen mounds that are covered in stones. These stone-covered mounds are called “Ahu’s” by the locals (and are similar to the importance of an Alter in a Church). Each “Ahu” has the Moai’s faces looking inwards from the sea, bar one “Ahu” where the Moai’s face outward to the sea. Many Moai’s are now lying on the ground having been purposefully toppled and ceremonial platforms are damaged, but many have been resurrected back into their original ceremonial positions and the “Ahu’s” restored. Apart from the many “Ahu” ceremonial locations it is also possible to see Moai’s that have been left part carved, but still in the original rock face at the quarry on the outer side of Rano Raraku volcano crater. The path, used to transport the Moai’s that leads from the coast to Rano Raraku quarry is also lined with Moai’s that have either fallen, or are still upright.
Origins of the People (Rapa Nui)
According to anecdotal history original settlers arrived to the Island around 300 -400 AD (around the same time Hawaii received its first settlers), however, carbon dating of soil containing evidence of human activity suggests a date of between 700 – 100 AD
Theory has it that the island was likely populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from other Pacific (Polynesian) Islands. Supporting this suggestion is a story from when Captain Cook visited the Island and a Polynesian crew member from the Polynesian Island of Bora Bora was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui people. The language most similar to the Rapa Nui language is Mangarevan (one of the Islands where the settlers likely came from), with an 80% similarity in vocabulary to the language of the Rapa Nui people. In 1999, a sea voyage using replica Polynesian boats sailed from the island of Mangareva reaching Easter Island in just nineteen days proving that such a journey could have been possible.
According to visiting missionaries who came to Easter Island in the 1860’s the Island operated a social hierarchy system (or Ancestral Cult), with an appointed “Ariki”, or high chief, wielding great power over other clans and their own respective chiefs (a little like a king having power over local dukes and princes). The high chief was the eldest descendent through first-born lines of the island's legendary first chief, “Hotu Matua”.
The Moai statues are the most visible remnant of the “Rapa Nui” culture. It is said that each Moai represented a deified ancestor. It was believed that the living, through respect and homage paid to the dead via the Moai (similar to Christians praying to a religious icon like the Virgin Mary for the well being of the living) would enable a symbiotic relationship with the deceased whereby the dead would provide protection, health, food, good karma en general to the living. Most settlements were located on the coast and Moai were erected all along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs facing toward the spirit world beyond the sea.
Bird Man Cult Easter Island
As the island became increasingly overpopulated and resources diminished, warriors known as “Mataoa” gained more power and the Ancestor Cult ended, making way for the Bird Man Cult (“Tangata Manu”). This Bird Man cult maintained that, although the ancestors still provided for their descendants, the medium through which the living could contact the dead was no longer through statues, but human beings chosen through a rigorous physical competition (similar to the “iron man” sporting challenges in the modern world). It was believed that the God responsible for creating humans (“MakeMake”) played an important role in this process. In 1919 an expedition led by Katherine Routhledge, investigated the origins of Bird Man and discovered that the competition started around 1760, after the arrival of the first recorded Europeans and ended in 1878 at the time of the construction of the first Roman Catholic church. The Bird Man petroglyphs found on rocks on Easter Island are exactly the same as some petroglyphs in Hawaii, suggesting that the same competition was held on other Pacific Islands.
Destruction of the Moai
There is much debate as to why the Moai’s and “Ahu’s” were destroyed and what caused the drastic demise of the native population. Since the arrival of European visitors to the Island there has been a sporadic record of the state of the Moai’s and the health of the local people. For example in 1722, when Dutchman Jacob Roggeven arrived, and later in 1770, when two Spanish ships arrived, each of the visits noted that the Island was largely uncultivated and with a shore lined with statues. However, when Captain Cook arrived in 1774 he reported that many statues were lying face down. Later, in 1825 the HMS Blossom arrived and recorded that there were no standing statues in the places where the crew visited.
One theory has it that due to overpopulation and famine that “war” broke out between the different local cults and that this resulted in the Moai’s being toppled and “Ahu’s” destroyed, and that this, according to historians, continued through until the 1830’s. In 1838, the only seen Moai’s that were in a standing position were at these locations: Rano Raraku, Hoa Hakananai’s, Orongo and Ariki Paro.
However in contradiction to the above theory it was reported in 1722, by Dutchman Jakob Roggeveen that Easter Island was exceptionally fertile writing that "fowls are the only animals they keep. They cultivate bananas, sugar cane, and above all sweet potatoes". Then in 1786 Jean-Francois de la Perouse visited Easter Island and his gardener declared that "three days' work a year" would be enough to support the population. Rollin, a major in the Pérouse expedition also wrote that "Instead of meeting with men exhausted by famine... I found, on the contrary, a considerable population, with more beauty and grace than I afterwards met in any other island; and a soil, which, with very little labour, furnished excellent provisions, and in an abundance more than sufficient for the consumption of the inhabitants."
Indeed, the above view is supported by pathologic and archeological studies that have been carried out at various locations on the Island where there is no found evidence of a pre-European societal collapse. It looks far more likely that it was the arrival of the Europeans that led to the rapid decline in local population as a result of introducing previously unknown (to the locals) disease and illness they inadvertently introduced to the local population. In addition, during the 1860’s a combination of events resulted in the death and eradication of most of the native population. It is reported that in December 1862, slave hunters came from Peru and captured 1,500 men and women – (half of the island's population at the time), including the island's chief, his heir and those who were literate in “Rongorongo” (Polynesian script).
When the slave raiders eventually repatriated the people they had kidnapped previously they knowingly disembarked carriers of smallpox among the survivors onto various other Polynesian islands as well as Easter Island, resulting in devastating epidemics from Easter Island all the way to the Marquesas Islands. In the case of Easter Island the population was reduced to such a low level that some of the dead were not even buried. If this wasn’t enough later, around the mid 1800’s, it was visiting whalers who unwittingly introduced tuberculosis to the Island resulting in the death of over a quarter of the remaining population.
Europeans who had since settled on the Island set up sheep farms or missionaries and began to buy up land vacated by the deceased Rapa Nui people. This land acquisition led to a confrontation between the sheep farmers and the missionaries. With financial support from backers in Tahiti, sheep farmer Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier secured most of the land outside of Hanga Roa, but in return he was forced to send to his financers (based in Tahiti) a couple of hundred Rapa Nui people. In the meantime the missionaries settled for the land in and around Hanga Roa and in 1871, having fallen out with Dutrou-Bornier, sent all but 171 Rapa Nui to the Gamber Islands.
Needless to say, after the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rapa Nui people by the Dutrou-Bornier and the missionaries not many Rapa Nui were left on the Island. Those who remained were mostly older men. Six years later, there were just 111 Rapa Nui people living on Easter Island, and only 36 of them had any offspring. From that point on and into the present day, the island's population has slowly recovered. But with over 97% of the population dead or having left in less than a decade, much of the island's cultural knowledge had been lost.
Political Control Easter Island
From the late 1800’s to 1953 the Williamson-Balfour company was given considerable administrative control over the Island through a lease agreement that permitted the company to use most of the land for sheep grazing. After this date the Chilean Navy was then appointed to administer the Island until 1966 when all “Rapa Nui” people, or “Pascuenses”, were given Chilean citizenship. Today they also receive subsidized air travel to the Chilean mainland. On July 30, 2007, a Chilean constitutional reform gave Easter Island along with the Juan Fernandez Archipelago (located closer to the Chilean coast) the status of “special territories of Chile”. Pending the enactment of a special charter, the Island will continue to be governed as a province of Valparaiso in the Chilean V Region.
Geographic Creation Easter Island
The Island was created by the eruption of undersea Pacific volcanoes around a period close to 750,000 years ago, with the last eruption detected as being around 100,000 years ago (very young in geological terms) and, according to geologists, the most recent volcanic activity of any kind was 10,000 years ago, despite steam seen to be emitting from the walls of the Rano Kau crater in the early 20th century by the then Island “manager”.
These volcanic undersea eruptions rose up from the ocean floor spilling molten lava all the way to the surface until breaching sea level, where a land mass in the shape of an almost perfect triangle was formed. The longest line of this triangle, point to point, is only 24 km with the shortest line 12 km wide, and the area covered is 166 km squared, reaching a height of 507 metres. There are no natural rivers or streams, but there are three fresh-water-filled distinct volcano craters at Rano Kau, Rano Raraku and Rano Aroi.
There are three principal extinct volcanic craters that dominate the Island. These areTerevaka, the highest at 507 mt, positioned in the central northern sector forming the main bulk of the Island; Poike in the eastern end and the water-filled Rano Kau in the south-western corner. Their combined volcanic sides combine to provide an undulating landscape covered in varying degrees of vegetation. At the lower levels the land is mostly covered in grass peppered with a continuous number of loose volcanic rocks. On the higher elevations and sides of the volcano slopes the terrain is a mixture of heath and moorland. Apart from a few isolated areas of foreign-introduced Eucalyptus trees the Island is predominantly treeless.
Vegetation Easter Island
This, however, was not always the case. Ecologists have discovered that Easter Island, together with its closest neighbor, the tiny island of Isla Sala y Gomez 415 kilometres (258 mi) further east, is a distinct eco region of Rapa Nui subtropical broadleaf forests. Botanical studies of fossil pollen and tree moulds left by lava flows indicate that the island was formerly forested, with a range of trees, shrubs, ferns, and grasses but unfortunately the original subtropical moist broadleaf forests are now gone.
Fossil evidence shows that there used to be a tall Rapa Nui palm tree (Paschalococos disperta) related to the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis), which was one of the dominant trees of the Island. It is assumed that like its Chilean counterpart it probably took around 100 years to reach its full height. Research has shown, too, that the Polynesian rat, which the original Polynesian settlers brought with them, influenced the disappearance of the Rapa Nui palm. Rat teeth marks can be observed in 99% of the nuts found preserved in caves or excavated at different sites, indicating that the Polynesian rat impeded the palm's reproduction. That, together with the fact that palms were cleared to make the settlements, led to their extinction almost 350 years ago.
Another tree, the Toromiro tree (Sophora toromiro) was prehistorically present on Easter Island, and is now extinct in the wild. However, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the UK, and the Gotenburg Botnical Gardnes in Sweden are jointly leading a scientific program to reintroduce the Toromiro to Easter Island.
With the palm and the Toromiro trees gone, rainfall was significantly reduced as a result of there being less condensation over the Island. Sheep farming also changed the biodiversity of the Island as grasslands were cultivated for sheep grazing.
It has also been argued whether or not the native Rapa Nui’s deforested the island in the process of transporting and then erecting their Moai statues as well as using trees to provide fuel, building materials and creating agricultural land for an overpopulated island.Experimental archaeology has demonstrated that some statues certainly could have been placed on "Y" shaped wooden frames called “miro manga erua” and then pulled to their final “Ahu” destinations. Other theories involve the use of "ladders" (parallel wooden rails) over which the statues could have been dragged. Rapa Nui traditions metaphorically refer to powerful spiritual power (mana) as the means by which the Moai were "elevated" from the quarry.
In the water-filled volcanic craters of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku there are Totora reeds (as found in the high lakes of the Andes) which suggested a South-American origin of early settlers, but pollen analysis of lake sediments shows these reeds have grown on the island for over 30,000 years, well before the recorded arrival of humans.
Easter Island has suffered from heavy soil erosion in recent centuries, perhaps aggravated by agriculture and massive deforestation. This process seems to have been gradual and may have been aggravated by the extensive sheep farming of the Williamson-Balfour Company throughout most of the 20th century.