Out in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, you will find Easter Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site noted for the presence of 887 Moais, huge stone statues created by the Rapanui people. Alternately called Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua, Easter Island is a truly enigmatic place – beautifully surviving the ravages of human imprudence.
A Highly Textured History
This dot in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has three main volcanoes with a total of around 70 vents. There must have been a time when Easter Island was a unique subtropical forest holding its share of endemic species. Scholars believe that around the middle of the first millennium A.D., the island was home to approximately 30 different types of birds and people raised crops yam, taro, sweet potato, and other crops suited to the volcanic soil.
Polynesian settlers are believed to be the original inhabitants of Easter Islands. These settlers developed their own governance and culture as the years went by, and they were later known as Rapanui. At its peak, the early Rapanui population grew to about 10,000, but this rapidly declined in te 1800s when the island was devastated by diseases brought from the Western world and the slave raiding activities of European colonizers. In 1988, Easter Island was annexed by Chile and largely leased out for sheep farming, a development that further aggravated the decline of native flora.
Easter Island Today
Today Easter Island is best known for the imposing monoliths that stand guard over the island with their backs to the sea. Archeologists have figured out that the Moais all come from a single quarry site, with the biggest about 32 feet tall from the ground, measuring ten feet across and weighing more than 80 tons. To this day, scholars are unable to tell how the ancient population was able to transport these massive works to their present stations.
The island is now known to be one of the world’s most isolated places. It still has its volcanoes and its sandy beaches, but the vegetation is limited mostly to grasses and isolated clumps of palms. Annually, more than 80,000 tourists go to this tiny island for a visit – probably a testament to the fascination the stoic Moai hold for the modern tourist.
All About the Moai
When you visit Easter Island and take a look at the Moais, you actually see only the part of the monoliths that have been left uncovered despite centuries of erosion. These statues extend below the ground by as much as 40 feet. For example, one of many unfinished Moai, still attached to the crater wall where it was carved, measures all of 70 feet long.
Artistic craftsmen carved out the Moais from the volcanic rock slopes of the Rano Kau. Using implements made of harder stones than lava rock, these craftsmen took advantage of the material’s natural fissures and crevices to create their works of art. It was a challenge finding the right material for the very symmetrical monoliths. If the material chipped or crumbled midway during carving, the prospective Moai was abandoned and the craftsmen moved on to find another place to carve in the slope.
If you just look at the pictures of the Moai, you would think that the statues face the sea. Actually 880 of the 887 Moais face the island – even the Moais along the craters have their backs to the crater. It is believed that ths position is symbolic of the Moais’ purpose, which is to protect the village and the people. Only the seven Moais in Ahu Akivi face both the village and the sea because these have been set way inland.
There are many Easter Island vacation packages, and although the island is indeed isolated, you can book a package tour without any problems, since tourism is the island’s main industry. Flights to the island come in regularly from Santiago de Chile and once a week from Tahiti via LAN Airlines.
People with the most discriminating tastes will find no lack of hotels cabins to stay in during their visit. Energetic visitors can go biking, horseback riding, and trekking around the island. Surfers can also give the Easter Island waves a try. Now, those who want a laid back respite from their busy lives can spend their time in the quiet company of Moais of their choice.