Termination of a Society: The Rapa Nui Genocide


On a Easter Sunday in the year 1772, a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen discovered one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The island was named Easter Island after the holy day of its discovery. Easter Island is an island located in the Southeastern Pacific Ocean right at the tip of the southernmost point of Polynesian Triangle. Though Roggeveen’s discovery put Easter Island on the world map, it was also the beginning of the end for this prosperous society. The remote island soon suffered from genocide, violence and economic exploitation. The rich culture and heritage of this island vanished from Earth.

Easter Island in Pacific Ocean

Beautiful Easter Island in the Middle of Pacific Ocean

 

Scholars tell us that earliest settlements on the island started as early as 400 AD. The inhabitants of Easter Island are known as Rapa Nui and they are descendants of the Polynesian explorers. Tahitian explorer who visited the island in the 19th century is said to have named the island Rapa Nui as it reminded him of a Tahitian island “Rapa” that was bigger “Nui”. The island was initially a paradise on Earth with large Palm trees. Though there were no rivers or lakes, but the volcanic craters were able to store enough rain water for the entire society. The population of the island was divided into various geographic clans based on the part of the island they occupied. They were all led by a great chief or Ariki Mao. At the height of prosperity there were more than 7,000 Rapa Nui inhabitants on the island. Fishing vessels would venture into the sea to bring food. The statues known as Moai were erected as an embodiment of the Great Chiefs. But the good days of this culture were short-lived after its discovery by the European explorer.

Rapa Nui People

Rapa Nui in their Glory Days was a Prosperous Society

 

The island soon became a regular port and place of resting for the travelers. They would halt at this island for a few days before setting sail again. The Easter Islanders on their part were very welcoming. Islanders comprised of pleasant people and attractive women. But the islanders had to pay for their welcoming and pleasant attitude. More and more European travelers started visiting the shores. Some of the settlers would shoot and kills the inhabitants if they did not get what they wanted. The Europeans viewed the Rapa Nui as a source of labor and the women for sexual satisfaction. The women would be abducted by the sailors to please the crew members. Most of these women were infected with sexually transmitted diseases and this destabilized the population.

Moai in Easter Island

Moai are Representation of Great Chiefs

 

The death knell was sounded to this society in 1860s. The islanders were hunted and then sold to lucrative slave markets in South America (namely Peru). Ships with capable men and attractive would leave the shores of Easter Island. The process continued until there was public discontent raised in Peru. The government in Peru put an end to forced slavery in 1877, but by that time the damage had already been done. Only 100 inhabitants were left on the Easter Island. After the slave trade was abolished the islanders made their voyage back to the islanders. They brought further misery. The returning members carried with them small pox that killed the healthy populace.

Peruvian Slave Trade

Rapa Nui were shipped to Peru for Slave Trade

 

Today the Easter Island has a population of over 5,000 people but only a handful of them actually know the Rapa Nui language suggesting that they are all late settlers. The glory of Rapa Nui was lost for once and all.

 

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