Tag Archive | Moai

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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Mysteries that Surround Moai and Easter Islands

Statues known as the Moai (or living face of our ancestors) found on the Easter Island is definitely one of the leading history’s mysteries. Easter Islands is one of the remotest islands on Earth, it is situated 2,300 miles from the coast of Chile and 2500 miles from Tahiti. Even the closest island is about 1400 miles away. Easter Island is still uninhabited. In 1722 the Easter Islands was discovered by a Dutch captain and hence started the speculation. The Dutch found hundreds of giant statues that stood more than 30 feet tall and weighed many tons. Though the Dutch confronted a band of primitive settlers on the island but the statues were much advanced then the people themselves. This started the speculation as to how and who build these statues.

Easter Islands with Moai on the Shores

Some people have even given the credits of these Moai to the aliens. They have their own reasons too. According to the recent research and excavations it has been revealed that the Easter Islanders had an unique language and knew how to write. If we consider the vicinity of Easter Islands then the Americans did not know the art of writing as early as the times of the Moai, neither did the Polynesians, so who taught the Easter Islanders to write? Some researchers though feel that the Easter Islanders were expert seafarers and were able of travelling thousands of miles on their canoes. There are also theories that the statues were perhaps brought from Chile itself. But these theories can be debunked as there have been no signs of large ships found on the Island. The Moai were definitely built in the island itself. May be this was a form of art that was exclusive to the Easter Islanders.

Moai or Giant Stone Statues

Recent researches show that the statues were built near a stone mine and then they were transported to the centre of the Island near the edge of the volcano. Volcano was conceived to a path leading to the underworld and thus the natives wanted to keep it quite. Roughly 1,000 Moai present at Easter Islands can be divided into two groups – while some statues have large ears there are others that have small ears. Long eared statues were those that belonged to the ruling class while short eared were the earliest settlers and the working class. Some scholars also feel that the statues were erected to commemorate the reign of a certain ruler.  While others feel that building the statues with stones was a burial custom of the inhabitants.

How the Statues Might Have Been Sculpted

Another controversy has arisen with the placement of these statues. These statues were very heavy and fragile too. So how could the natives move it from the outer parts of the island to the centre? According a recently deciphered text the statues walked themselves. After years of research it has been confirmed that these statues were moved from one place to the other with the use of several large wooden logs. Entire population used to get at work in a bid to move these large objects.  The rocking motion of the statue moving has been mentioned as the statue walking.

In regards to the decline of such a well established civilization there have been many theories. But the leading theory states that the Easter Islanders lived happily and had many trees all through the island. But they rapidly cut the trees in order to move the statues and various other reasons. There came a stage when there were no trees left on the island.  The staple food of the islanders came from the sea, when they were not able to drive out into the sea they gradually became cannibals eating each other. Violence spread large on the islands. Some scholars also contribute a damaging tsunami or volcanic eruption for the demise of the inhabitants of Easter Islands.

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