Easter Island: the land of stony gardens

It is a mythic place lost in Pacific Ocean, midway between Tahiti and Chile. As big as the Liechtenstein but much less populated, we only know its enigmatic sculptures called Moai. A closer look reveals a tough history and varied cultural influences whose secrecy has not been solved.

 

 

The Dutch named it when discovering on 1722 Easter day. In fact, its first inhabitants, the Rapanui (or Pascua in Spanish) were living there for thousand years, probably came from Marquesas Islands and Tuamotu. Serious studies confirmed their Polynesian origins, though the nearest settled land is 2,000 km away.

In the 1700s, a few royal shipments bring them pets, seeds and young plants but more, tuberculosis and syphilis.

In the 19th century, Peruvians reduce them to slavery and banish the elders. In 1877, only a hundred Rapanui were still living there and their civilization – based on clan lines – was disappearing.

 

The Moai enigma

 

Today, this volcanic land is Chilean and nearly half of its 5,000 inhabitants are Pascua. Thanks to the statues…

Elders called them “The eyes who are watching the sky” (Mata Ki Te Rangi). Sometimes 10 m high and large multi-ton, nearly 900 Moai are still watching over the island. The interest of curious and scientists revived the Rapanui’s culture.

For long, we saw their huge heads without knowing that their bodies were hidden under the ground. Built between

The 15th and 17th century, Moai had white coral and red scoria eyes but also symbolic patterns carved in their backs like a mysterious idiom.

How did they move these huge volcanic blocks from Rano Raraku quarries to sacred sites? Then, wacky theories appeared: aliens, Inca achievement… Scientists think about moves on tracks made of round woods but this approach still raises discrepancies. And the legend says that Moai were walking on their own…

We know they have caused devastating clan wars. The way they have been moved might explain forests destruction.

 

 

From botanical to stone era

 

No more wood, dryness, just 3 fresh water craters and windswept hills. But their survival instinct and tenacity allowed Rapanui to farm.

In the northern cave, they just dropped handfuls of soil in the middle of volcanic rocks circles. Caves, plant nutrients held in stones and consistent moisture helped growing taro, yams and sweet potatoes. Would Pascua created greenhouse?

 

 

 Hoko and Tapati

 

Who could think that Easter Island would have up to 70,000 tourists a year? The Moai heritage became the base of local economy. But sharing ancestral customs also allows Rapanui to maintain their mistreated identity.

Each year, the unique town of Hanga Roa welcomes the Tapati Rapa Nui for two weeks festivities. Clans compete during musical, sport and artisanal tests, trying to get their candidate crowned queen of the Island. It is a chance to see athletes covered in ritual paintings doing Hoko, a traditional warrior dance and to support Haka Pei teams, a funny race on sledges shaped in banana trees. Lot of visitors are faithful to this festival though they come from far!

 

If you want to prepare your trip to Rapa Nui, follow the link

 

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