Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua in Spanish, is an island 3,500 kilometers away from Chile. It is called Easter Island because the Dutch discovered it on Easter Day. It is the southeasternmost point in Polynesia and shares more culturally with the Polynesian islands than with Chile. It is thought that the island became inhabited by Polynesians around 1200 AD who later formed 10 clans of 110-150 people each. The clans were ruled by a king who ordered the construction of the famous moais. The nearly 1,000 moais are giant statues created by the Rapa Nui people which in part led to the eventual deforestation of the island. The height of the Rapa Nui people was thought to be around 1400 AD, but with deforestation, introduction of the rat, resource poverty, Peruvian slave raiding, and introduction of diseases by Europeans, the population dwindled to only 110 people in 1877. Chile later annexed Easter Island in 1888 and now the population is around 8,000 people. About half of the population consider themselves Rapa Nui.
The moais are frequently referred to as head statues, but in reality most have bodies that are now covered by soil or were broken. The statues were carved from tuff, or solidified volcanic ash, from the extinct volcano Rano Raraku, now a national park. The quarry is home to many broken or unfinished moais. It took five people a full year to carve one moai using mostly basalt hand chisels. Each statue represented a deceased head of a lineage. The largest of the statues is known as “Paro” and weighs over 80 tonnes. Statues had eyes made of white coral and obsidian, but have since been destroyed. Features such as elongated earlobes, a top knot, and long fingernails were symbols of royalty. Such features can be seen carved into the moais.
Ahu Tongariki is the postcard view of Easter Island with the fifteen moais set on a backdrop of the ocean. The statues were rebuilt in their original positions based on old photographs in the 1960’s. They were scattered up the hill face down after a tsunami. One of the rebuilt statues has its top knot in place, made of red stone found elsewhere than the quarry. The stone has more iron that oxidizes into the red color.
We visited Manavais, a recreation of an old Rapa Nui village. They lived in oval shaped huts with strong frames to block the wind. They had stone chicken coops where only one stone that only the family knew where opened the coop, to keep out raiders. The cooked outside in stone pits underground. The gardens were raised stone beds that created a microclimate in the center that protected from wind and harbored humidity in the volcanic stone.
From 1600 to 1800 there were civil wars on the island, further decimating the population. Many families hid in caves such as these that were former lava tubes.
Ahu Tahai was a short walk from our hostel in Hanga Roa. Next to the site was a traditional cemetery overlooking the ocean.
Te Pito Kura has two fallen moais, as well as the “navel” stone that supposedly has mystical powers.
Ahu Akahanga has a few other fallen moai statues.
Our last stop was Anakena Beach. It was unfortunately raining and cold so there was no swimming involved, but the moais were beautiful to admire. Anakena Beach is where the first founding king first step foot on the island.
One night we went to Te Ra’ai dinner show where we learned about some of the traditional Rapa Nui ceremonies.
Unfortunately, because of an unforeseeable delay in Ushuaia where we were quarantined on the boat for an extra day due to the concern of a measles outbreak (there wasn’t), we missed our flight to Santiago. By the time we got a new flight the next day, we only had an overnight stay in Santiago, hence we missed seeing anything in the city. We did get some great views overlooking the Andes from the plane ride though!