The enigmas of Easter Island

From Wikipedia:

“Easter Island (Rapa Nui: Rapa Nui; Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is an island and special territory of Chile in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania.

By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island’s population was estimated to be 2,000 to 3,000. European diseases, Peruvian slave raiding expeditions in the 1860s, and emigration to other islands such as Tahiti further depleted the population, reducing it to a low of 111 native inhabitants in 1877.

Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888. In 1966, the Rapa Nui were granted Chilean citizenship. In 2007 the island gained the constitutional status of “special territory” (Spanish: territorio especial). Administratively, it belongs to the Valparaíso Region, constituting a single commune of the Province Isla de Pascua. The 2017 Chilean census registered 7,750 people on the island, of whom 3,512 (45%) considered themselves Rapa Nui.

Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land (around 50 residents in 2013) is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 kilometres (1,289 mi) away; the nearest town with a population over 500 is Rikitea, on the island of Mangareva, 2,606 km (1,619 mi) away; the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, 3,512 km (2,182 mi) away.”

Whitney Dangerfield wrote at SMITHSONIANMAG.COM on March 31, 2007:

“Hundreds of years ago, a small group of Polynesians rowed their wooden outrigger canoes across vast stretches of open sea, navigating by the evening stars and the day’s ocean swells. When and why these people left their native land remains a mystery. But what is clear is that they made a small, uninhabited island with rolling hills and a lush carpet of palm trees their new home, eventually naming their 63 square miles of paradise Rapa Nui—now popularly known as Easter Island.

On this outpost nearly 2,300 miles west of South America and 1,100 miles from the nearest island, the newcomers chiseled away at volcanic stone, carving moai, monolithic statues built to honor their ancestors. They moved the mammoth blocks of stone—on average 13 feet tall and 14 tons—to different ceremonial structures around the island, a feat that required several days and many men.

Eventually the giant palms that the Rapanui depended on dwindled. Many trees had been cut down to make room for agriculture; others had been burned for fire and used to transport statues across the island. The treeless terrain eroded nutrient-rich soil, and, with little wood to use for daily activities, the people turned to grass. “You have to be pretty desperate to take to burning grass,” says John Flenley, who with Paul Bahn co-authored The Enigmas of Easter Island. By the time Dutch explorers—the first Europeans to reach the remote island—arrived on Easter day in 1722, the land was nearly barren.

Although these events are generally accepted by scientists, the date of the Polynesians’ arrival on the island and why their civilization ultimately collapsed is still being debated…”

It was reported in The Standard (Hong Kong) of 1.4.21:

“Located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is a renowned tourist attraction in Chile, where tourists marvel at the approximately 900 monumental stone statues lined along its coastline.

Called moai locally, these stone statues were created by inhabitants during the 13th to the 16th century, and represent a distinctive symbol of the island, with historians speculating on their origin, as well as on the evolution of ancient inhabitants.

Today, the islanders celebrate Tapati Rapa Nui, their most significant cultural festival of the year. Meaning ‘week of Rapa Nui’ in the local language, it is scheduled for the first half of February annually. It was first organized in the 1970s, aimed to preserve the island’s culture, and generate a sense of belonging amongst the local youngsters.

Consisting of various competitions, including ancestral sports and dancing events, Tapati is the best celebration of the ancient exotic Rapa Nui culture, offering a rare opportunity for foreigners to experience local customs.

Easter Island’s triathlon, Taua Rapa Nui, is a physically challenging competition that is well worth watching. It comprises three traditional races: the Pora, the Aka Venga and the Vaka Ama, and takes place in the waters of Lake Rano Raraku.

Dressed in traditional costumes and adorned with body paint, contestants have to paddle across the Rano Raraku volcanic crater lake on a small reed boat. Then they run along the lakeshore carrying two bunches of banana on their shoulders, before swimming from one side of the lake to another using a small reed raft as a board.

For culture vultures, there is plenty to do on the island, like the Tingitingi mahute, a contest that measures the participants’ imagination and handiwork. Mahute is a traditional plant introduced by Polynesians to create costumes. Participants need to tap with a wooden stick to flatten, stretch and shape the bark on a rounded stone until it becomes a kind of cloth. The one who makes the largest and best fabric will be the winner.

Widely practiced on the island, body painting was a means by which Rapa Nui people identified their rank and class; and the placements of one’s body painting and the art depicted convey personal information like job and marital status.

During the Takona competition, this cultural practice has become a challenging task for the participants. They are required to create pigments from the elements of nature, and to honor Rapa Nui’s ancient art story-telling through painting. Thus, participants need to make good use of the natural pigment to present a unique story to impress the judges.”

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