16 May 2016
We’re in Lima, Peru, at the moment. We needed warm weather as autumn (and soon winter) engulf the southern cone of South America. We’ll spend some time enjoying Lima again before heading somewhere warmer, though we don’t know where we’re going next.
I wanted to finish our adventures on Easter Island. And I have to say
that Richard and I are agreed, one week turned out to be not enough time
there. We should have planned for a longer visit, and neither one of
us wanted to leave. But we
had flights and hotels booked, and it would have been too much trouble
to make all the revisions. Plus some were the no-cancellation kinds of
So, moving on.
I had a bottle of this delightful Rapa Nui water – here’s the story from the label:
“Queen Vaiteka pont Icka received an inheritance in a dream, the words of
her grandfather who tells her in the rain. She is one of the last
descendants from the direct lineage of King Hotu Matua. So this queen
runs through the field. It comes full of joy with delicacy and respect
to a cave that is song for her life. Vaieka cave. Where she cries of
excitement and prepares their future.
cave. It is happiness, is peace, is the pure and clear water. It is the
source of life, magic, wisdom and purity of a people. The people of
Don’t you love it? Magic water! Plus chocolate moai!!!! How wonderful but funny is that?!?!
map here shows our second set of adventures, marked with the yellow
stars. (The red stars were our first tour around the island.) And the
aqua star, labelled “S,” is for the sunrise adventure.
rented a car so we could visit a few other places around the island.
Our first stop was at the Hanga Roa scenic overlook, with a view across
the airport and the town of Hanga Roa beyond, and then the ocean beyond
that. (Right by the airport.) And of course we had an informative sign at
the “mirador” (Spanish for lookout or overlook):
here, you can watch most of the Rapa Nui National Park that
concentrates the biggest cultural and natural attractions of the island,
and which is also UNESCO’s Historical Monument and World Heritage Site.“Rapa
Nui National Part provides the unparalleled testimony of a cultural
phenomenon unique in the world. Settled in this island by the tenth
century CE, a society of Polynesian origin created amazing architectural
and sculptural forms gifted with great strength, imagination, and
originality apart from any external influence. “Until
the sixteenth century, they built dozens of sanctuaries called “ahu,”
and sculpted around one thousand “moai,” gigantic torsos made of
volcanic material that gives rise to an unmatched cultural landscape
fascinating the whole world. This is why UNESCO concluded that this
park is a “unique testimony of a civilization.” “Beyond these
tangible manifestations, the Rapa Nui National Park set out a universal
statement about man’s capacity of adaptation and survival within adverse
“We recommend you to become familiar with Rapa
Nui’s history and cultural heritage, and be always accompanied by a
local Tourism Guide to make the most of your visit.”
(I love the
translations of the Spanish. The language is so much more descriptive
and flowery that most English writing, with more superlatives. There’s
just so much more flair to the explanations!)
continued on the road to Rano Kau, the largest caldera or crater on the
island. (Yellow star #1.) As I described previously, the island of
Rapa Nui was created when volcanoes grew up out of the ocean, erupting
and spreading lava. At first there were two islands, but then a third
volcano came up, erupted, and joined the two smaller island into the
larger island we know today.
And yes, Rano is the same word as
in Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai were sculpted. Turns out Rano
means “crater” or “caldera” in Rapa Nui – the people didn’t experience
the volcanoes, so there isn’t a word for that in the language. They
just had a word for the craters left behind after the most recent
volcanic eruptions some 30,000 to 3 million years ago. (Which is how
volcanologists know that these are truly extinct.)
Rano Kau is
quite interesting. It’s a HUGE crater, and rain water has accumulated
in the caldera, creating a
micro-environment. The signs call it the
“last haven for biodiversity in Rapa Nui.” It really is fascinating,
seeing swampland in the middle of a volcanic crater! This is also one
of the only freshwater environments we saw, since much of the island is
now mostly for grazing or farming.
“The microclimate found in
Rano Kau crater creates favorable humidity and light conditions, also
providing shelter to the plants from wind and salinity of the sea.
“In addition, it provides a safe place against human, cattle, and fire action.
interior keeps a rich flower diversity that is unique in the island,
since several native and endemic species grow here naturally.
is why we can say that the crater is like a gigantic manavai or wild
greenhouse that currently plays a major role in preservation of Rapa
Nui’s native flora.”
Rano Kau is at the southwest corner of the
island, facing into the prevailing winds. So the southwest section of
the crater is subject to erosion from the winds, rain, and possibly
really high seas during major storms. Even though this crater seems to
have harder rock (it looked like basalt, rather that tufa), it’s still
eroding at that SW end.
We drove on to the end of the road at
the old village of Orongo. (Yellow star #2.) And this is one of the
stranger, but still fascinating, aspects of Rapa Nui culture.
archaeologists and anthropologists have pretty much agreed that
ancestor worship was a big part of life on Rapa Nui. The megalithic
statues, the moai, are considered to be representations of either chiefs
or illustrious ancestors. They may even have been considered to have
been statues of deified ancestors. We really aren’t sure.
the sixteenth century, island society was making fewer moai and
replacing the physical expression of ancestor worship with the cult of
worshipping the Make’Make god, who was related to fertility, spring, and
Orongo was basically a ceremonial village
on the edge of the Rano Kau crater, used a few weeks each year, only at
the beginning of spring. There are the remains of 54 stone houses, many
of which originally had petroglyphs (stone carvings) and frescoes of
birds. (Sadly, many of the frescoes were removed by European explorers,
and are now either in private art collections or in museums.)
ritual held at Orongo each spring was called the “tangata-manu.”
Chiefs or their representatives, each from different tribes on the
island, competed to obtain the first egg of the sooty tern. This
seabird arrived each spring and nested on a small island off the coast
near Orongo. During the competition, the participants would climb down
the cliff and swim to Motu Nui, the island where the sooty terns’ nests
were found. The competitors would stay on Motu Nui for days, even
weeks, waiting for the seabirds to arrive and begin laying eggs. The
first competitor to find an egg and swim back to Rapu Nui successfully
was endowed as “tangata-manu” or birdman (although this had to be a
chief; if a representative obtained the first egg, the honor of
“tangata-manu” still went to the chief he represented.)
This was a fairly dangerous competition, with occasional drownings, or participants being attacked by sharks.
winner, the “tangata-manu,” was considered sacred for one year, and
lived in ceremonial reclusion until the following spring. The last
competition took place around 1867.
There was only one moai
found at Orongo, unique because it was carved of basalt and had many
petroglyphs carved on its back. This moai was removed by the British in
1868 and was taken to England, where it was presented to Queen
This moai has been named “Hoahakananai’a” by the Rapa
Nui; the name means “stolen friend.” It is housed at the British Museum
in London and, like the Elgin marbles, is considered British property.
The Rapa Nui have petitioned the museum for the return of this stolen
moai, but, well, also like the Elgin marbles, the statue hasn’t been
returned. Nor Rapa Nui ownership even acknowledged. The British tend
to be like that, refusing to return items they stole from other
Onward to Anakena Beach again, yellow star #3. We
relaxed, had lunch, played on the beach. The water was too cold for
swimming by our standards, although other people seemed to think the
temperature was just fine. (Even though oral history says that this
sole sandy beach on the island is the landing place of Hotu Matu’a, the
first king, the oldest settlement excavated thus far is near the
airport. So the oral tradition doesn’t mesh with archaeological
Then on our drive back to Hanga Roa, we stopped at
Ahu a Kivi, sometimes written Ahu Akivi (yellow star #4). This is an
ahu, or platform, with seven moai looking out at the ocean. This is one
of the very few ahu where the moai do not look inland, nor is the ahu
located close to the coast. These moai were found at this location,
obviously face down in a direction indicating they looked toward the
sea. No one is sure why the look in the opposite direction from most of
the other moai on the island. They just do.
Ahu a Kivi is near
the center of the island, an area that has been reforested. When the
first people arrived, the island was covered with vegetation. The only
animals on the island were birds and insects. Seafood was plentiful,
and as the communities developed and grew, dietary restrictions were
established. The kings and leaders were the only ones allowed to eat
fish such as tuna, because this was more difficult to catch. Any tuna
caught belonged to the king or chief of the village. Common people were
allowed to eat seafood that could be caught without fishing, such as
shellfish living on or near the shore.
Trees and bushes were
cut down – scientists believe they may have been used for moving the
moai, or to build boats, for firewood, or to create farmland. There is
also speculation whether the humans were responsible for the eventual
lack of trees, or the birds living on the island, or the rats that came
on the boats with the humans. Seeds were eaten, new trees didn’t grow,
and as the population of humans grew the living conditions became more
and more difficult. There was competition for the decreasing resources.
The destruction of the ecosystem was parallel to the growth and
development of the ancient culture.
Oral history and
archaeological evidence speak of major crises and internal wars during
the later periods on Rapa Nui. The several centuries before contact
with Europeans were characterized by overuse of resources and the
environment, abandonment of community work (such as building ahus and
creating moai), and the invention of a new cult, the birdmen.
Additionally, the internal wars became class wars, with the common
people rising up and overthrowing the kings and chiefs; this is when
some of the ahus were destroyed and the moai knocked down.
of course, by the time Europeans started arrived, the culture was in a
disarray and had no defenses against the guns carried by the explorers.
Which is part of the reason why the Europeans so easily raided the
island over the next century or two, stealing treasures as well as
kidnapping people for the slave trade.
Such a sad history.
Rapa Nui people have adapted to the continuing changes, as have their
ancestors. Tourism may be the largest industry on the island. I’m not
sure how the island became Chilean, other than Chile annexing Rapa Nui
and claiming it as part of their country. Over the years, the Chilean
government has become more helpful, contributing a greater portion of
revenues to the island. (It seemed to us as if the Rapa Nui people are
treated better than the Mapuche on the mainland, but I’m not sure.)
one of the big tourist things is to go to Ahu Tongariki for sunrise.
This ahu faces east, so at certain times of the year the sunrise is
directly behind the moai. This is late autumn, though, so the sun rises
a bit north of the ahu. But we decided this is one of the things we
should do, see Ahu Tongariki at sunrise. (Aqua star labelled “S.”)
Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is about 2300 miles (3700 km) west of
Chile. You’d think that would be about three time zones. For some
reason, it’s only two time zones. And Chile is in the same time zone as
Argentina, despite being quite a bit to the west. So while sunrise in
Argentina might be at X time, sunrise in Chile is 45 minutes to an hour
later – even though both countries are in the same time zone.
means that Rapa Nui is still middle-of-the-night dark at 7 AM. Sunrise
was supposed to be about 8:40 AM. We got up about 6:30 AM, and headed
out across the island, maps in hand. Driving is slow, there are
wandering dogs, cows, and horses who don’t pay attention to cars or
roads. We reached one straight section of road, far from everything,
with no lights or trees. So we pulled to the side of the road to look
at the stars, which were incredible. Millions of twinkling diamonds in
the velvet sky, all that poetic description overhead. The Milky Way
looked like it was a glow from our car’s hazard lights, I kept expecting
to see my shadow against the white glow that looked close enough to
reach out and touch it. This was just one of the incredible parts of
We drove on, trying to find and follow signs to
Tongariki. We saw few cars, and weren’t sure if we were even on the
And then suddenly there it was, just a shadow of
dark looming statues standing out blacker than the sky! We parked on a
side road, and Richard went over to the entrance to Tongariki, where
most of the crowd was hanging out – right in front of the statues,
expecting the sun to rise behind them, as in the postcards we saw.
I had been told to stand on that side road. So I did. The sun didn’t
rise exactly behind the moai, but off behind a hill to the side. I
still got some great photos of the sunrise, the moai, and the back of
Rano Raraku, the quarry crater. Plus wild horses wandered by. And I
found a chunk of obsidian.
I’ll end the narrative here, and
continue with enlarged photos of the sunset. So gorgeous, constantly
changing behind the megalithic moai who, somehow, are never changing,
who are constantly standing vigil over this amazing island.