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Easter Island: land of mystery

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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #15 on: July 06, 2009, 12:36:17 am »

After 1800, whalers began stopping on the island, leaving behind venereal diseases. Easter Islanders also suffered a series of slave raids, the first being led by an American captain in 1805. A major slave raid launched from Peru in 1862, followed by smallpox epidemics, reduced the population to just 111 in 1877, wiping out the hereditary caste of teachers and initiates (maori). In 1864 Eugène Eyraud, a French Catholic missionary, settled on the island, and eventually succeeded in converting the population to Christianity – as well as introducing tuberculosis.

Commercial exploitation of the island began in 1870. The Frenchman Dutroux-Bornier began to transform the island into a sheep farm while expelling the islanders to the plantations of Tahiti. He was killed by the remaining islanders in 1877. In 1888 the island was annexed by Chile. The total population currently stands at about 4000, but it is estimated that the prehistoric population could have reached as many as 20,000.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #16 on: July 06, 2009, 12:36:40 am »

Traditional

Orthodox researchers believe that Easter Island was settled only once: by Polynesians in the 4th century AD. Since no seafarers in those days are supposed to have had maps, it is thought that the island must have been discovered mainly by chance, and that such an unlikely event could not possibly have happened more than once. As John Flenley and Paul Bahn put it: ‘The chances of Easter Island being reached even once were extremely limited; to imagine it being reached several times over vast distances is beyond belief.’1 Some of the island’s legends, however, imply two or three different migrations. As is often the case, native traditions are sometimes contradictory and cannot all be historically accurate, but they may offer important clues.

According to legend, a powerful supernatural being named Uoke, who came from a land called Hiva, travelled about the Pacific prying up whole islands with a gigantic lever and tossing them into the sea where they vanished beneath the waves. After destroying many islands he came to the coast of Easter Island, then a much larger land than it is today, and began to lever up parts of it and cast them into the sea. Eventually he reached a place on the island where the rocks were so sturdy that his lever broke. He was unable to dispose of the last fragment, and this remained as the island we know today.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #17 on: July 06, 2009, 12:36:55 am »

Easter Island’s culture was founded by the legendary god-king Hotu Matua (‘prolific father’), who is said to have lived on a remnant of Hiva called Maori, in a locality called Marae Renga. According to one version of the legend, he set sail for Easter Island due to the cataclysm caused by Uoke. Another version says he was forced to flee after being defeated in war. After a magician in Hiva called Hau Maka had made an astral journey to Easter Island in a dream, a reconnaissance voyage of seven youths was sent there, and Hotu Matua followed later in a double-canoe.2

The most widespread tradition today is that Hotu Matua’s homeland was a large, warm, green island to the west of Easter Island, but a tradition told to the earliest European explorers says that the first settlers came from a land to the east, known as Marae-toe-hau, ‘the burial place’, which had a very hot climate.3 One tradition suggests that the first Polynesian migration, led by Hotu Matua, was followed by a second Polynesian migration about 100 years later. References are also made to several voyages being made back and forth to Hiva.

There are indications that Easter Island was inhabited even before Hotu Matua arrived. According to one tradition, when Hau Maka had his prophetic dream, he saw six men on the island. Another mentions that Hoto Matua’s seven explorers found an inhabitant on the island, who had arrived with another person who had since died.4 A third account says that a burial platform was found at Hotu Matua’s landing place, and a network of stone-paved roads built by earlier settlers was found inland.5
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #18 on: July 06, 2009, 12:37:12 am »

Francis Mazière, who conducted archaeological excavations on the island in 1963, was told by a native elder that ‘very big men, but not giants, lived on the island well before the coming of Hotu-Matua’. Another related the following legend:

    The first men to live on the island were the survivors of the world’s first race. They were yellow, very big, with long arms, great stout chests, huge ears although their lobes were not stretched: they had pure yellow hair and their bodies were hairless and shining. They did not possess fire. This race once existed on two other Polynesian islands. They came by boat from a land that lies behind America.6

According to another tradition, one of the early tribes (the ‘long-ears’) were about 2.5 m (8 ft) tall, and had white skin and red hair.7

The key players in the island’s traditional history are the Hanau-eepe and the Hanau-momoko. These terms are often translated ‘long-ears’ and ‘short-ears’ respectively. However, some researchers say that this is erroneous, and that the correct translations are ‘stocky race’ and ‘slender race’. Hanau means ‘race’ or ‘ethnic group’. Eepe means ‘stocky’ or ‘corpulent’, but there is also a word epe, which means ‘earlobe’. Thor Heyerdahl says that the term was formerly spelled Hanau-epe. Whatever the correct term may be, the people referred to certainly had elongated earlobes. Today momoko carries the sense of ‘sharp-pointed’, and it is assumed that the word probably used to mean ‘slender’ or ‘weak’.8 Some writers have concluded that the Hanau-eepe were the upper class, and the Hanau-momoko the lower class.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #19 on: July 06, 2009, 12:37:27 am »

One tradition says that Hotu Matua’s people were the ‘short-ears’, while the ‘long-ears’ arrived in a subsequent migration. But another says that he brought both short-ears and long-ears with him, and yet another that the long-ears arrived before the short-ears.9 Heyerdahl saw the long-ears as the descendants of the first, Amerindian colonizers, and the short-ears as more recent Polynesian arrivals. The long-ears are sometimes said to have started building the great platforms, while the short-ears were the first to carve huge images of their ancestors and place them on the platforms.

The long-ears reportedly subjugated the short-ears, until the latter finally rebelled. All the long-ears except one were allegedly massacred in the latter half of the 17th century; after a fierce battle the short-ears drove them into the Poike ditch, in which piles of brushwood had been set alight. Most researchers doubt this story, as no weapons or bones have ever been found in the ditch. Although some charcoal excavated from it has been radiocarbon dated to about 1676, other charcoal has been dated to about 386 AD and to the 11th century, and it could all have come from bush fires or slash-and-burn practices used in clearing the fields. In any event, it is unlikely that only one long-ear survived such a battle, since a period of civil war followed when all the long-eared statues were overthrown, and there were still people with elongated earlobes alive when the first Europeans arrived.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #20 on: July 06, 2009, 12:37:41 am »

References

   1. John Flenley and Paul Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 67.
   2. Father Sebastian Englert, Island at the Centre of the World: New light on Easter Island, London; Robert Hale & Company, 1970, pp. 45-8; The Enigmas of Easter Island, pp. 64-5.
   3. Thor Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, New York: Random House, 1989, pp. 110-5.
   4. Francis Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Collins, 1969, pp. 44-5; José Miguel Ramírez and Carlos Huber, Easter Island: Rapa Nui, a land of rocky dreams, Alvimpress Impresores, 2000, p. 28.
   5. Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 125.
   6. Mysteries of Easter Island, pp. 45, 63.
   7. David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities of Ancient Lemuria & the Pacific, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1988, p. 292.
   8. www.rongorongo.org/vanaga/a.html; Island at the Centre of the World, pp. 88-93; Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 127; Mysteries of Easter Island, pp. 60-2.
   9. John Macmillan Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1996 (1924), pp. 44-5; Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 122, 126.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #21 on: July 06, 2009, 12:38:02 am »

3. South American connection

    Polynesian archaeology appears to be dominated by a small, zealous group, who will not permit any points of view other than their own. ... We must bear in mind that nobody, absolutely nobody has the right to claim to know the whole truth about the past; for there are simply too many elements of uncertainty involved.  – Øystein Kock Johansen1

Norwegian explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, who led archaeological expeditions to Easter Island in 1955-56 and 1986-88, opposed the conventional view that Easter Island was first peopled from the west (Polynesia), and argued that it was first settled from the east (South America), as one of the island’s early traditions suggests. He held that the sweet potato, bottle gourd, and totora reed were introduced to the island from South America, while the chicken, banana, and sugar cane, for example, were introduced from Polynesia. He thought that a pre-Inca society had reached Easter Island from Peru, by making use of the prevailing westerly trade winds. In 1947 he demonstrated that such voyages were feasible when he sailed his balsa raft Kon-Tiki from South America to Raroia Atoll, in Polynesia’s Tuamotu archipelago.

Heyerdahl originally proposed that Easter Island was initially settled by South Americans around 400 AD, and that the Polynesians arrived centuries later, massacring most of Amerindian population. However, he later modified his opinion: he felt that the Polynesians had largely abandoned their own distinct faith and culture after arriving on Easter Island, and concluded that they had probably been brought there against their will by people from South America. During the 12th century the Incas rose to power in Peru, bringing about considerable unrest and the expulsion of many earlier settlers. Heyerdahl speculated that some of these Peruvians sailed west and brought Polynesians to Easter Island, either through force or cunning. In his view, history was repeating itself when, in 1862, Peruvian slave raiders sailed to Easter Island and put an end to the aboriginal culture.2
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« Reply #22 on: July 06, 2009, 12:38:17 am »

Most researchers dismiss Heyerdahl’s theory of a South American source for Easter Island’s culture, arguing that not a single South American artifact has ever been found in 50 years of intensive archaeology in Polynesia, and that there is no trace of a sudden influx of new cultural influences at any point in Easter Island’s history. They describe his theory as ‘a tottering edifice precariously based on preconceptions, extreme subjectivity, distortions and very little hard evidence’.3 They do, however, concede that there must have been at least sporadic contacts between Polynesians and South America, though they think it was probably the Polynesians who went to South America rather than the other way round.

Contacts of some kind are needed to explain how the sweet potato, for example, reached Polynesia, and why the Inca quipu – a system of knotted cords for remembering facts and especially numbers – is used on many island in Polynesia and Melanesia, into Indonesia and through China. There is archaeological and linguistic evidence that Polynesians landed on the north coast of Chile, among a tribe known as the Mapuche. In graves at Rio Negro in Argentina, human remains have been found that do not belong to any race of South America, but to those of Polynesia. Maori stone implements have been discovered at Cuzco in Peru and at Santiago del Estiro in Argentina. Carved wooden clubs similar to those of the Marquesas have been found in Peru, Chile, Columbia, and Ecuador.4 The possibility cannot be ruled out that influences may have gone back and forth between Polynesia and South America over vastly longer periods of time than orthodox theories allow.
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« Reply #23 on: July 06, 2009, 12:38:36 am »

The official thinking today is that the Easter Islanders are Polynesians, with no admixture of any other groups. However, the ‘scientific’ evidence is ambiguous. H.L. Shapiro found that Easter Islanders deviated significantly from the Polynesians in the shape and dimensions of the cranium, but proposed that this might be due to ‘selective migration followed by isolation and inbreeding’; the Easter Islanders have been said to be just plain Polynesians of ‘a somewhat specialized and exaggerated type’.5

The rocker jaw is the most characteristically Polynesian skeletal trait. Its frequency of occurrence on almost all islands from New Zealand to Hawaii ranges from 72 to 90%, but it is extremely rare among Amerindians; the figure for Easter Island is 48.5%. One researcher found that the Easter Islanders show a few minor Amerindian traits, and suggested this could be due to some Marquesans having sailed to South America. Some investigators think that the most likely homeland of the Easter Islanders is Mangareva (Gambier Islands) or the Tuamotus, though a small genetic element from South America remains a possibility.6

All the giant statues on Easter Island have long ears, and some islanders still practised ear elongation at the time the first Europeans arrived. The custom was also practised in the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia, and in Peru; the Incas said they had inherited the custom from their divine ancestors. The oldest known practice of ear extension was among the mariners in the prehistoric Indus Valley harbour-city of Lothal, where large numbers of big earplugs of the type used in ancient Mexico, Peru, and Easter Island have been found. Hindu rulers subsequently adopted the custom, but it was restricted to members of the royal families and images of the Hindu gods. Buddha images with long ears are found all over Asia, and long-eared stone statues have also been dug up in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.
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« Reply #24 on: July 06, 2009, 12:38:54 am »

The most skilfully carved statues, regarded by some researchers as the oldest, had long tapering finger nails. The practice of letting the nails grow also existed in China and among initiated Incas, and symbolized knowledge, thought, and exemption from manual labour. Certain children on the island used to be shut up in caves to preserve the whiteness of their skin; they were required to remain celibate and let their nails and hair grow. The same custom existed both in the Andes and on the Polynesian island of Mangareva in the Gambier archipelago.7

Easter Island’s language (Rapanui) is usually said to be derived entirely from Polynesian. However, in 1770 the Spanish visitors compiled a vocabulary which included words clearly of Polynesian origin along with others which were clearly not; the numerals from 1 to 10 were totally different. Conventional researchers emphasize that the Spaniards were unfamiliar with Polynesian languages. Captain Cook, who visited the island four years later, had a Tahitian with him who could converse with the islanders to a limited extent; a list of 17 Polynesian words was compiled, and also correct proto-Polynesian words for 1 to 10. Heyerdahl says that the loss of the original language of the coastal cultures of western South America prevents any comparison with the non-Polynesian words in the Spaniards’ list.8
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« Reply #25 on: July 06, 2009, 12:39:17 am »

Robert Langdon and Darrell Tryon argued that at the time of contact, Easter Island’s language was made up of three elements: one of west Polynesian origin, one from east Polynesia, and a third of unidentified origin, probably from the east. Other researchers hold that there is no satisfactory evidence for the existence of a pre-Polynesian language or second wave of Polynesian immigrants, and that the Rapanui language is a member of the eastern Polynesian subgroup.9

The Easter islanders had their own writing system, known as Rongorongo (see section 7). The orthodox view is that either the islanders invented it after the arrival of the Europeans, or that they brought it with them from another Polynesian island, even though no Polynesian tribe is known to have possessed the art of writing. Heyerdahl points out that a variety of writing systems were in use in pre-Columbian America.

Some plants on Easter Island clearly come from South America, such as the islanders’ staple food the sweet potato (which is known by its Quechua name kumara), and also manioc and gourd.10 As already mentioned, mainstream researchers prefer to believe that the Polynesians made contact with the South American mainland and returned with the sweet potato. They also point out that the island had no maize, beans, or squash – which are staple resources in South America. On the other hand, the French visitors of 1786 brought maize and various domestic animals with them, but they were never seen again by subsequent visitors. The first settlers apparently did not introduce pigs or dogs, which conventional researchers admit is surprising if they came from Polynesia.
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« Reply #26 on: July 06, 2009, 12:39:29 am »

Two species of freshwater plants, found in Easter Island’s crater lakes but nowhere else in the Pacific, and both useful to man, come from South America. One of them was the totora reed, which dominated the banks of South America’s Lake Titicaca and was cultivated in vast irrigated fields in the desert valleys on the coast below; it was used for making mats, houses, and boats. The other was known to the islanders as tavari, and was used as a medicinal plant. Like the totora, it grew in Lake Titicaca. The most useful wild tree on Easter Island was the toromiro tree, which was used for carving. It is so close to its continental Chilean relative that it could be considered the same species; no other closely related species existed in Polynesia.11

Pollen analysis shows that totora has been present on Easter Island for at least 30,000 years, contradicting native traditions that it was brought by the Polynesian Hotu Matua. Mainstream writers suggest that seeds could have been transported to the island by the wind, ocean, or on birds’ feet. Another possibility is that they were brought by an earlier ‘Hotu Matua’.
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« Reply #27 on: July 06, 2009, 12:39:57 am »

On Easter Island there are several dozen round or rectangular towers – or tupas – of uncut stones with a crawl-in entrance and vaulted roof. Such structures are not found elsewhere in Polynesia, but they closely resemble the chullpas of pre-Inca Peru; even their names are similar. Chullpas served as mausoleums for prominent persons and are found in large numbers on desert hillsides from Lake Titicaca down to the Pacific coast. Human remains were likewise found in some tupas. Mainstream writers try to deny any link between tupas and chullpas, and many believe that tupas were chicken houses, as chickens were sometimes kept in them in later times.

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« Reply #28 on: July 06, 2009, 12:40:17 am »

Heyerdahl points out that the cultural elements usually considered indicative of Polynesian culture are the grooved wooden mallet for making bark cloth (tapa), the bell-shaped pounder for making poi (food paste made from the taro root), and the wooden bowl for the kava-drinking ceremonies, but that none of them had found their way to aboriginal Easter Island.

Most researchers see the total absence of woven textiles and pottery on Easter Island as damning evidence against it having had any significant links with Peru, since these are the two most characteristic and abundant products of Peruvian culture. (Double standards are at work here, since prehistoric pottery has been found in the Marquesas but this doesn’t stop many researchers believing that Easter Island was originally settled from there.) A further argument against a strong South American influence is the complete absence of the pressure-flaking technique on stone tools throughout Polynesia (involving ‘pushing’ flakes off a core as opposed to striking them), and the total absence of South American metalwork on Easter Island. Note, however, that no one has yet demonstrated how tough basalt blocks could have been cut without metal tools (see section 6).
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« Reply #29 on: July 06, 2009, 12:40:39 am »

Stonework and carvings

Stone statues (or tiki) with hands on their bellies are found on other islands of eastern Polynesia, often standing on ceremonial platforms. They tend to be fairly crudely made, and statues of reasonable size are found only in the Marquesas Islands, where the tallest is 2.4 m (fig. 10.18), and on Raivavae, where the tallest was 2.8 m (fig. 10.13). However, these figures look nothing like those on Easter Island. Monolithic human statues are also found in western South America, from San Augustin in Colombia to Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) by Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. But they are usually far more ornate than those on Easter Island and again the resemblance is very poor.
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