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Easter Island: land of mystery

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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #30 on: July 06, 2009, 12:41:14 am »



Fig. 3.2 Statues at San Augustin (left) and Tiwanaku (right).1
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #31 on: July 06, 2009, 12:41:33 am »

John Macmillan Brown, who spent five months on Easter Island in 1923, nevertheless believed that the stone giants of Easter Island were closely related to those of South America and that the differences were due to stylistic and artistic variations. He thought that the inspiration for the Marquesan statues probably came from the tropical regions of Colombia, while those of Easter Island are more akin to the art of Tiahuanaco. But, as said, there are notable differences, and the question of who might have inspired whom is unsettled. Sir Clements Markham and Argentine ethnologist J. Imbelloni thought that Easter Island could have inspired the pre-Inca culture.

When proof was found in 1978 that some of the Easter Island statues once had inlaid eyes, it came as a shock to many researchers, who had opposed the idea on the grounds that this was not a Polynesian custom. Inlaid eyes were a common feature of many of the oldest images of the Middle East, from Egypt to the Indus Valley. The seafaring Hittites, for example, adopted the practice from the Sumerians. Many prehistoric American stone statues also had inlaid eyes.

Easter Island’s platforms are usually compared to the marae of Polynesia, though none of the latter are as impressive as the island’s best platforms. Heyerdahl says that Easter Island’s platforms resemble the huaca platforms found in the Andean region, while the marvellous stonework at Ahu Vinapu is reminiscent of the finest pre-Inca masonry in Peru (see section 6).

Heyerdahl’s expedition to Easter Island in the 1950s uncovered a number of unusual statues which he believed strengthened the South American connection. A unique discovery at Rano Raraku was the kneeling statue Tukuturi, which was almost completely buried. With a total height of 3.67 m, the figure kneels with its hands on its knees and its buttocks resting on its heels. Its round, upturned face has short ears and a goatee beard. Another complete but badly eroded kneeling statue has been found inside the crater.2

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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #32 on: July 06, 2009, 12:42:02 am »

Heyerdahl compares Tukuturi to the smaller kneeling stone statues that were typical of Tiahuanaco. Conventional researchers compare it to a small squatting stone statue from Tahiti.3 There are notable differences in both cases, and again the question is who, if anybody, inspired whom. Orthodox writers point out that ribs were an essential feature of the kneeling statues from Tiahuanaco, but Heyerdahl countered that fragments of a kneeling image were found buried deep in the sand by the great ahu at Anakena, one of which had clearly marked ribs.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #33 on: July 06, 2009, 12:42:27 am »



Fig. 3.4 Kneeling statue from Tiwanaku.
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« Reply #34 on: July 06, 2009, 12:42:42 am »

In the sunken temple plaza at Vinapu, Heyerdahl’s team found a rectangular block of red scoria, representing a body with its arms resting on the stomach and stunted legs. A deep hole had been cut into the region of the heart and the head was broken and missing, but when set up the image fragment still stood 3.5 m (11.5 ft) tall. Heyerdahl points out that the cross section of the pillarlike figure has the rounded, rectangular form so characteristic of the pre-Inca stone giants of the Tiahuanaco area.4
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #35 on: July 06, 2009, 12:43:12 am »



Fig. 3.5 Red-scoria statue.
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« Reply #36 on: July 06, 2009, 12:43:28 am »

The Easter Islanders used to make an incredible variety of curious lava sculptures (moai maea), and wooden figures (moai toromiro), including moai kavakava or ‘statues of ribs’, and weird monsters and creatures, showing unbridled imagination and creativity. Petroglyphs on the island also display a wide range of imaginative motifs. They include bizarre human masks and eye motifs, birds and birdmen, turtles, fish, whales, spiders, lizards, monsters, boats, and strange symbols. Heyerdahl says that this artistry stands in sharp contrast with the rest of Polynesia, and archaeologist Henri Lavachery, who spent six months on Easter Island in 1934, drew comparisons with the imagination and variety displayed by the pottery motifs of the early Mochica art in Peru (dating from the first few centuries AD). Conventional researchers speak only of ‘superficial’ resemblances.

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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #37 on: July 06, 2009, 12:44:10 am »



Fig. 3.6 Lava sculptures.5
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« Reply #38 on: July 06, 2009, 12:44:37 am »

Birdman cult

The gods Tiki, Tane, and Tangaroa were common to all Polynesia and regarded as the progenitors of the royal lines of divine descent. But none of these principal Polynesian gods were originally known to the Easter Islanders.1 Their creator-god was Makemake (pronounced: mackay-mackay), whose representative on earth was not a hereditary king, but an annually selected birdman. Makemake does not exist anywhere else in Polynesia.

The birdman cult used to be practised at the ceremonial village of Orongo, perched on the 400-m-high rim of the Rano Kau crater. The village comprises about 50 oval houses with 2-m-thick walls of horizontal stone slabs and corbelled roofs, between 1 and 2 m high inside. An annual birdman contest was held there each September (the month of the spring equinox in southern hemisphere). Young men, acting on behalf of noble patrons, competed to find the first egg laid by the sooty tern on the small bird island of Motu Nui, about a mile to the southwest of the Orongo headland. The contestants had to clamber down the cliff face, paddle out to the island on small reed floats, and then look for a tern’s egg and return with it to their patron, who would be declared the tangatu manu or birdman, and was favoured with privileges comparable to those enjoyed by the king until the next year’s competition. The last ceremonies took place in 1866.
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« Reply #39 on: July 06, 2009, 12:45:20 am »

Fig. 3.8 Birdman petroglyph, with Motu Nui, Motu Iti, and the pointed rock of Motu Kao Kao in the background.



Fig. 3.9 Birdman petroglyph overlooking Rano Kau crater.
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« Reply #40 on: July 06, 2009, 12:45:36 am »

The origins of the birdman cult are unknown. It has no parallel in the rest of Polynesia, but Heyerdahl notes that birdman motifs based on a prehistoric bird cult are typical of the pre-Inca empire to the east. Although we know little about the deities of the extinct pre-Inca civilizations, the Incas worshipped the sun and their royal ancestors, and depicted them symbolically as felines, as bird-headed men, or as faces with tear marks below the eyes – as on Easter Island.2

A relief found during excavations at Túcume, a village in northern Peru, shows two large sea-going reed boats with cabins on deck. Friezes around the ships depict dancing birdmen in two different variations lifting their arms, and holding eggs in their hands. The motif matches the Orongo rock carvings on Easter Island, and probably dates to the Lambayeque period, between the 12th and 14th centuries, though the earliest birdman motifs in Peru date back at least to the Chavin period (1800-1000 BC). Øystein Kock Johansen remarks that everybody is ‘desperately hunting high and low for vague Easter Island birdman parallels in Polynesia, Melanesia and Southeast Asia, while they more or less completely ignore the use of this motif in South America from times before Christ. The situation seems quite forced, almost ridiculous.’3
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« Reply #41 on: July 06, 2009, 12:45:47 am »

Some researchers have drawn parallels between the birdman cult and ancient Egypt.4 The birdman ceremony resembles a quest ritual for the primeval egg of the sun god Ra, laid by the phoenix, symbolized on Easter Island by the egg of the sooty tern, the manu-tera, meaning ‘sunbird’. Like the falcon and phoenix in ancient Egypt, this bird can be seen as a symbol of the sun, of cyclic time, and of reincarnation. The journey on the reed float across the sea is reminiscent of the journey of Ra, and also the souls of the dead, to the horizon on reed floats. ‘Crossing over to the horizon’, like crossing to ‘the other shore’ in Buddhist writings, refers to the attainment of enlightenment and ‘immortality’.

The tusk-shaped, totora-reed floats used on Easter Island are called pora – meaning literally ‘reed floats of the sun’. They are indistinguishable from papyrus-reed floats depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics and still used in Nubia and Middle Egypt in recent times. They were also of a type characteristic of the Peruvian coast. Tangata manu means ‘learned man of the sacred bird’. The ancient Egyptian religion attached huge importance to a learned bird/man figure – long-beaked, ibis-headed Thoth, the god of knowledge and the ‘enumerator of the stars’.
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« Reply #42 on: July 06, 2009, 12:46:08 am »

Rapa Nui

In the 19th century, missionaries and their Polynesian companions from French Oceania began to refer to Easter Island as Rapa Nui, meaning Great Rapa. Rapa Iti, Little Rapa, is an island southeast of Tahiti. On Rapa Iti a tradition survived claiming that the island had been settled by pregnant women escaping from massacres on Easter Island, known to them as Rapa Nui. Both islands are about the same size, but the names would be understandable if the migrants named the island they settled on after their original homeland. There is only one other island in the world called Rapa, and it is about the same distance from Easter Island but in the opposite direction: Rapa Island in Lake Titicaca. There are no stone statues on Rapa Iti, but many around Lake Titicaca, and the one on Rapa Island depicts a man with long ears.

One of the former names for Easter Island is the ‘navel of the world’. The megalithic Incan capital in Peru was called Cuzco – meaning ‘navel’. The same name was applied in ancient times to many other sacred places. Another name for Easter Island was Mate-ki-te-rangi, ‘eyes looking at heaven’ – a reference to the fact that, when their eyes were fitted, the moai seemed to be looking upwards at the sky. Rangi reappears elsewhere in Polynesia as rani and ani, and is commonly used also as a poetic reference to the legendary Polynesian fatherland. Mata-rani, ‘eyes of heaven’, is the name of an ancient aboriginal port on the south coast of Peru, just below Lake Titicaca.1 It is also similar phonetically and semantically to the Egyptian ‘maat Ra’, meaning essentially ‘the eye of the sun’.2
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #43 on: July 06, 2009, 12:46:39 am »



Fig. 3.10
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #44 on: July 06, 2009, 12:47:08 am »

The ambiguous evidence reviewed in this section is clearly open to multiple interpretations. Connections of some sort can be discerned between the culture of Easter Island and that of Polynesia, South America, Egypt, and other places. The exact nature and relative importance of these influences, and their timing are uncertain. In any event, the orthodox position that there was a single migration to Easter Island from Polynesia in the 4th century looks far too simplistic.

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