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Easter Island

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Author Topic: Easter Island  (Read 824 times)
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« on: February 13, 2007, 01:50:02 am »

The Birdman cult
(16th / 17th century AD - 19th century AD)

The surviving population developed new traditions to allocate the remaining, scarce resources. Around 1680, a coup by military leaders called matatoa brought a new cult based around a previously unexceptional god Make-make. In the cult of the birdman (Rapanui: tangata manu), a competition was established in which every year a representative of each clan, chosen by the leaders, would dive into the sea and swim across shark-infested waters to Motu Nui, a nearby islet, to search for the season's first egg laid by a manutara (sooty tern). The first swimmer to return with an egg would be named "Birdman of the year" and secure control over distribution of the island's resources for his clan for the year. The tradition was still in existence at the time of first contact by Europeans. It ended in 1867.

Moto Nui islet, part of the Birdman Cult ceremony
European contacts

The first European contact with the island began on 5 April 1722 (which was Easter Sunday) when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen found 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants on the island, although the population may have been as high as 10,000 to 15,000 only a century or two earlier. The civilization of Easter Island was long believed to have degenerated drastically during the century before the arrival of the Dutch, as a result of overpopulation, deforestation and exploitation of an extremely isolated island with limited natural resources.

French explorer, Jean François de Galaup La Pérouse visited Easter Island in 1786 after coming from Cape Horn, Chile. During his time there, he made a detailed map of Easter Island. He then continued his journey to the Hawaiian Islands and later to Japan and other Asian countries.

Slavery and annexation to Chile
A petroglyph found near Ahu TongarikiBy the mid-19th century, the population had recovered to about 4,000. Then, in only 20 years, deportation via slave traders to Peru and diseases brought by Westerners nearly exterminated the entire population — only 110 inhabitants remained on the island in 1877. Recollections of these events by the surviving descendants have led to the belief that they described ancient memories of a pre-contact collapse. Notably, the tales of a war between "long-ears" and "short-ears", traditionally interpreted as a major social conflict between castes (nobility which supposedly had the privilege of wearing earlobe jewelry vs. commoners or serfs) rather seems to recollect the deprivations of slave traders of European or South American origin; it is notable that the habit of extending earlobes was still present among the few survivors in the 1870s[citation needed]. The population of native Rapanui has since gradually recovered from this low point.

Easter Island was annexed by Chile in 1888 by Policarpo Toro, by means of the "Treaty of Annexation of the island" (Tratado de Anexión de la isla), that the government of Chile signed with the native people of the island.

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