Easter Island is a part of the Polynesian Islands located in the South Pacific Ocean and it is approximately 2,350 miles from Chile’s coastline. Easter Island is famously know for 887 monumental statues called moai situated around the island as well as the mysterious disappearance of the island’s inhabitants. The island is named Easter Island after Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, visited the island on Easter Sunday in 1722. Easter Island is a combination of three extinct volcanoes, the largest being Terevaka and the others being Poike and Rano Kau.
Since records do not exist, estimates from carbon testing on tools and utensils put the first settlers on Easter Island between 300A.D. and 1,200A.D. The Rapa Nui people, who still inhabit the island today, have seen their share of devastation and hardship. Before the first explorers visited Easter Island, the Rapa Nui population was estimated to reach 15,000 people. About a hundred years later, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen reached the island and discovered the Rapa Nui people with a population between 1,500 to 3,000 Rapa Nui people. It is believed deforestation and oer population led to the civilization’s massive and quick decline. Historians believe as food ran out, the Rapa Nui turned to cannibalism. The traditional elderly leadership was wiped out and a new leadership was established, made up of mostly warriors.
By the time English explorer James Cook visited the island in 1774, most of the moai statues were lying face down with only a few still standing upright. Jacob Roggeveen’s records indicate the statues were standing upright when he visited Easter Island 50 years earlier. During the early 1860’s, Peruvian slave traders raided the island capturing approximately 1,500 people, diminishing the population by 50%. During the raids, the highest leaders who knew how to read and write were taken, so any written records were lost for some time after that. The Peruvian slave traders also brought smallpox with them as they unloaded the sick on Easter Island. The smallpox epidemic killed approximately 25% of the population along with some of the missionaries staying on the island. Missionaries from the Roman Catholic Church arrived in 1864 and built the first church shortly after their arrival. By 1867, only around 100 Rapa Nui people live on Easter Island, a devastating loss from 15,000 only 200 years earlier. Easter Island was annexed to Chile in 1888, Policarpo Toro. During the 1900’s, Easter Island was used as a sheep farm with the remaining Rapa Nui being isolated to Hanga Roa. In 1966, the Chilean Navy built a large base on the island and the Rapa Nui people were given Chilean citizenship. Today, there are about 4,000 people living on Easter Island.
The moai statues were built by the Rapa Nui people between 1100-1680 A.D. In total, there are 887 moai statues around Easter Island. Only 25% of the moai statues built, only 25% ever made it to their final destination. 25% of the statues were being moved to their locations, while 50% of the statues remained in the quarries where they were carved. The moai statues were carved to represent a deceased elder member of society. Each statue has a head and torso, the largest moai statue, called Paro, weighs 82 tons and is 32.15 feet tall. It took 5-6 Rapa Nui men an entire year to carve a single moai statue. 95% of the moai statues were carved from volcanic ash. Most of the statues were toppled over during the wars between clans, with only a few remaining upright.
Easter Island serves as a grim reminder of what happens to overpopulation and deforestation. The Rapa Nui population has slowly recovered, but its history and tradition has been lost forever as no real records were ever kept.
Quick Facts & Figures
Annexed by Chile: 1888
Max Population: approx. 17,000
Populate: approx. 4,000
Moai Statues: 887
Largest Statue: Paro
Weight: 82 tons
Height: 32.15 feet