One of the traditional names for the place we know as Easter Island is “Mata Ki Te Rani”, or Eyes Looking At Heaven. One non-mainstream opinion states that the island might have been a sort of geographical marker and observatory for a long-lost civilization. Speculation about the mystery culture, claims that the ancients possessed sophisticated information about the orbits of comets. Supposedly “Mata Ki Te Rani” was a key island on some sort of grid used to predict major disasters.
The string of evenly spaced, peculiar Moai statues around the island perimeter supposedly were connected with the ability to predict possible danger. The actual purposes and reasons for the enigmatic statues are unknown. The large stone figures have fascinated archaeologists and anthropologists for many decades. The first versions of the statues were in place by 700 CE. Most of them were created and moved into place between 1000 and 1650 CE. Whatever the exact purpose of the statues may have been, most researchers suggest that the figures may have been sacred to the inhabitants of the island.
The mysterious island was rediscovered by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. He and his sailors found it on Easter Sunday of 1722, during their search for a different island. Roggeveen dubbed the patch of land “Paasch-Eyland” or Easter Island because it was found on that holiday. Meantime, the current Polynesian name for the place is “Rapa Nui”. The land is officially a special territory belonging to Chile.
The most popular, controversial hypothesis about Easter Island involves the island’s small size and resource depletion by the Rapanui peoples. As population numbers increased, supposedly resources and food supplies diminished. Conflict and disease due to competition for critical supplies ravaged the forests, and in turn, the population. By the time that Roggeveen arrived, many of the Moai statues had been toppled and the area appeared to have been the site of a recent war. Although this scenario is disputed, Easter Island has been cited as a metaphor for our current climate change crisis and possible collapse of our own civilizations.
There is little scientific evidence of social collapse before European contact. However, pathologists have found signs that fewer fatalities than expected were caused by violence. Hence, the combination of traditional tribal stories of war combined with a lack of physical evidence provides yet another mystery about Easter Island.
In late 1862, Peruvian slave raider pirates invaded Easter Island and took half of the population, including the only people who understood the native written script. The pirates were forced to repatriate the kidnapped Rapanui people. Some of those individuals had become carriers of smallpox. Soon the island’s population was nearly wiped out. Because of the smallpox epidemic and an earlier tuberculosis breakout, only 111 native people remained. Because this decimation happened so quickly, most of the cultural knowledge and wisdom was lost.
On September 9, 1888, Chilean naval officer Policarpo Toro enabled the “Treaty of Annexation of the Island”. This officially proclaimed the annexation of Easter Island by Chile. Chilean constitutional reforms in 2007 gave Easter Island, along with the Juan Fernández Islands, the status of “Special Territories”.
Members of a Rapanui clan occupied an “Eco Village” in August of 2010 to protest the alleged violation of an agreement with the defunct Pinochet regime. The clan said their ancestors had been cheated into giving up their lands. The uprising ended in February of 2011 when government police arrested the last few holdouts.
Science writer J.B. MacKinnon has made a troubling statement about the state of the world, based on the fate of Easter Island’s Rapanui people. “If you’re waiting for an ecological crisis to persuade human beings to change their troubled relationship with nature–you could be waiting a long, long time.”
The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a thought from Judith Schalansky. “Whether an island such as Easter Island can be considered remote is simply a matter of perspective. Those who live there, the Rapa Nui, call their homeland Te Pito Te Henua, ‘the navel of the world’. Any point on the infinite globe of the Earth can become a centre.”