Far away in the middle of the Pacific Ocean lies an island, where silent stone people rise up from the ground; remnants of Rapa Nui– a civilization that has been long gone. It is one of the most isolated inhabited islands on planet Earth, and historians throughout the ages have failed to answer the simple question- “Where did the Rapa Nui come from?”
That the Rapa Nui were exceptionally skilled seafarers and possessed great architectural ingenuity is evident. They managed to navigate a fleet of canoes to this tiny speck of an island 2300 miles off the coast of Chile and established a society with its distinct cultural and architectural overtones sometime between AD 800 to 1200. It is believed that the Island of Rapa Nui was richly endowed with palm trees which provided the natives with wood, reeds and leaves for various purposes. But following indiscriminate deforestation the Rapa Nui themselves wrecked the ecosystem of their island. The rich volcanic soil of the island was exposed to the forces of erosion and the natives fell victim to an environmental catastrophe of their own making.
On Easter Sunday, 1722 an European exploration vehicle arrived on the island, and ever since the island has been known as Easter Islands to the modern world. In the 19th century Peruvian Slave ships often made stops on the island. However, the island of the Rapa Nui still enjoys relative isolation. Majority of the present population is still composed of descendants of the original settlers and they have kept the old culture alive.
Moai and the Bird Man
The most striking part about the Easter Islands is the huge number of stone heads or Moai that the Rapa Nui built. Nobody has yet been able to discover how the primitive people managed to implement such advanced techniques to sculpt the figurines and move them to different parts of the island. As many as 900 moai statues lie dotting the island today in various stages of completion and decay.
Historians believe that the Moai were constructed primarily for religious purposes. They might have been built to commemorate ancestors or respect influential Rapa Nui. It is believed that the native shad concentrated most of their industriousness to the pursuit of religion and arts through the Rapa Nui, since they were isolated in an island in the middle of nowhere.
In the village of Orongo were found 150 statues of a deity with the body of a man and the head of a bird. Probably, the deity was a central motif of some religious cult- who were in search of a way to explore the world beyond the horizons of their island.
Easter Islands Today
Today visitors flock the aster islands in search of the Moai and Ahu (rectangular platforms where the moai were mounted). However the Moai and Ahu are protected by law and visitors should not touch or disfigure the specimens. It is an extremely disrespectful gesture to walk on the Ahu. One can see column of silent stone figurines in the Rano Raraku Valley, where in lies the stone quarry from where the moai on the island were built. In the stone quarry one can still see various statues in stages of topple and carving. One can trek around the lips of the Rano Raraku crater to enjoy one of the most breathtaking and dramatic scenes in the world.
All the residents of the Easter Island live in the ton of Hanga Roa, which is about an hour’s drive away from the archaeological sites of the island. The village of Orongo has been restored and sits in a spectacular backdrop amidst the Rana Kao volcano and a steep cliff. The Bird man is perhaps waiting to take flight. The Rana Kao is a volcanic cinder cone filled up with fresh rainwater.
Other Tourist Attractions
Easter Islands also have various activities to offer the adventure lover. With its beautiful beaches, one can effectively relax in the serene environment. There are a number of hiking and trekking trails, and the Chile Government has put together various adventure sports options like diving and surfing in an effort to promote tourism. Scuba Diving and Snorkelling are also popular. The Easter Islands have been declared to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are two white sand beaches – Anakena and Ovahe. Anakena is a great location for off shore surfing. The charm of Ovahe lies in the beauty of the cliffs it is surrounded by. Sometimes it so happens that all the sand of the Ovahe is washed away by the great Sea waves, and gradually returned again in the next few days. The last such reported phenomenon took place in 2012.
The Easter Islands also have an extensive cave system strewn about the island with small and hidden entrances. They can be quite dangerous and the adventurous spirit must access them with caution. While on the island one can avail a show of the traditional Kari Kari dance on the main street.
Undoubtedly, the island of the Rapa Nui is one of the most otherworldly experiences on earth. Time stands still here. History comes to life. Memories of a generation long gone stay alive.