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Easter Island

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Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle. The capital city is Hanga Roa. It is famous for its 887 huge statues called Moai, created by the early Rapanui people. Easter Island also has a huge crater called Rano Kau at the edge of the island In the crater there is a natural lake and it is one of only three bodies of fresh water on the island. Easter Island a World Heritage Site (as determined by UNESCO) with much of the island protected within the Rapa Nui National Park. In recent times the island has served as a cautionary tale about the cultural and environmental dangers of overexploitation. Ethnographers and archaeologists now say that the introduction of diseases carried by European colonizers and the slave raiding, that devastated the population in the 1800s had a much greater social than environmental impact. Introduced animals, first rats and then sheep, were largely responsible for the island's loss of native flora.


The history of Easter Island is rich and controversial. Its inhabitants have suffered famines, civil war, slave raids, and near total loss of forests. The population has declined steeply more than once. The islanders have left a cultural legacy that is famous. 300–400 CE was thought to be the date of the first settlement of Easter Island, which is about the same time as the arrival of the first settlers on Hawaii. However, new results in radiocarbon dating have changed almost all of the early settlement dates in Polynesia and Rapa Nui is now considered to have been settled between 700 to 1,100 CE. Oral tradition says that the first settlement was in Anakena. The island was most probably settled by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Marquesas Islands, 3,200 km (2,000 miles) away, or the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2,600 km (1,600 miles) away. When Captain Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, who was a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. The language most similar to Rapa Nui is Mangarevan with about 80% of similar words. In 1999, they reached Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days. According to oral traditions written down by missionaries in the 1860s, the island originally had a very clear class system, with an ariki, high chief, who had great power over nine other clans and their chiefs. A French navigator, Jean-Francois de Galaup, comte de La Perouse, found 2,000 people on the island when he arrived in 1786. A major slave raid from Peru in 1862, followed by epidemics of smallpox, reduced the population to only 111 people by 1877. By that time, Catholic missionaries had settled on Easter Island and begun to convert the population to Christianity, a process that was completed by the late 19th century. In 1888, Chile annexed Easter Island, leasing much of the land for sheep raising. The Chilean government appointed a civilian governor for Easter Island in 1965, and the island’s residents became full Chilean citizens. The high chief was the eldest descendent, through firstborn lines, of the island's legendary founder, Hotu Matu'a. The most visible part of the culture was the making of very large statues called moai that represented deified ancestorsand many mataa, or obsidian spearpoints, have been found dating to that period. It was believed that the living had a relationship with the dead where the dead provided everything the living needed (health, fertility of land and animals, fortune, etc.,) and the living through offerings could provide the dead with a better place in the spirit world. Most settlements were located on the coast and moai were erected all along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the sea.

Ahu Tongariki near Rano Raraku, a 15-moai ahu excavated and restored in the 1990s


The most important myths are:

  • Tangata manu, the Birdman cult which was practiced until the 1860s.
  • Makemake, is an important god.
  • Aku-aku, the guardians of the sacred family caves.
  • Moai-kava-kava a ghost man of the Hanau epe (long-ears.)

Climate and weather

The climate of Easter Island is subtropical maritime. The lowest temperatures are in July and August (18 °C) and the highest in February (maximum temperature 28 °C), the summer season in the southern hemisphere. Winters are quite mild. The rainiest month is April, though the island has year-round rainfall. As an isolated island Easter Island is constantly exposed to winds which help to keep the temperature fairly cool. Rainfall averages 1,118 millimetres or 44 inches per year. Occasionally, heavy rainfall and rainstorms strike the island. These occur mostly in the winter months (June-August). Cyclones and hurricanes do not occur around Easter Island.

This article is about a World Heritage Site