Easter Island also known as “Rapa Nui” or “Isla de Pascua” is a mysterious open air museum with massive stone statutes (Moai) dotting the coastline around the island. Officially the Island is a territory of Chile and one of the worlds most isolated places, situated on a triangle of volcanic rock in the South Pacific over 2,000 miles from the nearest population centers of Tahiti and Chile.
The island is known as one of the world’s most sacred sites, famous for its giant stone busts, built centuries ago, they reflect the history of the dramatic rise and fall of an isolated Polynesian culture.
Early settlers called the island “Te Pito O Te Henua” (Navel of The World). It was named Easter Island by a European, Admiral Roggeveen who arrived on the island on Easter Sunday 1722. Locally today it is known as Rapa Nui.
There has been much confusion and controversy as to the origin of the Easter Islanders. Some think Peruvians built the statues, some feel the Island is a piece of a lost continent. DNA has proven that Polynesians were the first settlers arriving around 400 AD from the west in large boats. This is seen as remarkable given that Easter Island is such a great distance from other land. Legend has it they were looking for other land as their own island was being swallowed by the sea.
The island was a paradise and the islanders prospered — archaeological evidence shows that the island was covered with a variety of numerous trees, including the largest palm tree species in the world. The natives used the bark and wood for cloth, rope, and canoes. Birds were plentiful and provided food. The climate was mild and the water provided an abundance of fish and oysters.
Their religion developed with its centerpiece the giant moai, or heads, that are the island’s most distinctive feature today. The moai, are scattered around the island and supposedly depicted their ancestors. This was likely considered a blessing or a watchful eye over each small village. The ruins of the Rano Raraku crater, the stone quarry where hundreds of moai sit today, show how these figures were important. The birdman culture (as seen in the petroglyphs) was obviously the islanders’ fascination with their ability to travel to distant lands.
In addition to the statues, petroglyphs (rock carvings), traditional wood carvings, tapa (barkcloth), crafts, tattooing, string figures, dance and music, the islanders possessed the Rongorongo script, the only written language in Oceania. As time went on confidence in their religion was lost as disagreements broke out. This is reflected in the ruins of the moai statues which were deliberately toppled by human hands.
At its peak the island had more than 10,000 population, straining the capability of it’s ecosystem. As a result lush palm forests were destroyed for agriculture and the massive statues, and resources became scarce. The once thriving advanced social society descended into a bloody civil war, and apparently cannibalism as they ran out of food sources. The islanders tore down the statues, that today have been re erected by archaeological efforts.
Through contact with western civilization, slavery and disease the island population by around 1800 had dropped to approximately 110. Around 1888 following the annexation of Chile the population rose to more than 2,000. Despite the Chilean presence there is still a strong Polynesian identity.
The Rapanui people are extremely friendly and the landscape is amazing with its volcanic craters, lava formations, beaches, brilliant blue water, and archaeological sites.
Access is from Chile and Tahiti, tourism on the island is run by the Rapanui themselves. There are many package tours and various hotels and guesthouses on the Island. There are opportunities to stay in a private home, a great way to experience the island and local culture. In late January to early February the islanders celebrate Tapati, a festival honoring the Polynesian cultural heritage of the island
There are a series of ongoing excavations, conservation and preservation projects.All but one of the 22 standing statues in Rano Raraku Quarry interior have been previously exposed through unscientific and undocumented digging.
The Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) has a 20 year history of an archaeological survey, the objective of which is the creation of a complete, full, island-wide monolithic and portable statue inventory and the compilation of an historical image record for each.
In 1982 the EISP team started a 5 year Easter Island Statue Project, mapping the interior of Rano Raraku, the volcanic quarry from which 95 percent of the statues were created. Over one thousand statues were documented throughout the entire island and created the world’s largest archaeological archive
Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater on the island’s eastern plain, was the source of the sideromelane (basaltic) from which 95% of the statues were carved. This source is irrefutable as there are 397 in situ statues, of which 141 in various stages of completion have recently been mapped by EISP in the interior quarries. Much rarer statue lithologies are basalt (hawaiite lavas) from three named regions.
There are only 20 statues which were carved of basalt. Of these, 7 are in museum collections. The British Museum holds two basalt statues.
The Island is extremely small, so it is possible to get around fairly easily. There are rental cars, usually jeeps, as well as dirt bikes. With a car, you can see most of the sites on the island in a few hours.
The biggest tourist attractions are, of course, the Moai. All of the sites, are free and are mostly found along the coastline of the island. Two exceptions are the volcanic craters of Rano Kau and Rano Raraku. “Rano Raraku” is where the moai carvings were created by hundreds of laborers out of the volcanic rock. A visitor can see various stages of the carving and partially finished statues in this 300 foot remnant of a volcano. Rano Kau, the remains of a volcanic cinder cone, has a spectacular mottled unearthly appearance. Both craters are filled with fresh rainwater. There is a combined entry fee currently at $60 US. Make sure to keep your ticket.
Easter Island features two white sand beaches. Anakena, on the north side of the island, has an excellent bodysurfing location. The second is Ovahe, along the southern shore of the island near Ahu Vaihu, this beautiful beach is much larger than Anakena and is surrounded by breathtaking cliffs. Scuba diving and snorkeling is popular near the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti (well known for “The bird man culture”).
There is an extensive cave system with a couple of “official” caves and numerous unofficial caves on the island. Many of the openings to the caves are small but open up into large, deep and extensive cave systems. These are not to be explored on your own and can be damp, slippery and dangerous.
Most of the commerce on the island occurs in the port town of Hanga Roa. There are a number of small shops, as well as an open market and approximately 25 restaurants with limited menus, although there is a wide range of fish.
All in all Easter Island is a remote spectacular destination offering a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
Written By Avril Betts CHA
Article source: http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/easter-island-tourist-information