The Easter Island was a myth for me, a place seen on National Geographic or from the 1994 movie ‘Rapa-Nui’ by Kevin Kostner. I have long dreamt to see the gigantic statues that are famous for this place and I was not disappointed when we came to the most remote inhabited islands in the world.
Rapa Nui, as its called by the locals is a Polynesian Island under the government of Chile. Around 15,000 Polynesian people settled here in the first millennium CE. Today the population stands around 5,000 which 2,000 are native and the rest from the mainland. It is assumed that either an overpopulation of the Rapa Nui people or the introduction of the Polynesian rat that led to the deforestation and extinction of natural resources, which caused the demise of the Rapa Nui civilisation.
Thais our local guide explained to us that the native islanders were split into 12 clans and each clan built their own Moai to honour deceased ancestors. In ancient time there were 887 Moais on the island, each of them weighted around 60 tons and it is assumed that between 60 to 90 people were working for 9 month to complete the statues. The volcanic crater Rank Raraku was a quarry for about 500 years and supplied the stone for the monolithic sculptures. One of the incomplete moai is 21.5 metres long and 270 tons heavy, if finished it would have been the biggest moai on the island. The statues look majestic and it is still a mystery how the Rapa Nui transported them from the quarry to the coast many kilometres away.
Our trip around the island started at Ahu Tongariki, the largest ahu on Easter Island. The moai were toppled during the island’s civil wars and in 1960 the ahu where swept inland by a tsunami. It has since been restored and there now stands fifteen moai including an 86 tonne moai that was the heaviest ever erected on the island.
The island was very poor until the rest of the world got to know about it through the movie in 1994. Lots of natives played a role and earned money to buy their first pair of real american jeans or their first car. Since then many things have changed but this island still seems like a place set back in time, you can still see horses being ridden down the main street. There are no speed limits and very few road signs, and to get your driving license you will get lessons from your family. Trading is still very common and people swap meat for potatoes and vegetables with their neighbours. Nearly everything is imported from the main land and therefore very expensive however this enforced diet helped us to lose some weight.
Overall it is a special island as the distance has helped keep it separate from the fast development of the modern world. No Mcdonalds or Starbucks, where people close their restaurant when they want to go surfing or if they have run out of food and are waiting for the next delivery. Where families socialise together and everyone knows each other. Definitely a a highlight of our trip.