11.11.2011 - 14.11.2011 32 °C
It seems when faced with some uncertainty about the past, some people uncomfortable with the ambiguity invent an explanation that generally involves aliens. Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is one such place. The island was populated by aliens, of course, and that explains the strange-looking statues or maois. And the Nasca lines that I visited in Peru were alien landing strips and the existence of the 'astronaut' motif on the side of a hill is conclusive evidence.
I feel very privileged to have visited the island - it's around 4,000km from both Chile and Tahiti - the naval of the world as the original inhabitants called it. It was populated by Polynesians around 400AD when they set sail to find new lands to populate. There was devastating deforestation of the island during their time and the population shrunk from 15,000 to 3,000 by the time the Dutch 'discovered' it in 1722 on Easter Sunday. Regan to note, the Easter Bunny does not live there.
There were two cults on the island. Ancestor worship which led to the creation of moais from the rock of one volcano on the island. Each looks slightly different and is supposed to represent the person who has died. Statues were transported across the island and around 800 remain, all facing inwards except the moais representing the explorers who first landed - they face out to sea.
Later the islanders invented the bird man cult, (manutara), whereby a competition was held every year between a representative of each tribe. Chosen by the leaders, they would climb down a cliff, dive into the sea and swim across to Motu Nui, a nearby islet, to search for the first egg of the new season laid by a Sooty Tern. The first swimmer to return with an egg would secure control of the island's resources for his tribe for the rest of the year. This tradition was still in existence at the time of first contact by Europeans.
I was struck by how unspoiled and relaxed the island was. The 'main' town was not a tourist trap but a sleepy single story village. The various reconstructed moai sites and bird man ritual areas were free from the usual trappings and where in the natural state left by their creators. You are left with just the beauty of the objects, island and the sea to enjoy. It's all very relaxed and you can't help but feel there is a resonance between you and the maois as you exchange serene gazes. I wad totally transported by the experience.
A volcano crater filled with fresh water that was used as recently as two generations ago for washing clothes and fresh water. My guide's grandmother used to hike up and down to the water as a matter of course to collect grapes and oranges to eat. A row of maois standing guard over a perfectly white sandy beach. A stone with holes and carved vagina symbols used by the locals as a horn to communicate with other villages. Diving with turtles in 40m visibility. Singing hymns in the church on Sunday in Tahitian with a live band as the bible wasn't translated into Rapa Nui. Wonderful, wonderful - if you have the opportunity please go.