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Easter Island Information
By Beachcomber, retrieved from Wikipedia
Nov 2, 2003, 19:34

Easter Island (Polynesian Rapa Nui, Spanish Isla de Pascua) lies in the south Pacific Ocean, west and slightly north of Santiago, Chile and is part of the territory of Chile (Valparaíso Region). The island is approximately triangular, with the southwest tip located at 27°10' S, 109°25' W, and is 2,075 kilometers (1,290 miles) from the nearest inhabited island (Pitcairn), and 3,515 kilometers (2,185 miles) from the coast of Chile. The island has an area of 163.6 km² (63 sq. miles), and the population is 3,791 (2002 census). The island is famous for its numerous 400-years-old stone statues located along the coastlines.

The history of Easter Island
The history of Easter Island can be related with the aid of a reconstructed king list of Easter Island, complete with events and approximate dates since A.D. 400. Its current native population is of Polynesian descent. The island at one time supported a relatively advanced and complex civilization. The European discovery of the island, by the Dutch navigator Jakob Roggeveen, occurred in 1722 on Easter Day. Roggeveen found about 2,000-3,000 inhabitants on the island, but it appears that there were as many as 10,000-15,000 of them in the 16th and 17th centuries. The civilization of Easter Island had degenerated drastically during the 100 years before the arrival of the Dutch, owing to the overpopulation, deforestation and exploitation of the extremely isolated island with its limited natural resources. However, by the mid-19th century the population had recovered to about 4,000 inhabitants. Then, in a mere 20 years, deportation to Peru and Chile, and diseases brought by Westerners almost exterminated the whole population, with only 111 inhabitants left on the island in 1877. The island was annexed by Chile in 1888 (by Policarpo Toro). The native Rapanui have gradually recovered from their low of 111 inhabitants. Recent events have shown a tremendous increase of tourism on the island, coupled with a large inflow of people from mainland Chile, threatening to alter the Polynesian identity of the island. The possession of the land has created political tensions in the past 20 years, with part of the native Rapanui opposed to private property and in favor of the traditional communal property of the land.

The large stone statues for which Easter Island is world famous were carved at a later time than was initially thought. Archeologists now estimate that they were carved between 1600 and 1730, the last one being carved around the time when Jakob Roggeveen discovered the island. There are more than 600 large monolithic stone heads, called Moai, on the island. Most were carved out of the rock at Rano Raraku. The quarry there seems to have been abandoned abruptly, with half-carved statues left in the rock. The most common theory is that the statues were carved by the Polynesian inhabitants (Rapanui) at a time when the island was largely planted with trees and resources were plentiful, supporting a population of 10,000-15,000 native Rapanui. The majority of the statues were still standing when Jakob Roggeveen arrived in 1722. Captain James Cook also saw many standing statues when he landed on the island in 1774. By the 19th century, all the statues had been toppled in internecine wars. See the moai page for a more extensive discussion.

Deforestation and Decline
Modern Easter Island has few trees. The island once possessed a forest of palms, but it is thought that the native Easter Islanders completely deforested the island in the process of erecting their statues, as well as constructing fishing boats and buildings. There is evidence that the disappearance of the island's trees coincided with the collapse of the Easter Island civilization. Midden contents from that time period show a sudden drop in quantity of fish and bird bones as the islanders lost the means to construct fishing vessels and the birds lost their nesting sites. Chickens and rats became leading items of diet. There is also some evidence of cannibalism, from human remains.

The small surviving population of Easter Island eventually developed new traditions to allot the few remaining resources. In the cult of the birdman, a competition was established in which every year a representative of each tribe, chosen by the leaders, would dive into the sea and swim across to Motu Nui, a nearby islet, to search for the egg of the Sooty Tern. The first to return with one 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.


There are tablets found on the island bearing a mysterious script. The script, known as Rongorongo, has never been deciphered despite the work of generations of linguists. A Hungarian scholar, Wilhelm or Guillaume de Hevesy, in 1932 called attention to the apparent similarities between some of the rongorongo characters of Easter Island and those of the prehistoric script of the Indus Valley in India, correlating dozens (at least 40) of the former with corresponding signs on seals from Mohenjo-daro. This correlation has been re-published in later books, for example by Z.A. Simon (1984: 95). The rongorongo may mean peace-peace, and their texts may record peace treaty documents, possibly between the long ears and the conquering short ears. Such explanations have, however, been strongly disputed.


Population at the 2002 census was 3,791 inhabitants. The figure is up from 1,936 inhabitants in 1982. This tremendous increase in population is due mainly to the arrival of people of European descent from the mainland of Chile. Consequently, the island is losing its native Polynesian identity. In 1982 around 70% of the population were Rapanui (the native Polynesian inhabitants). At the 2002 census however, Rapanui were only 60% of the population of Easter Island. Chileans of European descent were 39% of the population, and the remaining 1% were native Indians from mainland Chile. Nearly all of the population live in the town of Hanga Roa.

Rapanui have also migrated out of the island. At the 2002 census there were 2,269 Rapanui living in Easter Island, while 2,378 Rapanui lived in the mainland of Chile (half of them in the metropolitan area of Santiago).

Population density on Easter Island is only 23 inhabitants per km² (60 inh. per sq. miles), much lower than in the heyday of statues' building (17th century) when there were between 10,000 and 15,000 native Rapanui on the island. Population had already declined to only 2,000-3,000 inhabitants before the arrival of Europeans. In the 19th century, disease due to contacts with Europeans, as well as deportation of 2,000 Rapanui to work as slaves in Peru, and the forced departure of the remaining Rapanui to Chile, carried the population of Easter Island to the all time low of 111 inhabitants in 1877. Out of these 111 Rapanui, only 36 had descendants, and they are the ancestors of all the 2,269 Rapanui currently living on the island.

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