History of Easter Island

Among the numerous questions regarding Easter Island (many of them still unexplained), are the origin and the date of the first immigrants: the real discoverers. The great Sebastian Englert, a priest and scientist who loved the islanders like his predecessor brother Eyraud, came to the conclusion that the island’s culture had been defined after the arrival of three consecutive invasions, probably distant in time. The second one, during the 16th century, was the invasion of the magnificent ariki, who brought in his two boats the first quadruped mammals to visit the island: chickens and mice. Before that, there were only turtles and sea birds in the island. These people were called the Hanua Momoko.

One century later came the third invasion by the Hanau Eepe, which consisted only of men. For this reason, the idyllic peace was ruptured. According to the story, several rivalries in the year 1970 caused a bloody war between both people, that is, between the short ears and the long ears. The latter were almost completely exterminated, causing the end of sculpture in stone. According to the legend, they entrenched in a great pit where they were burned along with their chief. This way, the constructions of the moai stopped, which now lay scattered around the island. Ten tribes were formed from the families of the settlers. They settled in the island and enjoyed certain land at the seaside. In time, these tribes formed several villages, creating a great sense of localism that prevails until today.

When did the first inhabitants come? Who were they? Why are they extinct? It is possible that they came from the Marquesas Islands and settled there during the 4th century A.D, but nothing else has been deducted from the difficult and scarce early archeological findings. It is important to remember that the primitive men extended their domain with very fragile means and less developed nautical instruments, driven by the original command to “populate the earth”. Thus, they started a millenary journey from the southeast of Asia, with the purpose of populating the far Rapa Nui. A long time after this, almost recently, started the European migrations and discoveries.

Around the 5th century of our era, when America had not been discovered yet, small Polynesian crafts navigating towards the east cut through the Pacific Ocean. Apparently, they never reached the continent, but just when they despaired over the solitude and vastness of their journey, they found an uninhabited insular territory where they disembarked. It was a triangular island currently known as Easter Island. There, they started accumulating legends and customs; many of them remain a mystery to this day.

The hypothesis that the inhabitants of Rapa Nui came from the Polynesia was accepted up to mid 20th century. Then another theory emerged, which proposes a South American origin. Its supporters highlight the amazing similarity between Andean constructions and the ones in the island. The main advocate of this theory is Thor Heyerdhal, who travelled by boat (the Kon Tiki, built by craftsmen of Lake Titicaca) from the South American shore to the Polynesia. This way, he proved the possibility of a navigation route between the continent and the islands of the Pacific. The theory of Polynesian origin states that Easter Island was populated by a migration from the Marquesas Islands. This theory is gathering more and more answers. Another theory based on the existence of sweet potatoes and pumpkins in the island states that the first settlers came from South America, particularly from Peru and northern Chile, led by the Humboldt Current.

The legends say the inhabitants are descendants of Kon-Tiki, a priest and sun god who fled from the Coquimbo valley towards the Pacific with a group of natives, and then sailed to the west. Allegedly, they weren’t alone in the island for long, since later arrived indigenous people from North and Central America. On the other hand, according to tradition, during the 15th century, King Hotu Matua organized an expedition that came from Polynesia to settle in the island. This colonization period was followed by another one, which led to the blooming of megalithic art. The stone monuments and sculptures that characterize Easter Island were built during this time.

Worldwide, the island is known as Easter Island, a name given to the island by the dutch sailor Jacob Roggeween, who discovered it during the Easter of 1722. Nevertheless, before and after this discovery, the territory has held other names. There are many signs which indicate the natives called it Te Pito O Te Henua (“the navel of the world”) and Mata Kiterage (“the eyes that look up to the sky”). It is less possible it was baptized as Rapa Nui, since it is a Maori word and researchers calculate the island received this name last century from Tahitians who visited it. Subsequent to Roggeween’s discovery, there were also other names for this insular territory: it was also named San Carlos Island when the Spanish dominated …the English sailor James Cook referred to it in his tales.