Easter Island: Mystery at the navel of the earth

An important lesson of growing-up is realizing that the world isn’t as magical as you believed it to be when you were  a kid. All the things that once captured your imagination – Santa Claus, the tooth-fairy, Milli Vanilli – turn out to be nonexistent or fake.  There are few things in the world that intrigue us the same way as adults. A few exceptions exist, however, that reawaken our imaginations, and Easter Island is one of them!

Home to numerous archeological artifacts, including the famous moai statues, Easter Island remains an enigma.  What do these giant rock-hewn heads signify? How did these 70 ton towering giants get transported around the island? Why were they all eventually toppled (the ones currently standing have been re-erected by archeologists)? Was the near collapse of the civilization on this resource-constrained island a result of intertribal warfare, or the importation of disease, weapons, and slavery?

Our ride...

Eager to resolve these mysteries to our satisfaction, we set about exploring the island for 3 days.  We hiked, toured, and buzzed around on a 4WD ATV.  (We would have preferred carbon-neutral bikes, but there was a road-rashed hand incident that made the 4-wheeler a necessity.) In addition to the moai, free-range horses were everywhere.  Although the island horses technically have owners, there are neither saddles nor fences in sight, and we believe that the world’s happiest animals live on Easter island, moseying and grazing about, independent and unconfined.

During our visit, we learned many fascinating theories to the above questions.  For the hardcore archeo-enthusiasts, articles and books abound, attempting to unlock Easter Island’s mysteries.  One good overview is: Smithsonian Rapa Nui overview

Hoa Hakananai'a, "Stolen Friend", needs to find a way home

Sadly, we also learned that numerous artifacts have been removed from the island over the years.  We were particularly moved by the story of Hoa Hakananai’a, a beautiful moai, whose name roughly translates to “stolen friend”. Hoa Hakananai’a is one of the most intricate and intact moai, not to mention an important link between two very distinct archeological periods in the island’s history.  However, we didn’t get to see it for ourselves as it is housed in the British Museum. It’s unclear whether this statue was gifted to British explorers in the late 1800’s or stolen, but all that remains on Easter Island is a pictorial display. Several years back, the Rapa Nui people signed a petition requesting that the statue be returned, but Chile never made a formal plea on their behalf, and thus it remains, thousands of miles from home. Interestingly – and not altogether surprisingly – most British publications we came across listed the translation of Hoa Hakananai’a as “hidden friend”.

Maybe we are anthropomorphizing, but it did look sad in the pictures we saw of it in the British Museum, so far from home and its other “friends”. Before we decide to boycott all future Austin Powers movies and royal weddings, let us consider that other maois reside in mainland Chile and in the United States as well.  A few artifacts have been returned to Easter Island over the years, but too few and too far between.

Horses everywhere. The foal on the right looks brand new : )

All seriousness aside, this blog is primarily for entertainment purposes (with a little education thrown in when we think you might not notice) so we will end with the following recommendation:  Visit Easter Island.  At some point in your life.  It is a must see.  The mysteries surrounding the moai and the island’s history, set against the scenic and remote backdrop of the island itself will renew your childhood wonder about the world.

As always,  check out our photos page for more pictures!

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3 responses to “Easter Island: Mystery at the navel of the earth

  • cathy rongey

    I am so bummed we missed Easter Island on our adventures. Can’t wait to hear more about it. There is also a book by Jared Diamond that talks about societies chosing to fail and succeed and uses Easter Island as an example. Where is your next adventure?

  • Carmina

    Hi Aggie and Jeff,
    I have enjoyed catching up with your blogs and photos!! I am just now able to sit down and just look at them all now. I know I’m not too behind but work (hmm remember that word??- sorry) has been quite busy. I hope that I am able to join in March. I can’t believe the places you have been to, it’s like watching the travel channel or something. I miss you both!! Ciao for now! Carmina

  • aggierm

    Carmina – We can’t wait to see you in March! Let us know when you are ready to start looking for plane tickets!!

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