Easter Island

Katie M.


Easter Island is a small triangle of land off the coast of Chile, well known for its magnificent stone Moai and colorful past. Tourists enjoy strolling along it's rocky coasts and marveling at the unique relics left over from the natives.
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Easter Island sits in the South Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of Chile. A bearer of many mysteries, it is now a popular tourist attraction for those wanting to visit the large Moai statues that decorate the islands' outer rim. Easter Island is also home to a handful of dormant volcanoes, including the largest, Terevaka, which lies towards the northeastern end of the island. Although it has no natural harbors, tourists can anchor off the coast of the largest village on the island, Hanga Roa, which has a population of around 3,300 people.


Around 300-400 A.D, the Rapa Nui arrived on Easter island. Tradition tells that they were led by the first king Hoto-Matua, who is assumed to be from the Marquesa Islands, and landed on the Anakena beach. They found the island well-forested and uninhabited, and began building their home.

Their time on the island is separated into 3 distinct cultural phases: the Early Period (700-850 A.D), the Middle Period (1050-1680), and the Late Period (Post-1680). Research shows that many of the statues built by the Rapa Nui were destroyed and rebuilt between the Early and Middle periods, while burial chambers and Moai resembling past leaders were important advances of the Middle Period. Obsidian spearheads, called mataa by the natives were found dating back to the Late Period, which was when the two main ethnic groups, the Short-Ears and the Long-Ears, began rebelling against one another. This caused many deaths, and led to the creation of a ditch near Poike to lay the bodies.


Through the ages, Easter Island has been home to many different religions. One of the more major religions was called Tapu. Tapu was based off the immortality of the soul, and thought the spirits of their ancestors would come and help their closest relatives in times of need. Their creator god was called Make-Make, and the people of the Tapu religion believed in a power called Mana, a mental and supernatural power only possessed by priests, chiefs, and sorcerers. It was later thought that this power is what caused the Moai to move.

Another major religion is called Manutara, which is the worship of the Birdman, or bird of luck. It was mainly celebrated in September in Orongo, and consisted of a competition between the strongest members of the island. To win, the competitors must be the first to get the egg of the Manutara, or seagull, and then swim with the egg atop his head to deliver it to the chief. The egg would then be emptied, filled with vegetable fibers, and placed on the Birdmans head for a year. It brought great pride and celebration to the island.

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The Moai

One of the more stunning relics of Easter Island are the magnificent Moai, which line the island with their backs to the sea. At first glance, they appear to be made of solid stone, but quarries in the volcanoes suggest that they are made of volcanic ash instead. Created in the 10th-16th centuries, the Moai are often thought to represent the souls of ancestors, and although it is unclear what the Rapa Nui's intentions were behind the creation of the Moai, it is assumed that these stone giants were created as a memorial for past leaders.

Over 800 Moai have been located, with 397 still in the quarries and 92 still in the process of being transported to their Ahu, or the stone pedestals where they sit. Because of the lack of oral tradition on the island, it is still unknown why some did not make it to their final locations. Although the average Moai stand at around 13 feet tall, there are a few outliers. The largest Moai, named "El Gigante", is 71.93 feet tall and weighs between 145-165 tons, while the smallest Moai, located in Poike, is only 3.76 feet tall! Although their intent is unclear, Moai are an important part of Easter Island culture.

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Fun Facts!

~Easter Island was named by Dutch traveler Jacob Roggaveen for the day he arrived

~Although Easter Island was owned by Chile, the residents were only made full members in 1965

~One of their native instruments, the Keho, is made by an empty pumpkin with a slab of stone placed across the top, and dancers would dance on it with their bare feet

~Because the natives cut down all the trees for firewood and to transport their Moai, the island was barren and nearly completely unhabited when the Europeans first found it in 1722

Works Cited

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NOVA, ed. “Stone Giants.” PBS Online NOVA. N.p., Nov. 2000. Web. 3 Feb. 2016. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/civilization/giants.html>.

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