Okay, it’s a pretty tenuous link between the holiday many of you are probably celebrating and Easter Island. But it is a good excuse for me to learn a little bit more about a place that I’ve always found fascinating. Obviously, the famous moai statues are the most striking feature of the island to an archaeologist (I first saw them in a comic book as a child and only later learned that they’re real!). They’re probably some of the most recognizable prehistoric monuments in the world, notable for their stylized faces and massive size. I suppose there’s some “mystery” about their construction (safe to say, not aliens).
But, backing up a bit, “Easter” seems like an odd place name for ancient Polynesian peoples. And, of course, current residents call it Rapa Nui. There’s some ambiguity about its previous name and meaning. A Dutch explorer sighted the island on Easter Sunday, 1722 and…why does no one ever ask local people what they call their land?…dubbed it Easter Island.
Jared Diamond’s account of Easter Island’s collapse (2004) is a powerful cautionary tale. The ecological and cultural issues faced by the island today are a continuation of those identified by Diamond, and a microcosm of global issues. Gideon Long of BBC News provides an excellent summary of the troubles of sustaining a small, remote island population. Easter Island is both blessed and cursed by the massive tourist interest in its sites. I’m personally stretched between wanting to see moai before I die and not wanting to contribute to the island’s tourist-related problems. According to National Geographic, January-March is the peak tourist season, so, if I’m ever fortunate enough to visit, it will probably be another time of year.
Have any readers ever visited Easter Island? Please share your stories in the comments!