The Majesty of Easter Island



I was also inspired by that In Search of with Leonard Nimoy talking about the mysteries of Easter island, and never thought I would get there either. My wife and I went on our honeymoon back in 2006. We actually were the only two people on a five day camping and horseback riding trip around the entire island. Horseback riding was good because there aren’t really roads to one side of the island so you get to see a little more a little easier (depends on how you feel about horses) than if you hiked. You have to trust your horse not to walk you off the cliffs though.

Our guide spoke some English, but also French. His Rapa Nui wife spoke Rapa Nui and Spanish and we stayed one night at a “homestead” (I suspect they had claimed and improved an abandoned ranch house) of the guide’s French friend and Rapa Nui wife so conversations were a fun blend of English, and my bad Spanish and horrible French. After the horseback riding part we stayed at one of the guest houses and continued our explorations to Ahu Akivi and the museum.

As far as I recall from the trip and all the books I bought before and after, all of the Moai on the island were toppled during the wars mentioned. Any that are standing were abandoned along the road from the quarries centuries ago or were restored in modern times (like Ahu Tongariki, which was itself destroyed again during the Tsunami, and restored again). Often unrealized is that the effort to create the Ahu platforms with their tons and tons of stones may have even been more difficult than moving the Moai, at least in terms of labor required. This was a culture that over 300 years or so carved 887 moai, all seemingly to outdo their neighbors in moai building. Easter Island may also be one of the few places where writing was invented independently. It is called Rongorongo and is undeciphered to this day. Amazing.

For a book about a hypothetical landing of the Space Shuttle on Easter island (and the Russians trying to steal it) you can read the book Shuttle Down by Lee Correy from 1981. His book supposedly inspired NASA to improve the airport, just in case.


Did Tom pick up any of the touristy trinkets for sale on the island?

I’m a big fan of place-specific tchotchkes and am curious what these ones are like — Hand-carved stone? Wood? Extruded Chinese plastic?

When we went, we got hand-carved stone moai for souveniers for the family and you can also get all kinds of wood carvings of figurines from the bird man cult legends (like a cavecave statue and a ceremonial oar) and even some reproduction rongorongo arving on wood. (All of which are not with me here so no pictures) There was a whole flea market there with handmade crafts from the island. I think it is a large part of some folks income. If you like place-specific tchotchkes, you would be in paradise.


Zippy loves those guys


What a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing it. And I had no idea that book existed. Appreciate the link!

No, since we’re going around the world, we’re trying to keep it light. My daughter did pick up one small replica head as a gift for a friend. There was a lot of the usual touristy junk for sale, but there were some really good craftwork if you took the time to look, especially from the small vendors at Ahu Akivi.

BTW, “Lee Correy” of Shuttle Down is the pen name of G. Harry Stine, who some of you might recognize from his work as a science fiction writer, National Association of Rocketry founder, and longstanding Astounding/Analog science fact columnist. [Wikipedia] .


There is some speculation that all the moai were originally toppled by a tsunami, the toppling during tribal war theory is falling out of favor since both tribes considered them sacred, and the amount of mud and silt that was found around the toppled statues along with the complete deforestation of the island, and the wiping out of the population of the island, all of which are more likely to be attributed to an event like a tsunami rather then the war theory.

On another exciting note:
#First Moai Outside of Easter Island Just Discovered!
A recent landslide on Henderson Island has unearthed the first ever Moai statue to be found outside of Easter Island, a discovery that could shatter previous beliefs about the builders of these mysterious megaliths.

I too hope to someday have the good fortune to visit! Cheers.

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That article is interesting though it does seem to engage in some wild speculation. I would like the site of the Moai dated. On Easter Island, the Moai were upright on the ahu as late as Roggeveen’s “discovery” of easter island in 1722, but no standing statues by 1868. That is history so recent that earthquakes or tsunamis in the pacific are likely to have been recorded. Perhaps the person speculating in that article was thinking of events from much longer ago.

As to the deforestation of the island, I have heard theories ranging from climate change, to they cut them all down, to rats. Why not all three? In the logs from Roggeveen’s visit, they mention that the islanders paddled out on scraps of wood and that they were no tress on the island. You don’t need a cataclysm to cause the tree loss, just a slow apocalypse of overuse of a stressed resource.

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