Monday, November 27, 2017

Easter Island or Rapa Nui / Rapanui

I've visited Easter Island twice - 1990 and 2017. Before taking you around the island and discuss several aspects, I'd like to give a kind of introduction.
As I've also studied Social Anthropology, I've been interested in Rapanui and the script  (Kohau Rongorongo) from as early as 1975, I've even written two lengthy homeworks (one in German and one in English; see under Links and References).

Easter Island has several names: Rapa Nui (Great Rapa) or Te Pito Te Henua (also Te Pito Ote Henua, meaning The Navel of the World)) to the original inhabitants, the Rapanuians. To us it is mostly Easter Island or Isla de Pascua, as it had been named by Dutch Admiral Roggeveen, who had been the first European visitor - the original name in Dutch is Paaseiland as they arrived there on Easter (06.04.1722). Though this discovery exited curiosity in Europe, it took about 50 years until the next visit to the island (Gonzales de Haedo in 1770; first map). In 1774 Captain Cook called at Easter Island (sketches by William Hodge). The impact of Roggeveen's visit couldn't have been great as his ship stayed tehre only for a day.

The Rapanuians are of Polynesian descent. Where they have come from and why Thor Heyerdahl has been wrong we be an own blogpost. The island is part of Chile, to be more specific part of Valparaiso. Nowadays there are about 4000 Rapanuians and about 5000 non-rapanuian Chileans living on the island. Not to mention tourists. In 1990 the number of visitors had been estimated at 5000 per years, in 2017 there are about 100,000 tourists per years on the the island, which would account for 500-1000 tourists on the island each day.

Language will be an own topic. Rapanuian as it were isn't well known. The population was deminished to about 100 during the second half of the 19th century and Tahitian had been introduced. Today Rapanuian seems to come close to the Maori spoken on the Cook Islands.

Island's Geography
Easter Island lies remote at 27° South and 109° West, which means it is 3760 km off the Chilean coast and the nearest inhabited island is Pitcairn (descendents of the Bounty mutineers ans their Tahitian spouses) at 199 km West. The surface area is about 166 square kilometer, which means it has the size of Liechtenstein. The longest coast line is 24 km, the other two of the triangle measure about 17 km each. Maouna Terevaka is the highest volcano with 525 m.

Easter Island is formed by volcanoes, which had risen from the seafloor. So ideas that Rapanui is the remnant of a sunken continent are nothing but a fanciful tale. The three extinct volcanoes are chiefly composed of tuff, which is important if we come to discuss the moai (huge statues).

The climate is subtropical with considerable wind. The averaged temperatures vary from 18° C (July) to 23° C (February). Rainfall is about 1200-1300 mm per year, but varies a lot. The volcanic soil is porose, it cannot hold water well.

Flora and Fauna
There are only a few indigenous plants and animals. "Today only 31 wild flowering plants, 14 ferns, and 14 mosses are reported." The toromiro tree had become extinct in the 1950ies and was reintroduced in 1988 as seeds had been collected and survived at the Gothenburg Botanical Garden.

Links and References:
Articles concerning Easter Island from the Encyclopædia Britannica 1994-2001 edition
Kirsch, Lothar M.; Die kohau rongorongo oder Ein Verscuh zur Osterinselschrift. University of Cologne, Department of Ethnology, January 1976.
Kirsch, Lothar M.: KOHAU RONGORONGO. A close look on Cultural Distribution Theory and the semantic value of logographic writing systems in comparison to the Kohau Rongorongo. National Taiwan University, Institue for Archeology and Anthropology. Taipei, April 1979.
Lonely Planet Chile, 2006.

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