290 years ago today the west discovered easter island


On Easter Sunday in 1722, the European discovery of what is now called “Easter Island” by a Dutch sailing vessel became history. Now under the auspices of the government of Chile, Easter Island is today still the stuff of mystery. This island, hours west of the South American coast by plane, has had many local names over the years, including Te Pito O Te Henua [the navel of the world] and Mata Kiterage [the eyes that look up to the sky].

No doubt the latter referred to what the island is most known for, the giant moai, or heads, that endlessly search the sky for something, we just don’t know what that something is. Conventional wisdom states that these statues are depictions of island ancestors, whose simple presence bestowed a blessing and kept watch over the island villages.

The history of the island is one of a civilization in flux, with a rise followed by a fall that included environmental disaster when all of the trees on the island were finally gone due to deforestation. It is thought that the first settlers came to the island from Polynesia a thousand years ago or more in a deliberate colonization – pretty amazing considering the huge distances the settlers would had to have traveled.

During the time of the first settlers evidence shows that the island was quite a tropical paradise, with giant palm trees, many varieties of birds, and abundant fish. Due to the many natural resources, the settlers flourished. As the population increased so did the demands on the island’s resources, and soon the trees were all gone. As the trees were gone so was the islanders’ ability to make such staple items as canoes, rope, tools and hunting implements. Evidence suggests that resources became so scarce that some islanders resorted to cannibalism to survive. The once glorious island culture was dead and only the moai are left to silently represent their prosperous past.

Today, the island is part of Rapa Nui National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Easter Island is approximately 2300 miles [3200 km] and a six hour plane ride from Santiago, Chile’s capital, and there are daily flights between the two.

On this Easter Sunday, you may want to consider a trip to Easter Island, as it’s clearly too early to consider a trip to Christmas Island [an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean].