Isla de Pascua, Valparaíso, Chile
GPS: -27.072694729988, -109.34829711335
Renowned to be one of the most isolated and mysterious places on the planet, Easter Island (Rapa Nui in Polynesian) is a volcanic archipelago lost in the Pacific Ocean vastness. This rocky island is 3,700 kilometres west of the nearest continent (South America) and 4,200 kilometres southeast of Tahiti (French Polynesia). It was King Hotu Matu’a, a member of the Haumaka people, who would have discovered and annexed this remote land probably before the year 1000 following a long journey by sea from the Marquesas Islands (Polynesian islands). He named Easter Island Te Pito o te Henua (“the Navel of the World”) because of its particularly lonely character.
Covering an area of 163 km², this small archipelago covers 23 kilometres long and 12 kilometres wide. Devoid of trees but endowed with volcanoes at its three ends, Easter Island has between 800 and 900 monumental statues called moai. These large blocks of cut stone, probably carved between the 11th and late 16th centuries, represent anthropomorphic beings. They measure on average 4 meters in height for a unit weight of 14 tonnes. One third of the moai statues are erected by the inhabitants of the island on ceremonial platforms (called ahu) to honour their ancestors. In the 17th century, this cult gradually turned to Makemake, the creator god of men and fertility in the local culture. The stone pits are standing up, mostly back to the sea and towards the villages of Easter Island, so that the inhabitants can better communicate with the spirits.
Since its discovery by Europeans in the 18th century, Easter Island has aroused many myths and questions about the fall of the Rapa Nui civilization. The theory of self-collapse is the most widespread, given that the indigenous population has reduced the archipelago’s forest to nothing and led to the desertification of the soil. The rampant manufacture of statues could explain the over-exploitation of the local resources. Other experts suggest that overpopulation or a civil war between different tribes may have upset the balance of the archipelago. According to the latest indications uncovered during a scientific mission led by Belgian archaeologists Nicolas Cauwe and Dirk Huyge, there is every reason to believe that Easter Island society lived in perfect harmony and social cohesion. It was organised in small and separate communities that mixed shortly before the arrival of the first Europeans in 1722. Infectious diseases (variola, leprosy…) transmitted by the settlers were the main cause of the tragic decline of the Easter Island population.