Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Day 139 - A Daytour in 2227 Words

This morning my dad had to drive to the bank (there are only two banks with two ATMs on the island), because he had to pick up his bank card. Why this? Our very first activity on the island already created trouble, and were veeery happy to have someone with us who could speak Spanish. The moment my father inserted his Swiss bank card, the ATM’s screen went black and it rebooted afterwards. Now we know that Easter island’s ATMs run on Windows NT 4.0… We had to wait some 30 minutes until the ATM was up again to test whether it “ate” our bank card or whether it may eject it for the next customer…

Anyway, we were picked up at 09:30 by a nice French woman who was our tour guide for today. She told us that she was on a backpacker trip around the Pacific Islands and after one month she just couldn’t say goodbye to the Easter Island. So she settled here after a while, met her boyfriend here, speaks French, Spanish, English and Rapa Nui, spoke a little German too, has a flair for the Rapa Nui history and archeology, is a hobby decipherer, and visits her family back in Europe from time to time.

For a short overview. We drove the red line along the coast first, and through the island back. It's the only street that crosses the island in that way.
Reference: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/bc/Easter_Island_map-en.svg/2000px-Easter_Island_map-en.svg.png

The boat-shaped house

A cave for sleeping
Our tour started at a simple village, called Vaihù, where she explained us the composition and rules. The first settlers who came around 600 AD travelled with by boat, of course, and they had no place to be, because the island was inhabited, so they just used their boat as a house. Later on, the people were used to boats as houses, didn’t use exactly boats, but the remaining stones in the ground still resemble the shape of a long boat. These houses were for the important persons of the clan, the workers and less important had to live in caves (“Ana”) that were formed by lava or lava tubes. These had the advantage that the temperatures stayed more or less the same all day, all year, and they were protected from strong wind. But the caves were only for sleeping, just like the houses. The Rapa Nui live took place outside, not in the dwellings.
They however not only used caves for sleeping, but also to hide personal stuff they didn’t want to share. These could be objects or persons, like when strangers arrived with boats they hid all the women in the ground to not be abducted.

Talking about boats, the Rapa Nui flag shows a boat too, with a head at each side. These two heads represent the first king of Rapa Nui and his sister. The boat is a Polynesian double canoe and stands for royalty and upper-class.

About every village has at least one own “Ahu”, a ceremonial center for the people. Across all Polynesia, these ceremonial centers were composed of a platform and a shrine. Only on the Easter Island, people developed the tradition to carve ancestor figures from lava stone and place these figures, the so-called “moai”, on top of the platform. Moai is the Rapa Nui word for “big sculpture”, and every single moai that is upright was re-lifted some years ago. In the 17th century there was a revolution, where the workers that formed the sculptures killed the “important” long eared people, and no more moais were built. Later, the moais cult was replaced by the bird-man cult (for more on the bird-man cult, see Day 140).
Talking about the ahus, the platforms, I wanted to add that these plain areas were used to bury “important” dead. “To bury” for Polynesian people means to let the corpses dry in the sun, maybe even eaten by birds, under the observation of the moais, then later to collect the bones and either keep them at home or place them in the platform.

The moais usually had their eyes pointing towards the village, away from the sea, located on the platform at the furthest point at the coastline. Villagers should have the impression of being watched and not committing anything “tapu”. Actually, they really had eyes once, but there was only one broken eye found, of hundreds. The reason? The people that time had no glue to fix the eyes to the moais. This is why the moais seem to look at the sky (what they shouldn’t look like), because they had to lean the eye, made of white coral and a red stone oval as the pupil, against the head stone carefully and hope that the wind would not blow them off. The eyes only were put on the platform, when the moai was fixed. For this reason one can easily tell if the fallen moai had already reached its platform or not (if the eyes are hollowed or not). There were many moais laying around on their way to the platform, and each went the same way.

Not only eyes but also “hats” were attached to moais that probably should symbolize the Rapa Nui people’s hair bun. In contrast to the moais that were made of dark lave stone, the hair was made from red colored volcano stone. The hair is called “Pukao” and was carved close to our hostel - that’s why the hostel’s name is Pukao. Also at the “hair quarry”, you can still see some “hats” lying around. Most of them are cylindrical and could be rolled to its moai. However rolling still with strings on, otherwise the several tons weighing roulade couldn’t be stopped anymore when moving downhill. The hair was not glued either, but erected with the moai together, with only a light hollowing for the head.
Easier said than done, having huge stone sculptures walking their way to their platform. New theories say that these figures probably were tilted from one to the other side using strings and manpower. Producing a moai took from six up to twelve months depending on the statue’s size, but the way was long and hard, too.

A moai by the way was a sculpture in honor of somebody important of the village, for example the clan chief, if he was liked. Not only a moai will be erected, but also the bones of the person would be buried in the platform. Researchers found bones of around 90 different persons in the platforms. Not only bones, but also ancient moai sculptures because this cult lasted for a many centuries and platforms were often renovated – which meant to use the existing moais as filler material and erect new, bigger and more elegant ones on top of them.
Talking about recycling old moais, we also were shown a moai head being a part of the platform wall, and at the quarry we saw a broken moai which was re-used as an exercise stone block for the youngsters.
Everywhere you drive you see large heaps of stones, perfectly built as a cuboid. Houses? Yes, but for chicken and not for humans! Huge chicken houses can be found all over the island, made of black lava stones, each with several little openings. Why would chicken need a house? Food became more and more scarce on this isolated island (due to overpopulation, climate change, waste of resources for the moai cult) so that chicken became a precious source of proteins. The chicken needed to be safe from thieves, so they were put into a narrow cage at night. When the first European sailors discovered the island they found a bunch of poor people, almost dying of starvation, because they deforested the entire place. What should they eat? Even before the terrible eco crisis on Rapa Nui, the people had basically only four main sources of food: chicken, fish, bananas and sweet potatos. The chicken houses therefore were built so precisely that even without any renovation they look brand-new, even after 500 years or more.
Today, you often find cattle walking unfenced around, and horses, too. They all belongs to a farmer (and are branded), in contrast to the chickens that they still have. All across Polynesia, chicken are considered “wild” (like fish) and if you’re hungry you can catch and kill one. Today on the Easter Island, cows are just used for “cutting” the grass and giving meat. Milk and eggs are imported from Chile. And the horses are just there for being there, or an occasional “caballeros tour”. As a newcomer the whole island is full of guava plants, which determined in causing horrible pain to people who eat too much of it: it causes gastroliths.
Talking about diseases, when there were people needed in Peru, they grabbed 1’500 out of 4’000-20’000 (we don’t know exactly) persons, from which only fifteen ever returned to Rapa Nui. These fifteen persons brought any disease that was imaginable, and caused a huge number of deaths, so that at the end only 111 native Rapa Nui people survived in total. Therefore, all the oral knowledge of the Easter Island got lost. Today there only exist four pieces of wooden documents, because the rest was burned in the missionary age around 1820. These four pieces of wood are far too less to decipher their language, one of the many mysteries around the Easter Island.
Can you see the moais standing beneath the quarry volcano?
Around 900 moais were built in a period of nearly a thousand years. More or less all of them come from one and the same quarry. The picture shows well how they were sculptured, namely lying, first the top, then the sides, finally the back. When I say sculptured I talk about the utensils they had in our stone age: stones. Rather heavy obsidian stones to shape the moai. Because the moai production was on its peak, they were faster produced than they could have been moved to their platform. Therefore we can admire a big number of moais randomly standing around in the landscape at the quarry, a big part of each hidden in the ground. By the way, a moai’s bottom tells you if there is more hidden in the earth or not: hands with thin fingers conclude in holding the (according to latest interpretation) phallus, as a symbol for power. On the back you often see tattoos, and incisions showing the male string. Nearly all moais are male, and all of them are long eared, because only the long eared people were considered to be noble.
How they lift the moais
A moai not yet finished...
Thin fingers conclude the moai at the bottom
At the inside of the quarry was a big crater lake which was popular as one of the few and rare freshwater sources. Even on the inside crater wall there were moais standing around, enjoying the view. Did they even move these things on top of the crater rim and then downwards? No, entire streets were build, where they removed the unwanted parts of the crater rim and could roll the moais out horizontally.
The biggest moai ever erected was eleven meters tall (without “hat” to be noticed), the largest being carved was 22 meters - what a monstrous thing, and what a crazy idea. There are a few exceptions in the history of building moais. One exception can be seen at the quarry, the only kneeling moai ever. They guess that the Rapa Nui people were visited by a New Zealand Maori who taught them better ways to sculpture. Not only the posture is different, but also the face is much rounder than others, and the people created the tongue or a beard, too. This is also the only moai that is kneeing, not standing. Another quarry moai shows a confusing carving on the belly. Probably two persons were having a conversation when a huge Western boat came close the island, one that they had never seen before, with an anchor instead of a turtle (they would always find home), and carved it into the moai next to them to keep that moment in memory. Another special moai has a neck tattoo, in color.
Not only the style of moai changed over the many centuries they were built (from round to long and cubistic), but also different island tribes developed slightly different moai face expressions.
In the early 1960s Chile was struck by one of the heaviest earthquakes ever recorded. On the Easter Island no-one was hurt, but the most impressive moai platform was hit by a tsunami that swept away the 15 moai as far as one km inland. The platform and the village scene were completely destroyed. A decade later, at least the platform was rebuilt and the 15 moai were re-assembled from their pieces and re-erected. Fortunately only a few weeks before the tsunami, a lot of photos had been taken that could be used to rebuild the platform and the surroundings. In the same village a lot of petroglyphs can be found, showing birdmen, faces that symbolize the god mate mate, turtles and fish (sometimes with a lot of fantasy).
Not much of a conclusion phrase except for that it was suuuuper interesting to listen to that woman who had so much to tell and could transmit the information so well, due to her own excitement about the island’s culture and history. I hope you didn’t get bored with my three-page essay, because I didn’t get bored in the seven hours the tour tool - except for the drive back to our hostel where I almost fell asleep in the car, which hasn’t to do with the tour ,however.


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