The name “Easter Island” was given by the island’s first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday (5 April) in 1722, while searching for Davis or David’s island. Roggeveen named it Paasch-Eyland (18th-century Dutch for “Easter Island”). The island’s official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means “Easter Island”.
The current Polynesian name of the island, Rapa Nui (“Big Rapa”), was coined after the slave raids of the early 1860s, and refers to the island’s topographic resemblance to the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands of the Austral Islands group. However, Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl argued that Rapa was the original name of Easter Island and that Rapa Iti was named by refugees from there.
The phrase Te pito o te henua has been said to be the original name of the island since Alphonse Pinart gave it the romantic translation “the Navel of the World” in his Voyage à l’Île de Pâques, published in 1877. William Churchill (1912) inquired about the phrase and was told that there were three te pito o te henua, these being the three capes (land’s ends) of the island. The phrase appears to have been used in the same sense as the designation of “Land’s End” at the tip of Cornwall. He was unable to elicit a Polynesian name for the island itself, and concluded that there may not have been one.
According to Barthel (1974), oral tradition has it that the island was first named Te pito o te kainga a Hau Maka “The little piece of land of Hau Maka”. However, there are two words pronounced pito in Rapa Nui, one meaning ‘end’ and one ‘navel’, and the phrase can thus also mean “the Navel of the World”. This was apparently its actual meaning: French ethnologist Alphonse Pinart gave it the actual translation “the Navel of the World”. Another name, Mata ki te rangi, means “Eyes looking to the sky”.
History of Easter Island
Estimated dates of initial settlement of Easter Island have ranged from 300 to 1200 CE, approximately coinciding with the arrival of the first settlers in Hawaii. Rectifications in radiocarbon dating have changed almost all of the previously posited early settlement dates in Polynesia. Rapa Nui is now considered to have been settled in the narrower range of 700 to 1100 CE. Ongoing archaeological studies suggest a still-later date: “Radiocarbon dates for the earliest stratigraphic layers at Anakena, Easter Island, and analysis of previous radiocarbon dates imply that the island was colonized late, about 1200 CE. Significant ecological impacts and major cultural investments in monumental architecture and statuary thus began soon after initial settlement.”
According to oral tradition, the first settlement was at Anakena. Researchers have noted that the Caleta Anakena landing point provides the island’s best shelter from prevailing swells as well as a sandy beach for canoe landings and launchings so it appeals as a likely early place of settlement. However, this conclusion contradicts radiocarbon dating, according to which other sites preceded Anakena by many years, especially the Tahai, whose radiocarbon dates precede Anakena’s by several centuries.
The island was most likely populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2,600 km (1,600 mi) away) or the Marquesas Islands, 3,200 km (2,000 mi) away. According to some theories, such as the Polynesian Diaspora Theory, there is a possibility that early Polynesian settlers arrived from South America due to their remarkable sea-navigation abilities. Theorists have supported this through the agricultural evidence of the sweet potato. The sweet potato was a favoured crop found among Polynesian society for generations. But the origins of the sweet potato trace back to South America, proving evidence of interaction at some point in time between these two geographic areas. When James Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. The language most similar to Rapa Nui is Mangarevan, with an estimated 80 percent similarity in vocabulary. In 1999, a voyage with reconstructed Polynesian boats was able to reach Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days.
Easter Island – Faces of Mystery
It is one of the most isolated islands in the world but 1200 years ago a double-hulled canoe filled with seafarers from a distant culture landed upon its shores. Over the centuries that followed a remarkable society developed in isolation on the island.
For reasons still unknown they began carving giant statues out of volcanic rock. These monuments, known, as “moai” are some of the most incredible ancient relics ever discovered. The people of Easter Island called themselves the Rapa Nui. Where did they come from and why did they disappear? Science has learned much about the enigma of Easter Island and has put to rest some of the more bizarre theories, but questions and controversies remain.
Images For Easter Island
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