The Mystery of Easter Island

The Mystery of Easter Island

Everybody knows that the inhabitants of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) dissappeared. Where did they go? Disneyworld? Abducted by space aliens? Did the inhabitants de-forest their island and starve themselves out? Maybe after they made those big stone heads (moai) they got creeped out by them and just split.

Or maybe it was the rats. Could rats have eaten the island’s palm trees and starved out the population? Terry L. Hunt proposed this, and German ecologists Andreas Mieth and Hans-Rudolf Bork think this was a contributing factor, along with the “slash-and-burn” agriculture practiced on Rapa Nui, which is too small for this type of practice to be sustainable. Or maybe the effort of constructing the huge stone shrines destroyed the Island’s resources.

This “mystery” conveniently ignores the visits of murderers and slave-takers, 19th-century American sealers and whalers and Peruvian slavers. One third of the island’s people were kidnapped, and imported diseases killed many of those remaining. Surviving Rapanui left for work on other islands, 200 to Tahiti and 150 to the Gambier Islands. By 1877, only 175 islanders remained on Rapa Nui, which had become a sheep ranch (more about these atrocities here).

So outsiders destroy a people and culture, then marvel that it is gone.

But certainly the ancestors of the few Polynesian Rapa Nui residents could not have constructed and moved the enormous stone heads that have captured the Western imagination. Aliens or powerful ancient beings must have done that. Certainly our European ancestors couldn’t have killed and enslaved the descendents of the people who produced such powerful artifacts.

Never mind the partially carved sculptures in quarries around the island, or evidence that the huge red hats the sculptures sport were rolled downhill on specially hardened roads to the statute sites. Lasers and power beams must have done this work. Certainly human skill, faith, and will could not have done it.


Image (“Decline and Fall”) by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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2 Responses to “The Mystery of Easter Island”

  1. HL Says:

    Isn’t Rapa Nui an old school hip-hop artist?

  2. Mike Licht Says:

    There is some confusion about Easter Island hip hop since the international symbol for the Rapanui language is “Rap.” The island has some traditional chanting and contemporary verse, but, as far as we know, no hip hop.

    Most Polynesian hip hop artists are from Hawaii, Samoa and Tonga, and many live in LA. There may be Rapanui hip hop on the Chilean mainland.

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