It is one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands. In Polynesian it is called Rapa Nui but when the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen encountered this easternmost island in the Polynesian triangle, he named it Paasch-Eyland. The day was Easter Sunday and the year was 1722. In 18th Century Dutch, Paasch means Easter.You may know Easter Island because of these …
the 887 monumental statues that can be found all over the 164 square metre island. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s said that the island was first inhabited and colonized by Polynesians around 1100 AD and the building of the Moai, the massive statues the island is famous for, began soon after.
According to Roggeveen, the first European to land on the island in 1722, there were about 2000 to 3000 people living on Easter Island at the time. He was followed in 1774 by James Cook, an English explorer. In the 1860’s a series of devastating events killed or removed most of the island population. Slave traders came from Peru and abducted nearly 1500 men and women. Then they knowingly spread small pox, a deadly disease in those times, through sick sailors which led to widespread epidemics. Then came tuberculosis, another deadly sickness introduced by whalers who came to the island in the 19th Century. That disease killed a fourth of the population.
With the death of so many Rapa Nui, land became freely available. A French mariner, Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier who settled on the island in 1868, began buying up the land to turn the island into a sheep farm. The Frenchman moved nearly 200 Rapa Nui to Tahiti and Christian missionaries moved another 200 or so to another island. That left about 111 people living on Easter Island.
In 1888 Chile annexed the Easter Island by means of a “Treaty of Annexation of the Island“. Till 1953 the island operated as a sheep farm before being taken over by the Chilean Navy. The surviving Rapa Nui were confined into a settlement.
But now the Rapa Nui want their land back. For the past three months they have been protesting the development of their land for tourism. The 4,000-strong population of Easter Island are demanding the return of ancestral land they say was unlawfully seized from their grandparents.
Under the watchful eyes of the great Moai, will the Rapa Nui prevail?