Easter Island was named by Roggeveen, a Dutch man that saw it for first time on the Easter Day of 1722. It is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, over the eastern vertex of the Polynesia, which other ends reach Hawaii and New Zealand.
The island inhabits 4,000 inhabitants, who mainly live in Hanga Roa, the only existing town. The closest island is Pitcairn, which is inhabited and located almost 2,000 km away. Tahiti is about 4,100 km away and the coast of South American is about 3,700 km away from the shores of Eastern Island.
The Island has a triangular aspect, as result of the eruption of three main volcanic centers and other smaller cones. These, along with the natural process of sea erosion, formed their present form of approximately 173 km2 in surface. In spite of its origin marked by the fire, it has smooth hillocks with two beautiful beaches in its Northern coast, Anakena and Ovahe, and both have beautiful sand of coralline and volcanic origin.
Due to archaeology and oral tradition, it is known that the island was populated by Polynesian emigrants, during the middle of the first millennium A.C. They developed here a notable megalithic culture, which reached its maximum splendor with the construction of ceremonial centers, where huge statues called “Moai” were raised in honor to their ancestors. This period of time was, approximately, from the year 800 D.C. until year 1680.
The Island economy was sustained in agriculture and fishing, and its social organization was based in a lineages and chief tribes system. At the same time, there was a chief for the whole island called Ariki Mau, powerful qualities were assigned to him. Nevertheless, a stage of conflicts between the different lineages brought internal wars, when the “Moais” started being demolished and the cult of “Tangata Manu” or man-bird became the most important one.
The survivors of this period were finally threatened by whale hunters, slave ships, adventurous, and epidemics during XIX century.
Their peaceful ruins, huge stone statues and the extreme isolation, contributed to lend an air of mystery around Rapa Nui, which is the name the island was given by the natives.
In 1888, the incorporation of the Eastern Island as a territory of Chile started a new stage for the last hundred inhabitants. Through these survivors, part of their history, language, and traditions were saved, which nowadays are cultivated with great passion and pride.
More information about the National Park and the local Museum: