Easter Island is our first stop heading west across the South Pacific from Peru. Anticipation and excitement are building for this stop, a first for us. The island is about 64 square miles in size and is about midway between Chile and Tahiti. The island formerly known as Rapa Nui by its inhabitants was renamed Paaseiland or Easter Island by the Dutch explorers who found it on Easter in 1722. In the late 19th century it became a part of Chile and now has tourism as its main industry.
Much of the attraction, or perhaps all of it, lies in the 900 giant stone figures called moai that date back centuries and have become iconic and synonymous with Easter Island. The statues average 13 feet in height and weigh in around 13 tons each. They are carved from local rock formed from volcanic ash. It is not known why they were made or for what purpose but some could date back as far as 700-850 A.D. The largest moai is 32 feet high and weighs 82 tons.
Tradition has it that long before the Dutch arrived two ethnic groups lived there peacefully but sometime around 1680 there was a civil war, the Short Ears verses the Long Ears. When an expedition from Peru landed on the island in 1770 they estimated the population at 3,000 but when James Cook arrived in 1774, the population was reduced to about 600-700 men and only 30 women. They surmise another civil war in the span of four years.
Today, under Chile, the island's largest town is about 3300 people. The people speak Spanish and their economy is based on tourism. In 1995 UNESCO named the island a World Heritage site The Short Ears and Long Ears now live peaceably I'm told.