martes, 26 de junio de 2012

Easter Island

If They Could Only Talk

“The statues walked,” Easter Islanders say. Archaeologists are still trying to figure out how—and whether their story is a cautionary tale of environmental disaster or a celebration of human ingenuity.

By Hannah Bloch
Video Animation by Hans Weise, Spencer Millsap, Fernando G. Baptista, and Fanna Gebreyesus

On a winter night last June, José Antonio Tuki, a 30-year-old artist on Easter Island, did one of the things he loves best: He left his one-room home on the southwest coast and hiked north across the island to Anakena beach. Legend has it the earliest Polynesian settlers hauled their canoes ashore at Anakena a thousand years ago or so, after navigating more than a thousand miles of open Pacific. Under the same moon and stars Tuki sat on the sand and gazed directly before him at the colossal human statues—the moai. Carved centuries ago from volcanic tuff, they’re believed to embody the deified spirits of ancestors.
Sleepless roosters crowed; stray dogs barked. A frigid wind gusted in from Antarctica, making Tuki shiver. He’s a Rapanui, an indigenous Polynesian resident of Rapa Nui, as the locals call Easter Island; his own ancestors probably helped carve some of the hundreds of statues that stud the island’s grassy hills and jagged coasts. At Anakena seven potbellied moai stand at attention on a 52-foot-long stone platform—backs to the Pacific, arms at their sides, heads capped with tall pukao of red scoria, another volcanic rock. They watch over this remote island from a remote age, but when Tuki stares at their faces, he feels a surge of connection. “It’s something strange and energetic,” he says. “This is something produced from my culture. It’s Rapanui.” He shakes his head. “How did they do it?”

"The statues walked," Easter Islanders say. Archaeologists are still trying to figure out how—and whether their story is a cautionary tale of environmental disaster or a celebration of human ingenuity.

The ancient statues known as moai are everyday sights on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui—native dancers in body paint, less so. Some 2,000 Rapanui live on the island, which belongs to Chile. They numbered only 111 in 1877, after slave traders and disease had decimated the population.

Their backs to the Pacific, 15 restored moai stand watch at Ahu Tongariki, the largest of Easter Island's ceremonial stone platforms. Rapanui artisans carved the moai centuries ago from volcanic rock at a quarry a mile away. By the 19th century all of Easter's moai had been toppled—by whom or what is unclear. In 1960 these moai were swept inland by a tsunami, which fractured some (left).

Three volcanoes, quiet now, formed Easter Island half a million years ago. It has three crater lakes but no streams; fresh water is scarce. Chile, the island's source of fuel and most food, is 2,150 miles away.

Tourists diving on Easter Island's reef encounter a fake moai, made for a 1994 Hollywood movie and then sunk offshore. The reef is healthy, though it is overfished. Tuna and salmon are imported, primarily for tourists.

Chilean newlyweds in festive paint and feathers (at right) celebrate marriage Rapanui style. Nearly two-thirds of the 50,000 visitors to the island in 2011 were from Chile.

The one-room house that José Antonio Tuki built on Easter Island for himself and his Belgian girlfriend, Joyce Verbaenen, has electricity but no indoor plumbing. The ocean is only steps away.

Kantu Tuki, 30, a Rapanui photographer, fishes for nanue, or rudderfish, in high waves near his home along Easter Island's south coast. "Our men and women are quite strong," says his twin brother, José. "We fish in hard rain."

A side of island-grown beef awaits a family gathering in Kantu Tuki's home. Until 1953, a Scottish company used the entire island as a sheep ranch, and residents needed permission to leave Hanga Roa, the only town. Tuki's great-grandfather worked on the ranch.

Another Tuki brother, 25-year-old Suri, a part-time tour guide, shares a meditative moment at home with Chilean girlfriend Daniela Ahumada, 22. They met while she was on a ten-day holiday on Easter Island. Soon after this photograph was taken, she gave birth to a baby named U'a (Rain).

Victor Ika, a Rapanui impresario, takes a break at home while waiting for tourists to arrive at his restaurant and performance center next door. His three children are watching Ben 10, an American cartoon. Ika wears face paint for ceremonial dances and meals; he makes it himself from clay he finds in a south-coast cave.

At a demonstration in Hanga Roa preceding local elections in June 2011, marchers favoring independence from Chile carry the red-and-white Rapanui flag. It depicts a crescent-shaped ornament once worn by chiefs. A poster (at left) advertises local dance performances.

Isolated no more, seductive but not easy, Rapa Nui holds its people. José Tuki (at left, with girlfriend, Joyce) moved to Chile, but only for four years. "If you go away," he says, "the island will call you back."

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