Just why is it called Easter Island? Read the history & mystery

Vantage Travel Team April 12, 2017

While on Vantage’s Across Patagonia: Chile’s Lakes, Mountains & Wildlife journey, extend your adventure to Easter Island. One of the most exotic destinations in the world, Easter Island is a Chilean territory that was annexed in 1888 and is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean at the most southern point of the Polynesian Triangle. The volcanic island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and most of it is protected inside the Rapa Nui National Park.


Easter Island is known for its 887 moai statues and referred to as Rapa Nui by locals. The remote island consists of three extinct volcanos ­– the Terevaka, Poike and Rano Kau volcanos – that form the island into the shape of a triangle. It’s one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world, with the nearest town located 1,619 miles away, and maintains its modern-day economy mostly by tourism. The earliest settlers of Easter Island are believed to have arrived between 300-400 A.D, but most of the history of Easter Island is speculation. In any case, the Polynesian settlers proved to be a cultural people and master craftsmen, as evidenced by the expertly carved, ornate moai statues that still stand today. These statues sit atop large platforms called ahus and sit 13 feet high, with an average weight of 13 tons. The moai statues were carved out of tuff, which is rock formed by volcanic ash. Easter Island’s name derives from its first documented settler, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. Roggeveen documented his discovery of the island on Easter Sunday in 1722 and named it Paasch-Eyland, which translates to Easter Island in 18th-century Dutch. Legend has it that the first King of Easter Island was Hoto-Matua. By the 19th century, most of Easter Island’s already small population of 2,000-3,000 inhabitants were wiped out by slave raiders from Peru. A smallpox epidemic in 1877 then reduced the dwindling population to just 111 people. When Chile annexed the island in 1888, they leased it out to sheep farmers up until 1953. The Chilean Navy then occupied Easter Island until 1966 and the island was reopened, giving its native Rapanui Chilean citizenship. A 2012 census reported about 5,800 residents on Easter Island today.


There are many mysteries surrounding Easter Island and its native settlers, mainly how this small group of people managed to transport these colossal statues across various parts of the island. Questions have also been raised about the purpose of the statues and what they symbolize. With little writings left behind, there’s no concrete evidence of exactly who settled on Easter Island and when. There are various theories surrounding the demise of civilization on this volcanic island, which has lead archaeologists to closely study the region in the 21st century. One theory is that the combination of the native settlers burning up the vegetation, which is evidenced by the discovery of charcoal, and the slave raider abductions that are believed to have taken place, could’ve contributed to the demise of Easter Island’s civilization. But no matter what, Easter Island is a local jewel and a modern world wonder. Although we may never know how or why the mystical moai statues were created, moved around and altered hundreds of years ago, we should take advantage of the ability to see them up close so many years after their creation. Don’t miss your chance to see them up close and personal on Across Patagonia: Chile’s Lakes, Mountains & Wildlife.