Skullduggery On Easter Island (Half II Of II)
That is the second installment in a two-part series. Read part one here.
I continue up the barren coast a short distance, and stop at a bluff to watch the sea fling veils of water 100 toes into the air. At this assembly of rock, sea and sky — mass, vitality, and mild — I’m sufficiently sated to show inland, and stitch in the direction of higher ground. My horse, inaptly named Pegasus, brings me to the base of Ahu Tepeu, a magnificent beetle-browed statue crowned with a red stone headdress weighing eleven tons. The achievement of donning this fellow’s hat should be in contrast with placing a man on the moon right this moment. The best of origin theories notwithstanding, the erectors likely had little wood at their disposal, and limited manpower; but the statue stands, proud in his haberdashery, lips peculiarly pursed, eyes blind, mouth in solemn silence, but someway alive within the deadness of stone.
Ahu Tepeu faces inland, as do nearly all of the statues. A well-liked idea is that the statues had been created to characterize important people who had died. The power of the deceased was thought to be transmitted to descendants through the eyes of moai. Thus, all of the statues originally confronted the center of the island, towards villages. As I information Pegasus behind the statue while gaping at the huge hat, he suddenly rears and whinnies, almost tossing me to the dirt. Looking up, I see the source of his fright — from this vantage it seems the statue is toppling over towards us, an illusion that matches the spooky nature of the place.
For the next few hours the trip yields nothing, save stark vistas, a rough pitch-stone terrain, and wild horses. The island is completely volcanic, with three major cones forming the points of a triangle. As I zigzagg northwards I discover myself ascending the talus slopes of the island’s highest peak, the extinct Volcan Aroi, 1400 toes above the sea. Halfway up an incongruous grove of banana trees circumscribes a rock outcropping. I dismount to investigate.
There is a cave beneath the wide leaves. I poke my head inside, and anticipate eyes to adjust. There seems to be a skull with horns, perhaps of a ram, not far within.
A boulder blocks the entrance, however with my again into it I am in a position to roll it apart. A shaft of light strikes the horned skull, and sends a shiver through me.
I lower myself into the grotto feet first, kicking aside a latticework of spider webs. Inside, I squirm to my knees, and crawl via the damp, black velvet of darkness to the skull, which is lit by a pinpoint of sunlight. Subsequent to it, within the half mild, I could make our two more skulls. I reach to pull one closer, then coil back like a snake-bitten dog.
They are two human skulls. I bring them to the surface to photograph, and see that every has a pen-sized holed in a single side of the top, and a jagged, gaping grapefruit-sized hole on the opposite. Forensics is hardly my forte, but the marks seem like bullet holes to me. What chilling tales would these heads inform if they might converse Homicide Accident Cannibalism Double suicide How old have been they One yr, one hundred Did they know the riddles of the islands
Later, back in Hanga Roa, I speak with Claudio Cristino, an archeologist from the College of Chile, who spent years learning and mapping the island’s hundreds of archeological websites.
“These caves are sepulchers, burial chambers for the victims of smallpox again in the mid-1800s,” he tells me.
Claudio agrees with Professors Flenley and King that Easter Island at its top supported 15,000 people, a bustling South Pacific station. When Captain Cook arrived he discovered solely 600 males and fewer than 30 ladies eking out existences on an island with solely stunted mulberries and tiny mimosas for timber. “On your complete surface of the island, there will not be a tree that merits being referred to as that,” wrote naturalist George Forster, who accompanied Captain Cook. If the ecological devastation principle holds, many of the inhabitants loss was the results of forest obliteration greater than 600 years earlier than Cooks’ landing. However things got worse. In the early nineteenth century Peruvian expeditioneers, looking for low cost labor, abducted Easter Islanders as slaves, and launched smallpox (which had been earlier gifted to South America by the Spanish Conquistadors), consumption, and venereal diseases to these remaining. By the mid-19th century the island’s population was decimated. At its ebb, within the 1870s, there were just 111 inhabitants. Today the inhabitants is round 5,000, and the place nonetheless appears underpopulated.
After my skullduggery on the cave I spur Pegasus onward and upwards. I come to a easy farmhouse, an island of life on the desolate volcanic slope, where a darkish, disheveled figure steps out to meet me. As he steps from the shadow of the mountain I can see that that left aspect of the farmer’s face is contorted in bizarre strains, with lip and eye drooping like melted butter. He’s a leper, one among about 30 on Easter Island, and his disease had paralyzed and disfigured his face. Now he lives in isolation on the world’s most isolated isle.
When Chilean navigator Captain Policarpo Toro negotiated to transfer Easter Island to Chilean sovereignty in 1888, he introduced with him a number of islanders who had been residing in Tahiti. Missionary information indicate that one passenger was visibly unwell with leprosy, already showing some limb paralysis. He was the first.
The disease spread quickly, and a decade later a leper colony was built not far from this farmhouse to isolate the sufferers. By the 1940s, forty islanders had the disease. Then, with the island-large vaccinations in the 60s and 70s, the illness was ultimately officially eradicated. Now the last of the lepers have staked out homesteads in the far corners of the islands, such as the one here on the side of the volcano.
We nod and attempt to exchange salutations, but are hampered by the impenetrability of a native dialect I don’t understand. He smiles, and waves me towards his dwelling, so I slip off Pegasus and follow him inside. There he pulls a black pot off the stove, and serves up a cup of steaming, delicious real bean coffee. It is an unexpected deal with, and when i ask in my best signal-language what I’d give him in return, he shakes his head. I insist, and finally, after some thought, I pull off my Hanes T-shirt and hand it to my host.
After bidding goodbye I continue the ride up the fallow grade, reaching the summit mid-afternoon. A shallow crater, lush with rain-nourished grass (the island is devoid of working water) types an imperfect crown. A few of this grass is papyrus, referred to as totora, like that discovered along the shores of Lake Titicaca, and the stuff Thor Heyerdahl believed made up ancient ocean crafts.
Pegasus picks up speed and fire descending the eastern scree slope. After an hour’s onerous trip I crest an empty ridge and look down upon Easter Island’s most resplendent sight — Ahu Akivi, or “The Seven Monkeys,” because the islanders have nicknamed them. Since restoration by Chilean archeologist Dr. Gonzalo Figueroa and Professor William Mulloy, former head of the Department of Archeology at the University of Wyoming, the seven monkeys have become the most famous and most photographed residents of the island. They stand not like apes, however somewhat soldiers guarding a wasteland, fixed in scorn, ceaselessly watching a vacant landscape and the watery azimuth beyond. Their graven images function tongue-tied testimony to a previous about we will solely surmise and quarrel.
Minutes later my as soon as-glue-manufacturing unit-candidate is galloping back Preakness-type, a cat that appears like me clinging to its back. Minus my right stirrup I screech into Hanga Roa, pull into the first tavern, wrap the reins around a hitching put up, and mosey inside for a brew. I order a Brazilian import referred to as Xingu, and stroll outdoors to tug the fleece saddle off Pegasus’s sweaty again. A gust of wind spins down the lane and pitches dust into my eyes. A chill runs via me. I still haven’t any shirt, having left mine with the leper on the stone island 42223 hill, but this breeze appears ghost-like, one thing from sculptors previous maybe, makers of nice artwork, however failed stewards of land, sources and tradition. Are we any higher Is there a message in the stony stares of the island sentries
I take a long draw from my Xingu, drink within the glazed Pacific horizon, and the splendidly lonely landscapes of the island. I can hear the sea murmuring one thing, however it’s indecipherable to me. The solar is setting, but I imagine I see a slight, sly smile on the lips of the statue on the ridge.
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