Author(s): Steven Roger Fischer
Famed for its breathtaking isolation, Easter Island was a verdant South-Sea idyll when a small canoeful of Polynesians arrived in c. ad 700. Centuries later the island's statues were famous throughout the world. This book presents, for the first time in the English language, the history of Easter Island told by a writer who is intimately familiar with the island, its people and their extraordinary story. When voyaging in the South Pacific became far less widespread around 1500, Easter Islanders became stranded on their desert-like isle, and were forced to adapt to survive. The first European visitors, in 1722, encountered a people thriving in total isolation, surrounded by huge architectural platforms of fitted stones topped by hundreds of monolithic busts. Subsequent intruders brought trade, disease, violence, and the Easter Islanders adapted to this change, too, through cultural re-invention: new leaders, new rituals, new gods. Steven Roger Fischer relates the compelling history of this unique region: how wars, smallpox and the Great Death decimated the island, how Catholic missionaries arrived in 1866 to relieve the suffering of the dying people, and how a despotic Frenchman claimed the island for himself, but was then killed by the remaining islanders - a population then of only 111. The author also examines the modern history of the island, and its colonization and annexation by Chile. He relates the peaceful but insistent civil rights movement in 1964-65 whereby the Rapanui people were granted citizenship and could move freely about their island again for the first time in 70 years. Today, the population has increased, as has tourism of the island - from 2,000 visitors in 1991 to 20,000 in 2001 - which continues to be managed by the Rapanui themselves. Foreign interest in Easter Island has never been so keen, for the majestic archaeological endowments of the island is still one of Earth's most impressive. This book is a much-needed history of this little-known but remarkable island.