EASTER ISLAND (Spanish: Isla de Pascua) ... also called Rapa Nui ("Great Rapa") or Te Pito o te Henua ("Navel of the World") by the islanders ... is a small volcanic island that encompasses about 67 square miles of land mass, and at its highest point rises to about 1,700 feet above sea-level.
FAME: Easter Island is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people.
It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.
Also, in recent times the island has served as a warning of the cultural and environmental dangers of environmental overexploitation.
LOCATION: Easter Island is a Polynesian island in the south-east Pacific Ocean, at the south-easternmost point of the Polynesian triangle. The Polynesian triangle is comprised of New-Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island. It lies 2,200 miles west of Chile and 1,200 miles east of Pitcairn Island, its closest neighbour. Easter Island is claimed to be the most remote inhabited island in the world.
GEOGRAPHY: The main community is located at Hanga Roa ('Great Bay'). Thanks to the U.S. space program, NASA extended an existing runway into a full-length airstrip capable of handling an emergency landing of the space shuttle. Today, LAN Chile, the official carrier of Chile, provides regularly scheduled commercial air service to Rapa Nui.
'DISCOVERY': The first European to land on the island, Dutch admiral Jakob Roggeveen, arrived on Easter Sunday, 1722.
In 1770, an expedition dispatched by the Spanish viceroy of Peru 'rediscovered' the island. British navigator Captain James Cook also visited in 1774.
Ethnographers and archaeologists blame diseases carried by European colonizers and slave raiding of the 1860s for devastating the local Rapa Nui people.
HISTORY: In "Easter Island: the Mystery Solved" (Random House, 1989), Heyerdahl offers a detailed theory of the island's history. Based on native testimony and archaeological research, he claimed the island was originally colonized by Hanau eepe ("Long Ears"), from South America, and that Polynesians Hanua momoko ("Short Ears") arrived only in the mid-16th century; they may have come independently or perhaps were imported as workers. According to Heyerdahl, something happened between Admiral Roggeveen's discovery of the island in 1722 and James Cook's visit in 1774; while Roggeveen encountered white, Indian, and Polynesian people living in relative harmony and prosperity, Cook encountered a much smaller population consisting mainly of Polynesians and living in privation.
Heyerdahl speculates there was an uprising of "Short Ears" against the ruling "Long Ears." The "Long Ears" dug a defensive moat on the eastern end of the island and filled it with kindling. During the uprising, Heyerdahl claimed, the "Long Ears" ignited their moat and retreated behind it, but the "Short Ears" found a way around it, came up from behind, and pushed all but two of the "Long Ears" into the fire.
GOVERNMENT: Easter Island is a special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888. In 1965, the Chilean government appointed a civilian governor and gave the islanders full Chilean citizenship. It is now a province of Chile's Valparaiso region.