easter island
My cup runneth over. Thirty three years ago I had the great good fortune to visit Easter Island, and now I have come back from an almost unimaginable (and undeserved) second visit to the loneliest world ever settled by man. Let me first present my thoughts written at that now remote time, complete with what I now know were prevailing errors and blindnesses about the future. What errors and blindnesses will I write into my account of this second journey?

Easter Island, August, 1971

I have just returned from Easter Island! It was not easy to get there, for seats in the weekly airplane from Santiago, Chile, to Easter Island and Tahiti, with connections to Australia, were jammed for weeks with Chilean Germans fleeing from Salvador Allende's Marxist-Leninist "Revolution." The revolutionaries and most of the news-following world think of Allende's Chile as the scene of a class struggle and of a rebellion against North American imperialism. But these Germans felt it as ethnic revenge, as Hispanic Chilean reassertion against these Chilean Germans and an appropriation of the wealth the latter had created and amassed. They had seen their businesses struck, harassed and seized, their homes broken into and looted with impunity by leftist Hispanic thugs and leftist Hispanic police. They all had tales of friends and relatives who'd been murdered. They were terrified and they were fleeing while they had the chance.

This was my unexpectedly political introduction to Easter Island, for I was getting off the plane there, not fleeing from Allende to Australia. We don't think of Easter Island in connection with politics, but it is now overwhelmed by the political storm. The Easter Islanders had been carried off into slavery and almost exterminated by Peruvian slavers in 1862. Their missionary priest and presently the Chilean and French Catholic hierarchies had effected their return later in the 1860s, a shattered remnant dying of smallpox. A succession of priests of the island, at first French but culminating in the great, scholarly and saintly Bavarian Capuchin, Father Sebastian Englert, who had served his flock from 1935 till his death less than two years ago, backed by the Catholic Church as a whole, had restored the Easter Island population from about 200 to 1600 today (over 4,000 before 1862), enjoying a Spartan but decent life. Grateful, the Easter Islanders always voted overwhelmingly Christian Democratic. To the various Marxist-Leninist groups in Allende's chaotic coalition (in which the actual Communist Party, on Moscow's orders, is paradoxically the most moderate element!) the Easter Islanders are therefore counterrevolutionary traitors in league with the North American C.I.A. To the resurgent Hispanic Chilean majority, they're Injuns, alien savages.

The Revolution kicked the American missile-tracking station off Easter Island, to please its Russian friends. The Revolution kicked out Prof. William Mulloy of the University of Wyoming and his team of archaeologists, who had been restoring some of Easter Island's monuments. These two measures wiped out a quarter of the jobs on Easter Island. The Revolution abolished all the special benefits the previous Christian Democratic government of President Eduardo Frey (1964-1970) had granted the backward and needy Easter Islanders, prohibited Easter Islanders from going to mainland Chile to find new work, and prohibited Easter Islanders already on the mainland from sending money or even packages of food to relatives back on the island. That was a little mean. With a number of the Germans, I risked practicing civil disobedience on behalf of a persecuted primitive people by taking four packages from Easter Islanders at the Santiago airport in my lap for the flight, (which produced dirty looks, but not arrest and savage beatings, from the airport police,) for their hungry families on Easter Island.

What a way, I thought, to approach Easter Island, the loneliest world ever settled by man! It is a mere volcanic speck of land, an obtuse isosceles triangle only fourteen miles southwest to east, only seven miles from the north point to the south side, lost in the emptiest part of the Pacific Ocean, 2,250 miles from South America, farther than that from the Central Polynesian islands from which most or all of its aboriginal population must have come. At 27 degrees South, it is south of the Tropic of Capricorn, sunny but cool, often at 50 degrees F., too cold for coral reefs around its rocky lava shores, chilled by a rarely ceasing wind. The wind bends the grasses that cover the island like a moor, bends the Easter Islanders and bent the visitors, two Germans (from West Germany, not Chile) and me.

This speck of land was so lost in the Pacific that only two canoes - or one canoe and one balsa raft - may have found it, by sheer chance, before Admiral Roggeveen's Dutch ship hit it, equally by sheer chance, on Easter Sunday, 1722, named it and put it on the world's maps. The Easter Islanders believed that they were the only human beings on the only land, and that everything else was ocean or heaven. One boat, captained by the divine ancestor Hotu Matua, came from heaven to settle the island perhaps as early as AD 300, certainly long before the first undisputed radio-carbon date of AD 857. Was it a Polynesian double-hulled canoe, as professional Polynesianists maintain, with a pile of evidence larger than the island? Or was it a balsa raft from Peru, as Thor Heyerdahl romantically insists, with some pieces of evidence? The megalithic masonry and statues that made Easter Island famous have been used to buttress arguments for both areas of origin, Polynesia and the Andes. Some vessel must have come from South America (in the mythologically recorded second canoe or raft?) to bring the sweet potato, bottle gourd and totora reed from South America; they don't float like coconuts.

The history of this remotest speck of inhabited land in the world has generated several schools of strident certainties, among which prudent historians fear to tread. But at least one of the two vessels had to have come from Central Polynesia, bringing a Polynesian people speaking a Polynesian language, with plants the Polynesians cultivated, pigs, chickens (but not dogs), and ways of life, which made the classic Easter Island culture, pace Heyerdahl whoever first found Easter Island, almost dead from an endless, storm-tossed voyage, found both a refuge and a trap. The island was covered with a kind of Chilean palm and other modest trees, from which offshore fishing boats could be made, but not the tall hardwoods of Central Polynesia from which the great, double-hulled, ocean-traversing canoes could be fashioned. The islanders could catch fish, but they could never sail away. Thrown on their own material and psychic resources, the Easter Islanders developed, in the centuries up to 1680, a cult of colossal ancestral statues set up on great masonry platforms. But that cult had cracked in some subsistence crisis and/or outbreak of prideful clan competition by the time Roggeveen arrived. Few and then no more statues were raised. More and more were pulled down - the last and hugest in the 1840s - by rival clans in wars of arrogant clannish and religious retaliation.

It was these giant stone statues that gave Easter Island its Romantic worldwide fame. It was widely thought that they were too numerous and too huge - up to sixty five feet tall - to have been carved and set up by a few debased Easter Islanders. Rather, the island must be the surviving necropolis of the great Continent of Moo, sunk ages ago beneath the waves of the Pacific. And every visitor from Roggeveen to Randall saw the striking and strangely uniform expression on those statues, and was compelled to call it "weird, inhuman pride." In 1868 one moderate-sized statue was carried by the British warship Topaz to the British Museum, where, ever since, it has scorned the whole civilized world. A copy was made for the American Museum of Natural History, which fascinated me all through my childhood, and led me to swear that when I grew up, someday, I would go to Easter Island.

It is always a bit disillusioning to go to a remote and romantic spot, and find that it, too, has police to placate (they weren't happy about those packages), lodging to find and tours to arrange, just as in the real world. There is no hotel on Easter Island. But Sr. Rapu, the Thomas Cook of Easter Island, who met the airplane, stashed the Germans and me in a residential, the house of Sra. Rosita Cardenal, (whose husband is at work on the mainland) in the one village, Hanga Roa on the western shore. It is modest, clean and surrounded by a garden of bougainvillea and other tropical plants, as exotic to Easter Island as to us. All water on the island is scarce and a little brackish. The luxuriant thing is to drink canned pineapple juice. We were kept up past midnight by youths outside, chattering away in their own, rare, precious variant of the Polynesian languages.

And tour we did, the Germans and I, in Sr. Rapu's jeep. Over three days we jeeped on not bad dirt roads to what we had come to Easter Island to see, the giant stone statues. Variants of the sacred enclosures that in Central Polynesia are called marae, are scattered irregularly along the rocky shores of the island. Along their seaward sides are the ruins of long - sometimes very long - megalithic platforms, called ahus. Some preserve quite complex walls and platforms of polygonal masonry, a few up to Inca standards. These ahus once bore the rows of moai (both singular and plural, apparently, in Spanish and English), the giant monolithic statues of men from the hip level up, made of "consolidated volcanic tuff," all facing inland. But these had all been pulled down between the 1680s (apparently) and the 1840s (definitely). They fell mostly on their faces, and most had broken in their fall, but the visible faces still showed undisconcerted, weird, inhuman pride. A sizeable minority had once been topped by cylindrical hats - or "topknots" - of red scoria, but these had all rolled away in the falls of their moai.

Thor Heyerdahl, during his archaeological expedition to Easter Island in 1955-56, and after he left, his associate, William Mulloy, engaged the islanders in the effort to repair some ahus and raise some moai back up on them. With only a modest amount of money, but with increasing community re-formation and rising island-wide pride, the islanders, whose clans said they knew from handed-down tradition which ahu complexes were theirs (and they may be right, in spite of all the discontinuities), agreed on a schedule of rebuilding. They began with the Ahu Akivi, in the west-central interior of the island (an unusual location, not tightly attached to any clan's claim to stretches of the shore). Under Mulloy's direction/inspiration, the ahu was indeed restored, and seven fallen and somewhat battered moai were indeed raised by enthusiastic gangs of islanders, with wooden poles, rollers, wedges and a modern crane, proving that no spacemen or hordes from any sunken continent of Moo were needed to perform these apparently Herculean labors. Just two years ago, Paris-Match paid to re-erect a moai near the shore just north of the village of Hanga Roa, and to crown it with the first re-raised red topknot. More restorations were under way when they were interrupted by the Revolution's exile of Mulloy.

The statues more than live up to all the pictures and replicas abroad. A weird, inhuman pride indeed! Giant size: a sixty five foot colossus lies, unfinished, in its quarry; two thirty three foot colossi are overthrown from separate ahus on the north and south shores. The "ordinary" giant must have been about fifteen feet high before being pulled down. Upturned faces and noses, curled lips, overhanging brows and deeply sunken eyes - all rendered tragic by the weathering of the centuries on the soft volcanic stone and the splotched colonies of lichen scattered over them. The statue with the restored topknot is interesting, but not, I think, an aesthetic improvement. The red cylinder spoils the effect of the inhumanly squared head, thin from front to back, huge simple and sheer from the front, and reduces its pride. The delicate, low relief hands clasping the waist do not spoil the effect. The seven giant, roughly uniform moai that Mulloy and the islanders put back up on the Ahu Akivi are very impressive. They instantly became the logo of Easter Island, on travel pictures and postcards. But perhaps they are too perfectly restored for the Island Where All Has Been Wrecked, though this is softened by their battered surfaces.

I found the Ahu Vinapu on the south shore more gripping, with its mostly surviving platform of the finest "Inca" masonry, and all its moai still face down where they were hurled and broken. Farther east on the south shore, at the head of a little bay steep-walled with black cliffs, is Ahu Tongariki, the grandest wreck of them all. Once its platform was 300 feet long, and it bore a record fifteen moai of uneven heights and details, up to thirty feet high. They were pulled down like all the others. But in addition, in 1960, a terrible earthquake that shook cities down from southern Peru to central Chile sent a tsunami thousands of miles out into the Pacific. Funneled by those black cliffs, a wall of water maybe eighty feet high (no one saw it) rammed into the ahu, scattered its stones, and hurled segments of the broken moai weighing several tons over a hundred feet inland. It is the most tremendous Ozymandias effect on Easter Island.

A major gripping site on Easter Island is Rano Kao, an eroded volcano that is the southwest bastion of the island. The preserved crater is almost a mile across, filled with a shallow lake full of splotchy beds of totora reeds from the Andes. We saw long, gold-green vistas of grassy slopes, with the blue, blue Pacific sweeping out forever in three directions. Offshore are three rocky, surf-pounded islets. Once a year, when the sooty terns flew in to nest on the islets, a youth from each noble clan would scramble down the dangerous cliffs, plunge into the roaring sea, struggle out to the farthest islet, seize the first egg in a sooty tern's nest, and try to swim back and climb back up the cliffs without breaking it. The first to present an egg to his clan chief made that nobleman the sacred Bird Man for the year, revered and restricted by the strongest taboos. A ceremonial village of stone huts/caves lies in ruins on the rim of the crater, the beginning and the end of the egg hunt. Mulloy was restoring it when he was expelled.

But the climax of Easter Island is Rano Raraku, a smaller volcano toward the eastern end of the island. Its relatively hard tuff was the quarry for the moai. About seventy moai are half-buried, like busts, or three quarters buried, sheer heads, in the grassy, exterior south slope that has accumulated around them, facing the Pacific. A few dozen more are half sunk below their quarries on the inner slope of the crater, facing a small, totora-filled crater lake. Parts of about 200 more still lie in the quarries in various stages of having been bashed out of the tuff matrix by harder lava balls and adzes. The giant of the island, never broken out of his quarry, was sixty five feet long. His gigantic face and head were finished, but not his sides.

But the supreme effect of Easter Island is the several dozen completed, perfectly shaped but half-buried moai, standing, or tipping, further down the slopes. They seem to have clustered, in two and threes, some slightly turned as well as tipped, as if conversing with each other. They are certainly too proud to converse with anyone else. Their long noses on their backward-pitched faces, compel visitors to think they are "looking down their noses," from their sunken eyes, the prideful posture of British snobs in the 18th and 19th Century, which has vanished as a custom but survives as an expression, come to life for us on Easter Island. Before Mulloy re-erected the seven moai on Ahu Akivi, they were the true logo of Easter Island. The finest few dozen have been sketched hundreds of times and photographed thousands of times. In the most represented, the most world-famous pair, one head and bust is tipping away at just the right distance and angle from the less tipped but more buried head, both with beautiful carving, beautiful layered stone at a different angle from the lines of the head, and decorated with beautiful lichen. - Let them never restore and ruin these slopes of Rano Raraku, the Seat of the Scornful!

The island and the world have no greater renditions of weird, inhuman pride - that is, of supremely human pride - and ruin. By that sin fell the angels; and so did this tiny group of men on the other side of the world, who thought they were the only human beings in the universe. But before they fell, whether they meant to express pride in their giant statues or not, they created, with minimal technology, in the middle of nowhere, what the world accepts as its grandest expression of the pride they fell by, the pride by which we all may fall. Like Farinata degli Uberti, half-sunk in Dante's hell, these giant, tipped, half-buried, tragic statues refuse to give up any minim of their unyielding, weird, too human pride, but endure their punishment in silence. The unceasing wind blows over them, and wears them away, but does not bend them. The unceasing waves of the Pacific dash high on the rocks below them, from thousands of miles in every direction, on the loneliest world ever settled by man.

Easter Island, November, 2004

I have just returned from a second visit to Easter Island! This time it was easy to get there. I signed up with Archaeological Tours, that high level and excellent organization in New York. Our tour leader, Donald Wheat, went the extra mile - out to Santiago's airport the day before, to see to it that the whole group got boarding passes and seats on the customarily overbooked flight. After a more than five hours' flight into the darkness of the Pacific, we landed at the (much-improved, now concrete) runway, and stared out to see the fabled Easter Island. A modest airport building, three crowded vans for our group (not the only group this time), a half mile ride on (now paved) streets, past lamp-lit flashes of houses and foliage in the now larger village (or town) of Hanga Roa, to the Hotel O'Tai (one of a number in town) - small pavilions and cabins among the darkened flowerbeds and cascades of bougainvillea. The running water wasn't at all brackish, and I didn't see a drop of canned pineapple juice during our whole stay. I realized keenly that my companions were looking for Easter Island but that I was looking for two Easter Islands, the one visible before my eyes, and that other Easter Island of thirty three years ago that was constantly winking in and flashing before my eyes.

We were also all looking for, and were duly met by, our guru on the island, the remarkable Jo Anne Van Tilburg. She is the most distinguished living archaeologist and anthropologist of Easter Island, with over twenty years of work there. Her official American base is at U.C.L.A. She is the long time head of the Easter Island Statue Project, which is now the entity for the study of the island. She is as knowledgeable as all this had led us to believe, which she gladly shared with us without stint, and she is sensibly balanced among the several Polynesian and Easter Island controversies. She is also a humane, hearty and often jolly human being. How did Archaeological Tours snag her?

I had just spent the long airplane ride from New York to Santiago reading her recent book, Among Stone Giants, the first full biography of Katherine Pease Routledge, who with her odd husband, Scoresby Routledge, was the first archaeological and anthropological expedition to Easter Island, in the ominous years 1914-15, when she did rather heroic primary work, especially among aged islanders about to die with all their now unrecoverable memories of the old culture - in spite of her own decades-long struggle with advancing schizophrenia. When I read a serious book, I often arrogantly imagine how I'd review it. Here I'd have emphasized how Among Stone Giants avoids all the many, deadly faults of current histories and biographies, subjectivist, ideological and jargonic, how it expresses scholarly and social judgments relevantly without anachronistic readings of the present back into time, and how it deals thoroughly with a tragic, ambitious, woman who did break through many of the family and social barriers holding women back, to secure a higher education and to do solid and dramatically important scientific work, but who was destined to go mad - without being at all a dismal "psychohistory."

On Archaeological Tours, the archaeologist - the guru - not only shows us the sites but presents the background and discusses the controversies. Easter Island is in fact no longer an Isle of Mystery. No one believes in the Sunken Continent of Moo any more save nostalgic readers of reissued Alley Oop comics. Thor Heyerdahl was an heroic raftsman, a gripping writer, an able fund raiser and leader of archaeological expeditions that did serious work from Easter Island to Tucume on the north coast of Peru - and by the accounts of his colleagues, a true gentleman. But he did overestimate the role of American Indians in the Pacific. No one off television now thinks that the Polynesians were originally American Indians. Then what about those South American totora reeds, bottle gourds and sweet potatoes in Polynesia (and Melanesia)? Jo Anne Van Tilburg told us that the totora reed had been dated back to 37,000 BC on Easter Island, long before any raft or canoe. Its seeds probably came stuck to the feet of sea birds. But the arrivals of the bottle gourd and the sweet potato are still problems. And how, exactly, did the stone giants get transported and raised? In Kevin Costner's lively, titillating and bizarre movie, Rapa Nui, they are dragged upright on sledges. That way they'd have broken their reed ropes at any slope or bump on the path, and fallen flat. Mrs. Van Tilburg has published a theory about moving them face down but suspended in a system like an A-frame. This would work now, and it seems to be as good a suggestion as any about how it was done long ago.

A large remaining controversy remains over whether the Polynesians made voyages of discovery to new islands deliberately or accidentally, and whether, having discovered new islands, they could then sail back and forth long distances between their homelands and new discoveries. In my childhood a notable New Zealander, the Maori Sir Peter Buck, wrote glowing tributes to his people, in Vikings of the Sunrise and other books, in which he detailed their astonishing boat-building and navigational skills. Boldly confident, the ancient Polynesians deliberately explored most of the Pacific and discovered more than a thousand islands, between which they sailed and traded for centuries, until they somehow lost the touch before Captain Cook arrived. This glorious picture has been the dominant one in the romantic media. Later, in 1956, an Anglo New Zealander, Andrew Sharp, wrote the more skeptical Ancient Voyagers of the Pacific, in which he too praised the ancient Polynesian seamen to the skies, but he detailed how clouds, winds and currents precluded any precise, long-distance journeys, none longer than the difficult enough 200 mile trip from Samoa to Fiji and back. Canoes caught in storms might survive to reach a new island. Losers in war might sail away in desperation and find a new refuge. The Hawaiians and the Maori knew their ancestors had come from Tahiti, but they could never return. No one on Tahiti or anywhere in Polynesia ever heard of Hawaii or New Zealand till Captain Cook and later 18th Century Europeans took them there.

Jo Anne and most recent Polynesianists are nearer to Buck than to Sharp. They reason that all settled islands in Polynesia had cultivatable plants, dogs - pigs - chickens, and of course both men and women, which indicates far more deliberate preparations for the voyages of discovery and colonization than Sharp's hypothesis of universal storm-driven serendipity allows for. Jo Anne cited archaeologically proven trade of surviving goods between Mangareva, Henderson and Pitcairn Islands (though they are within Sharp's 200 mile limit of each other). She was particularly eloquent about sea birds that must return to land each evening. If Polynesians saw birds flying in the later afternoon, they need only follow them home, sometimes up to fifty miles, to find new land. Even a tiny speck of land such as Easter Island was 100 miles wide in terms of bird flight, much more discoverable than Sharp had thought. This is not an either/or issue, but a sliding scale. The question remains open, though Buck now leads on points (and in TV shows). I'm still something of a Sharpie.

For six days we walked or were driven all over Easter Island. In Mrs. Routledge's day there were only 250 surviving islanders. In my day there were 1600. Now the figure given us was 4,000, some of whom were in mainland Chile (and some Chileans were on the island). Their genes would not disappear. Nor would their language: they spoke it among themselves everywhere, and knew Spanish as a useful, learned, second language, not an absorbing menace. Many were finding tourist English useful, now, too. Their culture? Their varied mastery of the continuum from pre-contact Polynesia through Hispanic/European Catholicism to contemporary American popular culture was delightful for us to watch from the outside, and fascinating in its details and nuances to an infinitely more experienced observer such as Jo Anne. Her co-guru for us, and the co-director of the Easter Island Statue Project, is Christian Pakarati, whose grandfather was not a traditional noble, but was a leader in the island's recovery in the last century from the near total disasters of the previous one. He was one of only four people honored with burial under a slab just outside the Catholic church in Hanga Roa. Another was Father Sebastian Englert. Christian's English was subdued but fluent. His knowledge of what we were looking at never failed us. On all the remaining puzzling questions, he would hazard a (sensible) suggestion, but made it clear that other options were open. Outdoors, he always wore a New York Yankees cap with the brim turned backwards.

Chile, having endured its three years of Revolution and the consequent seventeen years of military tyranny, is now firmly back on even keel: a functioning democracy, a stable currency, a growing economy and a flourishing revived culture. The years of governmental discrimination against Easter Island, of smuggled food packages, etc., are long since gone, we hope forever. There are once again certain subsidies and benevolently intended controls - but not so paternalistic as on our North American Indian reservations. With free movement, islanders can go to the mainland for jobs. With the rising tourist industry, fewer of them have to. Tourism, though, is a very skittish industry for islands anywhere to rely on, in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or the Pacific. If there's war (again) in the Middle East, timid tourists will cancel their trips to nearby China or Easter Island.

The islanders and their houses looked modestly prosperous. Men wear modern Latin American working clothes; they have their Sunday best. Women often allow themselves Polynesian touches on modern dress - from Tahiti and Hawaii, I believe. The houses all look recent, solid, roomy enough, of vaguely Anglo-Hispanic styles but not very decorated outside unless they're shops selling "Polynesian" touristries. All are situated in squares of greenery, with useful fruit trees and colorful flowers. Though I looked hard, I spotted no visible real poverty. There must be poor Easter Islanders, but with a family system that hasn't (yet?) broken down, such people are helped and/or contained at home. Alcohol is of no social help on Easter Island either, but the alcoholic anomie, breakdown and violence that afflict Polynesians in Samoa and New Zealand don't seem to have broken out yet on this tiny island. This is Chile, and universal lower education is in place, with problems but with successes.

We were now driven on a network of good, paved, two lane roads. A secondary network of good dirt roads got us to or near all sites. Traffic and parking are not yet problems. In 1971 the island outside the one village of Hanga Roa struck me as a moor, open grassland such as had prevailed since the islanders cut down their very last tree, probably over 300 years ago. But the Polynesian grasses, which European sheep and cattle couldn't eat, had been replaced by introduced European grasses that European herds could eat, fertilized by introduced European bees. This time I saw far more newly planted groves of still young trees, fast growing eucalyptus and Chilean pines, slower growing fruit trees. The original Chilean palm has not been brought back, but the more useful (and tourist-picturesque?) coconut palm waves in the wind along many stretches of shore, and in the groves of Hanga Roa.

Easter Island, in cloud, fog, rain or under the blue, blue, Pacific sky, is surpassingly beautiful. But we'd come not for the landscape but for the stone giants. Jo Anne's Easter Island Statue Project has recorded 887 moai, complete or merely pieces, and counting. 397 are still in the quarries or on the slopes of Rano Raraku. Ninety two are lying where they fell in transit. 288 have been re-erected on ahus (a lot more than I believe I saw). 110 are still lying overthrown near their ahus (I believe I saw more than that). (Don't trust my impressions over Jo Anne's scientific count!) Almost all of the many re-erected stone giants have been put back up since my first visit, and they were what I most came back to the island to see.

On our first morning we walked down to the harbor of Hanga Roa, still called Cook's Landing from his visit in 1774. One of the smaller ahus has been rebuilt along the harbor, with one "ordinary" moai set up again on it, facing inland, as it should. Some fishermen, Christian told us, had set up a small moai directly on the ground, facing out to their sea - blasphemy! Then the rains came down, and when they relented, we walked along the shore just north of town to the sacred area of Tahai, which on Tahiti would be called a marae. Perhaps two grassy acres were lined irregularly on the three landward sides with rough stone walls, one set of which was an un-sacred and definitely un-Romantic chicken coop. Here, by a rock in the grass, is the touching tomb of William Mulloy, a friend of the islanders as well as of their past culture, who returned to the island after the Chilean military overthrew the Revolution in 1973, to complete his projects, but who died too soon of cancer in 1978. Along the shore, the Ahu Tahai had been carefully rebuilt, a long platform edged by carefully fitted stones, but with rubble inside. Before it, a rebuilt protecting apron, a grassy slope studded with rows of round stones. Four stone giants (not that alike) had been re-set up on low square bases on the platform, and a stump on a fifth. Easter Island may be Catholic, but the ahus and moai are still sacred. We may not step up on the aprons, much less the ahus; we may not come near, much less touch, the moai. That is magnificent!

Just to the north, (right) is a tiny rocky cove, with a shorter ahu and taller moai inshore of it. A bit farther north (right), farther from the shore, is another ahu with the tallest moai on the site, about eighteen feet. It bears a red scoria topknot. This was, in fact, that first topknot to be re-erected, by Paris-Match, which I'd seen thirty three years ago. But there was something new. The moai now stared at us with big white eyes with red pupils. In 1978, an island archaeologist, Sergio Rapu, discovered, in a cave near Anakena Bay on the north shore, a puzzling object about two feet long, of white coral with a red scoria center. Juggling it and carrying it, he had a flash of recognition: this was an eye of a moai! And so it turned out to be. Everything fit. The giants sunk on the slopes of Rano Raraku have sharp angles where their overhanging brows turn down into their cheeks. But most moai on the platforms had rounded, indeed, eye-shaped hollows drilled as if to receive eyes of a different material. Now the mystery was solved. The authentic eye is now the prize exhibit in the one-room Sebastian Englert Museum in Hanga Roa. A few dozen of the re-erected statues have been supplied with new eyes. With eyes, Jo Anne wondered, did the moai have terrifying mana, while without them they were blind and harmless? Were eyes placed in the sockets only on ceremonial days? Did the priests carry eyes around with them to turn on the moai on sacred occasions? A thus fully restored moai, complete with staring eyes and overlarge topknot, is indeed an electrifying sight, intrusive and bizarre - but it foregoes the classic withdrawn haughtiness of the traditionally eyeless giant heads. To insert eyes into the magnificent half sunken heads on Rano Raraku would be an aesthetic disaster.

In six days, we were taken to over twenty ahus, which would be tedious to describe in detail, without photographs. The re-erected moai at Huri a Urenga in the western interior, has two pairs of delicate relief hands clasped across his stomach. The Ahu Vinapu on the south shore still preserves a seaward wall of perfectly cut and placed, polygonal, "Inca" masonry, which Heyerdahl had to take as a vindication of his theory. Jo Anne pointed out that it was centuries older than the prime Inca stonework of the 15th and early 16th Centuries, and also that this splendid stone wall held in the rubble behind, whereas true Inca stone walls have perfectly cut and placed blocks all the way through. On the north shore is La Perouse Bay, where that able but tragic French navigator anchored during his visit in 1786, before sailing off to wreck and death on the coral reefs of Vanikoro in the New Hebrides, thousands of miles to the west. Here is Ahu Te Pita Kura, a large, very holy and still-wrecked platform off which the tallest moai ever erected (about thirty three feet high), named Paro, was probably the last to be pulled down, in the 1840s. He still lies, broken, where he fell. The pathos of time. To the west (left) of the platform, within a crude circle of stones, is a smooth, globular stone about two and a half feet across, the actual Navel of the World, brought from heaven by Hotu Matua, so long ago, the mystic center of the island that was given that title. This stone we were allowed to touch, so we all acquired mana.

Less than a mile to the west is Anakena Bay, another very holy place, where Hotu Matua landed, and also the finest sandy beach on Easter Island. Therefore a grove of coconut palms has been planted to shade the bathing tourists at the picnic tables beneath them, which attracted far more people the day we were there than the 50-ish degrees F sea. Incongruently, amid the sand, is perhaps the second most spectacular re-erected set of moai, the Ahu Nau Nau. Here seven stone giants have been set up again. The left four are large, fairly uniform, all with big, staring white eyes and dissimilar red topknots. The next one to the right is without eyes or hat, the next is only a trunk, the last just a stump. They will be recognized from many, many photographs.

But the climax is down on the south shore, the rebuilt Ahu Tongariki, which Jo Anne introduced to us, impressively, as "the grandest ceremonial monument in the Pacific." Not the highest ranking clan, she said, but a later coalition of lesser clans on the east end of the island built it - to show them? "Newly united, eastern tribes, asserting themselves." The tall black cliffs that funneled the tsunami of 1960 that wrecked platform and statues so totally, focus on a rocky shore and valley behind it, about 1,000 feet across. Along that shore, fair sums of Japanese corporate money rebuilt the platform and re-erected the stone giants, from 1992 to 1995. The money, channeled through the Chilean government, reached the islanders with uneven political favoritism, raising divisions and protests, unlike Mulloy's earlier, pan-community-based projects. Nonetheless, the results are extraordinary.

The rebuilt ahu is 350 feet long. Its wings extend 300 feet more in both directions. Its apron runs the full 950 feet in front (inshore) of it. This was by far the hugest platform structure the ancient Easter Islanders ever built. Jo Anne reminded us that the stonework of the platforms on Easter Island vastly exceeded that of the statues in volume, tonnage and human muscular effort, and that it, too, required brilliant planning and engineering - though the statues get the Western media, always, for almost 300 years. On the central ahu were and now again are fifteen moai, almost twice the number on any other ahu. And they are giants even among stone giants. The hugest, fifth from the right, is thirty feet tall. The second from the right also reaches thirty feet, because he wears a topknot. The others are only a little lesser. They are not alike in size, height, proportions, and to some degree in expression, for they were made separately by the different clans in the coalition. Only #2 bears a topknot now, because the Japanese crane strained dangerously lifting it up, and wasn't risked further. The other topknots are lying about, awaiting a bigger crane? No eyes have been restored. They are not the most perfectly sculpted stone giants. (Those parvenus...?) But the gigantic has its effect. The ensemble of Ahu Tongariki, against its backdrop of ominous black cliffs and thundering waves, is enormously impressive, beyond any verbal description and even beyond any photograph, which can't fully convey the feel of its immensity. Ahu Tongariki must indeed be the grandest ceremonial monument in the Pacific. It is a Wonder of the World.

Of course Jo Anne and Christian took us out to Rano Kau, where Mulloy got to complete his rebuilding of the stone huts in the Egg Hunt/Bird Man village - on a perfect, clear, blue Pacific day for seeing the little bird-islets, almost the whole of Easter Island as if in close-up, and the deceptively idyllic sea. Of course they took us to Puna Pao, one of the grassy-green little craters northeast of Hanga Roa, composed of red scoria, where the pukao - hats or topknots - were quarried. Jo Anne and our readings told us that the myth of the Easter Island Doomsday - the single moment when all the quarriers dropped their adzes, all the transporters and raisers of moai let go of their reed ropes and let the stone giants fall with shattering crashes, and all the islanders fell on each other in a Hobbesian war of all against all - is indeed just a myth. The latest platforms and statues were raised decades after the first pullings down elsewhere in the island. But at Puna Pao there are twenty four great cylindrical hats, being quarried, set aside for transport or abandoned along the path down the crater and out beyond. It does look as if calls came in from all over the island one day, saying, "Cancel our orders!" and as if the worksmaster shouted out, "No more money! Drop your tools! Go home!."

And of course Jo Anne and Christian took us to what had not changed - thank the gods - since my first visit, the quarries and tipped, half-sunken giants on the slopes of Rano Raraku. We went twice (My cup runneth over!) - to the outer slope on a drizzling day, when the clay full of grass and twigs stuck to our boots and shoes turned them into icky, slippery balls of slosh, which could hardly prevent my (unreciprocated) loving greetings to all my old friends - and to the inner slope on a Pacific blue day, when the long views to the sea competed with our close-up views of the stone giants before us.

Easter island statues
© Charles Addams
At last the idyll had to end. - I am supremely fortunate. I've been to Easter Island twice! I shan't return in another thirty three years. I shall never see it again. I shall never see it again.

- - I hope you all know Charles Addams' classic cartoon of the giant stone heads, tipped and sunken on the slope of Rano Raraku, each wearing giant, sharply angled, rhinestoned Californian sunglasses!
Old Man Pacific

Among stone giants
Dey jus' keep starin'
Among stone giants
Dey jus' keep starin'
Dey mus' know sumpin'
Dey jus' keep starin'
Dey don' say nuttin'
On down.