Sacred Texts  Pacific 

Te Pito Te Henua, Or Easter Island

by William J. Thomson


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Easter Island is a surreal landscape, with its giant stone heads and undeciphered rongo-rongo script--the only writing system invented in the Pacific islands. This account of an expedition to Easter Island in the late nineteenth century will have modern social scientists (as well as indigenous rights activists) gritting their teeth. The adventurers engage in tomb-raiding from one end of Easter Island to the other, shredding priceless archeological contexts without remorse. The text describes bones turning into dust on touch; they loot gravesites, and tear up ruins of villages. When one of the Easter Islanders complains that they are taking his ancestors' remains, they offer him two dollars for the bones.

The one redeeming feature of this expedition was the desperate attempt to prompt one of the last remaining indigenous bards to relate the rongo-rongo texts and other legends. The circumstances of this recital are greatly suspect. The informant had been indoctrinated by missionaries that reciting from the tablets was a mortal sin. After the expedition attempted to bribe the informant, he fled into the hinterlands. A rainstorm forced him to return to his house. On the last evening before the expedition set sail, they cornered him in his hut and got him drunk, after convincing him that reciting from a photograph was not the same as reciting from the original tablet. To further confuse matters, at one point they switched photographs on him mid-recital...

The monograph has slighly retouched photographs of several of the tablets, reproduced here, which will be very useful to anyone interested in attempting to decipher rongo-rongo. The 'translations', such as they are, remain a key piece of data in any investigation of the script. Also of interest is the version of the Easter Island migration legend quoted here, which claims that they came from the direction of the rising sun. This has been used subsequently to justify a South American origin, most notably by Thor Heyerdal; however it has been contradicted by other accounts, so it should not be treated as absolutely authoritative. This document also has a sketchy vocabulary of the language of Easter Island (Rapanui).

Title Page
The Discovery of Easter Island
Sailing Directions
Geological Features
Various Names of the Island
Villages and Habitations
Reptiles and Insects
Nets and Ropes
Personal Appearance of the Natives
Brutal Treatment of Natives by Early Voyagers
The Native Dance
Sacrificial Stones
Diseases and Their Treatment.
Burial of the Dead
Weapons and War
Exploration of the Island
Reconnaisance to Rana Kao
The Ancient Stone House At Orongo
Sculptured Rocks
Ancient Customs in Relation to Gathering the Sea-Birds Eggs
Employment of Natives
Cave and Tomb Near Ahuakapu Point
Ruins of the Oldest Habitation on the Island
Natural Caves
Anakena Bay
The Poike Plains
Rana Roraka
Skulls Showing Peculiar Marks
Platforms and Images
Translation of the Easter Island Tablet, Apai
Text of the Easter Island Tablet: Atua Matariri
Text of the Easter Island Tablet: Eaha To Ran Ariiki Kete
Text of the Easter Island Tablets: Father Mourning the Loss of His Child
Text of the Easter Island Tablet: Ate-a-renga-hokan iti Poheraa
More Rongo-rongo plates
Tradition in Regard to the Origin of The Islanders.
Tradition Regarding Obsidian Spear-points
Tradition Regarding Fish Hooks.
Genealogy of the Kings of Easter Island
List of Ethnographic Specimens Obtained at Easter Island
Polynesian Archaeology