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THE PRESENT POSITION OF THE PROBLEM
"Do not be afraid of making generalisations because knowledge is as yet imperfect or incomplete, and they are therefore liable to alteration. It is only through such generalisations that progress can be made." — Dr. A. C. Haddon as President of the Folk Lore Society, 1919.
As we leave Easter Island, we pause to review our evidence and find how far we have progressed towards the solution of its problems.
We may dismiss the vague suggestion that the archaeological remains in the island survive from the time when it was part of a larger mass of land. Whatever may be the geological story of the Pacific, no scientific authorities are prepared to prove that such stupendous changes have taken place during the time which it has been inhabited by man.1
Instead of indulging in surmises as to the state of the world in a remote past, it is safer to begin with existing conditions and try to retrace the steps of development . It has already been seen that various links connect the people now living on Easter Island with the great images. Tradition is not altogether extinct; in a few cases the names of the men are actually remembered who made the individual statues, and also those of their clans, which are still in existence. But the two strongest bonds are the wooden figures and the bird-cult. The wooden figures were being made in recent times, and they have a design on the back resembling that on the stone images, while they also possess the same long ears. There is no reason why a defunct type should have been copied, and it is probable that they date at least as far back as the same epoch. The bird-cult also was alive in living memory. It is allied to that of the statues by the residence of the bird-man among the images, by the fact that the bird rite for the child was connected with them, and above all by the presence of a statue of typical form in the centre of the village at Orongo.
Assuming then, at any rate for the sake of argument, that the stone figures were the work of the ancestors of the people of to-day, the next step is to inquire who these people are. Here for a certain distance we are on firm ground. They are undoubtedly connected with those found elsewhere in the Pacific; much of their culture is similar; and even the earliest voyagers noted that their language resembled that found on the other islands. The suggestion that Easter Island has been populated from South America may therefore, for practical purposes, be ruled out of the question. If there is any connection between the two, it is more likely that the influence spread from the islands to the continent.
Having reached this point, however, we are faced by the larger problem. Who were the race or races who populated the Pacific? Here our firm ground ends, for this is a very complicated subject, with regard to which much work still remains to be done. It is impossible as yet to make any broad statement, which is not subject to qualification, or which can be implicitly relied on.
The Solomon group and other islands off the coast of Australia are inhabited by a people known as Melanesians, who have dark skins, fuzzy hair, and thick lips, resembling to some extent the natives of Africa; this area is called Melanesia. Certain outlying islets are, however, populated by a different race, who possess straight or wavy hair and fairer skins. Eastward of a line which is drawn at Fiji this whiter race, called Polynesian, predominates, and the eastern part of the Pacific is known as Polynesia.
Broadly speaking, the theory generally accepted has been that negroid people are the earliest denizens, and that the lighter race came down into Melanesia through the Malay peninsula, and thence passed on through Melanesia in a succession of waves. A large proportion of the invaders were probably of the male sex, and took wives from amongst the original inhabitants. They absorbed in many ways the culture of the older people, but did not wholly abandon their own. It is suggested, for instance, that while as a whole the conquerors adopted existing religions, the secret societies, so often found in the Pacific, are connected with their own rites and beliefs, which were guarded as something sacred and apart.
It will easily be seen that the task of tracing these migrations is by no means simple. Canoes, carrying fighting men or immigrants, bent on victory or colonisation, passed continually from one island to another, and each island has probably its own very complicated history. The Maoris of New Zealand, for example, are a Polynesian race, but there are also traces there of a darker people. Absolutely negroid elements are found as far east as the Marquesas. Our servant Mahanga, whose features are of that type, came from the Paumotu Islands (fig. 89).
The marvellous feats of seamanship performed in these wanderings, often against the prevailing trade wind, would be incredible if it were not obvious that they have been actually accomplished. The loss of life was doubtless very great, and many boats must have started forth and never been heard of more. The fact remains, however, that native canoes have worked their way over unknown seas as far north as the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands, and that somehow or other they reached that little spot in the waste of waters now known as Easter Island. The nearest land to Easter now inhabited, with the exception of Pitcairn Island, is in the Gambler Islands, about 1,200 miles to the westward; the little coral patch of Ducie Island, which lies between the two, is nearly 900 miles from Easter, and has no dwellers. It has been suggested that the original immigrants may have intended to make a voyage from one known island to another and have been blown out of their course. However this may be, a long voyage must have been foreseen, or the boats would not have carried sufficient provisions to reach so distant a goal. It is even more strange to realise that, if the mixture of races found among the islanders occurred after their arrival, more than one native expedition has performed the miracle of reaching Easter Island.
The traditions of the present people do not, as has been seen, give very material assistance as to the composition of the crew nor how they reached the island. They tell us that their ancestors were compelled to leave their original home through being vanquished in war. This was a very usual reason for such migrations, as the conquered were frequently compelled to choose between voluntary exile or death; but to account for the discovery of the island they are obliged to take refuge in the supernatural and explain that its whereabouts were revealed in a dream. The story of Hotu-matua gives no suggestion that the island was already inhabited, save for one very vague hint. The six men who formed the first detachment of the party were told that the island as revealed in the dream possessed not only a great crater, but also “a long beautiful road." The Long Ears, who according to tradition were exterminated by the Short Ears, may have been an earlier race, but it cannot be claimed that the story tells us so. The two peoples are represented as coming together, or as living side by side on the island. The whole account is rendered more puzzling by the fact that, while the Short Ears are said to have been the ancestors of the present people, the fashion of making long the lobe of the ear prevailed on the island till quite recently.
It is noteworthy, however, that a legend exists elsewhere which definitely reports that the later comers did find an earlier people in possession. According to the account of Admiral T. de Lapelin,2 there is a tradition at Mangareva in the Gambler Islands to the effect that the adherents of a certain chief, being vanquished, sought safety in flight; they departed with a west wind in two big canoes, taking with them women, children, and all sorts of provisions. The party were never seen again, save for one man who subsequently returned to Mangareva. From him it was learned that the fugitives had found an island in the middle of the seas, and disembarked in a little bay surrounded by mountains; where, finding traces of inhabitants, they had made fortifications of stone on one of the heights. A few days later they were attacked by a horde of natives armed with spears, but succeeded in defeating them. The victors then pitilessly massacred their opponents throughout the island, sparing only the women and children. There are now no stone fortifications visible at Anakena, but one of the hill-tops to the east of the cove has, for some reason or other, been entrenched (fig.96.)
Turning to more scientific evidence, we find that the Islanders have always been judged to be of Polynesian race, as indeed would naturally be expected from the easterly position of the island in the Pacific Ocean. They have certainly traces of that culture, and the great authority on the subject, Mr. Sydney Ray, has pronounced the language to be Polynesian. The surprise, therefore, which the results of the expedition have brought to the anthropological world, is the discovery of the extent to which the negroid element is found to prevail there both from the physical and cultural points of view.
Melanesian skulls are mainly of the long-headed type, while Polynesian are frequently broad-headed. A collection of fifty-eight skulls was brought back from Easter and examined by Dr. Keith. He says in his report: "The Polynesian type is fairly purely represented in some of the Easter Islanders, . . . but they are absolutely and relatively a remarkably long-headed people, and in this feature they approach the Melanesian more than the Polynesian type." A similar statement was quite independently made to the Royal Geographical Society on this head. In the discussion which followed the reading of a paper on behalf of the Expedition, Capt. T. A. Joyce of the British Museum, remarked that a few years ago he had examined the skulls brought back from Easter Island by the late Lord Crawford. “I then," he continued, “wrote a paper which I never published. It remained both literally and metaphorically a skeleton in my cupboard, because I could not get away from the conclusion that in their measurements and general appearance these skulls were far more Melanesian than Polynesian."3 In speaking of skulls, Dr. Keith makes the interesting remark that the Islanders are the largest-brained people yet discovered in the islands or shores of the Pacific, and shows that their cranial capacity exceeds that of the inhabitants of Whitechapel.
In the culture of the island also, the Melanesian influence is very strong. The custom of distending the lobe of the ear is much more Melanesian than Polynesian. Dr. Haddon has pointed out that an early illustration of an Easter Island canoe depicts it with a double outrigger, after a type found in the Nissan group in Melanesia.4 An obsidian blade has been found in the area of New Guinea influenced by Melanesian culture, which has been described and figured by Dr. Seligman5; he draws attention to its striking likeness to the mataa of Easter Island. Weapons of the same type, and wooden figures in which the ribs are a prominent feature, have been found in the Chatham Islands,6 but the respective amount of Polynesian and Melanesian culture in these islands is as yet under discussion.
The most striking evidence is, however, found in connection with the bird-cult. It has been shown by Mr. Henry Balfour that a cult with strong resemblance to that of Easter existed in the Solomon Islands of Melanesia. It is there connected with the Frigate bird, a sea-bird which usually nests in trees and is characterised by a hooked beak and gular pouch. In treeless Easter Island the sacred bird is the Sooty Tern, which is without the gular pouch and has a straight beak. In many of the carvings on the island, however, the sacred bird is represented with a hooked beak and a pouch (fig. 112). “This seems to point to a recollection retained by the immigrants into Easter Island of a former cult of the Frigate-bird which was practised in a region where this bird was a familiar feature, and which was gradually given up in the new environment when this bird, though probably not unknown, was certainly not abundant7; the cult being transferred to the locally numerous Tem.
Figures were also made in the Solomon Islands composed partly of bird and partly of human form. Bird heads appear on human bodies, as in Easter Island, and also human heads on bird bodies (fig. 125). It is noteworthy that, even when the head which is drawn on the bird body is human, it is depicted with bird-like characteristics, the lower part of the face being given a beak-like protrusion, till sometimes it is almost impossible to distinguish whether the head is that of a man or a bird (no. 6). This prognathous type, with the protrusion of the lower facial region, appears to have become a convention, and it is found in figures where the body as well as the head are human (no. 7). This is the kind found in a modified form in the Easter Island stone figures; they differ from any normal human type in either Polynesia or Melanesia.
It is impossible as yet to give with any certainty a connected account of the early history of Easter Island, but as a working hypothesis the following may perhaps be assumed. There was an original negroid element which brought with it the custom of distending the ear, the wooden figures, and also the bird-cult. A whiter wave succeeded which mingled with the first inhabitants, and the next generation adopted the fashion of the country in stretching the lobe of the ear, and carried on the bird-cult. At some time in the course of settlement war arose between the earlier and later comers, in which the former took refuge in the eastern headland and were largely exterminated.
If these suppositions are so far correct, the story of the landing of Hotu-matua and the establishment of his headquarters at Anakena refer to the Polynesian immigration, and it seems reasonable to look to the Miru, who are settled in that part of the island, and perhaps also to the allied clans of the Marama and Haumoana, who together form the chief inhabitants of the district of Kotuu, as the more direct descendants of the Polynesian settlers. In confirmation of this we find that the ariki, or chief, the only man who was necessarily of pure descent, is said to have been "quite white.” The inscribed skulls, which are those of the Miru, are reported to be of the Polynesian type. It is a some what striking fact also that the ariki, in spite of his prominent position in the island, took no part in the bird-cult ceremonies.
In endeavouring to arrive at even an approximate date for these immigrations to the island, evidence outside its borders is likely to prove our best guide. In the present state of our knowledge we cannot even guess how long the negroid element has been in the Pacific, but the lighter races are believed to have entered it not earlier than the Christian era. The colonisation of the Paumotus is placed at A.D. 1000,8 and it has been suggested by Volz that the Polynesian wave reached Easter Island about A.D. 1400.
There is at present no evidence to show whether the great works were initiated by the earlier or the later arrivals. There are other megalithic remains in the Pacific, notably great walls of stone in the Caroline Islands. The Expedition found a stone statue in Pitcairn,9 but we have as yet no complete information with regard to these works or the circumstances of their construction. The Polynesians are accredited with having carried with them the fashion of erecting such monuments, but, if they brought it to Easter Island, the form which it took was apparently governed by conventions already existing in the island.
On the other hand, it seems possible that the makers of the images may have come from a country where they were accustomed to model statues in wood, and finding no such material in the island, substituted for it the stone of Raraku. Sir Basil Thomson has pointed out that there were in the Marquesas wooden statues standing on erections of stone and also wooden dolls. Further knowledge of what exists elsewhere will probably throw light on the matter, but it is, in any case, owing to the fact that there is to be found at Easter a volcanic ash which can be easily wrought that we have the hundreds of images in the island.
With regard to the duration of the image era, it has been shown that the number of statues, impressive as it is, does not necessarily imply that their manufacture covered a vast space of time. It must, however, in all probability have extended over several centuries. As to its termination, the worship is reported as having been in existence in 1722; at any rate the ahu and statues were then in good repair. By 1774 some of the statues had fallen, and by about 1840 none remained in place. It seems, therefore, on the whole, most likely that the cult, and probably also the manufacture of the images, existed till the beginning of the eighteenth century. The alternative explanation can only be that though the cult had long been dead the statues remained in place, not materially injured either by man or weather, until Europeans first visited the island, and that then an era of devastation set in which in a hundred years demolished them all. This, though not actually impossible, does not seem equally probable.
We know that a large number, probably the majority, of the statues came to their end through being deliberately thrown down by invading enemies. The legendary struggles between Kotuu and Hotu Iti, in which Kainga played so prominent a part, are always spoken of as comparatively recent history, and one old man definitely asserted that they took place in the time of the grandfather of the last ariki, which may be as far back as the eighteenth century. If these wars occurred between the visit of the Dutchmen in 1722 and that of the Spaniards in 1770, it is at least possible that it was during their course that the manufacture of the images ended and their overthrow began. It will be remembered that, while Roggeveen speaks of the island as cultivated and fertile, the navigators fifty years later are greatly disappointed with the barren condition in which they find it. In the curious absence, however, of any reference in these legends to the conditions of the images, this must remain, for the present at any rate, as surmise only.
It would be interesting to know more clearly the part played by the advent of the white men in the evolution of the culture of the island. While it cannot be definitely stated that it was their arrival which, by detracting from the reverence paid to the statues, hastened their downfall, we know that it largely affected native conceptions. Not only was it the probable cause of the abandonment at the end of the eighteenth century of the practice of distending the lobe of the ear,10 but it inspired a new form of worship. It is interesting to see in the drawings of foreign ships, which appear side by side with older designs, a new cult actually in course of intermingling with the old forms. Did we not possess the key to them, these pictures would add one more to the mysteries of the island.
Such evidence as can be obtained from the condition of the images points to the fact that it cannot be indefinite ages since they were completed. For example, in certain statues, those which are generally considered the most recent, the surface polish still remains in its place in the cavity representing the eye, and on parts of the neck and breast where it has been somewhat sheltered by the chin, notwithstanding the fact that the soft stone is one that easily weathers (Frontispiece).
The question as to what the statues represent is not yet fully solved. It seems probable that the form was a conventional one and was used to denote various things. Some of the statues may have been gods; the name of a single image on an inland ahu, one of the very few which were remembered, was reported to be "Moai Te Atua." It is, however, probably safe to regard ahu statues as being in general representations of ancestors, either nearer or more distant, this does not necessarily exclude the idea of divinity. The hat may have been a badge of rank; warriors in Tahiti wore a certain type of hat as a special mark of distinction.11 Reasons have been given for suggesting that the images on Raraku may have been memorials of bird men; and we know that some of the statues, as those on the southern slope of Raraku and in Motu Nui, denoted boundaries. Lastly, it is not impossible that some of the figures, such as those approaching the ahu of Paukura, were simply ornamental, “to make it look nice." The nearest approach which we ourselves have to such divers employment of the same design is in our use of the Latin cross. Fundamentally a sacred sign, it is used not only to adorn churches and for personal ornament, but also to mark graves and denote common and central grounds, such as the site of markets and other public places. It is also used to preserve the memory of certain spots, as for instance, Charing Cross, where the body of Queen Eleanor rested.
The last problem to be considered is that dealing with the tablets. An account has been given elsewhere of what is known of their general meaning. The figures themselves may be classed as ideograms — that is, signs representing ideas — but it is doubtful, as has been shown, if a given sign always represented the same idea. Each sign was in any case a peg on which to hang a large amount of matter which was committed to memory, and is therefore, alas! gone for ever.
No light has yet been thrown on the origin of the script. No other writing has been found in the Pacific, if we except a form from the Caroline Islands, and a few rock carvings in the Chatham Islands, whose connection with the glyphs of Easter Island is as yet very doubtful.
It would be satisfactory, in view of the relation of the Miru ariki to the tablets, and the tradition that they came with Hotumatua, if internal evidence could show that it was of Polynesian origin. Unfortunately for this theory, the Melanesian bird figures largely among the signs. It is, of course, conceivable that they may have undergone local adaptation. While it is not probable that we shall ever be able to read the tablets, it is not impossible that further discovery may throw light on the history of the signs, and show to what extent the script has been imported from elsewhere, or how far it is, with much of its other culture, a product of the isolation of Easter Island.
1 Theosophists, indeed, contend that it has been revealed by occult means that Easter Island is the remaining portion of an old continent named "Lemuria," which occupied the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the writer has been informed by correspondents that she "may be interested to learn" that such is the case. Representations even of the world at this remote epoch have been, it is said, received by clairvoyance and are reproduced in theosophical literature: in the case of a later continent of Atlantis, which has also disappeared, it was permitted to see its proportions on a globe and by other means; but, unfortunately, in the case of Lemuria, “there was only a broken terra-cotta model and crumpled map, so that the difficulty of carrying back the remembrance of all the details, and consequently of reproducing exact copies, has been far greater" (The Lost Lemuria, Scott Elliot, p. 13). The world at the Lemurian epoch was, we are informed, inhabited by beings who were travelling for the fourth time through their round of the planets, and undergoing for the third time their necessary seven incarnations on the earth during this round. At the beginning of this third race of the fourth round, man first evolved into a sexual being, and at the end was highly civilised. The makers of the Easter Island statues were of gigantic size. To prove this last point, Madame Blavatsky quotes a statement to the effect that "there is no reason to believe that any of the statues have been built up bit by bit," and proceeds to argue that they must consequently have been made by men of the same size as themselves. She states that the "images at Ronororaka — the only ones now found erect — are four in number"; and gives the following account of the head-dress of the statues, “a kind of flat cap with a back piece attached to it to cover the back portion of the head" (Secret Doctrine, vol, ii. p. 337). The readers of this book can judge of the correctness of these descriptions. Theosophists must forgive us, if, in the face of error as to what exists to-day, we decline to accept without further proof information as to what occurred "nearer four million than two million years ago."
2 Revue Maritime et Coloniale, vol. xxxv. (1872), p. 108, note. It is unfortunate that M. de Lapelin does not give us more details as to when and from whom the account was received.
3 Royal Geographical Journal, May 1917. It has been pointed out that Dr. Hamy, examining skulls from Easter Island some thirty years ago, and W. Volz (Arch. f. Anth. xxiii. 1895, P97 ff.) attained the same result. Mr. Pycraft also came independently to the same conclusion.
4 Folk Lore. June 1918, p. 161.
5 Man, 1918, No. 91, pi. M. Also in Anthropological Essays, presented to E. B. Tylor, 1907, pi. iii. fig. 2, and p. 327.
6 H. Balfour, Man, Oct. 1918, No. 80. Folk Lore, Dec. 1917, pp. 356-60.
7 H. Balfour, Folk Lore, Dec. 191 7. For full particulars of this and the following points readers are referred to the paper itself.
8 Hawaii, S. Percy Smith, p. 294.
9 See Chapter XX, section on Pitcairn Island.
10 If it were not that the strife between the Long and Short Ears is always placed in very remote ages, we might be tempted to see in it a struggle between the adherents of the older and newer fashion. In the Hawaiian Islands such a combat took place before the advent of Christianity, see Chapter XXI, section on the Hawaiian Island.
11 Quest and Occupation of Tahiti, Hakluyt Society, vol. ii. p. 270.