April 5th, 1722 – The Discovery of Easter Island

On August 1st 1721, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen left on his expedition, in the service of the Dutch West India Company, to seek Terra Australis. The group consisted of three ships, the Arend, the Thienhoven, and Afrikaansche Galey and had 223 men on crew. After stopping at the Falkland Islands, Chile, and a couple other land stops, the expedition arrived at Easter Island (Rapa Nui) on Easter Sunday, April 5th, 1722.

Easter Island 1

Estimated dates of initial settlement of Easter Island have ranged from 300 to 1200 CE, approximately coinciding with the arrival of the first settlers in Hawaii. Rectifications in radiocarbon dating have changed almost all of the previously posited early settlement dates in Polynesia. Rapa Nui is now considered to have been settled in the narrower range of 700 to 1100 CE. Ongoing archaeological studies suggest a still-later date: “Radiocarbon dates for the earliest stratigraphic layers at Anakena, Easter Island, and analysis of previous radiocarbon dates imply that the island was colonized late, about 1200 CE. Significant ecological impacts and major cultural investments in monumental architecture and statuary thus began soon after initial settlement.”

According to oral tradition, the first settlement was at Anakena. Researchers have noted that the Caleta Anakena landing point provides the island’s best shelter from prevailing swells as well as a sandy beach for canoe landings and launchings so it appeals as a likely early place of settlement. However, this conclusion contradicts radiocarbon dating, according to which other sites preceded Anakena by many years, especially the Tahai, whose radiocarbon dates precede Anakena’s by several centuries.

Easter Island 680

The current Polynesian name of the island, Rapa Nui (“Big Rapa”), was coined after the slave raids of the early 1860s, and refers to the island’s topographic resemblance to the island of Rapa in the Bass Islands of the Austral Islands group. However, Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl argued that Rapa was the original name of Easter Island and that Rapa Iti was named by refugees from there.

The phrase Te pito o te henua has been said to be the original name of the island since Alphonse Pinart gave it the romantic translation “the Navel of the World” in his Voyage à l’Île de Pâques, published in 1877. William Churchill (1912) inquired about the phrase and was told that there were three te pito o te henua, these being the three capes (land’s ends) of the island. The phrase appears to have been used in the same sense as the designation of “Land’s End” at the tip of Cornwall. He was unable to elicit a Polynesian name for the island itself, and concluded that there may not have been one.

Easter Island SpaceshipAccording to Barthel (1974), oral tradition has it that the island was first named Te pito o te kainga a Hau Maka “The little piece of land of Hau Maka”. However, there are two words pronounced pito in Rapa Nui, one meaning ‘end’ and one ‘navel’, and the phrase can thus also mean “the Navel of the World”. This was apparently its actual meaning: French ethnologist Alphonse Pinart gave it the actual translation “the Navel of the World”. Another name, Mata ki te rangi, means “Eyes looking to the sky.”

In 1722, Jacob Roggeveen reported seeing 2,000-3,000 inhabitants on the island. After leaving Easter Island, he then sailed to Batavia by way of the Tuamotu Archipelago, the Society Islands, and Samoa. There he was arrested because he had violated the monopoly of the Dutch East India Company, but the Company was later forced to release him, to compensate him for the trouble, and to pay his crew. In 1723, Roggeveen returned to the Netherlands.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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