CHAUVET

Easter Island and Its Mysteries

 


 

FLORA

AND FAUNA

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BOTANY


The main trees and plants that grow on Easter Island are described below.


1. Toromiro – (Edwardsia; Sephora-tetraptera, Leguminosae, Papilionaceae; W. Herbert-Purvis) 157. This tree is the one that is best known by ethnologists, all of whom know that it was almost the only tree on the island; that it was the one that was most important to the ancient islanders; and that it was, in their eyes quasi-sacred because all their ancient works of art of any value were carved from toromiro wood, as were the famous “hibiscus talking tablets” (wooden tablets covered with carved hieroglyphics) 158.

 

The value of objects made of toromiro was enhanced, in the eyes of the ancient islanders, by the fact that toromiro rarely produced branches that were sufficiently thick and sufficiently long for carving a statuette or a tablet 159.


The largest trunks of toromiro were hardly as thick as a man’s thigh and most of them much thinner, being twisted and knotted in addition. In time, the available trunks and branches became much thinner and shorter because larger ones had already been used. And the small size of the branches and trunks made them susceptible to destruction by the animals that wandered over the island (sheep, in particular) at the end of the nineteenth century. Thus, all that remain are a few in the Rano Kao crater 160. These plants, because they are so inaccessible, have played an involuntary role as the last vestiges of the ancient vegetation of the island.


In other locations far from Easter Island, the toromiro grows into a handsome tree, providing beautiful brick-red wood, except for the outermost layer, under the bark, that has developed in the previous two-year period, which is pale yellow. The grain is very fine and polishing the wood produces a truly lovely surface with alternating dark red zones, which are quite charming.


2. Mahute – Known as aute in Tahiti; this mulberry tree is a dicotyledenous perennial that puts out numerous shoots in springtime. Its scientific name has been given as Morus papyrifera in some cases and as Broussonetia papyrifera in others 161. Its fruit does not taste good and it exists in two forms, known as aute and ronga. This shrub is basically very similar to Phormium tenax, which is used by New Zealanders to make cloth. It produces filamentous fluff (stronger than cotton) that the natives used to make white cloth, known as mahuté (the equivalent of tapa on Polynesian islands), which the women used for clothing long ago and which made them look gay and clean. The men used smaller pieces to make a kind of loincloth 162.

 

Wars, the decrease in size of the population, and the European clothes brought by the whalers and missionaries were all responsible for the decline in the cultivation of mahute.


3. Boru-hu 163 or hau-hau or purau (known as purau and as pau in Tahiti; the Latin name is Hibiscus tiliceus (or, alternatively, Triumfetta semitrebola) 164.

 

This is a plant that yields filamentous threads and is very similar to the morera plant but which, on Easter Island, is smaller and has a more slender trunk (about 2.5 meters high and 10 centimeters in diameter) than similar plants on other Polynesian islands, where it grows much larger. It grows in the volcanic craters. Its bark yields a fiber that is stronger than hemp. These fibers are able to withstand exposure to seawater for longer than hemp fibers, without decomposing. The islanders used it to make ropes for all kinds of purpose and, in particular, for their fishing nets.


4. Ti (and not Tü). Ti is the name the natives gave to Dracaena terminalis (it is also known as Cordyline terminalis). Dracaena terminalis belongs to the Liliaceae; it is not a fern as many authors have suggested. It easily grows to a height of two meters in the craters, where it grows very rapidly because it is exposed to warmth and humidity 165.


Ti is very valuable because of its roots, which are long and fat and contain more sugar than sugar cane itself. Cooking these roots in a Polynesian oven takes two or three days. When they are ready, they are dark yellow in color. They have a sweetish, delicate taste similar to that of South American chancaca (sugar cane juice that has been solidified by evaporation of excess moisture). They are also resistant to spoilage and can be stored very well 166.


Ti had yet another use: it also yielded the powder used for tattoos. This powder was obtained by carbonizing its dried and pulverized leaves. The blackish powder that was formed was used for dark blue or dark green tattoos on the face and the body.


5. Makoi, the wood of which was used for various objects, including, perhaps, even statuettes 167.


In addition to these five types of shrub and the grasses that covered the lowlands, the naurau and the marikuru grew on the rocks. These were the only shrubs that existed on the island before the arrival of the first Polynesian settlers. Elsewhere, on the sides of the craters, F. Gonzáles noted yucca 168 and boruhu [?]; Admiral T. de Lappelin noted ferns (Microlepia strigosa), lichens, numerous types of Dracaena and Rubima [Rubia ?], and a considerable number of Pagenaria [?]; while A. Pinart noted a type of acacia with yellow flowers 169.

 

The bottoms of the craters, which had been transformed into swamps, were bordered by reeds and phragmites. A kind of sphagnum moss also grew in the craters and the natives used it to caulk their canoes.


6. We must note that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, other plants, brought from overseas, became acclimated to and flourished on the island, for example, mulberry trees, vines, sugarcane, banana, melon etc.

 

 

ZOOLOGY AND ICHTHYOLOGY


Before the arrival of the first Europeans, there was not a single quadruped, chicken or insect on the island (T. de Lappelin). There were only black rats and migratory sea birds (frigate birds, sea swallows, pelicans, albatrosses, etc.) that came to nest on the cliffs and on the islets of Motu Kau Kau, Motu Iti and Motu Nui. Later, chickens were brought from other islands in Oceania 170; sailing ships brought goats; and the missionaries and Dutrou-Bornier brought pigs, rabbits and other domestic animals. After a difficult period of acclimation, the pigs and rabbits 171 returned to the wild but, and this is very important even though nobody has noted it until now (even though it bears upon the problems that we have noted above that affected the humans on the island), they never grew very big.

 


FISH


The island is not surrounded by coral reefs 172 and the coast is battered by warm currents. Thus, there are very few fish in its immediate vicinity. Moreover, the fish that do swim around the rocks within fifty meters of the shore were considered poisonous by the islanders 173. Hardly any fishing took place before the end of September, which corresponds to springtime in the Southern Hemisphere. That being said, here is a list of the main fish that were eaten by the natives, in some cases with their island names.


Coreba, which is about 25 centimeters long and has neither scales nor spines but has a bony skeleton. Its skin, which looks dirty and is covered with black splotches, resembles that of a shark to some extent. Its mouth, which is small but contains large teeth, seems more suitable for eating algae than for catching small fish. It has three unusual features: a little horn that is three centimeters long on the nape of its neck; a bone that extends from the lower jaw to the intestine in place of a sternum; and caudal and anal fins that are long and triangular.


Cotehiva, which is 30 centimeters long and brightly colored and has very long, fat canines.

 

Kahi, which is a large fish that resembles a tuna 174 as much as a halibut; Atun, a sort of large mackerel; uravena, a fish from very deep waters; flying fish (Trigla robustans ) 175, which is common and which, around Easter Island as elsewhere, when leaping out of the water often lands on the decks of ships; another unidentified fish, from 10 to 15 centimeters long that is both flat and square, covered with scales but without teeth, and able to move very rapidly — it might be a type of “juglar-sucker” according to T. de Lappelin 176; and, lastly conger eels and regular eels.


Mollusks


There are large numbers of pteropod mollusks, known as cymbalia, living on the high seas. In calm weather, they rise to the surface and spread out a cartilaginous membrane that resembles and serves as a triangular sail. In its mouth, this mollusk has a little blue cable that it can let hang out and which serves perhaps as ballast to maintain its equilibrium (T. de Lappelin) or even as bait?


Crustaceans


Around the island and especially on the southern promontory, there are many large crayfish. They are brightly colored and have spines on their backs. However, they lack the large claws that are found on Western crayfish. There are also sea urchins, crabs and various shellfish.


Turtles


Turtles do not come to the island any more. Long ago, they did not spend time continuously around the island: they would arrive once a year during their migration, and they were particularly numerous in Hanga O’onu Bay (turtle bay). The natives would watch for their arrival from stone watchtowers (tupa).


To conclude, let us note that seals, sea wolves and whales that are found in this part of the Pacific Ocean never came near the island, for the same reason that so few fish are found near the island. Quite simply, these sea creatures are all cold-blooded and cannot tolerate the warm currents that surround Easter Island 177.

 


FISHING


Canoes


The ancient islanders had only a few canoes, quite simply because the island did not provide the necessary raw materials. 178 Cook saw three or four at most during his visit. Indeed, to make canoes (vaka), the natives had to use a very special technique to cobble together pieces of driftwood that had been thrown up on the shore. The first European visitors have left us no information on this subject but a careful examination of the drawings that they made, for example that by Blondela in 1786 (Figure 19) and that by Choris in 1816 (Figure 18), each of which provides details that confirm the accuracy of the other, reveals that these canoes were made of pieces of wood of all sizes that had been put together in a way that we shall explain below. First, we must note that the islanders had two types of canoe, one without an outrigger (Figure 18, no. 2) which was used for trips along the shore, and one with an outrigger (Figure 18, no. 1, and Figure 19), which was used for longer journeys further from the island.


They also had two types of paddle: one type that was similar to the paddles found on all the Pacific islands (Figure 18, no. 3); and one type that was rather unusual (Figure 19), that was unlike paddles anywhere else, and that had advantages that escape us.


To return to the method of making canoes, there is no doubt that it was similar to that used, long ago, by the natives of Tuamotu. And, while there is no description of the way the Easter islanders made their canoes, there is a very precise description of the way this was done in Tuamotu. However, it is found in a report that has received minimal attention and so we shall repeat it here.


The method used on the Tuamotu Islands (Bodin) — The “sewn” canoe, which was made long ago on the Tuamotu Islands was called vaka or aveké by the natives. This type of canoe was very light and was made of very particular types of wood, namely, tou (Cordia subcordata), gnegneo (known as tohunu in Tahiti), or gata (Pisonia umbellifera), known as puata in Tahiti — a wood that is of rather poor quality but is very easy to carve.


Tools


The tools used by the natives included the following;


1. Curved blades made out of clamshells (Tridacne) or stone;


2. Awls made of sharpened pieces of mother of pearl. 179 Note that the natives used the skin of the potaka (or fai in Tahiti) to shape and sharpen these tools. The potaka is a kind of ray whose skin is so rough that it can be used to make files that can sharpen mother of pearl shells or clamshells;


3. Slivers of coral, which were used to smooth wood before a final smoothing with the skin of the Potaka;


4. Ropes made of napé ó After soaking the outer husk of coconuts, that had been held in place by stones, the natives were able to make a very strong fiber that they used to make ropes with which to hold wood together to make their canoes. These ropes were completely resistant to all forms of decay and were, thus, superior to the nails that are used nowadays;


5. Caulk — The sawdust that was generated during the sanding of the wood was carefully collected and mixed, in appropriate amounts, with the lime obtained from the calcination of shells. This mixture was used to caulk the spaces between the pieces of wood. We know that, on the Easter Island, the natives used sphagnum moss, found in the craters, for the same purpose.


Construction


Taking, for example, a large trunk of tou that had been uprooted by the sea, the natives would transform it, by charring it over a fire, into a sort of empty keel of about 20 centimeters in depth and four centimeters thick 180.

 

Having done this, to increase the height of the sides of the canoe, and also to widen it, the natives would take some planks and struts made of gnegneo wood 181, which is less brittle than tou, and make holes in them with mother of pearl awls. These planks and struts would be literally “sewn” onto the hollowed keel, in which similar holes had been made.


After this first set of planks had been incorporated, additional sets would be “sewn” into place similarly to increase the size and width of the canoe still further. When the sides of the canoe were high enough, all the joints and holes were filled with caulk. In order to do this, the natives covered the outer sides of the holes and joints with bent struts, cut from the fronds of the coconut palm, which were held in place by plugs and twine made of napé. Then the mixture of sawdust and calcinated shells was applied from the inside of the canoe (for example, between the upper part of the keel and the lower side of the first row of “sewn” planks). Then the natives fixed more slats on the interior of the canoe over the original “seams” and sealed everything very carefully. The caulking was, thus, sealed between two layers of struts, one on the inside and one on the outside, and, in this way, the canoe was rendered absolutely watertight.


Finally, a flat piece of wood was secured on the uppermost row of planks and an outrigger was attached to the canoe. The outrigger was made of a long stem [sic] of kofaï (Agati/Sesbania grandiflora = corkwood tree) that was supported, at one end, by a rigid piece of wood and, at the other, by a bent, flexible piece of uu, with the whole thing held together by braided naṕe twine that was much stronger than the twine used for sewing.


On the Tuamotu Islands, there were two types of canoe in terms of dimensions. The medium-sized ones had a round keel and planks that were as close to each other at their upper edges as they were at the lower edges that were attached to the keel. These swift and lightweight canoes were used for fishing along the shore and for chasing schools of fish. The others, which were larger and wider, with a triangular keel, could carry many more people and were used for long voyages.


In spite of their size, they were constructed in such a way that they were very light and, it is said, one native could carry such a canoe by himself. As for their seaworthiness, they were so well made that one day, in 1890, a native appeared at Makeno in a similar canoe, having sailed alone all the way from Reao Island, 450 miles away.


We should remember too that the first European voyagers saw, in Polynesia, pahi which were made of two canoes of this type (vaka) joined by a platform. These pahi had sails made out of Pandanus palm, which were only filled by winds from behind. The warriors or sailors had to row if they wanted to sail against the wind and waves. These pahi were the light, sturdy and extraordinarily seaworthy vessels that carried the Polynesians on all their great maritime migrations 182.


Materials for Fishing


The ancient Easter islanders were magnificent swimmers, as are all Polynesian peoples, and they were able to dive into the sea to catch crayfish with their bare hands. But they also knew how to put together all the equipment needed for fishing, which they carried with them in their sewn canoes. In fact, in addition to their nets (Thomson, plate 130), which they spread with the help of weights (consisting, as on the Marquesas Islands, for example, of round stones carved with a deep groove), they had various types of fishhook (matau and rau), which they made with great care from nonperishable materials. Some were made of shell (pa; Figure 75), others of human bone (mugai-iri 183; Figures 73 and 74); and others of polished stone (mugai-kihi 184; Figures 70, 71, and 72). The stone hooks were often made of “diorite” 185 and were four or five centimeters long.


All the fishhooks were the same shape and this very specific shape is evident in all the photographs. Each hook was an almost closed circle and completely smooth, without any barbs. Moreover, it is quite strange that the point was always in the same plane as the rest of the hook. In addition, it is quite remarkable that none of the visitors to Easter Island, or to any other Pacific island, ever took the trouble to find out how one could catch a fish (and which fish could be caught) with a hook of such a paradoxical shape!


The fishhooks made of polished stone were carved all in one piece, as were the small hooks made of shell 186 or bone (Figure 75). Others, generally a little larger, were made of human bone (femur) but constructed of two pieces that were held together by a ligature (Figures 73 and 74), which was most probably made of braided fibers of Borahu (hau) 187. All the ancient fishhooks that have been collected since approximately 1830 were found in tombs in ahu, which explains why those made of two pieces of bone were found without the cord that bound them together — this cord would have decomposed. The ligatures of the type shown in Figure 74 were made by contemporary islanders, according to a technique whose authenticity cannot be validated.


The fishhooks made of polished stone were certainly very rare in ancient times (when the island was first settled) because they were so difficult to make and because making them took so much time. Thus, they were very valuable and were the property of great chiefs exclusively. Indeed, only a few birdmen (tangata manu) had the privilege of owning such hooks. And it is because these hooks were so valuable in everyone’s eyes and, perhaps, because the hooks also had symbolic value, that they were placed in the tombs of the chiefs (each of whom had his own tomb in a sacred ahu), beside the obsidian-tipped lances and the manutara egg, which had been the chief’s symbol of authority when he was alive 188.


We know that, throughout the ages and among all primitive peoples, chiefs were buried with their weapons and the objects that symbolized their authority or power and not with objects that, during their lives, were mere inconsequential tools. Thus, we can ask whether these simple polished-stone fishhooks, even though their shape indicates that they might have been used for fishing, might in fact have been signs of office or authority. The following observations support such a possibility.


a) A double fishhook, which could only have had a decorative function (as a pectoral decoration, in place of the oval pendants worn by women and shown in Figures 7, 14, and 92), was found on Easter Island.


b) On the Detroit de Torres Islands, the Papuans carve fishhooks from shells, whose shapes depart to a greater and greater extent from the utilitarian and which become increasingly stylized. These stylized hooks are single or double hooks and have an exclusively decorative function (A. C. Haddon).


c) In New Zealand, the only polished-stone fishhooks that have been found are almost closed circles and could only have been used for decoration.


d) On Chatham Island, the natives wore decorative gray-basalt fishhooks for decoration.


e) And, finally, the islanders drew fishhooks on their skin, together with other decorative motifs, for certain ceremonial occasions. Mrs. Routledge [1919] (Figure 88) even saw a man whose chest was decorated with two curved fishhooks. These observations appear to confirm the hypothesis that polished-stone fishhooks were used for decoration on Easter Island 189.


Nowadays, fishhooks made of polished stone are even more rare than they were at the time of the first settlers on the island. Indeed, we know of hardly any apart from those in four collections: one rather crude example collected by Thomson (Figure 72); an example in the American Museum of Natural History (see W. L. Kihn, “Stone Monuments on Easter Island”, Natural History, vol. 35, May 1935); those in the collections of Young and Fuller (these hooks were almost all collected and sold by Mr. Brander, who spent several years on Easter Island as an associate of Dutrou-Bornier, a retired Merchant Marine captain, and who took advantage of his time on the island to dig for and collect all the ancient objects that he could find, with a view to selling them to museums and private collectors) 190.


In his beautiful book on fishhooks of the Pacific, H. G. Beasley notes that the fishhooks of polished stone from Easter Island are extraordinary in terms of both form and patina and confirm the extent to which the islanders had perfected the art of stone polishing. He shows one particularly fine example from Fuller’s collection (the same type as shown in Figure 70) and he concludes by saying that these hooks represent the pinnacle of achievement with respect to hooks from all over the world. Their symmetry and perfectly polished surface must represent many weeks of patient labor!


In 1875, after having found and sold the few very valuable fishhooks that we mentioned above, Brander discovered a fishhook in a tomb within an ahu, that he judged to be even more perfect than those that he collected previously. This hook is shown in Figure 70. It is easy to appreciate the harmony of the general shape of this hook, as well as the fine finish and the workmanship of the horizontal and vertical grooves. The latter, on the inside face of the head of the hook, was designed for the cord from which the hook was to be suspended (Figure 73). Brander decided to keep this one and it was inherited by his nephew, James Brander, who sold it to me in 1934.


I should note that, in addition to these stone hooks, which were the same shape as those used for fishing, the ancient islanders also made double hooks, out of stone, that could not have been designed for anything other than decoration. One single example of such a double hook has come down to us (Figure 69).


These are not the only observations that one can make about the polished-stone fishhooks from Easter Island. G. H. Beasley, for example, pointed out that, for some unknown reason, stone fishhooks are not found on any other Pacific Island apart from New Zealand, where they were called he’i matua 191.


The very ancient fishhooks that were dug up in New Zealand are so tightly curled that they could only have served as decoration. Beasley thinks that such hooks reflect the shape of hooks that were originally utilitarian. But, it seems to me that three further observations and deductions can be made, all of which are very important, each of which is separate and all three of which are connected.


1. The first, which is not open to question, is that the polished-stone fishhooks establish the fact, which has long been ignored and is little known (both by prehistorians and by ethnologists), that the ancient Easter Islanders did not have a civilization based on flaked stone (as, for example, the natives of the Admiralty Islands still do today) but, quite clearly, they had a highly evolved polished-stone civilization.


2. The other two observations are, by contrast, somewhat less irrefutable, but I shall make them, nonetheless, because I am astonished that nobody else has made either of them. First of all, the Easter Islanders were completely isolated from all the other islands in Polynesia but their fishhooks have the very unusual and, at first sight, paradoxical shape that is found on numerous islands in the Pacific, such as the Society Islands, Tonga, New Zealand, the Marquesas Islands, the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, etc....


However, after their arrival on Easter Island, these islanders were unable, since they lacked appropriate vessels, to go to other islands and to learn to make this type of fishhook, with its unique morphology, from the natives on other islands. Thus, it seems to me that they could only have obtained this information during their successive migrations, from island to island, before they landed on Easter Island.


3. Even if they had been able, as they traveled from island to island, to learn that hooks of this unusual type were essential for catching certain fish in the Pacific, it could not have been during these peregrinations that they learned to polish stone and to refine this skill to such an extent! Apart from those from New Zealand, Pitcairn Island (Figure 71b; below) and Chatham Island, no similar hooks of polished stone have been found on any other Pacific island (Beasley) 192.


Furthermore, might we be led to conclude that, before leaving their original homeland and setting off on a journey that would lead them eventually to Easter Island, the original islanders already knew how to polish stone and even (as proved by the fishhooks) how to do so with consummate skill, which would date back to ancient times? Indeed, for a technique to reach such a degree of refinement, it would have had to evolve in a propitious location, situated “at the intersection of caravan routes”, where peoples trade with one another for many years (before fighting to take possession of such a good location and to settle there), that is to say in a region that would play the role of a “crucible of civilization”. Such places have been rather rare but the territory occupied by the Middle Indus, Iran and Mesopotamia was exactly one such crossroads or “crucible”! 193 Are we dealing then with Touranians who (before, while or after some of them set out on foot with the Hittites towards the Chaldees) set off on a circuitous voyage across the sea? 194 I shall return to this point when I discuss the famous wooden tablets. Moreover, no matter where exactly it was, since the future Easter islanders came from a land where people knew how to produce polished stone of the highest quality and had a correspondingly advanced civilization, we are now better able to understand how they were able to bring with them, together with this refined technique, the language that is written on the famous tablets.

 


 

notes

 
157. Translatorís note: The correct term is Sophora tetraptera. Edwardsia is the name of a genus of sea anemones.

158. We should note here, however, that some objects and some tablets that pass as toromiro are actually made of driftwood from a variety of sources.

159. The trunks of toromiro were also used for the framework of dwellings and for making spears (most of which were, however, made of hau).

160. Editorís note: Toromiro is now extinct on the island.

161. Translatorís note: Both Latin names are accepted synonyms.

162. Ronga is also found extensively on the Poumotu Islands; it has hard and hairy leaves.

163. Editorís note: "Boru-hu" is not a Rapanui word; the island's language has no "b".

164. Translatorís note: Both Latin names are cited incorrectly. Hibiscus tiliaceus is the correct term for a plant commonly known as beach cottonwood; Triumfetta semitriloba, commonly known as Sacramento bur, seems to be a completely different plant altogether.

165. The conditions that encourage the growth of ti explain why ti, as well as sugar cane and bananas, barely grew anywhere on the island except in what A. Pinart called the "sunken gardens".

166. A Polynesian oven consists of a pit in the ground that is lined with flat stones. A fire is lit, in the pit, to heat these stones and, when they are very hot, the burnt wood and cinders are removed and the ti roots, wrapped in leaves, are placed on the hot stones. Other heated stones are placed on top of the roots and then everything is covered with grass and leaves. For longer cooking, when the stones cool off, they are replaced by freshly heated stones.

167. Editorís note: Makoi (Thespesia populnea) is the favored wood for carvings.

168. Editorís note: Yucca surely was not growing on the island. What Gonzalez saw, or thought he saw, is unknown.

169. Translatorís note: [?] indicates that no such species appear to exist.

170. Editorís note: Chickens arrived with the original Polynesian settlers.

171. Editorís note: Introduced rabbits were rapidly eaten to extinction.

172. Editorís note: But there are coral formations.

173. Editorís note: This is nonsense; islanders fish from the shoreline for nanue, a favorite food.

174. Editorís note: Kahi is tuna. "Atun" is the Spanish word for tuna/kahi.

175. Translatorís note: This species is untraceable.

176. Translatorís note: The word "juglar" appears in no dictionary.

177. Editorís note: It is not the warm currents but the isolation of the island and lack of surrounding reef that determines the amount of sea life in the immediate area.

178. Editorís note: The island did provide the raw materials in the form of a huge palm forest but this was eventually lost due to human, animal, and environmental factors.

179. Editorís note: There was no mother-of-pearl on Easter Island.

180. They would light a fire at a slight distance from the log, along its length, and then, as the wood became fully or partially charred, they would remove it with their shell blades; then they would burn some more and remove that, until they had hollowed out the log.

181. Editorís note: He may be referring to "nau nau" or sandalwood (Santalum).

182. Such vessels are mentioned in all the legends. It is unlikely that, once they had settled on Easter Island, the ancient islanders would have been able to find enough driftwood (for the keel and the sides) to make large canoes that would have been suitable for long voyages.

183. Editorís note: A bone fishhook is called mangai; rou is a hook with an artificial bite. A hook from human bone is called mangai ivi. Easter Islanders had no shells large enough for fishhooks. "Pa" is an adverb meaning "now" (Fuentes, 1960).

184. Editorís note: Chauvet likely meant mangai kahi, a fishhook for catching tuna.

185. Editorís note: Diorite is not found on Easter Island; the object likely was made from basalt.

186. Editorís note: There was no shell on the island large enough to make a fishhook.

187. Editorís note: There is no word "Borahu" in the Rapanui language. "Hau" means "fiber or cord" made from hauhau, (Triumfetta semitriloba).

188. Editorís note: Chauvet is here confusing the chief (ariki) and the Birdman who received the coveted egg.

189. Editorís note: Tattoo designs may have been clan or status markers.

190. These polished-stone fish hooks are so rare that H. G. Beasley wrote to me that, over the course of forty years, during which he had searched in every country, he had been unable to find a single one and that he was certain that, during that time, not one had been for sale anywhere in the world. In forty years, all he had been able to acquire was one single fishhook made of bone! [Translatorís note: Chauvet refers to "H.G. Beasley", "H.-G. Beasley", "H. G. Beasley", and "G.-H. Beasley" all on a single page.]

191. But, we might ask, where did the New Zealanders get the technique of polishing stone (fishhooks; patoo-patoo; tikis made of jadeite, etc.) that they brought with them when they invaded New Zealand, which had been inhabited, until their arrival, by natives with black skin and crinkly hair? Similarly, in Jabim and Kela (which used to be in German New Guinea), various kinds of polished-stone spatula were found, each topped with a small well-executed carving of a person (four such spatulas are shown in Figure 321b in my book The Arts of New Guinea). The natives did not know what these disinterred objects had been used for since they were completely different, in terms of style, from the objects that they themselves made and used. These spatulas must have belonged to another race altogether that had skills, with respect to polishing stone, that were much more evolved than those of the contemporary Papuans. But where might this earlier race have come from? Objects made of polished stone have also been found in English New Guinea. These objects resemble certain pestles and suggest the existence of an earlier race of natives, different from the present-day natives, as well as of meals that included dishes that are unknown today!

192. The fish that were caught with these hooks included the fish that is known in Tahiti as uravena (without doubt Ruvettus pretiosa; [Translatorís note: Obviously the author did not know Latin; the correct term is Ruvettus pretiosus] and the common name is oilfish). The natives caught this fish at depths up to 300 meters. To reach such depths, the hook was weighted with a stone, attached via a special knot that could be detached by jerking the line when the hook had reached the bottom. The small size of the hookís aperture was designed to prevent the fish from getting away during the long trip to the surface. The natives of the Ellis Islands figure that, for catching oilfish, the aperture of the hook should be equal to half the thickness of the thumb. With such a hook, the fish has to bite over the hook to get at the bait, which is fixed inside it, and then, even though the hook has no serrations, the fish becomes attached to the hook in such a way that it cannot escape as it is pulled to the surface (E. Ahnne).

193. There is another very interesting fact that has not previously been emphasized. As we shall see, the cult of the birdman played a major role on Easter Island. This mythical creature was not only the focus of ceremonial rituals but was also represented by wooden statuettes, carved in stone, and included among the hieroglyphics on the wooden tablets. The mythical birdman is not found on any other Pacific island but it is frequently found on Assyrian cylindrical seals, even though the stylization is somewhat different, with the Assyrian birdman having the head and torso of a man with a body equipped with two wings and two birdlike feet.

194. Editorís note: Chauvetís mental meanderings involving Assyrians, Hittites, etc., derive from the then-popular idea of diffusionism in an effort to explain similar cultural features around the world. This is opposed to the "independent invention" school of thought.

 


 

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