Easter Island and Its Mysteries






Let us not forget, as others have all too often, the names of those who were the first to study, in depth, both Easter Island and the islanders and who, through their work, added a precious chapter to French science.

Eugène Eyraud

Eugène Eyraud was a Frenchman who was born in 1820 in Saint-Bomet and who settled in Valparaíso, Chile. Moved by the sad fate of the islanders, who had suffered tremendously in 1862 at the hands of some Peruvians and who had been reduced to slavery, he conceived the idea of repatriating four men, a woman and a child, who was none other than Tepito, the heir to King Maurata. With this goal in mind, he asked the Father Superior of the Picpus Fathers in Valparaíso whether he might go to Easter Island to establish a mission. Permission was granted, but on condition that he waited in Tahiti until a priest became available to go with him. After six months, during which time no suitable priest appeared, the bishop who replaced Monsignor D’Axi’eri allowed Eyraud to set off alone, provided that he paid his own expenses (1863). He had barely disembarked when the ship that had brought him to the island sailed away, abandoning him among the natives, who assaulted him, robbed him and put him in various very dangerous situations 20.

Nine months later, on October 11 1864, the Teresa Ramos, dispatched by Father Pacome Olivier, the Vice Provincial of Valparaíso, found him in a state of complete destitution and took him back to Chile. After having completed his novitiate in Chile, he became a “Father” on May 6 1865, giving his entire fortune to the Picpus Order on condition that it be used to establish a mission on Rapa Nui to civilize the islanders and also to protect them from further immeasurable harm similar to that inflicted on them by the Peruvians 21.

Thus, in 1886, he left for Tahiti with Father Roussel, who had come from the Marquesas Islands. They stopped briefly at Mangareva in the Gambier Islands and, finally, accompanied by three Mangarevians, sailed towards Easter Island to found a permanent mission in Hanga Roa (March 23 1866). A year later, another outpost was established at Vaihu 22 by Father Gaspard Zumbohm and Father Théodule Escolan. Brother Eyraud died on Rapa Nui on April 19 1868, leaving all his possessions to his successor for the purchase of a herd of [unspecified] animals. And even after his death, this man, who was so brave and so good, who consecrated his life and his fortune to the work of civilizing the islanders, received nothing from them but ingratitude. On July 7 1870, during a revolt by the islanders, his tomb and the cross on top of it were destroyed! 23

Hippolyte Roussel

Father Roussel was also a member of the Order of the Sacred Hearts of Picpus. He landed on Easter Island in 1866. In 1871, after conflicts provoked by Dutrou-Bornier, he was forced to leave the island and was accompanied, when he left, by a number of islanders who had become Christians. They all took refuge on the Gambier Islands. During his long stay on Easter Island, he compiled some very interesting notes on the customs and traditions of the islanders, which he sent to Valparaíso in 1869 but which remained there, unpublished, until 1914, when Father Félix Jaffuel, the Provincial of South America, sent them to the Congregation in Braine-le-Comte (in Belgium). Eventually, these notes were published in February, April and June 1926 in the Annals of the Sacred Hearts of Picpus, thanks to Father Ildefonse Alazard 24.


Louis-Alphonse Pinart

Louis-Alphonse Pinart was a French explorer, philologist and ethnographer. He was born in Bouquinghem (Pas-de-Calais) in 1852 and died in Boulogne-sur-Seine on February 13, 1911. He was both independent and adventurous but also patient and endowed with unusual physical energy. As a young man, he made numerous voyages 25.

Pinart traveled successively to the coasts of the Behring Sea, the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, Arizona, Easter Island, Haiti and Santo Domingo, the Greater and Lesser Antilles, Aruba, the State of Panama, Southern Central America, etc. He made almost all these trips at his own expense and brought back from all of them large collections of interest to ethnographers, anthropologists, natural historians, geologists etc., which he gave to French museums, for example, to the Trocadéro Museum (close to 3,000 items, including splendid works of art from Easter Island and three complete skeletons of ancient islanders). He contributed an anthropological collection of 39 skeletons, 393 skulls, 340 items of various types and 404 photographs; an ichthyological collection of 122 items; a zoological collection of 1,508 animals; a botanic collection of 1,053 species of plants; and, to the Museum of Boulogne-sur-Mer, more than 300 ethnographic items from Alaska, etc.

Moreover, as a pupil of the celebrated sinologist Stanislas Julien, he was very interested in the languages of the Far East and of the Americas. He produced a whole series of publications of the greatest interest and contributed to the literature in linguistics and American ethnography. He also contributed numerous dictionaries or vocabularies of languages of the peoples that he had visited and studied to the series known as “The Little American Library.”

We should note that, during the course of his various studies, he tried to demonstrate that, at various times in the past, reciprocal exchanges and borrowing of words had occurred among certain American, Asian and Polynesian languages. This proposal, which appeared very daring at the time, has been confirmed by the results of recent studies. In 1874, as a reward for his voyages to the northwest coast of America, Pinart received the Grand Gold Medal of the Geographic Society. In 1875, he received a medal from the Geographic Congress, and in 1877 he receive a medal from the Acclimatization Society. That is the sum total of what this great scholar and explorer (who spent his entire fortune on his travels) received for a life of danger, for a life devoted to science, for his disinterested scholarship and for the vast collections with which he enriched France!

Indeed, because he did not want to ask to be made a member of the Légion d’honneur, he was never made a “chevalier”! Furthermore, his bust has not been placed on the high pedestal that it deserves and, finally, his widow, a very cultivated and distinguished lady, having been unable to obtain any kind of white-collar work or even a government-sponsored tobacco kiosk (again because he would not agree to ask for the “red ribbon” of chevalier), is obliged to make a living as a laborer in a soap factory!!




20. Read about the admirable life of this great and unusual character in the interesting book, Easter Island, Mystery Island, by Father Mouly.

21. He took advantage of his time in ValparaŪso to prepare a long report, for the "Propagation of the Faith", about his stay on Easter Island, in which he discussed the customs and traditions of the islanders and declared himself ready to return to work among them. In the report, he also told his Superior about the existence of a strange form of writing on the island ó unfortunately, his Superior attached no importance to this discovery.

22. Editorís note: Vaihu is a district on the southwest coast of Easter Island.

23. Eyraudís tomb has since been restored; it can be found next to the entrance to the Church of the Holy Cross on the island (together with the tombs of SebastiŠn Englert, NicolŠs Pakarati, and the "prophetess" Angata).

24. The notes of Monsignor Tepano Jaussen, Bishop of Axieri, first Apostolic Vicar of Tahiti, were also published and they were subsequently included together in a short book, thanks again to Father Alazard.

25. Some of his explorations remain legendary among the natives that he visited because of their daring and the results that he obtained. For example, there was his trip, in a simple kayak, from Onnalaska to Kadiak (where the natives treasure, as sacred relics, the things that belonged to him). He made similarly adventurous trips in Arizona in 1875, 1876, 1877, etc.





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