Easter Sunday on Easter Island

On Easter Sunday, 1722, three Dutch ships under the command of Admiral Jacob Roggeveen sighted Easter Island. Roggeveen's men encountered 4,000 islanders who called their island Rapa Nui, which means "Great Rapa" in most Polynesian languages. These people's forebears had left Taiwan or Southeast Asia some 3,500 years earlier on a migratory trek which would bring them to Te Pito o Te Henua (The Navel of the World) around 300 A.D.

Easter Island has been a colony of Chile since 1888, and Christopher Columbus rather than Roggeveen is the discoverer of choice in Latin America. Thus Easter Islanders and most other Chileans get a day off on Columbus Day (October 12) and "Roggeveen Day" is not celebrated anywhere. That's rather fitting because the first contact between Europeans and Easter Islanders climaxed when Roggeveen's landing party opened fire, killing around a dozen islanders. The Dutch ships then sailed away.

Various other European explorers followed Roggeveen to Easter Island, but it was not until 1862 that the full disaster of European contact struck. That year, a fleet of eight Peruvian "blackbirding" ships kidnapped 1,400 islanders to work in the sugar plantations of coastal Peru. Protests from missionaries and diplomats in Lima eventually secured the release of 15 of them, who were allowed to return home, bringing smallpox with them. By 1877, there were only 110 Easter Islanders left in the world. Today some 3,800 people live on Easter Island, three-quarters of them descended from those 110. On Easter Sunday, 289 years ago today, Jacob Roggeveen "discovered" Easter Island.

<< Home