[Extracted from the Proceedings of the Literary and Philosophical Society, Liverpool, vol. 29, pp. 275-97.]

Davis, or Easter, Island—Rapa-nui, native name—was discovered by the English buccaneer Davis, in 1686; thirty years after, the Dutchman Boggewin visited it, and as he sighted it on Easter day, called it Passen, or Easter Island, the name by which now it is generally known.

Its position is most isolated, being in the Mid-South Pacific ocean, about 2,000 miles west of Valparaiso and Lima, 1,000 east of the famous Pitcairn's Island and the Ghunbier group, and about 1,900 in the same direction both from Tahiti and a small island, Rapa-iti or Oparo, lately a coaling station on the Panama and New Zealand line. To this island I shall presently refer.

It may be called a mass of volcanoes, but these have been extinct for such ages that, in the huge crater of one, Te Rano Kau, which is a mile in diameter, and eight hundred feet deep, twenty-six feet of water were sounded by the officers of H.M.S. Topaze, in the pools found in the boggy soil accumulated there.

Its size is about half that of the Isle of Wight, to which, in its outline, it bears a certain resemblance; the hills, which are not over 1,600 feet in height, being rounded, and bluff cliffs terminating it at either end.

Its coasts are lashed by a furious surf, so that attempts to land at the practicable points will be found, frequently, not only hazardous, but even impossible. All visitors concur in this.

Even after landing, it is not an inviting place to walk [p.276] over, as the soil is everywhere strewn with loose angular lamps of very hard lava; and, as the native paths are in size just broad enough to let one foot go before the other, the swinging gait this necessitates is both irksome and tiring to a European. We found it so, to our cost. The air, also, is very dry, so the natives always carry sugar-cane to champ. We wanted water, which is not always to be got.

The soil is composed of rotten lava, mixed with vegetable mould, and naturally is very fertile, requiring but little toil to give the food necessary for the requirements of savage life. Sweet potato, of most exquisite quality; yam, sugar-cane, plantain, all grow abundantly, if cared for. Besides, there is an indigenous gourd, which serves for water-bottles.

Flora.—As for trees, I cannot call the shrubs and bushes I saw by that name. There are none now, though, from the boles and roots found in some places, they must have existed.

1. The Acacia, called Toro-miro (three wood), which grows in Chile to a large size. It is there called Pulen. From this the small images and tablets, rapas, batons, etc., are made. (Edwardsia McNabiana.)
2. The Tree Mallow, Hibiscus. (Poorow, of the natives).
3. Paper Mulberry, Broussonetia Papyrifera (Mahuta).
4. Tij, Dracaana Terminalis, from which they make their javelin shafts; these are the large growths.

Ferns, sedge, rush, flag, and rank grass make what sailors call the green stuff.

Fauna.—There is but one native quadruped, the ordinary Polynesian rat (Kive-Kive).

No land birds, except the common fowl.

I do not know of the existence of any reptile.

There are very few insects—a butterfly or two, a beetle or two, and, it is said, the centipede. There was, in some [p.277] places, a perfect pest of flies. I was only too glad to escape from their attentions, without collecting a hostage to identify their exile. In the grottoes of Anakena fleas were numerous and troublesome.

Yet in this, by description, most commonplace and undesirable island, in which, also, early navigators said no fresh water was to be found, are found things which are puzzling to many.

Curiously sculptured stones, tribe burial places, mausolea of chiefs, on which their images, gigantic in size, hewn from hard lava, although now in ruin and decay, make the visitor wonder at the skill and perseverance shown in their erection by a once numerous and well-organised population; and lastly, I believe the only instance in Polynesia, the existence of tablets, made of very hard wood, on which a kind of picture-writing is incised, which, some say, is still able to be read, and refers to the credence, social state, land division, and to the history, as well as to the traditions, of the inhabitants.

Visitors.—Davis says nothing about the island worth recording.

Gonzales, who came in 1770, gives a few details. He alludes to the lack of animal and vegetable life, and to the habits of the inhabitants. One thing in particular he notices: the image of eight to nine feet high, with a white head-dress, named Geso-peca, probably "Hoa haka nana Ia," now in the British Museum.

Boggewin, 1772, told strange tales of huge giants, of dense woods, of fruit trees, of shaven priests, who at sunrise worshipped Taurico and Dago at altars fired at daybreak, and who bowed to the rising sun.

La Perouse (1776), in the surgeon's remarks, says he [p.278] saw nothing of the giants, nor of the men. La Peronse left on the island, hogs and other animals, as well as fruit trees. Nothing is noticed about the worship.

The other visitors—Cook, 1774, has given a good account, so good that it seems written a few years ago; Kotzebue, 1816; Beechey, 1826; H.M.S. Portland, 1858; Le Cassini, 1862; H.M.S. Topaze, 1868; the Chilian ship, 1870; and French La Flora, 1872, are among the more noticeable. The Portland sent two cutters, but could not land. Most of these did not land, till the Cassini, which even surveyed the island in two boats; but, in 1863, the Peruvians sent an expedition for the purpose of carrying off the islanders to serve as coolies, and dig the guano of the Chincha Islands. Their ships carried away some thousand of the natives, with the king, Ro Tepito, and the royal family.1

May, 1868, Pere Albert Eyraud and Frere Eugene landed at Tahiti, on their way to the island, as it was intended to establish a Mission there; but finding what the Peruvians had done, Fr. Eugene proceeded by himself, in January, 1864, though the small-pox was raging in the island, and began his labours.

In Nos. 224, 226, of the Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, is his letter to his superior-general in Paris, Pere P. Olivier. It gives a good description of the state of the natives, who treated him very badly. Even his life was sometimes in danger, till a chief, Torometi, took him under his protection.

Eight months after this he was taken to Tahiti in a vessel, sent for him by the bishop, but, undeterred, returned, accompanied by Pere Roussel, the chief of the Mission at the time of our visit.


In another year, two missionaries from Valparaiso landed, Fr. Eugene dying shortly afterwards.

The results of the raid of the Peruvians were most disastrous. As the king and royal family had been taken away, anarchy, theft, strife, murder, and famine were the natural consequences. The plantations were neglected, and the inhabitants diminished.

But if the damage done in the island was great, the fate of those natives who were carried away was more wretched. Unsuitable food, hard and unaccustomed toil, with coast fever of a low type, soon reduced their numbers to one-third; and when, by the exertions of the French consul, the survivors were restored to the island, they took with them the seeds of fevers and small-pox, which soon turned the place into one vast hospital.

Frere Eugene, at his arrival, numbered the people at 1,800; but in 1868 there were but 900. Two years subsequently, the Chilians found only 600; and the French, in 1872, that there were then between 800 and 400, a rapid form of pulmonary consumption, which, I was told, was quite unknown a few years before our visit, being one of the most fatal diseases.

Some of the islanders are now in the employ of planters at Tahiti, and no doubt there are others in various islands of the Society group.

No doubt, from this upset, our information as to the history, etc., of the islanders is so meagre.

Inhabitants.—All visitors have borne the same testimony as to the appearance of the natives. They were strong, and well made, tall, the features more resembling European than the ordinary Polynesian. They were fairer, some almost white. Some had red hair. The good looks of the women, and their vivacity, have been commented on by all.


They were lazy, good tempered, fond of finery and amusement, excellent mimics, expert carvers, and made very good mats and nets; but then they were very thievish, and distrusted one another.

Customs.—The men painted their bodies with earth of various colours, mixed with the sap of a plant; the women used red colouring only. Tattooing was practised by both sexes, the women being more elaborately adorned; and they have the custom, as in many parts, of making a hole in the lobe of the ear, and wearing in it a roll of sugar-cane leaf, a shark's vertebra, a piece of wood, and so forth, till it is greatly elongated.

They circumcised, and also shaved, using for this purpose razors of obsidian.

The women gathered the hair into a sort of knob or chignon; at the death of a chieftain, this hair was polled, and twisted into a thin string, from which the girdle of the men, a cord as thick as the little finger, and terminated by red tassels, was made.

The dress—first for both sexes, the Maro. For the men, a blanket, or mantle, which is fastened at the neck. This mantle was made of Tappa. The women used a petticoat of grass matting, which reached to the ankles.

They used diadems or crowns of the dark hackle, and metallic-looking feathers of the common fowl. They like red, but object otherwise to black cloth or ornaments.

Clubs, batons of office, carved figures, and images were found in their houses in great numbers.

Their cookery was simple. They killed the animal by stunning it, as they disliked the sight of blood, and cooked it by roasting it in a pit heated with stones, as usual in Polynesia.

Cannibalism was practised, and, as usual, more as a [p.281] religions ceremony than as an alimentary custom. I fear a good deal of misapprehension exists as to the reason of this disgusting act. The last time recorded was about 1863 or 1864, when four Spaniards were devoured.2

Their language is a dialect of that spoken at Tahiti, with a good many Malay words in it, as is common among these Southern Islanders. Many words have been altered since 1770, owing to the fashion, common in the South Seas, of adopting a word to serve for one that by some chance has been tabooed.

Burial.—The corpse was wrapped in a bale of sedge or grass, and placed, head seawards, on the Papakoo, or burial terrace. Sometimes it was lowered into the clefts of rocks overhanging the sea.

It seems strange, but suicide was not uncommon amongst them, and sometimes from very little cause. It is said that their belief in a future state of happiness helped this practice.

Marriage was not fixed by the parents, but by the parties themselves; and any quarrelling or strife was sufficient for a divorce, each party being then free to many again.

In Creed they were Monotheists, believing themselves to be the offspring of a creator, Maké-Maké, who formed them from the earth, not by plastic operation, but as a plant grows. They do not make any effigy of this spirit-god, to whom, we have every reason to believe, they offered up human victims as burnt sacrifice.


Polity.—The people were divided into tribes, with chieftains; but there was also a king, of hereditary succession, and a prime minister, who was obliged to be a celibate.

As well as these, there was another chief, whom we will call the war-minister. His term of office was for one year. For his election, almost all the people went to the great volcano, Terano-Kan, feasting for a month. The candidates had to descend the almost perpendicular cliffs (800 feet), swim to a rocky islet or two at a little distance, climb, and get from thence a sea-bird's egg. He who showed most ability and quickness was chosen.

The person of the king was sacred and inviolable. There was always a good deal of fighting among the tribes, the object being to get slaves.

Arms, etc.—Their arms were: A long lance, a light javelin; these were headed with obsidian; a club, and a short bludgeon-sword, like the méré of the New Zealanders. They were ignorant of the bow and sling. In their dances, they brandished, as a thyrsus, a doable paddle of a strange shape, which they called Rapa. They wore gorgets of hard wood. Innate in shape, the ends terminating in heads, which varied very much in feature-outline. They used also balls of wood, carved into grotesque faces. The baton of office of the chief was a stick about five feet long, as thick as the wrist, rather flattened, and ended at the top by a Janus head, with obsidian eyeballs. The baton was not elaborately carved, as usual in many of the islands.


Buildings.—The papakoo, or general cemetery, is a sloping terrace of sea-worn boulders, faced by a low wall of large stones, fitted together without cement, and the side walls are whitened.


Usually about 100 paces long. They are generally near the sea, but one I noticed was in a moated enclosure, and near it was a rude trunk image, like the small one in the British Museum, which was found at the Papakoo of Matavéri.

The Platforms, or Chiefs' Burial Places, are all pretty close to the sea, on headlands sloping landwards. Let me describe one.

First, seawards is a very stout wall, built of irregularly four-sided stones, fitted with great exactness without cement. Many of these are fully six feet long. It is difficult, from debris and sedge, to measure its height accurately, but it is about seven or eight yards.

It runs parallel to the shore, about one hundred paces long, by ten broad, is built flat and level at the top, where thin slabs, serving as pedestals, are placed for the images, the effigies, or memorial statues of the chiefs. Each of these had its name, with the affix of Ariki, or Chief, and Moai, said to mean Burial Place.

Landwards, the platform seemed only a yard or so high. Before it is a smooth sloping grass terrace, as long as the platform, but very much broader. This was also finished off in front and at the sides, by a low step of fitted stones, and joined the ends of the platform.

These platforms are strewn with human bones in all parts. These were old and weather-worn, but did not seem to have been burnt. The images all thrown down and mutilated. At Winipoo, we were able to enter the crypt, and found several skeletons there.

The Altar.—At a little distance from the terrace, and near the central line, was a pillar, or cylinder, of red tufa. It stood on an area paved with smooth boulders. It was placed on a pedestal made of the same kind of stone [p.284] as itself. It was about six feet in height, and about as much in diameter. The top was flat, cut away a little on each side so as to form a kind of step. On it were two skulls of youths, seemingly twelve or fourteen years old. They were very weather-worn, and the faces were placed looking towards the platform.

Cremation Stone.—Again, in a direct line landwards, and about a hundred yards away, was a saddle-topped pillar. These pillars were used for the offering of burnt sacrifice. The finest I saw was at Winipoo. It was a squared block of the same red tufa, about eight and a-half feet high. The top leaned forward, and ended in two horns, so to say, on each of which was traced, in low relief, a human head, with a saddle-shaped interval between them. It seemed, therefore, a two-headed man. The arms are rudely traced, as well as the fingers, which clasp the hips. The navel is very strongly marked. It stood on an area, paved in the same way as the altar. We found burnt bones there, and were distinctly told by the natives what was its use.

I almost wonder that this is not noticed by Captain Cook, as this is the platform he visited, and found the images on it erect; and he has given their names also.

Large Stone Images.—Of these there are some hundreds, of various sizes, not only on the platforms, but on the road from Otuiti, where they were all made. The stone is an easily wrought trachyte, but which resists the weather very well.

The largest are those at the crater of Otuiti. I measured one which was prostrate, 87 feet; those embedded in the soil, and erect, we judged to be 50. Gonzales says he found one of 64 feet, but the usual size of those on the platforms was 18 to 18, and there were little stump ones of only 4 or 5 feet. All the images face landwards.


The oldest in the island were inside the crater of Otuiti,3 and they seemed to have a more Semitic expression of face than the others. The largest were outside the craters and seemed either newer or not so weathered.

Close to the cave where we slept was a large block of lava, which was to form three of these images, the large one, 29 feet 9 inches long, and two shorter ones at its side, respectively 17 and 14 feet each, one in line with the other. The dimensions of the face of the large one: Forehead, 2 feet 7 inches; nose, 6 feet 8 inches; upper lip, 8 inches; lower lip and chin, 8 feet 8 inches. All three were still attached to the live rock.

These images are trunks, terminating at the hips; the arms are close to the side, the hands clasp the hips, and are cut in low relief.

They have all the same attitude and expression of face, which is square, massive, and sternly disdainful, the aspect always upwards. The peculiar feature is the extreme shortness of the upper lip, or the upthrust of the lower one, which produces the same effect. I noticed this action in the faces of the present inhabitants.

The eye-sockets are deep, and had eyeballs of obsidian inserted; the nose broad, nostrils expanded.

The ears were long, with pendant lobes. The profile varied somewhat in different images.

That which is now in the British Museum, Hoa-haka-Nana-Ia, is elaborately sculptured at the back of the head, with birds and rapas, and was painted red and white. The top of the head was cut flat, so as to allow the crown to be put on.4


Crowns.—These are called 'Hai' and are made of the same red tufa I have already mentioned, which is found in one crater only. Near its quarry I saw some twenty ready for removal. They vary in size from 10½ to 2 feet in diameter, and are very like a cheese in shape.

The Polynesian usually prefers the red flower or feather for his head-dress. In Sir G. Grey's Polynesian Mythology, you will find, "One of the chiefs said, 'There are more red ornaments for the head here than in Hawaiki.'" The girls at Pitcairn's used a red everlasting flower for their chaplets, at our visit, 1852.

Gonzales says, 1770, one image had on a white head-dress. As a coincidence, in Dr. Birch's Records of the Past, in the Hymn to Amun Ra (Part ii., p. 180):—

"The double crown is his head-gear, he wears the red crown,
Benignly he receives the atef crown;
On whose south and on whose north is love."

"Gracious ruler, crowned with the white crown."

On the base of some of these crowns which were at the quarry, I found some scribbling, as I thought. I copied some, and found lately among them one or two figures identical with the so-called signatures of the chiefs mentioned by Gonzales.

Chisel.—These all were cut with a chisel made of very hard lava, in shape like a rolling pin, or front tooth, held in the hand. There was only one we saw; it was called Ti-ngi-Ti-ngi (a very slight nasal sound), to represent the sound of its chipping.

Teraphs, or Wooden Images.—These, as a rule, are male figures, of about a foot in length. They are made of the only hard wood on the island (Toromiro). Those now made [p.287] give one the idea of a very emaciated or flayed man; the profile strongly aquiline, the mouth grinning; ears with long lobes. Eyeballs of obsidian were put into the sockets, and a small tuft on the chin, for both sexes, be it noted. It is said, in Cook's time, they were fatter.

The female figures are much larger and flatter. The thin tuft is usually added; and as for profile, they are too pancake to notice it.

On the heads of the males are usually designed, in low relief, very extraordinary symbols, evidently mythic, such as a double-headed bird (in one case, on a female, something like the Russian eagle), a fish or cetacean, a merman, a lizard form, and some to which no likeness can be assigned, and which cannot have existed anywhere.

Besides these are smaller ones, very grotesque; a man with a toucan's bill in place of a nose, a fowl equally distorted, lizards, shark forms, and from their decay, these must have been of extreme age. They are in the possession of the then chaplain of H.M.S. Topaze.

These images were kept in the grass houses, either in niches, or suspended from the ridge-pole, and were carefully swathed in native cloth (or Tappa).

Small Images of Stone.—As well as these, small stone images were carved. Admiral Belcher says (1826) they were the ordinary ones. In the Topaze's visit, none were seen nor brought on board. The Chilians found and took away one or two very rude ones, but they had not the elongated ear lobe, though some of the wooden ones have normal ears.

Bas-reliefs of these same image-forms were found, and are now at Santiago, but they differ very much from either of the preceding types.

In the Fijis, and some other Islands, these same [p.288] small stone images are found—Sir G. Grey says in New Zealand; and though they are not worshipped, they bear some intrinsic value.

Wooden Images: their Meaning.—Although we are told, by the Jesuit Fathers, that without knowing the meaning of these images, the inhabitants still carve them, we may form some conjecture as to their use by tracing what is done by other Polynesians among whom they are found.

In the Polynesian Mythology—"Curse of Manaia"—Sir G. Grey, we find:—

"And just before night closed on them, she cast her garments on one side, girded herself with a new sash, made of the young shoots of the toe-toe tree, and standing on the threshold, spread out her gods, Kahn-kora, Itupawa, and Rongomai, and she stood before them. Their appearance was most propitious, and when her incantations were ended, she said, 'Your journey will be a most fortunate one.' The gods were then by her bound up in cloths, returned into the house, and hung up again."


"The women took by stealth the gods of the people. For the first canoes carried no gods for human beings with them, only the gods of sweet potatoes and fish; but they brought with them prayers, incantations, and the knowledge of enchantments, kept secret in their minds, being learnt by heart, one from another."

It is not very absurd to think that these various teraphs were used for divining purposes, as a gipsy does with a pack of cards. See the various emblems on the heads of those in human form, and the strange other forms. This divining by images is one of the very old customs. I would quote that of Micah, Judges xvi., who stole the money from his mother, made teraphs for divination, and gave a wandering Levite ten shekels a year, his food and clothes, to be his priest.


Tablets.—In the Museum in William Brown Street, you may see plaster casts of two of these. The originals are made of the same hard, even-grained wood as the "Teraphs."

They are irregular in size, somewhat coarse for such expert carvers to work on. I attribute this to the great dearth of wood.

You will see the tablets are grooved into shallow channels, ¾-inch broad. In these are incised figures, or symbols, every alternate line of which is drawn upside down, for fear of confusion in deciphering them. Some of these, and very odd they are, seem capable of recognition, but must tax even a lively imagination to surmise whether they are intended as figures of existing forms, or are only technical symbols. It seems to me more picture-writing than of a hieroglyphic nature.

We do not know that more than eight of these tablets now exist. Two are at Santiago de Chile, one in San Francisco, and five in the B. C. Mission at Tahiti.

Pere Eugene, the Jesuit Padre there in 1864, says that they were then common in every house, that each symbol had its separate nickname or signification (nombre), and that though the inhabitants do not attach much importance to them, and even have forgotten their primary meaning, yet that they still copy them.

Also that, after the coming of the Missionaries, we learn they were mostly destroyed.

We did not see any in 1868.

The Chilian Captain, Gana, got but three, and says they were exceedingly rare.

Those found were at the stone houses at Terano Kau.

According to Mr. Croft, of Papaete—who sent photographs of these tablets to San Francisco—the natives of Easter Island, who are now working with the planters in [p.290] Tahiti, say that some of these tablets contain lists of lands and boundaries; some told of planting and fishing; some were about religions ceremonies and legends, and others were about the old history of the island and the former kings and chiefs.

I have taken steps to assure myself, if possible, of the truth of this explanation. Don Juan A. Bustillos (who was in the Chilian expedition) says, he was told by one of the Padres that, when one of the tablets was found, a lad who was present began to chant its contents, when an old man present stopped him forthwith. Of course, the reason for this procedure was given, that the figure-writing had reference to some religious ceremony, of which, as the older convert had abjured the practices, the recital was not judged by him prudent, nor politic, to be repeated.

I may mention that, though as yet no incised tablets have been found in other islands. Captain King, who was with Captain Cook in his last voyage, brought from one of the Friendly Islands a piece of tappa cloth, on which were pourtrayed representations of men, birds, fishes, articles of dress, and so on; and, besides these, some figures which had the appearance of arbitrary marks.

This cloth was divided into twenty-three compartments, in one of which, near the centre, was a rude figure, larger than the rest, having a bird standing on each hand. That on the right hand seemed to be whispering to him. This figure was surrounded by three smaller ones.5


In 1784, this cloth came into the possession of Mr. Thomas Astle, F.R.S., who says, "The great figure is much in the style of the Mexican hieroglyphs at Oxford."

Sculptured Stones.—To show the great fondness of these people for sculpturing, I may mention that, at the brink of the crater of Terano Kau, where the election of the minister of war was made, close to the stone houses are a great number of lava-blocks, which have been graven and carved over with faces and forms, tortoises with human faces, and so forth. They were not very plain at first, as they were overgrown with vervain bushes; and my visit was at mid-day, so that few shadows were to be seen. I sketched several, however, without knowing what I had done till the face was completed.

Maré Häia, or Stone Houses.—I did not see any, except at this same spot. I suppose there are about eighty or more of them. The walls are about 5½ feet high, and nearly as thick. The entrance is just big enough to admit a man on his hands and knees. They are lined inside with upright slabs. Over these smaller slabs are arranged, like tiles, gradually arching, till the roof is able to be formed by thin slabs about 5 feet long. I measured one of average size, 16 paces by 6 paces, and over 6 feet in height, under the centre slabs.

The passage which leads into the house is paved with slabs, under which is a blind drain, which extends about six feet outside the door. In these drains, I was told, the dead men—victims (Héaka)—were kept ready for the cannibal feast.

Most extraordinary figures were painted in red on the inner slabs, as well as sheep, a rude horse, ships with rigging, etc., monkeys with bird-heads, etc. Some seemed quite recent.


There were quantities of a small univalve, a Neritina, on the floors of these houses. In these houses the tablets were found.

Origin of Inhabitants, Migrations, etc.—How and by whom was this little spot peopled? is a question which has occupied the attention of many, and to which has been attached more mystery than there seems any need for.

According to the tradition of the present race, some four hundred of them were expelled from Oparo, or Rapa-iti, another small island, about nineteen hundred miles west. They came in two large canoes, which had high forecastles and poops. The principal chief's name was Hutu, or Tuku-iu. They landed in La Perouse Bay, which is exactly as one might expect, and stayed in that neighbourhood for some time, till Tuku-iu, some years after, went to the other end of the island. They give the names as subjoined, of the successors of Tuku-iu:—

Ynuméke. Tuku Ytu.
Vakai. Aumoa Mana.
Marama Roa. Tupairike.
Mitiake. Mata ibi.
Utu iti. Terakay.
Ynukura. Baimo Kaky.
Mira. Gobara.
Oturaga. Ro Tepito.
Ynu. His son.
Yku. Gregorio, of four years old,
Tkuktoa.     died in Easter Island,
Tucujaja.     1864.

Note by Philippi, p. 26:—

Tradition. Length of Ancestry.—If this seems a long pedigree, in Raratonga, Makeamakea knew his ancestors for 29 descents; in [p.293] Hangariva, the king his for 37; in Nukuhita (Mutiaens), Keatanui knew his for 88; in Sandwich Islands, Kamehameha for 67; in the Royal Family of Raiatea, not only was the name of the father, but that of the mother, preserved.

How can this be done without writing?

There was a special priest, called the Orero, whose duty it was; and as these people have an extraordinary memory, his office was often assisted.

De Bovis says, he was the living book of religion, tradition, and sacred chants: he exercised his functions before an immense crowd; but many people knew nearly as much as he did.

Annuaire de Tahiti, 1868, p. 281.

There is no doubt that the present people belong to the Polynesian race, who all agree that the cradle of their family was at the setting son, most probably at the Samoan or Fiji group, these islands being the largest.

Note by Ernest Tinné, M.A., Oxon:—

"These Samoans are the most lovely of all the savage races I have yet seen. They have distinctly European features, and their expression is very pleasing. The tint of their skin is rich golden. The men are of great physical strength; the women are very good-looking," etc.

Sketches of Journal in New Zealand, p. 106.

The testimony of all visitors shows how great is the resemblance of the Easter Islander to this description. It would seem that, from isolation, they have not so far departed from the original type. I have not seen the Samoans, but thought that, of the Polynesians I have seen, these Islanders are most like the Marquesans.

The Polynesian has been proved to have passed over such immense tracks of ocean, that distance is no great obstacle to the subsequent arrival of migratory swarms, which has taken place, either as in the authenticated case of the New Zealander, from a desire of change, or from the overcrowding of an island, or from the involuntary cause their tradition [p.294] points to, expulsion in consequence of defeat. In 1852, we were told that, after a decisive fight between two islands, or parts of the same island, the conquerors, having surfeited themselves, put their surviving prisoners of both sexes into canoes, with a few cocoanuts, and turned them adrift.

The Malays, according to Rajah Brooke, used to be the true Vikings of the Eastern Seas, sending out fleets of war prahus, slaving and pillaging. These would be absent from home for as long as three years. How easy it would be for one of these prahus, separated by stress of weather from the fleet, and wrecked on any of these desert islands, to form by its crew and prisoners the nucleus of the population; if inhabited, to be merged into that already existing; and we find many Malay words in the Polynesian vocabulary.6

As to the size of the canoes, I dare say there is a good deal of misapprehension on this point.

The ordinary racing canoe of Tahiti holds fifty paddlers; the double war canoes of New Zealand three or four times that number; and, as a house was built on the upper deck amidships, stores and provisions were easily carried, even to serve for long trips.

I may refer, among other authorities, to the Polynesian Mythology of Sir George Grey, in which the size of canoes is too often mentioned to make their existence fabulous; and the circumstantial accounts of their provisioning, etc., are minutely detailed.

Before giving authenticated cases of drifting to enormous distances, let me also observe that, though the trade winds are usually contrary, there are times when the west winds, called in Tahiti "Arueroa," blow, lasting for as much as a fortnight, and accompanied by beautiful weather. Even [p.295] now, the Islanders take advantage of these winds, going in perfect cockle-shells of boats to visit the easterly islands, as they feel sure the trade winds will bring them back; and the Polynesian is a most amphibious animal in case of bad weather.

Easter Island lies in the loop of a current, if I may so say, which flows from the west, and, turning round the island on the south side, goes to the north and west.

Drifting of Canoes.—Among authenticated driftings, I may quote:—

1746. People from Kamtschatka were driven to the Aleutian, some hundreds of miles.

A native of Ulea and two companions were found on one of the Radack group. They had been carried by winds, etc., to the distance of 1,600 miles.

1820. 150 inhabitants embarked from Anaa, or Chain Island, in three canoes. Two were lost; the third was found alive, 600 miles from the point of departure.

1696. 80 men, women, and children were drifted in a canoe from Ancorso to Tamar, one of the Philippines, 800 miles distant.

1821. A large canoe, full of natives, from Rurutu, one of the Pomootu group, arrived at Maurua, 600 miles in a direct course. Another from Tahiti reached an Island near Mangea, 600 miles.

The native missionaries travelling among the islands continually meet with their countrymen, who have been drifted out to sea.

1782. Captain Inglefield, of H.M.S. Centaur, with 11 men, went in an open boat in the Atlantic, without compass, chart, or sail, 900 miles, and landed at Fayal.

1798. Captain Bligh, with 18 men, in an open boat, 4,000 miles in 46 days.


Admiral Fitzroy says about Easter Island, Voyages, vol. 2, p. 558, that, until he had known of many such facts, he was puzzled to account for the discovery of other islands, and of such a speck, and how it could have been subsequently visited, but that these and other facts about birds unravel most of the mystery.

Earlier RaceWas there one?—There is no doubt that many islands now desolate were inhabited, and by a people somewhat if not altogether like these Islanders.

In Fanning's Island, midway between the Society and Sandwich groups, are to be found pavements of floors, foundations of houses, and stone entrances, as well as stone implements, identical with those which were found on other inhabited islands at the time of their discovery. The same with Pitcairns, desolate at the time of the Bounty's arrival. In Maldon Island, these platforms were found under the guano beds. In the Gambiers, marks of an earlier race than that now present were discovered.

From what I have seen in the Island, I am inclined to think that these various remains are not the work of a race of superior ability, now extinct, nor that the present Easter Islander has degraded from a higher type. No newcomer adopts the customs of an extinct race, nor does he venerate nor preserve its relics. In all lands we see this. Here it is but lately that the statues have been overthrown; and of three which were standing in Captain Cook's time, at Winipoo, the roof of a vault has been made.

Image-making is a common Polynesian custom; but from the perishable nature of the material employed in other islands, most of them have disappeared. In the same way, where crowns of bright coloured feathers were put on the images, here caps of red tufa were substituted, from the scarcity of birds. Many images were far too recent to have been [p.297] completed for any length of time. The Island had been in a state of anarchy for fifteen years before our visit, and the upset of the social state would account for the natives ceasing to employ themselves on memorials of chiefs who no longer exercised their power as before, nor lived on their own lands. I am assured by Polynesian experts, that the time alleged to have elapsed since the arrival of this last wave of immigration suffices for the production of all the images on the island, especially if we consider the rivalry of the tribes, each of which would try to outvie the others; and there is no proof that the newcomers did not find a race existing on the Island similar to, if not identical with, themselves; that they gradually fused with them, adopting their customs and practices, which would not be very different.


1 One child of royal lineage, baptised Gregorio, was left on the island. He in 1864, al the Mission House, from some kind of fever, we were told.

2 I have been assured there that, so far from the cannibal feasts in the South Sea Islands being a banquet, it was done only under strong excitement. The meal was highly seasoned, and provoked frequently nausea and illness. I am quite sure that there it is not practiced from deficiency of animal food, as common fowls exist in plenty, and the Islanders do not seem to care much for them.

3 This group was drawn and lent by me to the Illustrated London News, who published it about six years since.

4 Stewart says he found, in the Marquesas Islands, a statue smaller but very similar to those mentioned, made of wood (as there is no lava there), in a valley between Taipee and Happar. It was called Haka-paa. Before it was a post, on which a dead dog was hung up.

5 On the back of the image in the British Museum—Hoa-Haka-Nana-Ia—are two birds, immature, one on each shoulder-blade. Another, at the occiput, is talking to a Rapa, which, we were led to understand, is symbolical of man. I thought the two first birds were supposed to be the Apteryx, but see now they are young sea-birds. As this image is the tutelary genius of the place where the war-minister was elected in the mode described, no doubt the sculpturing having reference to the ceremony. The meaning of the name is very doubtful, Pere Gaspar told me.

6 In one fleet, 80 vessels were of 400 tons burden.—Mardsen's Sumatra, p. 494.