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Easter Island: Early Witnesses

William Thomson


453

Throughout southeastern Polynesia this island is known as Rapa Nui, but the name is of accidental origin and only traces back about twenty years. When the islanders, kidnaped by the Peruvians, were being returned to their homes, there was for a time a question as to the identity of those from Easter Island. The native name of "Te Pito te Henua" was not recognized by the French officials, and finding certain fellow-sufferers hailing from Oparo, an island lying 2,000 miles to the westward, were more successful under the local appellation of Rapa iti (Little Rapa), the euphonious title was dropped and Rapa nui (Great Rapa) substituted. Teapy, Waihu, and various other names have been given to the island, but clearly without warrant. Vaihu was the name of a district and was occupied by the most powerful clan in the days of Cook and La Pérouse, but it was never applied to the entire island.

CLIMATE.

The climate is not unlike that of Madeira, with one wet and one dry season. From April to October the rainfall is copious, and in summer it is limited to passing showers. The mean temperature at the time of our visit (midsummer), in the shade, at 2 o'clock p. m., was between 780 and 800 Fah., and at 2 o'clock a.m. there was a fall of about 6 degrees. The southeast trades blow fresh at the beginning and end of the season, and make the climate salubrious and healthful. Our long fatiguing marches, while making the exploration of the island, were not accompanied with inconvenience from exposure to the direct rays of the sun, the constant breezes making the sensible temperature always appear lower than that recorded by the thermometer. Violent exercise induced profuse perspiration, but evaporation was always free and rapid. Electric storms are unknown.

VILLAGES AND HABITATIONS.

   The Catholic missionaries built at Vaihu, on the south coast, near Cape Koe Koe, a commodious and substantial church, a parsonage containing three rooms, and several outbuildings. The house is now the residence of Mr. Salmon, the outbuildings are occupied by his employés, and the church has degenerated into a storehouse for wool. The principal native settlement is at Mataveri, on the southwest coast, and about a mile distant, at Hanga Roa, a small neat church has been erected. Here the islanders assemble on Sundays and other occasions to hear the service read by one of their number, who was ordained especially to take charge of this congregation upon the departure of the French missionaries. At the southwest end of the island, and near the base of Rana Kas, is the residence of Mr. Brander. The house is of modern structure, with large and convenient rooms, but is in a state of bad repair, and is more attractive when viewed from a distance, surrounded by the shrubbery and vines that have been planted about it, than it is upon close inspection.

453


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