Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island, by William J. Thompson, , at sacred-texts.com
In describing the personal appearance of the islanders (Plate XIV) the early writers give us a pleasing variety to choose from. Behrens solemnly states that a boat came off to the ship steered by a single man, a giant 12 feet high, etc. He afterwards observes, "with truth, I might say that these savages are all of more than gigantic size. The men are tall and broad in proportion, averaging 12 feet in height. Surprising as it may appear, the tallest men on board of our ship could pass between the legs of these children of Goliath without bending the head. The women can not compare (Fig. 3) in stature with the men, as they are
Fig. 3. NATIVE WOMEN.
commonly not above 10 feet high." Roggeveen does not commit himself to a measurement, but states, "the people are well proportioned of limb having large and strong muscles, and are great in stature. They have snow-white teeth, which are uncommonly strong; indeed, even among the aged and gray we were surprised to see them crack large hard nuts whose shells were thicker than those of our peach seeds." La Pérouse contradicts the account as to their enormous height and praises the beauty of the women, who, he says, resemble Europeans in color and features. M. Rollin states that the females were more liberally endowed with grace and beauty than any which were afterwards
met with. The natives are not of large stature; a few of the men are tall, but they are of spare build, stand erect with straight carriage, and appear taller than they really are.
Great care was taken to measure accurately the human remains found in the oldest tombs excavated on the island. These proved the ancient islanders to have been of medium size, and the largest skeleton found measured a little short of 6 feet. The men are strong, active, and capable of standing great fatigue--a fact demonstrated to our satisfaction during the exploration of the island. The women are shorter and of smaller bone than the men, as is usually the case throughout Polynesia.
Mendana states that the islanders are nearly white and have red hair. They resemble the Marquesans more than any other Polynesians, and considerable variety prevails in their complexions. The children are not much darker than Europeans, but the skin assumes a brown line as they grow up and are exposed to the sun and trade-winds. The parts of the body that are covered retain the light color, and the females, who are usually protected from the sun, are much fairer than the men. Bronze complexions are believed to indicate strength, and a dark skin is considered a mark of beauty. The eyes are dark-brown, bright, and fall, with black brows and lashes not very heavy. The countenance is usually open, modest, and pleasing. The facial angle is slightly receding, the nose aquiline and well, proportioned; the prominent chin with thin lips gives somewhat the appearance of resolution to the countenance.
The native character and disposition has naturally improved as com. pared with the accounts given by the early navigators. They were then savages wearing no clothes, but with bodies painted in bright colors. The women are said to have been the most bold and licentious in Polynesia, if the reports are correctly stated, but we found them modest and retiring and of higher moral character than any of the islanders. The repulsive habit of piercing the lobe of the ear and distending the hole until it could contain bone, or wooden ornaments of great size is no longer practiced, but there are still on the island person s with earlobes so long that they hang pendent upon the shoulder. In disposition the natives are cheerful and contented. Our guides were continually joking with each other, and we saw no quarreling or fighting. They are said to be brave and fearless of danger, but revengeful and savage when aroused. They are fond of dress and ornaments. Very little tappa cloth is now worn, the people being pretty well equipped with more comfortable garments, obtained from the vessels that have called at the island. (Plate XV). Straw hats are neatly braided by the women and worn by both sexes. The women wear the hair in long plaits down the back, the men cut the hair short and never discolor it with time as is the custom in many of the islands of Polynesia. The hair is coarse, black, and straight, sometimes wavy, but never in the kinky stage. The beard is thin and sparse. Gray hair is common among those beyond middle life and baldness is very rare.
Kava is not grown upon the island and the drink made from the kava-root, common throughout the South Sea, is not known to these people. The diminution of the inhabitants can not be ascribed to the introduction of intoxicating drinks, or indeed any of the factors usually advanced in such cases. The decadence was no doubt accelerated by the introduction of the small-pox, and by the deportation of large numbers, but it is earnestly hoped that the small remnant of the people will increase and multiply under the comforts and protection acquired front contact with civilization.