Sacred Texts  Pacific  Index  Previous  Next 

Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island, by William J. Thompson, [1891], at


Camp Baird was delightfully located in a commodious cave called Ana Havea, on the bay of Hanga Nui, near Point Onetea, and its proximity to Rana Roraka where all the monoliths on the island had been quarried. Tongariki with its rich remains of platforms, images, cairns, and tombs, and Vaihu and other points not yet explored, were sufficient to induce a permanent establishment during the remainder of our stay at Easter Island. The cave was dry, with spacious entrance exposed to the full force of the trade-winds, and we were comfortable to a degree, after dried grass and bulrushes had been collected to

p. 491

sleep upon. Successive generations of natives probably occupied this ancient cavern; an extensive corral has been built near by, and Messrs. Salmon and Brander sleep here while rounding up their cattle. Drinking-water, the great desideratum on the island, obtained from sources that form the crater of Rana Roraka, was, owing to its animal and vegetable impurities, unpalatable, while the supply from the springs, was more so, but afforded a pleasing variety, which enabled us to exercise a preference for some other, whenever either kind was used. The so-called springs are holes into which the sea-water percolates, and are as salt as the ocean, at high tide, and decidedly brackish at all other stages.

December 25.--The forenoon was devoted to the exploration of the face of the bluff to the eastward of Tama Point. Many caves were reached after difficult and dangerous climbing, and were found to contain nothing of interest, while others of traditional importance were inaccessible from below, and we were not provided with ropes and the necessary appliances for reaching them from above. No doubt there are caves in this vicinity with contracted entrances that have been covered by loose rocks and intentionally concealed. One such cavern was found by accident. It contained a small image about 3 feet high, carved out of hard gray rock. It was a splendid specimen of the work and could be easily removed to the boat-landing at Tongariki. Retracing our steps toward the camp, the ground between Puakalika elevation and Rana Roraka was thoroughly examined during the afternoon. The plain is completely covered with cairns, tombs, and platforms. Many of the most promising were completely demolished and the foundations dug up to a depth of six feet. All contained human remains in various stages of decay, and the earth upon which they were built proved to be a rich loam filled with sea-shells of minute size, free of stones, while outside of the foundation-walls the composition was composed of bowlders of all sizes with very little earth. Among the vast ruins are many fragments of images and crowns scattered about, and it is evident that platforms were erected and destroyed by succeeding generations. The traditions assert, and appearances indicate, that this plain had from the earliest times been one of the most densely populated districts on the island. Only the remains of walls and cisterns were found here. They were generally small, the largest being 9 feet in diameter, 14 feet deep, and surrounded by a sloping bank paved with small stones to facilitate the collection of rain-water.

In honor of the day, work was suspended earlier than usual, and we returned to camp a couple of hours before sundown, but we found that our Christmas cheer had been reduced to "hard-tack" and island mutton by the leger-de-main of our native assistants, though ample stores had been provided for the entire expedition. With no indulgence in indigestible Christmas luxuries, we were enabled to retire to an undisturbed rest at all earlier hour than would have been probable in a more civilized land and with different surroundings.

p. 492

December 26.--Our native contingent deserted in a body at daylight on the plea, that their religious convictions would not permit them to work on Sunday. Remonstrances and arguments were in vain, and we had to permit them to depart after exacting a promise that they would return early the next morning. Luka, the chief guide, lingered a while to state that his family burial place was beneath the great platform of Tongariki, and that he had a decided aversion to having the skulls of his ancestors added to our collection.

Sunday inspection and its attendant functions has through long custom become second nature with the men who have been long in the service, and through the desire to thus mark the day, the most valuable of our geological specimens were lost. The boatswain's mate took advantage of our temporary absence to clean up the cave and make it more presentable, and, in doing so, threw all the stones and "trash" into the sea. Nothing could be said, in view of the fact that it was done with the best possible intentions, but he was greatly chagrined to find that those same stones had been carried over many a weary, mile to be lost now, when it was impossible to obtain duplicates or other specimens of some of the peculiar formations met with on the first days of the trip.

Next: Rana Roraka