CHAUVET

Easter Island and Its Mysteries

 


 

CARVED WOODEN OBJECTS

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The various explorers and ethnologists who have studied Easter Island have described many types of wooden objects that can now be found in certain museums in Europe and America and, in relatively small numbers, in a few rare private collections. Before we examine the objects themselves, let us first consider the materials and the tools that the ancient natives of the island had at their disposal.


1. Wood


Before the introduction of a variety of plants by foreigners, the islanders had only a single small tree 296 whose wood was suitable for carving. Moreover, this tree was quite rare and trees of a height and diameter suitable for carving relatively large objects were even rarer still. Such wood was, inevitably, a valuable commodity on the island so we would expect that the islanders would have used it to carve objects of, in their eyes, major importance, such as objects associated with their belief system and objects that were of value because they served as sacred archives (tablets or “talking wood”). That is why the really old objects are made, in general, of the wood known as toromiro by the natives 297.


This wood is not from a tree but rather from a bush that is a type of mimosa: Edwardsia Sophora Tetraptera (Leguminosae, suborder Papillonacea; W. Herbert Purvis) 298.


This species is not exclusive to Easter Island since, on the one hand, it also grows on some of the Society Islands (Maupiti, etc.), in New Zealand, on Juan Fernández, in Chile, on Lord Howe’s Island, etc., and, on the other hand, tradition has it that the plant was brought to Easter Island by King Hotu Matua, when he landed on the island with the first settlers. Whatever its origins, toromiro grew all over the island, in particular, in Mataveri, next to “hau” bushes. Toromiro was a real bush, growing to only seven or eight feet in height and only a few of the branches, which might also be twisted, reached “the thickness of a human thigh” (Cook).


The wood is heavy and quite hard. When cut longitudinally, the wood appears rather dark red with a brown grain. The wood directly under the bark is pink on the inner side and almost white beneath the bark. As the heartwood has a very fine grain, it can be polished to a certain extent, which gives it, according to Cook, a dark-brownish color, similar to that of “casuarinas”. While the islanders were able to carve small objects from toromiro wood, such as ancient statues with hollow bellies, P. Loti’s bird man, and certain small tablets, they could not use it for larger objects, such as two-headed statuettes, ao, rapa, long tablets etc., and even for the relatively large tahonga.


Fortunately, in addition to the local wood, the islanders had another source: the pieces of wood that the tide washed onto the shores of the island. They were able to gather wood from shipwrecked vessels and branches from other Pacific Islands that the ocean currents had swept onto the island (for example, sandalwood and Podocarpus latifolius). They used this washed-up wood also, as we have already noted, for making sewn boats 299.

 

2. Tools


The islanders had quite a number of tools with which to carve wood: blades of polished stone; sharks’ teeth for detailed work (for example, to incise ideograms on tablets); obsidian knives (flaked and polished), sharp points made with an obsidian flake, a rat’s tooth, or a small shark’s tooth; wooden rasps (scrapers), which consisted of a piece of shaped coral or, for finer work, a piece of a ray’s tail 300, stretched on a piece of wood and dried etc. Polishing, begun with a coral rasp, was continued with the dried ray’s skin and finished, finally, with wet sand.


3. Technical Considerations


As we have seen, the islanders had two kinds of wood for carving. But it is important to note that the two kinds of wood demanded a very different approach. When the natives used their native wood, they carved it when it was still green, first of all because it was easier to work with when it was freshly cut (especially with their, basically Stone Age, tools) and also because they knew that objects made from green wood split much less easily than those made with dry wood!


In spite of the polishing upon completion of a carved sculpture (first polishing), to which has been added the polishing due to age and handling etc., and the patina (consisting of deposits from sweaty hands), it is generally possible, using a magnifying glass or a low-magnification microscope if necessary, to find characteristic traces of work with stone or shell tools, for example, in the armpits, perineum and the crease behind the ear.


Stone tools actually leave different traces from metal tools, which the islanders obtained by barter. The former leave slightly jagged, saw-toothed marks. Metal tools were used later for objects that the islanders planned to sell to foreigners. These later pieces, from the latter two-thirds of the nineteenth century, had three other characteristics that we shall return to later: they are made from a greater and greater variety of woods; in spite of the use of more and more effective tools; the pieces are less and less finely made with poorer detail; and, finally, since the islanders were, on the one hand, no longer subject to the requirements of their own religious rites and since, on the other hand, they no longer had their ancient pieces as models (having lost them through barter), the wooden objects resemble the originals less and less. Indeed, the natives now made wooden statuettes that resembled, to a greater or lesser extent, the statues of pakeopas [ahu], at the shore, which they could still see and copy and which they had noticed were of such great interest to Europeans who visited the island.

 


IDENTIFIABLE PERIODS IN EASTER ISLAND ART

 

 

“Everything needs a name but nothing

should have more than one name

and that name should designate only one thing”.

          — Brissaud


Given that we have been unable, to date, to solve the mystery of the origins of the first islanders and to define the various periods in their history, the discussions in earlier chapters and the descriptions that follow obviously do not allow us to classify their works in any definitive fashion in terms of any well-defined periods. But it seems possible to me, nonetheless, to establish a provisional classification, as I shall explain below. This classification is not only supported to some extent by the facts but it also allows us to establish some kind of order and to instill some clarity into a whole collection of rather confused questions. The periods that I propose (simply as a working hypothesis, and in view of their utility in attempts at classification) can be defined and designated as follows 301.


A. The So-called Pre-Archaic Period


At this time, the future Easter Islanders (perhaps Aryans or Central Asians or ...?) left their homeland, bringing with them a certain state of civilization of polished stone, a written language (composed of ideograms) and a certain artistic style. These emigrants, during the course of their travels, borrowed to a greater or lesser extent from those with whom they came into contact (and whom they influenced in their turn) 302.


I will explain, below, at the end of the chapter on the tablets, the approximate route that these wanderers might have taken, together with two reasons on which I base this proposal (see page 80).


It may have been during the course of this migration that the future Easter Islanders adopted (or reinforced, if it can be proved that it existed, in an analogous form 303, before their departure for their native land) the birdman cult! In this regard, if the parental relationship between the Harappa characters and those of Mohenjo-Daro could be definitively established, and if, among the characters discovered in the Middle-Indus, the symbol of the frigate bird does not exist, we would have to say that it was during the course of their migration that the emigrants must have acquired this motif and incorporated it into their ideograms 304.


B. Archaic Period 305

 

This is the period during which the first race of invaders occupied Easter Island 306. Dating from this period, we have the great statues of Rano Raraku, and those of the third group, the ancient wooden tablets, the old fishhooks (in polished stone and human bone), certain tools (in obsidian), and the old wooden sculptures that represent human figures with sunken bellies and prominent ribs (moai kavakava; Figure 116 and subsequent Figures), birdmen (Figure 114), lizards (Figure 107), reimiro (Figure 83) and other objects (Figure 137).


C. The Maori Period 307


During this period, according to tradition and classical studies, the island was inhabited by a second race of invaders 308: the Maoris! During this period the “ua” and the “tahonga” were carved and perhaps, towards the start of the nineteenth century, some statuettes were carved, albeit crudely, that resembled the very old ones (Figures 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, and 144).


D. The Age of Decadence


It is impossible to assign an exact date to the beginning of this period because it really represents the evolution of events that began, to some extent, at the start of the nineteenth century, that is to say, when European ships started to drop anchor with some frequency on Easter Island. Nonetheless, we can say that, from approximately 1860, the period of degeneration of Easter Island art became well and truly established.


A combination of causes was responsible for this descent into decadence, as follows. First of all there was a population crisis that was both qualitative and quantitative. In fact, the various catastrophes that had befallen the islanders decreased the population from several thousand to just a few hundred. The catastrophes included the press-gangs from whaling vessels, attacks by Peruvians, epidemics, local warfare, famine, expatriation of workers by Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier, the departure of missionaries with their converts, etc. As a result, the demand for carved objects in traditional shapes (for example, tahonga, ua ...) for use by the natives decreased progressively, and more and more objects were exchanged, as barter, with ships that came to the island. The true Maori artisans, who had worked using traditional methods, also disappeared. Moreover, a long period of anarchy and famine had extended over the entire island and it, too, had pushed native craftsmanship towards extinction.


Finally, the same catastrophes led to the disappearance also of the hereditary kings; tangata manu; various chiefs; wise men/priests (tangata rongorongo), artists etc., all of whom had been the guardians of island traditions, including art.


In addition, without a true change in the racial make-up of the islanders, the natives became, nonetheless, less and less “maori”, as a result of the interbreeding brought about by passing ships and temporary deportations to Peru, Tahiti, the Gambier Archipelago, and, finally, by European settlers on the island.


The native religion disappeared and, in fact, was no longer in evidence when the first missionaries came to the island. Within a very short time, no more ritual objects were made for the ancestral rites (tahonga, ua...), in particular because another religion had taken the place of the islanders’ own.


Furthermore, it is noteworthy that somatic modifications, caused by interbreeding (morphology, the functions of endocrine glands, and “temperament”), were evidently accompanied by “induced” changes in the islanders’ psyches (conscious and subconscious) and, as a result, in their character, tastes, morals, customs etc.


And then, in the midst of all this confusion, here as elsewhere but more than elsewhere, the islanders were subject to the degenerative effects of Western civilization on their morals and customs ... and, in particular, on their societal relationships, dress and art. Their own indigenous art was replaced to a greater and greater extent by a cruder and cruder form of art that lacked its ancient features and was produced, not for religious purposes and not to support the native faith of the islanders, but out of a desire to trade with foreigners. This unfortunate state of affairs was compounded by the fact that, once the art had deteriorated, it turned out that the demand for it by foreigners had increased so that the production of “art for export” developed and flourished.


Let us now quickly examine the major types of wooden sculpture from Easter Island. As far as the carvings from the third and especially the fourth periods are concerned, and in the future these should be absolutely excluded from consideration as island art, we shall only mention them in passing, reproducing only a few, to demonstrate the abyss that exists between them and truly ancient objects. The major art objects as as follows.


Reimiro

(Figures 83, 84, 85, 86, 87, 88, and 89)


These are wooden crescent-shaped ornaments with an anthropomorphic head at each end that is sometimes highly stylized. The islanders use the word “reimiro”since “reï” refers to either end of an island canoe and “miro 309 refers to the native canoes of the type that brought the islanders to Easter Island originally.


A reimiro is a decorative object for wearing on the chest and it is similar to decorative objects on other islands: the great shell crescents of the Solomon Islands (Figure 88); the discs of giant clamshell, adorned with a decorative grid of iridescent shells from Santa Cruz Island; the discs of clamshell on the end of a violet cord, made out of dogfish skin from New Caledonia; ornaments made out of the teeth of wild pigs and little eggs from New Guinea; decorations made out of two teeth of a wild pig bound together at their bases from New Hebrides and New Guinea (the part that used to be German); the thick plaques made of clamshell with anthropomorphic decorations (Rubiana), etc. Moreover, A. Pinart had noticed them. “The natives also have crescent-shaped ornaments, which are a kind of collar that they wear on their chests for some reason that we were unable to determine”.


The reimiro are about 45 to 50 centimeters long and their front sides are slightly convex (Figures 84, 85, 86, and 87). The backs are slightly concave and covered with ridges (Figure 84) and the entire object is, generally, covered with a chalky powder obtained by the calcination of seashells 310. On the front, there are two little bulges, with a hole pierced at the base of each (for suspension by a cord), and these little raised bumps are often damaged on very old specimens. At the two ends there is a human head, carved in the ancient style of the very old wooden moai. Sometimes each head is very stylized on both sides (Figures 86, 87, and 89) 311.


Since he guessed that the reimiro shown in Figure 85 (made, moreover, of toromiro) was the oldest and, in particular, because the heads had been especially well carved, T. Jaussen chose it as the most typical example, among all the ones in his possession, for the drawing in the manuscript that he prepared in 1885. The average length of a reimiro ranges from 38 to 46 centimeters but there are a few rare examples that are as much as 60 cm long (Figures 87 and 89). In general, the body of the reimiro has no carving on it but the British Museum has one (Figure 84) that has a whole line of characters carved upon it and a similar one was reported by J. Weisser. On Easter Island, the reimiro was mostly worn by women. However, some old natives, when questioned by S. Routledge, told her that Nga’ara used to wear a small one during koro’s 312 last days.


Reimiro are often found carved on the rocks at ‘Orongo, on wooden tablets, and even on the backs of a few of the monumental statues at Rano Raraku 313.


Tahonga


The only tahonga that are known consist of a ball of wood, with a slightly ovoid lower end (Figures 90, 91, 93, and 94). They are about 10 to 15 centimeters high and decorated sometimes with one or two heads of a man (Figure 93) or a bird (Figure 91) and sometimes just with ridges in relief that symbolize a very highly stylized bird (Figure 90). Tahonga were decorative ritual symbols that were used during the Manu initiation ceremonies for young adolescents (see the section on manu). Figure 114 in S. Routledge’s book shows how these objects were displayed.


It is noteworthy that, theoretically, the tahonga should have been carved from coconuts carried to the island on the tide but, often, when no coconuts were available, the islanders carved smaller imitations from pieces of wood. And at the same time they took advantage of the wood to add decorations (Figures 90, 91, 92, 93, and 94). Since there was no way to carve them from native wood, because the island did not produce trees of sufficient diameter, they used driftwood.


This being said, let us recall that is was at the beginning of the manu ceremony that the tangata tapa manu shaved the heads of the children, wound bands of white tapa around their gaudily painted bodies, and hung either coconuts or tahonga around their necks, after which the initiate became poki manu or bird-child.


Ua

(Figures 95, 96, 103b, and 104)


Ua was the name given by the islanders to objects that served both as clubs and as oars and were generally from 120 to 130 centimeters long. Very rarely, one comes across even larger ones. For example, the one in the Lafaille Museum in La Rochelle is 162 centimeters long and that of P. Loti (Figure 95) is 166 centimeters long!


In transverse section, the shape is oval but, at the upper end, the shape veers towards irregularly cylindrical while, at the lower end, it becomes flatter and flatter like an oar. The upper end is capped by two human heads joined and fused at the neck.


These anthropomorphic heads are all carved in the same style and have the same features: a high forehead with deep transverse furrows; very prominent cheekbones; a mouth with thin lips; large ears; and eyes made of a circle of marine ivory 314 with pupils made of a flake of obsidian. One only has to look at the facial features of the islanders shown in Figure A (on the right) and in Figure B (forty years later) to see that the heads on the ua (Figures 103 and 104) just reproduce, with some degree of stylization, the actual facial features of the islanders.


Moreover, if one studies Figure 103b, which represents, in all its natural grandeur, the profile of a ua collected by P. Loti which is much older than other known examples and which, for this reason, differs from them in some details (the shape of the lips, the region around the eyebrows etc.), one is struck by a certain resemblance to the profiles of the great stone statues in the second group.


The ua could obviously, on occasion, serve as clubs but, in reality, they were the insignia of the chiefs. Moreover, while true clubs (paoa; Figure 95b) were plentiful in the olden days, the ua were very rare!


Choris was right when he said “Among 900 natives, we saw only two women. Only one man had a club, in the shape of a spatula, decorated with carvings”. Moreover, precisely because the ua were so rare and were the insignia of an important position, the islanders gave each ua its own name 315.


Ao

(Figures 95 and 96)


The ao was not a sign of power 316; it was, rather, a ritual accessory for a high-level priest and it was used by the “masters of ceremony”, if one can call them that, to keep time during the chanting at the rites associated with the bird man cult. Reference to the chapter in which we studied this cult allows us to understand why this ritual object is called “ao”, just like the decoration on the tiles of certain dwellings at ‘Orongo (Figure 68) or, also, on the backs of some statues (for example, the beautiful statue in the British Museum; Figures 56 and 57) and, lastly, the motifs that were painted on the skin of some of the young islanders (Routledge, Figure 88).


An ao is about 1.5 meters long, composed of two flat paddles linked by a stem. The lower extremity, often covered with chalky material (as a result of heating at high temperature) 317 is shaped like the head of an oar and resembles the shape of a “rapa”; the upper end is a slightly different shape, lightly sculpted and, in addition, painted to look like a human face that is, itself, covered with bands of red, white and black.


Matakao Eaao


Perhaps we can compare to the ao a similar object that is made of two pieces of wood (the ao is made of just one). This object also has an anthropomorphic head, but it is carved more prominently. The natives call this object mata kao 318 and Thomson gave the name “scull oars” to the ones that he collected (Figures 101 and 102). Since Thomson was unable to determine the function of these objects, he deduced that they must have been used before the islanders that he interrogated had been born! We should also note, in considering these objects, which were undoubtedly of ceremonial importance, that there are two other types of object that are by no means well known: the “eaao” or stick for sacrifices (perhaps for the cannibalistic sacrifices of the famous Ana Kai Tangata cave; this stick is shown on page 16 of Roussel’s monograph); and the long stick used, by the king, to call for rain (also shown on page 16 in Roussel’s monograph).


Rapa

(Figures 97, 98, 99, and 100)


Each “rapa” is from 60 to 80 centimeters long and has been called a “stabilizer” by some; it consists of two blades and is both light and short. Some islanders incorporated the rapa into their dances but priests used them as ritual objects that they held in their hands while reciting certain incantations. The lower end has, generally, a ridge that continues to a point. The upper end resembles that of an ao and is covered by slightly raised ridges that correspond to the eyebrows and the nose on an ao, which reveals their meaning. Two of these ridges are curved and end as spirals at the lower side of the blade. The reader will note that the rapa in Figure 99 is decorated, at its lower end by ... a swastika! 319 The rapa in Figure 100 has a “manutara” bird lightly carved on its left cheek (because these accessories were used, in particular, during the dances that accompanied all the ceremonies of the bird man cult).


Fish Carved in Wood

(Figure 105)


In Europe it is possible to study two types of carved wooden fish from Easter Island (the native name is ika). Two examples of the first type are shown in Figure 105 (#1 and #2), and both have basically the same shape: a “comma” with a large head, with the body being slightly curved and the large head having a short beak and eyes that are surrounded by many incised circles 320. Fish #1 in Figure 105 is in the British Museum and Fish #2, made of casuarina wood, was part of the Forster collection before it appeared in the National Folk Art Museum in Berlin. According to Forster, this fish was found on Easter Island, attached to a piece of stone that he called “slate” (?), and was used to weight a net that was used to catch sharks. If this explanation is correct, it means that, in the eyes of the islanders, the wooden fish was destined to play, to some extent, the role of a good-luck charm.


Two examples of the second type of carved wooden fish are also shown in Figure 105 (#3 and #4). These carvings represent a different variety of fish; their shape is different and they are longer and less curved. However, these carvings are much more recent than the first type and much less well carved. Fish #3 is in the Nell-Walden Collection in Basel and fish #4, from the Christy collection, is on display at the Pitt-Rivers Museum.


Before we finish this short piece about fish, we should note that many authors use the term “fish” to describe objects that we shall discuss below (under the more suitable and, moreover, more exact designation — we shall explain why — of lizard). This designation is totally erroneous and is the result of excessively superficial studies by incompetent observers! To avoid all misunderstandings in the future (both in descriptions and in scientific discussions) and, also, to all well-constructed nosological 321 systems of classification, we should eliminate completely the designation “fish” when considering the complex objects that we are now going to study 322.

 

Lizards

(Figures 106, 107, and 108)


These objects, which the islanders called moko miro 323, used to be stuck in the ground around the entrance to dwellings to keep away evil spirits 324. In earlier works they have been referred to in some places as fishes, in some places as idols with fish heads (F. Ratzel), and in some places as lizards! We have explained why calling them fish is totally misguided and should no longer be acceptable. The designation “idols with fish heads” is also incorrect because the heads are not straightforward fish heads. The third designation, “lizards”, contains an element of truth but it is also inappropriate to some extent because the objects are not uniquely representations of lizards. If we were to say “anthropomorphized lizards”, that would be a little more precise but would still not be totally accurate because we are not dealing with a simple combination of varying numbers of lizard and human traits. It is even more inappropriate to call them, as some have done, faces of men attached to the body of a fish, or a rat or a bird!


Figures 106, 107, 108 show two examples of the objects in question. They are both from the Archaic Period and are among the most informative specimens of this type of carving. The first one can be found in the Trocadéro Museum and is 33 centimeters long. Careful study of this carving reveals a head that can be considered to be a lizard’s head, albeit somewhat stylized (which explains why some authors have considered it to be a fish’s head). The rest of the body seems to have the general lines of a lizard (if one puts it stomach-side down) and the positions (but I am not implying the morphology) of the front limbs resemble those of a lizard — but that is all! With respect to human traits, to the extent that they are represented (in a very stylized manner) on all the old statuettes that are known as moai kavakava, the carving in question has eyes (with whites made of marine ivory 325 and pupils made of obsidian), a torso with a sunken belly and protruding ribs, clearly delineated vertebrae, and lower limbs that are totally folded up under the belly. The carving also has a feature that has remained undetected until now and that is destined to add a third layer of symbolism, namely, that of a bird. It turns out that the island artist carved, at the base of the spine, a sort of fan-shaped decorative motif that represents fanned-out feathers and which, although very smaller, is none other than the decorative motif that can easily be seen in Figures 108, 110, and 114, and which, in those figures, is clearly discernible as the tail of a bird. It is clear, therefore, that this carving is half-human and half-multianimal.


The second carving exhibits a different combination of hybrid features but is no less complex (Figures 107 and 108). It is 39 centimeters long and 5 centimeters wide and was found on Easter Island in 1872 by Commander Jouin of La Flore. While the torso and the head resemble those of the first carving, the lower limbs are completely extended and anthropomorphic, as are the genitals (male). Moreover, under a very schematic bird’s tail there is a very distinct lizard’s tail! 326

 

Bird-men

(Figures 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, and 115)


It seems to me that the birdmen, “tangata-manu”, who played such an important role in the social life of the ancient islanders (given the bird cult, itself), were honored in three different ways by their contemporaries.

 

1. Carvings of birdmen were made, in their honor, which were half-realistic and half-symbolic (the latter in order to evoke their function).


2. They were immortalized by carvings on rocks (Figures 63 and 64) or on stones (Figure 68).


3. After death, each was buried in the vault of an ahu, with a monumental statue on top 327.


In any case, if we know of approximately thirty ancient moai kavakava statues of the highest quality, there are only four statuettes of birdmen, and these have been discovered only recently. One is in the museum in St. Petersburg (Figure 112), one is in the American Museum of Natural History (Figure 113; see Natural History, volume XXXV, May 1935), one is in the British Museum (Figures 109 and 110), and one is in Pierre Loti’s collection (Figures 114 and 115) 328.


The birdman in Figure 109, which was acquired by the British Museum in 1928, is 10.3 inches high. It is a clear mixture of human features, carved in the ancient island style (facial features, body, male genitals...), and of birdlike features (lateralized eyes, beak, wings, tail...). The head gives the impression of being a combination of a human head with a kind of cap that is made of a naturalistic head of a sea bird, equipped with a large beak (the head of a frigate bird).


By contrast, in my opinion, the second piece at the British Museum (Figure 111), even though it is very interesting, does not represent a birdman! Without doubt, it was the result of an all too speedy inspection that led to its incorporation into the museum’s collection as a birdman. Then, as a consequence, the issues raised by the chosen classification prevented researchers from seeing the truth and correcting the initial error. In fact, one cannot find a single human feature when one inspects this object. The head and the body are entirely birdlike. Where is there any evidence of human form? In my opinion, an erroneous designation of human features was given to the lower part of this piece, where there might appear to some to be two human legs, fused and incomplete, resembling, to a small extent, those of the lizard-men. But, in truth, if one looks carefully, it is easy to see that the lower extremities are not human at all. Instead, there is the upper end of a staff, on which stands a bird with curled claws (which are mostly covered by the wings but of which one can, nevertheless, see the front extremities).


The piece shown in Figure 112 is, by contrast, indisputably, a birdman (as in the one in Figure 109). One part of the body is human, with the characteristics of moai kavakava (general morphology, protruding ribs and vertebrae, sunken belly, lower extremities of appropriate shape and dimensions, human genitals and, finally, one last feature that I shall discuss below, a goiter 329), and the other part represents parts of a bird, with the presence not only of a sort of “evening dress” in feathers (wings and a tail) but also of a head that resembles that of an albatross (and not a penguin, as Walther Lehmann wrote). While the preceding piece has a totally birdlike head and a totally human body, the one in Figures 114 and 115, which is a wonderful piece found by Pierre Loti during his stay on Easter Island in 1872, has, conversely, a totally birdlike body and and an almost completely human head. One could even argue that it has the most beautiful and most human head that has been found on any of the statuettes from the island, irrespective of what they represent 330.


This piece, if one takes the face as being female, deserves truly to be called “Siren” (a siren ... found by Pierre Loti?) because, contrary to general opinion and to the material in dictionaries, sirens were not half-woman and half-fish but, rather, birds with the faces of virgins (according to Count H. Begouen in his book The Sirens, published in Toulouse in 1935 by Tolosa). This piece is 25 centimeters high and is made of toromiro wood, as are other genuinely ancient pieces, and the wood has developed, over the centuries, certain signs of handling and a patina that are absolutely characteristic.


As already stated above, the body is totally birdlike, apart from the absence of claws, which were always missing because they were never carved, any more than they are in the islanders’ hieroglyphics (Emanu Rima Taata) that represent the tangata manu (Figure C). The body is completely birdlike, equipped with large wings and a conspicuous tail. It also has two birdlike features that the island artist has very skillfully and ingeniously incorporated into the human head: the clear lateralization of the eyes (which, like the ancient sunken-bellied moai kavakava in Figures 116, 117, 118, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, and 134, have pupils made of a polyhedral flake of obsidian), and a trace of a horny protuberance, at the base of the nose, as is found on certain birds. Apart from these two features, the head is completely human and, one might even say, totally European. It is certainly much less abnormal than the heads of the monumental statues at Rano Raraku. However, the piece in question does resemble the statues in two ways: the particular morphology of the long ears; and the parallel furrows on the brow and the head (Figures C and 51).


That having been said, the head is so “European” that, just as it is, it reminds us immediately of a head by Daumier, with a slightly sneering lower lip. With respect to the way that the ancient islanders represented man, in ritual form, this piece has two other features that have been completely overlooked up to now and which seem to me to be of the greatest importance (both because, to my mind, they stand out among the features of all really ancient statues of humans and because they have an extremely instructive significance with respect to realism), namely, the clear indication of a goiter at the front of the neck and something that is rather indistinct and has been worn down by handling, namely, a sebaceous cyst on the upper part of the back of the neck 331 (see, also, the section on “Ancient Statues”).


Various Objects

(wooden hands etc.; Figures 137 and 138)


At the same time as they were carving ancient statuettes, lizards, bird men, reimiro, ua, etc., the island artists were carving votive or symbolic hands. The British Museum has a hand of this type, collected in 1774 by Captain Cook’s officers when they visited Easter Island. It is made of the wood of a palm tree 332 and is yellowish in color (thus, it must have been made from driftwood 333). It is eleven inches long. At the time that it was found, a note was made of its very long fingers. This is totally erroneous. The fingers are, in fact, of normal length but they are extended with very long fingernails, similar to those of ancient Chinese Mandarins (and which the latter protected with special cases). The hand has other features that have gone unnoticed and are particularly important because their presence corroborates the interpretation of the role of the long nails, in my opinion. In fact, the entire hand has a very particular morphology, not only in terms of the long nails but also in terms of the slender and tapered fingers and, especially, in terms of the musculature (of the thenar and hypothenar eminences on the palm of the hand) that is poorly developed. The reduced musculature is accompanied by an increased amount of subcutaneous fatty tissue, so that the hand, instead of appearing strong and virile, appears to be rather “soft” like the hand of a priest! The sculptor seems to have wanted to depict, in my opinion, the hand of a major dignitary, for example, a chief or wise man (tangata rongorongo), who might have been in charge of preserving the esoteric texts and oral traditions. These two features of the hand were emphasized specifically to show that this “well-born” hand belonged to a man who did not need to do any manual labor!


We should recall here that some of the large statues also have hands with fingers that appear unusually long and with the thumb slightly raised in a backward direction (Figures 37 and 38; the disposition of the fingers in Figure 148 was copied from statues of pakeopas [ahu]; and, see also Routledge, Figures 69 and 72). I think that these long fingers were carved for the same reason, which would not be surprising since these statues also depicted major dignitaries.


Note also that, in certain collections, one also comes across other wooden hands from Easter Island but they are gross, crude and shabbily made. They all have short fingers, similar in shape, and no long fingernails. Such a hand can be seen in Figure 150. These hands were made for export during the Age of Decadence by artisans who were unaware of the features of the ancient carvings and they are, thus, of no value at all.

 


ANCIENT WOODEN STATUETTES DEPICTING HUMANS


The ancient statuettes were called moai miro (moai = statue 334, miro = wood) by the islanders. The most ancient of such statuettes were called akuaku or, sometimes, atua, and were believed to have supernatural powers. The old statuettes with prominent ribs were referred to more accurately as moai kavakava, which means “statue with ribs” 335.


Such depictions of women were called moai papa 336 and those of men were called moai tangata (Figures 116 and subsequent Figures). These statuettes are very rare but, nevertheless, some very fine examples can be found in quite a few museums, for example, Braine-le-Comte, Lateran Museum (Rome), British Museum, Pitt-Rivers Museum, Trocadéro Museum, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Monaco, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, American Museum of Natural History (New York), Field Museum (Chicago), Santiago (Chile), St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Munich, Berlin, Dresden, Bremen, Leyden and Honolulu, and in some private collections, namely, those of Loti, Gaffé, Flechteim, Lavachery, Level, Stéphen Chauvet, and Peytel, and in Hornby Castle.


Those Europeans who spent time in the 1860s on Easter Island noted that the statuettes did not seem to play any part in religious rituals ([H.] Roussel) but, nonetheless, the natives treated them as very valuable objects (A. Pinart) and, during major festivities at Mataveri, and at koro (Routledge 1919:234-5) 337, they would display them, hanging them around their necks on a cord that was either threaded through a hole at the nape of the statuette’s neck or wound around the neck of the statuette itself 338.


Pinart noticed that these statuettes, which I think always depict males 339 and which where always carved from “the wood of a type of mimosa”, were kept in little bags made of “canvas or cotton fabric” and that some had necklaces and enormous heads of hair that had been arranged with great care (see Figure 119).


Visiting the island before A. Pinart, Balesteros had found, in almost all the native huts, small wooden or stone statuettes that “guarded the door against all manner of evil spirits”. The thing that one notices immediately when one examines these statuettes with great care is that they are all carved in a very distinctive style, clearly stereotyped, and also according to a specific model. Some authors have proposed that, in ancient Easter Island art, as is the case in ancient African art, the artists were not free to represent human beings in terms of their own artistic concepts but had to follow immutable traditions that derived, perhaps, from their religious beliefs 340.


Other authors have provided a very different explanation, as follows. Since Easter Island art includes such a wide variety of traits that appear so exaggerated to us (exaggerated facial expressions, protruding ribs and vertebrae and exceedingly sunken bellies, etc.), this ancient island style is essentially “conventional” (with Balfour writing, for example, “as conventional as that of the Marquesas Islands”) 341.


Very recently, other interpretations have been offered. Thus, for Einstein, the ancient statues appear to represent the dead while, for Mr. Lavachery, they represent cadavers! We shall return later to these hypotheses, which are totally incorrect. For now, let us note first of all that, from a technical perspective, the island sculptors were very talented and exhibited absolute mastery not just of a primitive art form nor even of an “incipient” art form but, unquestionably, of an ancient art that had reached the apogee of perfection. Moreover, it is clear, contrary to what Mr. Lavachery has written, namely, that the islanders “had a poor understanding of wood”, that these artists had (similarly to African and Polynesian artists) a wonderful understanding of the texture and the grain of wood. This allowed them, on the one hand, to carve it with their very crude tools and, on the other hand, to carve statues out of green wood that would not split when the wood dried out progressively over the years. We might even ask, also, how it is that the islanders were able to use a wood as fibrous and and hard as toromiro, for example, and relatively blunt tools to carve statues without splintering the wood (as can easily be seen in the delicacy of the carving itself). We can also ask how, given their tools and the wood that was available, the artists were able to achieve such crisp lines, on the head and on the torso, at the sites where flat or convex surfaces intersect with concave surfaces, allowing light and shadow to interact in the same way as they do on the great statues at Rano Raraku or the British statue (Figure 56) 342.


Now, it is easy to understand that these crisp lines that separate the different surfaces were absolutely essential, not only to provide the carvings with a certain expression and a certain character, but also to contribute, with other features that will be described, to making the statuettes reflect the undernourished physiques that the islanders clearly wanted to reproduce. To give an appearance of malnourishment, a statue cannot just be small. Let us return here to the question of the proposed ignorance of the islanders with respect to the use of wood. We should note that Mr. Lavachery’s opinion was based on the opinion of a talented Belgian sculptor, which he had solicited. But surely such an opinion is of little value given that contemporary sculptors, even the most talented, if they work in wood at all, (i) have used modern steel tools and not flakes of obsidian, and (ii) have never carved toromiro wood. Furthermore, (iii) they know nothing about the techniques used by the islanders to make these prehistoric, ethnographic pieces! 343


We should judge the technique of the ancient island artists and their understanding of their materials by comparing their work to prehistoric pieces, in wood or bone, carved with the same tools as those available to the islanders and, also, to pieces of Polynesian or African art (carved sometimes with the same split flakes or polished tools, and sometimes with iron tools) 344.


And we should not forget, furthermore, that the islanders did not have large amounts of wood at their disposal (with the possibility of starting afresh on a new piece of wood if they made a mistake), nor did they have large pieces of wood that would allow them to choose a piece from the right layers and with the grain in the right direction. Quite the contrary! Not only did they have to use wood very sparingly, they also had to use small scraps of knotted and stunted wood and, in addition, they had to carve it exclusively longitudinally 345.


As for those who say that the islanders understood wood poorly because they raised splinters, these authors do not realize that the islanders did not care at all about splinters, provided they did not affect the general lines of the piece, the ritual sharp edges and the obligatory profile, because they knew that the statuette, in its entirety, would be painstakingly and exhaustively polished once it had been carved!


Finally, to complete the discussion of the techniques used by the ancient islanders when they worked in wood, it is worth asking what a contemporary artist, even with his own tools and, more especially, with those available to the islanders, might be able to carve from a small, knotted piece of toromiro wood. That being said, let us now examine analytically the numerous unusual features of these ancient statues.


Heads


Some of the peoples of Africa and Oceania have often sharpened and distorted — that is to say caricatured — features of the human face. As examples, it is sufficient to cite the tiki of New Zealand or the prows of canoes from the Solomon Islands (Choiseul Island, in particular; Figures D-7, D-13 and D-15 on page 82), and, in Africa, the successive stages of deformation of the noses on the Bayaka statuettes in the Belgian Congo. Other peoples have also made representations of humans that are completely unreal and entirely the products of their imagination and which are analogous to some Roman gargoyles or, even, to gross human deformities or to some drawings of the mentally ill 346.


But all these deformities — both possible and imaginary — vary in importance and in nature from one piece to another. On Easter Island, by contrast, the so-called deformities that characterize the statuettes are common to all the statues and unchanging and, moreover, they reflect realism and not fantasy. Indeed, these are not conventional deformities (products of the imagination) nor abnormalities of development (the phantasmagoric creations of hallucinators). Rather, they are, quite simply, exact reproductions of (semi-morbid) modifications of human features, which were common to the entire race of Easter Islanders! 347


Let us consider first the particular peculiarities of the heads of the ancient statuettes. The facial features are heavily emphasized. The cheekbones are very prominent and the nose is large and hooked. The mouth is large, with fleshy lips, and is slightly open, allowing the teeth to be seen — the mouth and lips together form a “V”. The cheeks are sunken but not emaciated and the chin is rather prominent, pointed and pointing upwards at its tip, with a little goatee beard (of the type that was fashionable under Napoleon III). The chin resembles those of the statues at Rano Raraku, as well as that of a carved head on Motu Nui. The eyes are made of a disk of marine bone, with a piece of obsidian at the center. The eyebrows are long and conspicuous, hatched with parallel lines. The ears are large and their lower lobes are very well developed and elongated (falling very low) and each is pierced with a hole, as are those of the big statues. We note, in closing, that the vast majority of ancient statuettes have faces that are looking straight ahead.


Skulls


The apex of the skull of ancient statuettes is generally decorated with anthropomorphic or

zoomorphic motifs, sometimes with a stylized bird or manutara (single, Figures 119 and 126; or double, Figures 131 and 135), sometimes with various drawings of animals, and sometimes with people (often with their arms and legs pulled in towards the body (Figures 120, 122, 125, 130, and 134). Some authors have suggested that certain decorations carved on skulls might represent a crayfish (Figures 128 and 129) or a fish (Figure 115). In fact, it seems clear that what one sees is a stylized arrangement of the hair, similar to that favored by some men in their fifties who comb their hair over a bald spot. Whatever they represent, these decorations are, in general, likely to be related to the totem or symbol of the clan. Perhaps an important person who had the right, for example, to a bird as a decoration on a statuette that represented him when he was alive had the same right to have the same decoration on his skull after he died (Figures 20, 21, and 26)? 348


The only statuette that has come down to us with a sort of “wig” made of human hair is the one brought back by Pinart (Figure 133) but it would not have been the only one of that type because Pinart wrote that he had seen quite a few others like it on the island: “Some statuettes are decorated with neckpieces and enormous piles of carefully arranged hair”.


Necks


The necks have two characteristics that have been completely ignored until now and to which I attach considerable importance, as will be demonstrated below: a goiter and a hump or cyst on the back of the neck. For now, let us note simply that the goiter is more or less prominent but is always and unequivocally recognizable. Furthermore, it would be stupid to think that artists as skilled as the ancient islanders would have made necks with these very specific features by mistake or as a result of a lack of attention to detail (see Figures 116, 117, 118] 119, 126, 128, 129, 130, 131, and 134).


As for the hump or cyst, it is extremely prominent in Figures 116, 118, 120, 122, 125, 127, 128, 130, and 134; and it less conspicuous and located slightly higher up in Figure 121. The reader will notice that, even if some of these bumps on the neck were used as the site of a hole for a cord (Figures 125 and 134), the bump is not carved on the nape of the neck for this express purpose since, on the one hand, many statuettes with prominent bumps lack a hole for a cord (Figures 127, 130, and 136) and, on the other hand, there is no need for a bump if one wants to make a simple “biconical” [sic] hole through the back of the neck. Moreover, this bump, if one thinks about it, is not really surprising in view of the fact that many travelers to Easter Island, including A. Pinart, noted that many of the islanders had a large lump on the back of the neck 349 (A. Pinart, “Voyage around the World” p.238)!!!


Bodies


The general remarks about the heads of the statuettes also apply to the bodies. The ancient artists, following a tradition of very specific stylization (an explanation of which will follow below), carved bodies that appeared normal to them because they resembled the bodies of the people whom they saw every day. Moreover, they would have been very careful not to carve the bodies of their subjects with any whimsical touches or with ugly or grotesque features because they were carving statuettes of important dignitaries! If, by contrast, the sculptors of the Age of Decadence produced fanciful creations (Figure 150) or carved statuettes of the infirm, it was because, on the one hand, they were no longer constrained by any law of ritual esthetics and, on the other hand, they no longer understood the reasons for the ancient esthetic (since the race of islanders had changed).


Chests


At first glance, the chest appears to be too long. This conjecture is incorrect and the illusion is due to the fact that it is actually the lower limbs are too short! The thorax consists, in the upper portion, of the clavicles, which are clearly visible in relief, as are the pectoral muscles (especially the lower ones). There are ten pairs of ribs (rather than twelve, doubtlessly because the “floating” ribs are not included), which are very prominent and of which the last ones are attached to the base of a very conspicuous xiphoid appendix that hangs over the concave belly.


Belly


The abdomen is completely hollowed out and has a navel. It resembles the belly of someone with cholera and not that of someone who has died after a lengthy period of cachexia and, in particular, it is totally unlike the body of someone who has been dead for some time. The morphology in the two latter cases is quite different 350.


The reader will note that the statuette in Figure 108, which has a particularly hollow belly, has neither the back nor the lumbar region of a man who has been starved of food and it in no way resembles a corpse.


Genitals


I think that all the ancient statuettes represent males. The one in Figure 142 represents a female — but it dates from the Age of Decadence!


Backs


The vertebrae on the backs of the statuettes are very prominent. There are generally 26 of them and they can be more or less stylized or, by contrast, very realistic (Figure 127). The vertebrae can extend as far as the iliac crest but they generally stop near this level, at the upper part of a ring that is clearly carved (Figures 120, 122, 123, 125, and 127) and is, itself, found at various positions. Below this ring, a crest, carved in relief, continues the length of the spine (Figures 120, 122, 123, and 127). Sometimes, however, the vertebrae are carved even beyond the ring and, sometimes, even as far as the sacrum (Figure 125).


The ring itself, which must absolutely be referred to as “lumbar” and not “dorsal” (as proposed by Mr.  Lavachery), is generally evident as a simple raised circle (Figures 120, 121, 122, 123, and 127). Sometimes it is centered by a point (Figure 127) which represents, perhaps, the point of the spinal apophysis that is surrounded by the ring. It has been noted, previously, that rings of this type were found by Mrs. S. Routledge on some statues at Rano Raraku that she arranged to have disinterred.


We can assume that, since this ring has been carved on stone statues and on wooden statuettes, it is likely that it played an important role in the islanders’ “manu” ceremonies, during which neophytes were decorated with a painted ring around the lumbar region (see Routledge, Figure 114). Moreover, we must remember that the initiation ritual was very important since an islander could be excused from killing his parents, if his love affairs turned out badly, simply because his parents had failed to have him properly initiated (Routledge)!


On some statuettes it is possible to make out a raised horizontal line beneath the ring but above the iliac crest (Figure 120). This line might symbolize the presence of a belt of the type worn by the young islanders during the “manu” ceremonies (Routledge, Figure 125) 351. But, whatever the respective locations this raised line and the iliac crest, it is hard to see how anyone could discern the famous “M” motif that certain authors report having detected, doubtlessly as the result of their simplistic approach to their observations (see the backs of the statuettes in Figures 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, and 127).


We must also note, with respect to the pelvis, that if, on certain statuettes, the iliac crests are carved in a realistic manner (Figure 125), on others they extend to become continuous with the coccyx (Figure 120), while, on still others, they remain separate from the coccyx, as they do in the statuette in Figure 122 (which might represent a case of spina bifida 352...?).


The buttocks, which are often exaggerated, seem “firm” (an appearance, we should note parenthetically, that one would not expect if these buttocks were the emaciated buttocks of a man who had died of disease and, in particular, if they were the buttocks of a cadaver that was in the process of drying out!!). On each buttock, one can see a little protuberance (Figures 120, 122, 123, 125, etc.) but these certainly do not represent (as proposed by Mr. Lavachery) “the extremities of the trochanters 353 that have pierced desiccated flesh” for the excellent reason that the trochanters are not located at this position but much further out, on the outermost side of the pelvis and a lot lower (roughly speaking, at the outer end of the extended crease found at the base of the buttocks).


This explanation, whose tendentious goal is to support the “cadaver hypothesis” is thus, from an anatomical perspective, indisputably wrong. Mrs. Routledge thought, furthermore, that these bumps had some significance with respect to the initiation ceremony and that was why they were carved on the statuettes and are, in addition, accompanied by a “circle” on some of the stone statues (which, we note yet again, have neither sunken bellies nor prominent ribs and vertebrae and have eyes that are wide open, in no way resembling emaciated dead bodies).


Limbs


The arms and the lower limbs are relatively slender (note that all the voyagers to the island have emphasized that the islanders were not muscular, even though they were very strong). The hands are long and, according to some authors, the fingers are tapered (Figures 116, 117, 118, 119, and 130). In fact, I think that here too this is a misconception and that, as in the case of the wooden hand shown in Figure 137, what we see are hands with fingers lengthened by long finger nails, like those of Chinese Mandarins. Indeed, this peculiarity seems logical in so far as it evokes the idea of an ariki, who does not need to perform any manual labor. The lower limbs, which are carved separately, are too short with respect to the length of the torso and that of the head 354.

 

With respect to the feet, Mr. Lavachery noted that “the cartilage of the perineo-tibial articulation is visible and the feet fold up on themselves with the toes curling towards the soles of the feet”. Now, in a normal person, no matter to what race he might belong, this articulation is never ever visible and, moreover, speaking anatomically, the expression “the cartilage of the articulation” makes no sense at all. And with respect to the toes curling towards the soles, if we were to accept such an interpretation, the toes would have to be carved under the feet. Furthermore, I have never seen, on any statuette, such a representation of overly bent toes. One might ask, in addition, why the island artists would have carved feet in this way since such curling of the toes is never seen in actuality (even during the most pronounced rigor mortis).


In reality, the feet are always very short and the toes, rather than being poorly represented (which would be inconceivable in the case of sculptors who were capable of working with the skill revealed by the details of the statuettes), are just incomplete. There are some statuettes with extremely short feet (Figures 128 and 129) and others that do not even have any indication of toes or even of metatarsals. Such feet remind one of stumps after amputation in front of the tarsal bones (Figure 131). Is it, perhaps, even possible (given that every feature of the statuettes has been deliberately and accurately carved) that certain chiefs underwent a kind of voluntary mutilation of their feet (similar to the Chinese practice), which, having similar significance to that of their long finger nails, showed that they did not have to walk, to work or to fight?

 


THE SEMIOTIC VALUE OF THE ANCIENT HUMAN STATUETTES


Discussions by Earlier Authors

 

As noted above, the vast majority of authors have considered these statuettes, with their very characteristic morphology, to be representative of an entirely conventional style. On the other hand, in an article in the journal “Documents” (1930, pp. 106 and 108), M. C. Einstein suggested that these statuettes represent corpses, providing the following justification for his hypothesis.


“The cadaver, in the form of a skeleton [note that, when one uses the terms correctly, a cadaver is not a skeleton], is clearly represented among the wooden carvings of the Easter Islands [plural!], New Guinea and Sudan.... The artists of the Easter Islands [!] depict the dead with prominent ribs to represent the spirits of the dead [!]. Ancestors are depicted in combination with totemic animals or with animals that are symbolic of their souls and form a whole with them [?]. One motif is similar to that found in western Sudan, where the backbone is accentuated and it can be regarded as being symbolic of the phallus and the snake [?]. The spinal column is often accentuated on figures that represent the act of procreation” 355.


I have to admit that I have been unable to follow the path of Einstein’s argument and, in any case, his interpretation is totally incorrect. The statuettes do not depict naked corpses! Two years after M. C. Einstein’s paper, Mr. Lavachery (Belgian Bulletin of American Studies, June 1932) tried to show that the statuettes represent cadavers and that they were designed to be laid on their backs, just like the corpses of the islanders, which, in olden days, were laid out on a platform and exposed to the elements so that they would be converted into skeletons. As we shall see, the statuettes do not represent cadavers 356 and, moreover, the reader should recall that these statuettes, according to early travelers from Europe, were hung around the necks of islanders or set up in their huts!!


Critique of the Works of Earlier Authors


I propose that the abovementioned proposals by earlier authors are all incorrect. This is not the place to discuss whether or not the statuettes are carved in a conventional style. Given that these statuettes represent (obviously in a stylized fashion but, also, with extraordinary virtuosity) live people (with a morphology that is abnormal, as a result of certain environmental factors that impinged on their lives), we can demolish with a single blow the hypothesis that the statuettes depict cadavers or skeletons and, in addition, the conjecture that the style is conventional. As a result, the reader should be asking himself how anyone might have postulated that these figures represent dead men 357.


First and foremost, it is clear that sculptors with all the observational skills and manual dexterity of the ancient island artists would have had more than enough talent to carve figures that represented corpses in such a way that there would have been no mistaking them. Everything about the statuettes, their form and their details, indicates that they depict the living and not the dead. The posture, first of all (Figure 116 onwards), is that of a standing man, swinging his arms; he is not tense but is in a rather relaxed pose that is common to so many of the statuettes. The back is slightly bent, the neck is inclined slightly forward and the head compensates for this slight forward inclination by being slightly tipped backwards. This posture has nothing in common with the stiffness or flattened posture conferred by death, any more than it does with the effects of rigor mortis that follow some hours later.


Furthermore, the thorax is not flattened as it is after death — on the contrary, it is pushed out and supported by the diaphragmatic muscles. Similarly, the abdomen, which is hollow, is not flattened at the sides by a loss of muscle tone, as one sees in the case of the belly of an amphibian. The presence of the muscle tone of a living person is, moreover, emphasized, quite intentionally, by the presence of a furrow between the oblique muscles and the anterior part of the iliac crests!


The facial features also show no evidence of flaccidity due to death; the features are quite specific and carved as they should be, given the morphology that the artist meant to depict. Moreover, beneath these features, one can see that there are muscles and that these muscles are appropriately taut! The lips are not thin or flattened like those of a dead man; the mouth is not hanging open with the loss of control that accompanies death. Quite the contrary. The lips are full, developed and firm, and they are held slightly apart by the contraction of muscles, which is sustained.


The nose is alive, and not pinched like that of a dead man and, finally, the eyes, which the island sculptors could so easily have made hollow with closed eyelids, appear totally normal (neither sunken nor overly prominent) and they are wide open! Better still, these eyes themselves exhibit, in scrupulous detail, all the features of wide-open eyes, with an iris, as well as a pupil (with average dilation and not the extreme dilation of death), thanks to a circle of marine ivory [sic] with a flake of obsidian in its center. The obsidian, moreover, was chosen, in preference to all other possible materials, so that its shimmering facets would provide the illusion of a living eye. I think that I have proved unequivocally that the ancient statuettes do not represent the dead and, in particular, cadavers 358.


If my objections demolish the hypothesis that the statuettes depict the dead or cadavers, they also obviously abolish the possibility that the statuettes represent cadavers in the course of becoming skeletons (in the way represented by the masterpiece by Ligier-Richier at Bar-le-Duc) 359.


In addition, if we were dealing with a corpse, the orbital cavities, far from containing wide-open eyes with all their constituent parts, would be hollow and empty, with closed eyelids!


And if the thorax, since the last ribs are so prominent, was a thorax in the process of turning into a skeleton, the ribs in the upper and lower parts of the torso would have to be in the same state. And would the back and the lumbar region be in the state depicted in Figures 120, 121, 122, and 123 and beyond? Would we see, in other words, on the left and on the right of a rather prominent spinal cord, non-emaciated flesh under which there appear to be good-sized muscles?


Even better, would we see statuettes with the features shown in Figure 121, for example, and, finally, would the statuettes have buttocks that are well defined and firm, to the extent that some authors have even found them “too accentuated”?


It is perhaps a little exaggerated to call the buttocks of the moai kavakava too voluminous but, in any case, they are certainly far from “emaciated”, and that is why we noted, above, that, even if the large trochanters were moved to coincide, in terms of location, with the protuberances half way down the buttocks, these protuberances could not be interpreted as trochanters that pass through emaciated musculature (Lavachery). The fact that this is a major anatomical error clearly puts an end to any such proposal.


And, finally, if we were dealing with dead bodies after a wasting disease, and after being denuded of flesh as they turned first into cadavers and then into skeletons, would the neck be represented in the way that it is, that is to say, thicker than normal (which nobody has seen fit to notice until now) and with, in addition, a large bump?


Do people not realize that, in fact, once a person falls ill, the neck very rapidly becomes thinner to such an extent that a man who, in good health, had the neck of an ox, “swims” inside his shirt collars during his convalescence from an illness. And does not a lump, which is made up of fatty tissue, decrease in volume like the rest of the fatty tissues — and even before the muscles begin to waste, in their turn?


To put an end to the two proposals that have been discussed above, let us note that, even if they provide an erroneous interpretation of a superficial examination of the statuettes, they do not even begin to explain the most important point, which is the following; why (setting to one side the state of emaciation — which is unevenly distributed over the body) do the bodies have such unusual proportions and why are the features so bizarre and so extraordinarily peculiar? And we still have to explain the two anomalies that I have been the first to describe: the lump and the goiter!


So, therefore, since the statuettes cannot represent the dead or cadavers in the process of becoming skeletons, they must depict living beings 360. And then, given the accuracy of the observations of all primitive peoples, and given that the island artists in particular had true talent as sculptors who could exploit these powers of observation and make true likenesses, we must admit that these artists depicted, realistically and with total accuracy, something that they saw with their own eyes, that is to say, men whom they saw on a regular basis and whom they immortalized just as they were.


Reasons for Mistakes in Interpretation


Now, what has clearly happened but has passed unnoticed is that those who up to now have, from time to time, expressed an interest in Easter Island art have failed, first and foremost, to study all its manifestations in depth and, in addition, have been biased in advance by their belief in a “conventional” type of art. This way of looking at things must have seemed especially plausible to them because, since they had no medical training, they were astonished by the apparent anomalies exhibited by the statuettes, which they were unable to understand. And it is totally understandable, furthermore, that, even when they asked the right questions, the biological considerations that are necessary to answer them are not even within the purview of every physician. Indeed, in order to look at something in the right way (even if one is totally objective), it is essential to be able to use one’s “eye” and, in the present case in particular, to have been able to observe, meticulously, all aspects of human morphology within all normal limits (defined, that is, by race, sex and age). In order to recognize the very first anomalies, it is clear that one must begin by accumulating knowledge, in depth, of all that is normal and of all the varieties of “normal”.


Moreover, in the present case, that is not even enough because we are dealing with questions that fall into the realm of medical specialties. Only neurologists, if they have managed to acquire the skill that comes from vast numbers of studies of human morphology, in general, and if they have been able, in addition, to study at great length (i) all the diseases of the endocrine glands and the marked somatic disorders that are associated with such diseases; and (ii) not only such diseases but also the results of all degrees of perturbation of the secretions from the endocrine glands and their somatic consequences (including infinitely slight imbalances and the corporeal anomalies that are, as a consequence, even more difficult to recognize) — only such neurologists with training in endocrinology, I believe, can appreciate and understand the anomalies presented by patients whose morphology resembles that of the ancient statues from the Easter Island 361.

 

It is, thus, because of all these preconditions that (i) the morphologic anomalies of the ancient islanders have been overlooked until now and that (ii) nobody has thought to look for the pathological factors that were responsible for these anomalies!!


The Endocrine Glands: General Considerations


Many internal secretory glands have a major impact on osteogenesis, in particular, the anterior lobe of the hypophysis (situated at the base of the brain, in the so-called Turkish saddle) and the thyroid gland, as well as the internal secretions of the reproductive organs (ovaries and testicles), with the latter acting as a brake or an inhibitor of the two others. The normal growth of bones is the result of the normal and harmonious interplay between all these endocrine secretions. However, if, during growth, the development of these glands (alone or together, at some earlier or later state of development) is inhibited or affected by some disease or poison, very marked problems can emerge in terms of growth and, as a result, in terms of human morphology.


The somatic problems will differ considerably, depending on the gland that is affected by disease and the way in which it is affected. It might increase its secretions, making them more abundant and/or more active; it might decrease its secretions, making them less abundant and/or less active, or the actual nature of the secretions might change. The problems that might occur would, then, be exceedingly variable depending, first of all, on whether the gland in question is the only one to be affected (that is to say the first and only one affected by the disease, with other glands only exhibiting “induced” alterations in function) 362. If not one but several glands are attacked simultaneously, the effects will differ from those resulting from the attack on a single gland 363.


Furthermore, the effects of diseases of the endocrine glands are influenced by the fact that such diseases can occur at any age, and they can, by themselves, have a serious effect on an individual who has been normal up to this time or, by contrast, they can strike an individual who has already been weakened by some other malady or defect. Moreover, the disease that harms the endocrine system might not harm this system alone or, quite to the contrary, it might attack other organs or even the whole organism.


In view of all these possibilities, it is easy to see how difficult and complex such issues are and how large and complicated is the number of combinations of disease processes that one can encounter, with each of these diverse factors having a greater or lesser effect.

 

Let us consider one example: the hypophysis.


If the anterior lobe of the hypophysis is damaged, during the growth of an individual, by a lesion that increases its activity, the person will become excessively tall (with the extent of the gigantism depending on the extent to which the gland has been perturbed). If the same thing happens when a person is fully grown and his joints are fixed, via the cartilage, in such a way that the individual cannot grow taller but his bones can grow thicker and become deformed, the individual will develop acromegaly (to a greater or less extent depending on the cause, and with more or less conspicuous deformity) 364.


If the attack on the hypophysis, after the latter has exerted its effects during the growth period, continues into adulthood, the result will be a mixture of gigantism and acromegaly etc....! Figure 27 shows the successive changes in the features of a man who was normal until he reached the age of 24 (a) and then, at that age, he developed a disease of the hypophysis which became progressively more serious. One can see that, as the disease progressed, his features became thickened and deformed, exhibiting the features of a type of acromegaly. His head became longer, his cheekbones and lips became thicker and there were characteristic changes in the bones under his eyebrows, his nose and his chin such that by the time he reached 42 his features were absolutely typical of an acromegalic (Figure 27-d).


If, by contrast, the hypophysis is destroyed while a child is growing, the result is hypophysial infantilism (S. Chauvet); if destruction occurs in a young man, the result is hypophysial juvenilism. If destruction occurs in an adult, who, before falling ill, has had a chance to develop a normal morphology and normal secondary sexual characteristics, his height will not change but he will experience regressive infantilism, in particular, with respect to his secondary sexual characteristics.


In the same way, but without entering into details, we should recall that, depending on the lesion that affects it, the thyroid gland can induce an exophthalmic goiter, a simple goiter or, when underactive, myxedema or, when only slightly underactive, all the general syndromes associated with slight thyroid insufficiency. The permutations and combinations are infinite!


ē ē ē

 

 

It is very difficult to discover new truths,

but it is even more difficult to get new truths accepted”.

          — Voltaire

 

The True Interpretation of the Human Morphology of the Easter Islanders


The Role of the Endocrine Glands


In the present case, it is clear to anyone who understands endocrine pathology and the morphology associated with endocrinological disorders of varying severity that the morphology of the ancient Easter Islanders was subject to a relatively great extent to factors that induce acromegaly.


First Proof


The statuettes that represent the ancient islanders (and the great stone statues also) have a specific type of head (like that of Punch in a “Punch and Judy Show” 365), with a nose that is too large and too convex, cheekbones that are too prominent, a mouth that is too large with lips that are too thick, a turned-up chin that is too large, etc....


Second Proof


There is a second fact, which has remained totally unrecognized until now, that proves that these natives really had serious problems with their hypophyses, namely, that other endocrine glands were affected to a similar extent, as follows. The factors that affected the hypophysis also damaged the other glands. In addition, the abnormal function of the hypophysis induced abnormalities in the other endocrine glands, as demonstrated by the clearly and frequently hypertrophied thyroid glands depicted by the island sculptors on all the moai kavakava.


And this anomaly was very characteristic of the ancient race of islanders (the only ones to be exposed to the factors that were the primary cause) and, as a corollary, of the statues that depicted them. Later islanders 366 were not exposed to these factors and, thus, this anomaly is no longer depicted on more modern statuettes (Figures 145, 146, 147, and 148) because the sculptors no longer saw these features on their contemporaries 367.

 
This is why a goiter, which is found on all the ancient statuettes, is of such significance and seems to me to be a reliable sign of the true antiquity of the statuettes on which it is found.


Now, since the thyroid gland and the hypophysis, two glands that are internal secretors of endocrine factors, both have dominant actions, not only on osteogenesis but also on many other phenomena, including the metabolism of fat, one is less surprised by the fact that, in general, the ancient statuettes always have a second anomaly, namely, a conspicuous lump on the back of the neck (which is very clear in Figures 116, 118, 119, 125, 127, 128, 130, and 134; and is less clear and located slightly higher in Figure 121).


It is even more astonishing, as we should mention in passing, that this anomaly, which is so clearly represented, has never attracted the attention of ethnologists or of art critics but (and this reinforces its semiotic value) it has been noted by certain visitors to the island. A. Pinart, among others, noted the frequent presence of a lump on the backs of the necks of the islanders 368.

 

Other Proofs (various health problems)


There is evidence of more than somatic problems of endocrine origin in the human morphology observed by the ancient island sculptors and depicted by them in their wood and stone carvings. The feature that attracts immediate attention is the emaciation, with a hollow belly and prominent ribs. This feature cannot be adequately explained by endocrine problems. We know that hyperthyroidism, which raises the basal metabolic level, causes those who suffer from it to lose weight. But such patients never reach the state of emaciation of the statuettes and, moreover, if the hyperthyroidism were sufficiently acute to produce such a state of emaciation, it would have a similarly strong effect on all other vital functions and would be incompatible with any kind of normal life (not to mention that such patients would soon pass on) 369.

 

Moreover, it is noteworthy that in cases of marked hyperthyroidism, the volume of the thyroid gland does not, in general, increase very much. In Graves’ disease 370 there is a marked degree of exophthalmia. If the islanders had been suffering from this disease, the artists would not have failed to reproduce the effects in their usual scrupulous detail.


For all these various reasons, it is likely that the thyroid gland of the ancient islanders (which was generally rather large) was a goitrous thyroid was not affected by hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease and that their emaciation was due to some other cause.


Now, if as I have explained above, the emaciation represented by the statuettes is not that of humans who have died of cachexia or that of cadavers in the process of turning into skeletons, and, if it is not the result of excessive hyperthyroidism, it is also not the result of extreme loss of weigh pure and simple.


Certainly, we know (since the first European visitors have told us) that the islanders appeared rather debilitated and, even though they showed great endurance when moving on foot or swimming, they had a poorly developed musculature (and, as a result, as the sculptors tell us, poorly delineated muscles and, as we can see so clearly from the statuettes, poorly developed muscles in their arms and lower limbs).


We also know that, given their diet, which was deficient in quality as much as in quantity (it lacked, most notably, meat, grain and fresh fruit; see the section on nutrition), the first islanders must obviously have been a scrawny bunch. But, for those who understand the somatic morphology that is the result of extreme malnourishment, or the extreme congenital debility of the race, there is something else about the statuettes that is even more important. This is, quite simply, the particular morphology of the human torso, and of the abdomen in particular, of people who, during the course of an illness (dysentery, cholera, etc...) become extremely dehydrated.


This state of dehydration which, even though it is indisputable and hyper-evident, has remained unrecognized until now. It was the state not only of the ancient islanders, as we see from the statuettes, but also of more recent islanders (and for the same reasons) at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. All we need to do is to look closely at the scrupulously exact depiction in Figure 16, which shows so clearly the unique “boat-like concavity” of the bellies of the islanders.


Thus, the islanders were a dehydrated race, resembling people with cholera after they have been sick for several days. Their dehydration was chronic and developed progressively. They must have become adapted to dehydration, which became compatible with life, unlike the dehydration that is associated with an acute illness and is very serious.


What might be the cause of this dehydration that, itself, has remained unrecognized until now? Simply put, the island has no fruit and no streams. It is an island that is completely bereft of fresh water 371. Thus, the inhabitants had too make do with a small quantity of rainwater, which was more or less contaminated, that they collected in crevices in the rocks. But this water lacked calcium salts and phosphates etc. (a major cause of deficiency diseases) and, furthermore, it was very scarce.


So there we have the reason why the poor Easter Islanders suffered from a perpetual “water famine”. An organism whose body never contains more than the minimum percentage of water is always in a condition analogous that of an organism that, as a result of dehydration, retains only the minimum amount of water compatible with survival.


There is an additional reason for the dehydration, which we should not ignore and is a corollary of the first one, as follows. The islanders were obliged to drink a certain amount of more or less filtered seawater 372, which would have induced a type of hyper-chlorination. The result, if I can permit myself, in summing up these various considerations, was that the ancient islanders, being both dehydrated and hyperchlorinated were, quite simply “turned into pickled herrings”.


This mixture of additive causes, namely, a certain congenital debility, a permanent state of partial famine, a certain degree of hyperchlorination, and, finally, a marked state of dehydration ... explains the very specific features that the ancient statuettes depict so well.


Summary of Negative Factors


It is easy, now, to understand that we are talking about organisms that were perpetually, on the one hand, in a state incompatible with general normal good health and, on the other hand, deficient in phosphates, calcium, vitamins etc.... and that were, moreover, poisoned by hyperchlorination. Naturally, the endocrine glands of such organisms would be seriously affected by these numerous and diverse negative factors, which have been acting on them since birth.


Naturally, too, these endocrine problems which, in their turn, were present since childhood and during the important periods of growth, would have led to the somatic deformities that we have noted.


In conclusion, the ancient Easter Islanders, as a result of the eternal laws that govern the influence of the environment on the human organism, ended up by adapting to their environment but, in the process, they developed their unique morphology 373. And the talented contemporary artists just carved statuettes that reproduced, with remarkable realism, the features of the people whom they saw every day 374.

 


STATUETTES FROM THE DECADENT PERIOD


To avoid repetition, I will not reiterate here the numerous statements that I have already made about the decadent phase of Easter Island art. Anyone who wants to know the history (replacement of one race by another, disappearance of the natives’ religion and social structure, wars of extermination, deportations by Peruvian pirates, arrival of the Europeans, etc....) should just read some of the earlier chapters (the chapter on the history of Easter Island, the chapter on pakeopa and the statues at Rano Raraku, the section on wooden statues in general, the previous chapter, etc...).


In the preceding chapter, we considered, on the one hand, the very specific general morphology of the ancient statues (and the reason for it) and, on the other hand, we emphasized the specific features of the moai kavakava, namely, the features that are characteristic of truly ancient statuettes: the facial features, with the mouth half open in the shape of a V and fleshy lips; a goatee beard; a skull with carvings on top (totemic?); a goiter and a lump on the back of the neck; a sunken belly; prominent ribs and vertebrae; masculine gender; short lower limbs that are separated from each other, ending in a type of stump; and, finally, the presence of a ring in the lumbar region and the protruding buttocks....


Careful study of the photographs and descriptions of the various examples of such statuettes that are included in this book is all that is needed to understand the state of decadence into which island art fell in recent times.


I should note that the term “decadence” is not strictly appropriate since it implies that there was an unchanging race of people that produced initially, many centuries ago, works of the finest quality; then, subsequently, produced works of less good quality; and, finally, with the arrival of the Europeans, produced work of very poor quality. That is not what happened. During the period that I shall refer to (for clarity alone) as the archaic period, the island craftsmen produced work of the finest quality and in the traditional style that has already been described. Nonetheless, it seems possible that, as time passed, they might have produced work that was a little less sophisticated. Let us consider the following examples.


1. The statuette in Figure 131 is no longer totally similar to the stereotypical prototype; the head faces to the left and the goatee beard is missing. However, the goiter, the decorations on the skull and other characteristics remain.


2. The statuette in Figure 139 was used without ever having been finished: the lump on the back of the neck is missing and the mouth is not carved in the traditional manner.


Then the ancient sculptors disappeared completely. Subsequently, another race of invaders came to the island 375.

 

The second race of invaders found the great stone statues and other objects, such as the statuettes, tablets, reimiro, birdmen etc...., but had no understanding of the symbolism attached to them and attributed no religious connotations to them. Nevertheless, they did value these things and used them for decoration, just like the Breton peasants who, in days gone by, found axes in polished stone, or like the Papuan fetishists who dug up anthropomorphic objects in polished stone along the Jabim 376 coast. These objects had been produced by totally different peoples and, even though the Bretons and Papuans had no idea what the original function and significance of these objects might have been, they considered them to be very valuable and used them during ceremonial events 377.

 

This new race of islanders added to these works of art, which they had found upon their arrival, other objects that were specific to their own culture (tahonga, ua, etc....). By contrast to the objects that they found, these objects had particular significance for them because they associated them with the rituals that they had brought with them (the manu initiation rites, for example). But this race of people had hardly any reason, given that it was so isolated, to copy the ancient statues and make similar ones for themselves.


By contrast, from the end of the eighteenth century, Europeans visited the island more and more frequently, hunting for statues and ancient objects. As soon as these antiques had almost all been sold, the maori craftsmen of the second race made a certain number of approximate copies of the last ancient statues that remained in their possession. This explains, in my view, why statuettes similar to those shown in Figures 140, 141, 142, 143, and 144 were made. And this also explains why, even though they show some “family resemblance” to the ancient statuettes, they are characterized, on the one hand, by less careful general workmanship and, on the other hand, by the absence of some of the very specific features of the ancient statuettes. These characteristics are missing because the craftsmen had no reason to be constrained by traditional techniques. Moreover, not only were these craftsmen not trying, as did their predecessors, to depict accurately, and thereby

to please, some important personage but they were only trying to make objects to trade. This is the source of the anomalies associated with each of these statuettes that are, in fact, nothing but poor imitations.


When the visits of Europeans became even more frequent and the demand for souvenir “works of art” increased, the last of the truly ancient statues had all been sold!! Lacking suitable models, the craftsmen looked for something that they could make to sell to the Europeans. The vast majority of these visitors were content to gaze, openmouthed, at the statues on the pakeopa (they did not even bother to climb Rano Raraku). The islanders guessed that the visitors considered these statues to be very important and this hypothesis was confirmed when they saw many scientific expeditions come to the island to carry off individual statues. The craftsman of the second half of the nineteenth century started to make statuettes, in stone and in wood, without any of the features that we have described (i) because it was necessary to make many of them, (ii) because they made them without any traditional faith and without any particular pride in their work, and, finally (iii) because they were only making items for sale.


Moreover, they knew from experience that no matter how crudely the objects were made, their work would be purchased, provided it came with a good story, by the visitors to the island. In addition, did they not know that, for many years, the Europeans who had settled on the island had produced a whole series of such objects!


From then on, the statuettes did not become “desiccated”, as Mr. Lavachery has written but, quite to the contrary, they became more and more massive and more and more uniformly flat (that is to say, without details in relief and with cruder and cruder detail). These statuettes were characterized by the absence of any talent on the part of their creators and by the absence of any evidence of wear and tear or patina, and they were made exclusively out of driftwood (Figures 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, and 150).


Mrs. S. Routledge noted that she saw a dozen sculptors, including Kapiera and Ka-Haha, carving such statuettes on a full-time basis. And one day, one of them had the audacity to come and ask her to buy a statuette that he claimed was an antique but that she had seen him carve just a few days previously. When she refused, he said, “The statuette is a beautiful antique anyway and I shall keep it for the ships with their damned drunken captains!!”


The “decadent” island sculptors even went so far as to carve, in addition to poor copies of the statues on the pakeopa, figures that were entirely figments of their imagination. The result was the series of statuettes that I will call “distorted”, which depict monsters or the infirm!! 378


These statuettes are far from reflecting not only the ancient stylization and talent of the artists who made the old moai kavakava, but also the models that inspired them and the respect that the artists demonstrated towards their important dignitaries!!


All of the following statuettes should be grouped in this last category: the statuette in the Leyden Museum, with its parted legs; the outrageous piece belonging to H. Flechtheim [sic] that is shown in Figure 150; the improbable features of the object in Figure 149 (which some authors have called “tahonga”!!!); the humpbacked, scoliotic figure in the Bremen Museum; the contorted figure of some type of swimmer from the Lubeck Museum; the figure in the Gottingen Museum, who seems terribly uncomfortable in a high collar that is too high for him 379.


 It is clear that if we want to avoid any confusion; if we want words and works of art to retain their value; if we want, in the final analysis, to prevent museums and private collections from becoming more and more clogged with inauthentic objects, it is essential and appropriate to stop viewing works from the Decadent Period as being part of the art of Easter Island. It seems to me, therefore, that definitions in terms of chronology and artistry, as discussed above, allow us to generate a system for the classification, in the absence of additional information, of all that we know about the islanders and of all that we can deduce, from comparisons and careful consideration, about the various works that the Easter Islanders have left us.

 


 

notes

 
296. Editorís note: At the time Chauvet was writing, it was believed the island never had large trees. Today we know the island was heavily forested at one time, including hardwood trees and giant palms.

297. This is the case for the ancient statues brought back from the island by Cook and his officers; for the birdman brought back by P. Loti; and for certain tablets. By contrast, objects made from the nineteenth century onwards are never made of toromiro (T. de Lappelin).

298. Translatorís note: The current appellation would be "Edwardsia species (tetraptera) of Sophora (Sophoreae: Papilionoideae: Leguminosae)". Toromiro is now extinct on the island.

299. See, for reference, the description of the boats made by the Tuamotou islanders (taken from Moerenhout).

300. Editorís note: According to John Randall (1984), rays have not been reported in Easter Islandís waters, although some fishermen claimed to recognize them from photographs.

301. Editorís note: Chauvetís designation of periods of development have no basis in reality.

302. For example, the very unusual shape of the hooks used for fishing in the Pacific.

303. The prows of boats on the Indus were often decorated with carved birds and the myth of the birdman existed in Mesopotamia.

304. Editorís note: There is no connection to Harappa nor to Mohenjo-Daro; however, the Bird-man symbol can be traced back through Southeast Asia and beyond. This does not necessarily mean there was actual contact, but reflects similar beliefs shared by humans everywhere.

305. This would have been, according to legend, the period of occupation by the people with long ears.

306. Editorís note: The Polynesians who settled Easter Island can hardly be called "invaders"!

307. According to legend, this period corresponds to the invasion of the short-eared people. Whether or not the first race became extinct, both tradition and fact support the hypothesis of a second Maori invasion. Here, as elsewhere, the further one goes and the more work is done, the more is tradition supported by evidence. In any case, we should rely on scientific facts and not on the legends of the islanders for confirmation of the "facts" that have been handed down ("facts" that, moreover, were propounded long ago by the ancestors of the present-day islanders).

308. Editorís note: There was no "second invasion" on Easter Island. As for the "long ears" and "short ears" this is a result of mis-translation of Rapanui terms which actually mean "thin people" and "corpulent people". The maori of New Zealand did not make it to Easter Island.

309. Editorís note: "Rei" refers to a clavicle or crescent-shaped breast plate; "miro" is the word for wood. Thus "rei miro" means a wooden breast plate and does not refer to a canoe.

310. Editorís note: While the reimiro studied by Chauvet may have been covered with a chalky powder, this is not the norm.

311. Sometimes, reimiro come up for sale that have a roosterís head at each end. These are fantasy carvings that were made for export and they date from the end of the nineteenth century.

312. Editorís note: "Koro" was a feast held in honor of a deceased family member.

313. Editorís note: The designs carved on the statues at Rano Raraku are canoe shapes, not reimiro; see Lee, 1992.

314. Editorís note: Shark vertebrae were used to depict the sclera (or white part of the eye).

315. We shall see, further on, that the islanders, during the second half of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth century, made more and more statuettes to sell to visitors to the island. These statuettes have no value and are of no interest. The ua made at the same time fall into the same category. There are ua of this type that were sold by a woman called Sophie Carlson, daughter of an Easter Islander (Polynesian) and a Dane (who had been employed by Dutrou-Bornier). She took advantage of the absence of documentation of the work of the talented Titayna, without paying any attention to the reputation of the latter, and her work is shown, beside similarly modern statuettes, in a photograph that appeared in "Lectures pour Tous" in 1929!

316. Editorís note: Chauvet is mistaken. The ao symbolized the tangata manu and his entourage. Some had painted red and white faces on the upper section. Chauvet likely has confused the function of the rapa with that of the ao.

317. Editorís note: Whatever this chalky material was, it is not typical.

318. Editorís note: Matakao is an obsolete term that means "oar". It has a human head on one end, with a short and wide oval blade at the other (Fuentes, 1960). "Eaao" is not in the dictionaries.

319. Editorís note: The provenance of the swastika on this rapa may not be certain but Chauvetís exclamation suggests for some reason that he is surprised to find it there. The swastika, also known as a crux dissimulata, is a very ancient ideogram, the first examples of which date to Sumeria, c. 3000 bce . It may be that, because this symbol was being used in Germany and Austria by the turn of the 20th century (and certainly by the 1930s when Chauvet wrote his book), its anti-Semitic undertone, now firmly established, was foremost in Chauvetís mind (or that, if the swastika was not carved on the rapa in modern times, Chauvet was simply ignorant of the antiquity of the symbol).

320. Editorís Note: These carvings are said to represent "patuki", a fish of the blennie family; they are only a few inches long, and used for bait (Seaver Kurze, 1997).

321. Editorís note: Chauvet uses "nosological", which means a systematic classification of diseases; he might have included this term unnecessarily in order to draw attention to the fact that he was taking full advantage of his medical training in his analysis of these carved objects.

322. As Brissaud said, "Everything needs a name but nothing should have more than one name and that name should designate only one thing".

323. Editorís Note: Correctly, "moai moko".

324. Editorís Note: It is now believed they were ritual paraphernalia (Seaver Kurze, 1997).

325. Editorís note: The eyes of the carved wood objects were made from shark vertebrae, with obsidian pupils.

326. In the little book by Monsignor Jaussen, Figure 5 shows a very similar and beautiful carved creature, lying on a convex surface in exactly the way that a lizard would lie.

327. Editorís Note: There is no evidence that Birdmen were buried in ahu. They were, however accorded special funeral rites upon death.

328. I will explain below why only one of the two statuettes (Figures 109 and 111) in the British Museum, both of which are referred to as birdmen, is actually a representation of a birdman.

329. Editorís Note: Chauvet seems determined to connect stylistic elements in the carvings to actual physical ailments.

330. Is this head a manís or a womanís (no goatee)?

331. Editorís note: What Chauvet calls a "sebaceous cyst" is actually the perforated knob from which the figures were hung with cords. Some were not perforated, but the intent was to provide a method of hanging them.

332. Editorís note: The hand is not carved from palm wood; it is carved from miro tahiti (Melia azederach).

333. Editorís note: Because Chauvet was unaware of the actual vegetation on the island, he assumed wood must have come via drift from other places.

334. Editorís note: "Moai" translates as "sculpture" as well as "statue" (Fuentes, 1960).

335. Editorís note: Moai kavakava represented the spirit (akuaku) of a dead ancestor (Seaver Kurze, 1997).

336. Editorís note: Correctly, "moai paía paía", also an akuaku spirit. The name for these interesting forms relates to "sterility images" in Old Rapanui: "paía" means "sterile" or "childless". Mťtraux named these correctly as moai paapaa (but omitted the glottals). The duplication paíapaía appears to be a plural marker, used generically as "images of childless women" (Steven R. Fischer, personal communication, 2002).

337. Editorís note: A "koro" was given to honor oneís father; this was a huge feast with entertainment.

338. Earlier incompetent and superficial studies are responsible for the fact that other authors have failed to notice, on the backs of the necks of such statuettes, the hump at the base of which the hole is pierced for threading the cord. As noted below, I believe that this particular feature is of very considerable semiotic importance. There is another fact that is also very important and has also been overlooked, namely, the fact that there exist ancient statues (Figures 127, 128, 130 ...) that have a conspicuous hump (cyst) but that do not have a hole, for a cord, through this protuberance.

339. Editorís note: But "moai paía paía" are of female figures.

340. Editorís note: Small wood images were used throughout Polynesia as temporary tabernacles for gods and ancestral spirits (Seaver Kurze, 1997); some may have been fetishes or amulets.

341. The same comment has been made about the art of the Pahouin (in Gabon, Africa); see, for example, The Funerary Art of Gabon by Dr. Stephen Chauvet.

342. The expressions on the faces of these statues, and even that on the face of the monumental head in the Trocadťro Museum, change in a remarkable fashion, depending on the nature of the incident light.

343. Indeed, very many sculptors do not, themselves, work in stone or wood. They sculpt in clay and then leave the transposition to stone or wood to "professionals".

344. See the descriptions of tools in the section entitled, "Wooden Objects".

345. It was, in fact, impossible, given the meager thickness of the wood, to use wood that had either been cut horizontally or, in particular, in the "Dutch fashion".

346. This is the case, for example, for some statues from New Guinea and, in particular, for those from the Sepic River, on which the nose, which is an elephantís trunk, extends as far as and coalesces with the navel (see Stephen Chauvet, The Arts of New Guinea).

347. Editorís note: Chauvet fails to understand that the figures are interpreted to represent spirits of the dead, and were not supposed to be carved models of living humans.

348. Editorís note: Forment (1993) states, "Öthe cranial reliefs must be considered as symbols referring to the tutelary spirits of a clan, issue, or family. The anthropomorphic sculptures which were endowed with this had the roles of gathering under these symbols the members of one group".

349. Editorís note: Traditionally, Rapanui carried loads attached to each end of a pole, which they slung over their shoulders; this can lead to a callus. Today, islanders who participate in the Tapati festival re-inact ancient contests, one of which involves running with two large bunches of bananas attached to each end of a pole that is carried across the shoulders.

350. These considerations extend too far beyond the goals of the present work to merit further discussion here. Furthermore, it is not necessary to go into detail because neither of the two latter cases is relevant here.

351. As a result of their poor knowledge of anatomy, some authors have confused the representation of the iliac crest with a belt ó even though the vertebrae of the iliac crest have a very characteristic appearance. This is obviously a mistake when, as shown in Figure 121, something resembling a belt has actually been carved. Moreover, even in Figure 121, where the vertebrae of the iliac crest have not been carved and a so-called belt is located just at the level of these vertebrae, it is almost certain that the belt is simply designed to symbolize these vertebrae.

352. Editorís note: Spina bifida (literally "cleft spine") is a birth defect identified by an incomplete closure of the spinal column.

353. Editorís note: The femur or thigh bone.

354. We must pay close attention to the dimensions of the torso and the head and not be satisfied by appearances alone. Many African statues, of all races, also seem to have lower limbs that are too short while, in fact, it is actually the torsos that are too long! This elongation of the torso, which we find in the art of many tribes in the Belgian Congo and of the Pahouins, for example, is taken to extremes by the Habbť of French East Africa. This extension of the torso contributes to an impression of a person with priestly duties. In the art of Easter Island, by contrast, the lower limbs that are really too short and an explanation for this phenomenon will be presented below.

355. The signs and comments in square brackets are not found in Einsteinís text. They have been added to draw attention to certain phrases that do not serve as proof of Einsteinís hypothesis but are, by contrast, gratuitous and, indeed rather shady, opinions.

356. Editorís note: Chauvet clearly is addressing opinions of others from his time; today the carvings are generally interpreted to represent akuaku spirits and were not supposed to depict corpses.

357. I have provided the same proof for African art and for the art of the Pahouins of Gabon (in The Funerary Arts of Gabon) and for the art of the Guinean Bagas ("The Indigenous Arts of Africa and Oceania", Variťtťs, August 15, 1930).

358. Furthermore, let us note something that the proverbial Monsieur de la Palisse would have said is obvious: everything has to be learned! In a group of a thousand ethnologists, how many might there be who have studied totally naked corpses? First of all, a very large number would never even have looked at a corpse, given the horror that a corpse provokes in the vast majority of people. As for the rest, even if they might have wanted and had been able to do so, how could they have had the courage that such studies require, given that, for those who are not physicians, the only bodies that they might be able to examine would only be those of their relatives? And even, among physicians, how many non-specialists are likely to have studied cadavers sufficiently frequently to have developed an eye for the specific somatic characteristics of a corpse?

359. Translatorís note: Ligier-Richier was a 16th century French sculptor, famous for his church carvings. His sculpture in the church of Saint Etienne at Bar-le-Duc is a very graphic representation of a decaying human body.

360. Editorís note: Forment (1993) states that "Öthese figures approximate the immateriality of the spirits of which they are the symbol and, in certain moments, the receptacle".

361. Similarly, when one considers the issue of training the individual senses, it is clear that one cannot make a man, no matter how intelligent he might be, appreciate the quality of Wagnerian music on first hearing! The same is true of paintings and, more prosaically, of certain dishes and fine wines.

362. In addition, as soon as a gland is seriously attacked or disturbed, secondary effects become evident in other endocrine glands (because glands interact among themselves, with some stimulating others and some inhibiting others). These secondary "induced" effects, themselves, have organism-wide repercussions.

363. I am speaking of an attack by a disease process and not about the perturbations to which glands are subject, in any case, after a certain time, as a result of the functional interference among the glands themselves.

364. Growth occurs at the level of the cartilage.

365. Editorís note: A popular British glove-puppet show featuring "Mr. Punch" and his wife "Judy". The characters date to at least 1662.

366. Editorís note: Recall that there never were "ancient" nor "later" islanders.

367. It is clear, in fact, that the second race of Maoris found themselves, at the start of their occupation of the island, exposed to the same climatic conditions and, in particular, the same types of food as the first race. However, as subsequent evidence indicates, from the end of the eighteenth century their food changed and improved, not only as a result of barter, which became more and more frequent, with Europeans but especially because of the acclimation to island conditions of imported animals and plants. This new diet was so much better than the old one that, at the time when the islanders began to carve large numbers of "decadent" statuettes (from the 1860's onwards), the sculptors no longer saw people with goiters to copy.

368. These islanders were not of exactly the same race as those of the Archaic Period but they too were subject, albeit at a lower intensity, to the same environmental influences on their health. Note too, in passing, that, in addition to the lump, these islanders showed evidence of other somatic perturbations, which were analogous to but less marked than those of the earlier islanders, because the same causes had the same effects.

369. When thyroid disorders are moderately marked, for example, in the case of exophthalmic goiter, one sees tachycardia, tremor, profuse sweating, insomnia, psychological problems etc.

370. Editorís note: A defect in the immune system causing the production of antibodies which attack the thyroid gland, leading to hyperthyroidism.

371. Editorís note: There are springs at various island locales and the crater lakes contain fresh water.

372. Editorís note: The Rapanui did not drink seawater. Early visitors noted that islanders collected water at the edge of the sea and assumed it was seawater. However, at low tide, fresh water can be collected at various places around the edge of the island.

373. Editorís note: "With regard to hypothyroidism versus hyperthroidism (people who have goiter generally are hypo- not hyper-thyroid; besides, it tends to make them gain weight rather than lose it) exception is taken to the problems associated with dehydration. First, it would have been extremely difficult for the islanders to have developed chronic dysentery or cholera since these usually require a significant contamination of water supplies. It would not follow that the crater lakes were contaminated with cholera or anything that would contribute to dysenteric symptoms. The biggest problem relates to the notion of people becoming Ďpickled herringsí. Aside from the fact that most people who live in extremely dry areas eventually adapt to these conditions (such as the Bushmen of the Kalahari), if people drink seawater (and donít die from it directly, which is usually what happens), they donít become "hyper-chlorinated"; instead, they simply excrete the excess sodium and chloride, which may exacerbate their dehydration but is the only way to stay alive, since "hyper-chlorination" would cause radical and fatal changes to body pH. And, in any case, there wouldnít be any outward change in appearance due to "hyper-chlorination" ó certainly nothing that would have inspired the physical appearance of moai carvings in stone or wood. While the prominent brow of the moai could be indicative of acromegaly, this condition usually results in enlarged and distorted features ó and the absence of acromegalic features in the hands tends to make this interpretation questionable at best" (Wendy McLaughlin, MD, personal communication, 2003).

374. And if the faces of these statuettes, when viewed in profile, seem to resemble the profiles of masks from New Caledonia, it is because the New Caledonians, even though they belong to a different race, "exhibited" more or less the same facial features as a result of endocrine disturbances but also, doubtlessly as a result of other factors.

375. This race also, without a doubt, originated in the western part of South Asia. Might it even perhaps have been derived from the same stock as the very first islanders?

376. Translatorís note: Usually Yabim.

377. The Black Virgin that was given by Louis VII in 1149 to the basilica in Puy-en-Velay and which was, unfortunately, burned during the French Revolution, was actually an Egyptian statue, wound around with strips of cloth and containing, in a compartment in its back, an Isis stone [sic] inscribed with hieroglyphics (J. Luneau).

378. One piece even has four glass eyes of the type that taxidermists stick on stuffed poodles!!!

379. The current situation is even worse. The islanders are now selling wooden statues that are even more bizarre to visitors both on Easter Island and in Papeete (see Figure 150b).

 


 

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