Easter Island and Its Mysteries



by Stéphen-Charles Chauvet


Originally published as L'Île de Pâques et Ses Mystères, "TEL": Paris, 1935, 86 p., 68 plates.

English translation published online in 2005 at

Review by Paul Horley

Everyone trying to gather a bookshelf devoted to Easter Island is well familiar with the difficulties of this task, as numerous titles dedicated to the turbulent Rapa Nui history and its vast cultural heritage are out-of-print for years. Moreover, many are written in Spanish, French, German, etc., which poses an additional barrier for the Anglophone reader. This situation was significantly improved by the successful project of bringing us a book translated into English from French and compiling several valuable accounts of early Easter Island visitors, published by the Easter Island Foundation. Yet another great advance was made in the past year, resulting in a wonderful web-site dedicated to the classic French book about Rapa Nui written by Dr. Stéphen-Charles Chauvet, translated into English by Ann M. Altman, edited and designed for web presentation by Shawn McLaughlin.

Originally published in the first half of 20th century, the book contained a large amount of data about Easter Islanders, their land, customs, religion and art. In addition, it featured 68 plates with 186 figures — a unique gallery where one could find early maps of the island (made by the expedition of González de Haedo in 1770 and by the officers of the corvette O’Higgins in 1870), old drawings and etchings (from the accounts of Cook, La Pérouse, Dupetit-Thouars, Kotzebue, Viaud, and Pinart), historic photos of the island sites (by Thomson, Delabaude, Bienvenido de Estella, and Shapiro), as well as an impressive photographic collection of Easter Island artifacts including wooden statuettes and large stone images, spear points, bone and stone fishhooks, skulls with engravings, ceremonial paddles, rongorongo tablets, and adornments.

Now, one can truly enjoy the on-line version of this book, superbly translated into English with correction of numerous Chauvet misspellings. It is even easier to read than the paper version, mainly due to searchable text and a single mouse click access to the figures referenced in the text. All the illustrations are scanned in high-resolution, featuring very good details, at the same time generally of medium file size that ensures a fast download. If necessary, the overall composition of the plates can be seen in low-resolution scans, accommodated with the detailed captions for every figure on the “Figure legends” page.

The site follows the subdivision of the original book into the chapters entitled “Easter Island,” “The Easter Islanders,” “Flora and fauna,” “Monuments and megaliths,” “Carved wooden objects,” and “The talking tablets of Easter Island,” each presented as an individual web-page. Comments appearing in each chapter are added with numerous translator/editor notes (given in italics), clarifying particular statements and supplying the reader with modem information and corresponding literature references regarding the topics discussed. The bibliography from the book is presented “as is” in the verbatim; a separate page entitled “Current sources and further reading” lists more than 170 modern references. In addition, the site also presents biographical information about Stéphen Chauvet himself, which increases the overall presentation integrity of this impressive new translation project.

Source: Rapa Nui Journal 20(1):79 (2006)