Easter Island and Its Mysteries









The Papuans, the Kanacs, the Samoans and the Maori have always been “prehistoric” peoples, unable to set anything down in writing. They passed down their traditions, their history, their lists of kings and the details of their religions, etc.... orally in a form that certain people among them would learn by heart so that they could repeat them, as necessary, without any changes and, also, so that they could teach them to the next generation. The details and the form of each recitation had to remain absolutely fixed and, in some tribes, this requirement was so absolute that anyone who altered any detail was punished by death. Moreover, contrary to what the first European visitors to the island thought two hundred years ago, these oral traditions are of great value.

As an exception to this rule, we know that, when the treaty of Vaitagi between the English and the New Zealanders was signed, the native chiefs “signed” it with a whole series of symbols, to the general astonishment of all those present (Figure 177).

Roggeveen, the Spaniards in 1770, Cook in 1774 and the subsequent visitors to the island made no mention of any written texts on the island. Therefore, people were convinced, until 1868, that the Easter Islanders were also a “pre-historic” people! But then something happened that might have seemed insignificant to many people but that, I am happy to say, did not pass unnoticed by a man who was curious and who understood the importance of certain scientific questions. This man was the Apostolic Vicar of Tahiti and Bishop of Axieri, Monsignor Tepano Jaussen, who was able to grasp the exceptional importance of the somewhat trivial-seeming event that will be described below.

Reverend Father Gaspard Zumbohm was about to leave Easter Island for Valparaíso, by way of Tahiti, when the natives asked him to take to their bishop, as a token of their respect, an extremely long skein of fine cord, made of braided hair (Figure 151).


To make it easier to transport, the natives had wrapped the cord around a small piece of wood to which G.  Zumbohm had paid no attention at all. T. Jaussen looked at the skein of cord that was had been highly valued by the islanders, turned it over and over in his hands and finally unwound it from the wooden tablet 380.


T. Jaussen was surprised to see, on removing the braided cord, that characters that resembled hieroglyphics, of a type that nobody had ever described previously, had been carved on the wooden tablet. He pointed this out to G. Zumbohm, who was all the more astonished because he had never heard the natives talk about such carved tablets. But, be that as it may, the first tablet, known as the “crescent tablet” 381, had been discovered, together with the written language of the Easter islanders!!

The Bishop questioned the Rapanui wise man, Ouroupano Hinapote, the son of the wise man Tekaki, who had been brought up by his uncle Reimiro and had accompanied Father Zumbohm to Tahiti. This Rapanui told him that the tablet was a kohau rongorongo, or “clever hibiscus wood” on which island traditions were recorded and that he, himself, had begun the requisite studies and knew how to carve the characters with a small shark’s tooth. He said that there was nobody left on the island who knew how to read the characters since the Peruvians had brought about the deaths of all the wise men and, thus, the pieces of wood were no longer of any interest to the natives who burned them as firewood or wound their fishing lines around them!

Immediately, the Bishop, who wanted to shed some light on this mystery, asked Roussel, who had remained on Easter Island, to collect and send him all the tablets that he could find. Roussel was able to find six complete tablets and one important fragment of a seventh (Figure 154) 382.


He might have been able to find still more since, for example, in January 1870, Captain Gana, of the Chilean corvette O’Higgins, was able to acquire three more, which he donated to the museum in Santiago; since Paca Salmon, shepherd of the flocks owned by Dutrou-Bornier and Brander, was also able to find one ... which he sold in Papeete; and, finally, since A. Pinart also saw some in 1877. A. Pinart was not able to acquire these tablets because the natives were using them as reels for their fishing lines!

Be that as it may, the tablets had been officially discovered and, from then on, Monsignor Jaussen would continue to work on the question of the written texts of the islanders and tell the entire world about them. He deserves great recognition for his work but, in truth, the credit for the discovery belongs to Eyraud. He not only discovered the writing of the ancient Easter Islanders but he also, being endowed with remarkable powers of observation and a logical mind, made some very important deductions from his discovery. Indeed, in his report of December 1864 to the Very Reverend Father Rouchouze, the Superior General of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Picpus [sic], he wrote, “In all the dwellings there are wooden tablets or sticks covered with hieroglyphic characters” 383. Brother Eugène continues, “The characters represent animals that are unknown on the island, which the natives carve with sharp flakes of obsidian” 384.

“Each character has a name but the minimal attention that the islanders pay to these tablets suggests that the characters are the vestiges of a primitive script and represent to them something that they use without bothering to try to find out what the characters mean.”

But the Superior General had not understood the exceptional importance of this information itself nor that of the deductions about it made by Eyraud. And, unfortunately, as a result of the appalling attack by the Peruvians in 1862, which led to the death of all the wise men, Eyraud was already able to say in 1864 that the tablets had no significance to the few natives who had survived: the tablets had lost their value and the natives had already started to put them to purely domestic use.

Four years later, in 1868, when Monsignor Jaussen decided to try and interpret this mysterious script, the number of tablets had already decreased considerably. Roussel was only able to find the few that had “escaped the flames”. Obviously, his attempts to find more tablets were not sufficiently tenacious because others, who came after him, were able to find some for themselves.

Be that as it may, since some Easter Islanders had been, one might say, deported to Tahiti to work on Brander’s land, Monsignor Jaussen was able to find, among them, a maori or wise man called Metoro-Taouaoure who had been born in Mahatoua 385. He was the son of Hetouki, and his teachers on Easter Island had been Gahou, Reimiro and Paovaa. The Bishop placed one of the tablets in his hand and asked him to read it aloud. Metoro started to read, but sang instead of speaking. Moreover, the Bishop saw him follow one line from left to right and then the next one from right to left, and so on. Monsignor Jaussen deduced from this that the ideograms were written in a way that resembles the plowing of furrows by oxen. Thus, he referred to the writing style of the Easter Islanders as boustrophedon (bous = ox; strepho = I turn).

The Bishop drew up a table of all the characters that he was able to study (Figures 173, 174, 175, and 176) and established, with a certain rigor, the “literal” meaning of each of them. He also managed to collect a lot of information about the famous tablets that we shall discuss below. This information was collected by Paymaster H.C. [sic] Thomson and by Mrs. S. Routledge, during the expeditions of these two researchers to Easter Island in 1886 and 1915, respectively.




According to tradition, when King Hotu Matua landed on Easter Island, about a thousand years ago, he brought with him some six hundred texts, which formed a veritable archive of the history of his people. But these texts were written on a kind of paper made out of banana leaves. As these leaves deteriorated and, consequently, as the record of the traditions of the tribe were about to disappear, the king ordered that the texts be transcribed onto tablets of toromiro wood 386.

Only three groups of people knew how to read the characters:

(i) the royal family;

(ii) the chiefs of the six districts into which the entire island was divided;

(iii) a small number of high officials from each clan, known as tangata rongorongo (or just rongorongo), who lived in special dwellings and whose exclusive role was to teach the art of reading and writing the characters to their sons and other pupils.

For their lessons, the tangata rongorongo would sit in the shade of a banana tree and, grouped around them, their pupils would learn, first of all, how to read the tablets. Sitting in a circle, they learned to read by singing the text or rather by reciting, as a song, a story that was suggested by the characters! Thus, in addition to the literal meaning of each character, the pupils had to learn a whole group of words that were associated with each character. Moreover, the melody was so closely associated with the meaning of the text on the tablets that the students were unable to read the text without singing it! 387

This method of learning to read was not unique to Easter Island. In his account of his voyage to the islands of the Great Ocean [sic], Moerenhout wrote that the maori priests (orero) learned their ancient traditions by heart and recited them from memory at official ceremonies, “some helping themselves with bamboo canes on which the knots served to jog their memory and others using little bundles of sticks of different sizes that they would pull out, one after another, and lay to one side each time they finished a verse 388.


At the same time as they learned to read, the neophytes started to learn to carve the characters with a small shark’s tooth on branches of banana leafs. Then, when they were sufficiently skilled, they were allowed to work with pieces of toromiro wood (Tephoratoromiro). Not all the tablets, by any means, were made of toromiro. Initially, they were made of toromiro but since the trees grow so slowly and in such a twisted manner on Easter Island (because of the wind and the weather) and also since Toromiro wood was used in large quantities for many other items (statuettes etc. ...), it was impossible for the islanders to obtain enough of it. That was the main reason that they started to use other kinds of wood, namely, driftwood that the waves tossed onto the shore. The driftwood allowed the islanders to make some very large tablets, as we know both from their oral tradition and from the presence of one such tablet in the Museum at Braine-le-Comte.

Thus, some tablets were made of toromiro wood and others were made of wood cast up on the shore, from trees that had grown on other islands in the Pacific (sandalwood, podocarpus latifolia [sic; Podocarpus latifolius], etc.) and other kinds of wood, that is to say ... wood from European ships that had been wrecked by storms.

The characters were drawn in a row. To read them, one began with the row that was lowest on the front of the tablet and read from left to right. On reaching the extreme right of each row, one continued with the row above it but read from right to left (see Figure 155). Moreover, since the characters were upside down, one had first to turn the table upside down such that the top became the bottom. As a result of this inversion it is easy to understand that, in fact, reading always proceeded in the same direction, from left to right. Nevertheless, the apparent zigzag trail that is followed, provided the tablet is always in the same orientation, resembles the directions of furrows plowed in a field, and this zigzag trail led to the designation “boustrophedon” for this kind of writing.

On reaching the top of the front surface, the reader continued by reading from top to bottom on the reverse side, at the same time turning the tablet around when he came to the end of each line. However, if the text ended, for example, in the middle of the reverse side, it was necessary to look for the beginning of the second text at the bottom left of the other side.

There was no punctuation on the tablets and no paragraphs. The text ended only when it encountered an irregularity in the wood or the end of the tablet. But the islanders, by turning the characters upside down on every other line were able to prevent any confusion among the characters on adjacent lines.

Once they had been carved, each talking tablet (kohau) was placed in an envelope of reed leaves and hung inside a dwelling. They could not be touched by anyone except the teachers or their servants because they were tapu to those who had not been appropriately initiated!

Routledge managed to determine that the ariki Nga’ara of the Miru clan had owned several hundred tablets! This great wise man was not only a teacher but was also the person who corrected the kohau made by the students of other teachers (these students were generally the sons of their teachers). The teachers were responsible for the knowledge of their pupils and if the latter failed the tests that they had to take, the tablets of their teachers were taken away from them!

The Great Tablet Ceremony

Long ago, there were annual gatherings at Anakena Bay of several hundred pupils and their teachers, who wore their large headdresses of rooster feathers. They arrived, each carrying a long staff that was decorated with a bunch of feathers (heu-heu 389) and they stuck their staffs all around the gathering place. The people from the neighboring district brought gifts to the Great Chief of all the ariki, Nga’ara, who was accompanied by his son Kaimokoï. The rongorongo were arranged in rows that radiated from a central point, where the ariki sat on a seat (made of tablets). All the rongorongo were holding tablets (kohau rongorongo) that they had brought with them.

The elderly rongorongo read their tablets. If one of them made a mistake, a man called Te Haha, who was responsible for keeping order and discipline at the gathering, would come and hold the rongorongo by his ear while the others took away his feather headdress and Nga’ara would ask him, “Aren’t you ashamed to be treated like a child?”!! 390


After an entire series of readings, the participants took a break for a meal. Then readings would continue until evening. When, on occasion, the mockery of those who had made mistakes degenerated into a quarrel, Te Hara, with his maru in his hand, would go up to the troublemakers and restore order. At the end of the day ariki got up on a platform, supported by eight men, and reminded the rongorongo men of their duties (their duties and not their rights — the opposite of what is true today!). The day ended with a party.

Small Meetings

In addition to the great annual assembly, there were monthly meetings at Anakena. These were less important than the annual meeting, occurring sometimes at the new moon and sometimes at the last quarter. At these meetings, ariki read from their tablets, walking backwards and forwards, while the old men, in a group, watched and listened to them.

Tours of Inspection

Sometimes Nga’ara set off for a week or two on a tour of inspection, visiting the schools where the apprentices were studying in the different parts of the island. Another wise man, an ariki from the Northern coast of the island, made a similar journey in the districts in his part of the island.

One year, the ownership of the manutara egg was, once again, the reason for a war between clans. The Miru clan had chosen the Ngauré clan as its successor but this choice angered the Marama (Moon) clan, which set off to fight the Ngauré. During the hostilities, the Marama took the old ariki, Nga’ara, and his son prisoner and held them in the south of the island, after burning down their home and destroying all the son’s tablets. When Nga’ara died, his body was carried by four rongorongo men on three huge tablets, which were buried with him. About fifteen of his tablets were given to old rongorongo men and the rest were given to his servant Pito who, in turn, gave them to a man called Manata. When Manata was taken to Peru, his tablets were hidden by someone called Take in a cave in the rocks. Unfortunately, Take died before he could tell anyone the location of the hiding place. These tablets were never seen again.

The Tablets

Tradition on the one hand, and on the other hand, the questions asked of the last surviving natives, who still knew something about the tablets, by Monsignor Tepano Jaussen, then by W. J. Thomson and finally by Mrs. S. Routledge provided evidence to suggest that there had been, long ago, a very large number of tablets of two types. Some were very old, dating from the arrival of the first islanders, and were copies of the texts that these people had brought with them inscribed on a sort of tapa cloth made of banana leaves. These texts recorded the history of the invaders before they came to Easter Island. The others were not as old and recorded everything that had happened subsequently, as well as the genealogy of the island’s chiefs and kings.

For a variety of reasons, only a very small number of tablets has survived. A large number was destroyed during the wars between the clans. Others were lost when the Peruvians raided the island. During civil wars, many tablets were hidden in caves or in fissures in the rock to protect them from destruction but those who had hidden them perished without revealing the hiding places. Moreover, since the raid by the Peruvians resulted in the deaths of those who had been able to read the tablets, the few survivors lost interest in the tablets, which had no meaning for them, and later islanders used them, for example, as spools for their fishing lines (A. Pinart). Indeed, one such tablet had been used as a spool by the islanders when they sent the cord made of human hair, which they considered to be so precious, to Monsignor Tepano Jaussen.

Finally, at around the same time, that is to say between 1864 and 1872, the islanders, having lost their own religion, converted to Christianity and burned a large number of tablets all at once (even though the tablets had no religious significance for them). For all these reasons there remains only a very small number of tablets, 25 in all 391, distributed in various museums in various locations.


In spite of the small number of tablets that remain, no careful identification and no attempt at classification have been made.


A) The available information has been so confused that Thomson, the person who studied the tablets most carefully after Jaussen’s first efforts, made numerous mistakes that make classification even more difficult. In fact, Thomson ascribed some tablets the wrong owners and, conversely, failed to note the owners of some tablets whose identity is known unambiguously.

1. He gave the name “ko-ihi-mga” to the “Worm-Eaten Tablet” and provided a translation in English and in maori, even though he did not know where the tablet was located! In fact, this tablet never had a Rapanui name and it is part of the collection of the Museum in Braine-le-Comte!

2. The so-called “Crescent Tablet” is not, as he stated, in Santiago but is actually in Braine-le-Comte.

3. He calls the “Miro Tablet” incorrectly by a Rapanui name (Ate-a-ronga-hokau-iti-Pokeraa) and he also gives a translation of the name in two languages!

4. In addition, in his book, in which there are reproductions of a certain number of tablets, which he refers to as “rapanui” and for which he provides complete translations, both in the language of the islanders and in English, he fails to notice that he has described the same tablet twice, under different names! Thus, he shows a tablet that he claims belonged to Jaussen with the designation “Apai”, while this table is none other than the one that belongs to Parke Davis and Co.

Moreover, he calls the front of this tablet the back and vice versa and, in spite of his mistake, provides a double translation! In this way, he perpetuates the myth of a nonexistent tablet and yet, by contrast, he fails to provide a translation of the Parke Davis tablet, of which he shows a photograph.

B. Similarly, A. Pinart, who must have seen tablets on the island itself, shows only a single tablet in his account, namely, a drawing of one side of a tablet for which he fails to provide a name or even the name of the museum where it can be found. This tablet is, in fact, the one at the American Museum of Natural History.

C. We should add here that it is impossible to get any detailed information from the Santiago Museum about any of the tablets or wooden clubs in its collections.

D. Reverend Father Alazard, even though he was aware of all these problems, was unable to obtain accurate information and suggested, a mere two years ago, that the tablet shown by Pinart must have been the small tablet that is in Santiago.

E. There are many references to the fact that Monsignor Tepano Jaussen had five tablets while, in fact, he actually had seven in his collection of ancient island artifacts 392.


F. In fact, there are many tablets that do not have specific names, while two tablets have almost identical names (the “crescent tablet” and the “crescent [piece of] wood”) 393.

These, then, are all the reasons for the multiplicity of errors that permeate the literature. Be that as it may, I think that, after considerable methodical research, I have managed to correct all these errors, to complete the documentation associated with all the extant tablets, and to establish a list of the various tablets with their respective pedigrees. In my opinion, there are 25 extant pieces of “talking wood”: 23 tablets; the carved reimiro in the British Museum; and the “carved calabash” brought back by Thomson. A complete list of all the kohau rongorongo follows below 394.



(based on the work of A. Piotrowski)

1. The “Crescent Tablet” (Figures 152 and 153) — This tablet measures 30 cm × 15 cm (the dimensions of the tablets at the Museum in Braine-le-Comte were graciously provided by Father Ildefonse Alazard). There are seven lines of signs on the front, engraved with a small shark’s tooth, that are read “boustrophedon”, and six lines on the back. Here is the accepted but, nonetheless, incorrect history of this tablet.

The tablet was given to Monsignor Jaussen by Father Zumbohm on behalf of the Easter Islanders, who had wrapped it up entirely in a cord of about a hundred meters in length, which had been made of braided hair (this previously unpublished information was kindly provided by Father Desmedt). This cord was a tribute and a valuable gift from the islanders. The Bishop of Axieri, upon seeing all the signs engraved on both sides of the tablet, asked Hippolyte Roussel, who had remained on the island, to send him all the tablets that he could find. Father Roussel sent him five in good condition, the “Crescent Tablet”, and a large fragment of a seventh tablet. In July 1877, the bishop gave one of the five tablets to the captain of the Russian ship Vitjazj.

The “Crescent Tablet” is a piece of Podocarpus latifolia [latifolius] and is not made of toromiro. Thomson attributed the name “Ka-ihi-uiga” to this tablet; he did not mention its origins but he provided translations in English and in maori! This tablet is part of the collection of the Museum of the Picpus Fathers at Braine-le-Comte in Belgium and, according to Alazard, it does not have a Rapanui name.

2. The “Oar” or Tahoua — The name of this tablet reflects its shape. It measures 93 cm by 12 cm and has 1,547 signs on it, engraved as eight lines on each side (Figures 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, and 172). This tablet is in the Museum in Braine-le-Comte.

3. The “Crescent [piece of] Wood”, also known as “Aroukou Kourenga”, “Miru Wood, from Arukukurenga de Tongariki” and “Dead at the Time of the Great Ships” (Figures 155, 156, and 157) — To avoid confusion, it seems that it might be a good idea to change the name of this tablet, to which the Bishop unfortunately gave the same designation as the “Crescent Tablet”. Given its shape, we might call it the “Racket”, for example, and leave the adjective “crescent” to the first tablet mentioned above since the first tablet is the more conspicuously crescent-shaped and, in addition, it is commonly known by that designation!

Be that as it may, nobody has paid any attention to the fact that it is this tablet, Aroukou Kourenga, which was the one that was given to Monsignor Jaussen, wound around with approximately one hundred meters [sic] of cord made from braided hair! The proof of this statement is that, in his unpublished manuscript that is preserved in Braine-le-Comte, it is the text of this tablet that the Bishop of Axieri cites under the heading, “The Crescent Tablet”, and it is the photograph of this tablet that he has pasted beside the text 395.

The dimensions of this tablet are 43 cm x 16 cm. There are ten lines on the front and twelve on the back, with 1,135 signs in all. This tablet is part of the collection in Braine-le-Comte 396.

4. The “Worm-eaten Tablet” or “Keiti” (Figure 157b) — This tablet measures 39 cm x 13 cm and has 17 lines of signs, nine on the front and eight on the back, with 822 signs in all. The first line of the text, on the widest part of the tablet, starts from a corner that has been damaged by worms, hence the designation of the tablet by Jaussen. In 1889, this tablet was still in the Museum at Braine-le-Comte, according to Father Ildefonse Alazard. Then it was given to the library of the University of Louvain, where it was lost in the fire set by criminal Germans in 1914. Fortunately, the Reverend Fathers of Braine have a photograph of the tablet, taken by Monsignor Jaussen, which is part of his unpublished memoirs that are deposited in their archives, as well as tracings on oiled paper, also by the Bishop, of both sides of the tablet that show the entire text, sign by sign (see Le Bulletin des Américanistes de Belgique, August 1933).

5. The “Mamari” or the “Miro” (Figures 162 and 163) — This tablet measures 30 cm x 21 cm and has fourteen lines on both the front and the back, with 822 signs in all. This beautiful tablet, which is perfectly engraved and has been perfectly preserved, is in the museum at Braine-le-Comte. A few years ago, the museum donated a mold [reproduction] to Dr. Hamy for the Trocadéro Museum (where it can be seen in the horizontal case devoted to Easter Island) 397.

6. The fragment of a tablet, shown in Figure 154, which, according to Father I. Alazard, corresponds to the tablet that Thomson refers to as the seventh tablet of Jaussen. This tablet is 115 cm long and 8 cm wide, with six lines on each side. It came to the museum in Braine-le-Comte with all the other tablets and artifacts collected by Jaussen and it was given, in 1932, to the collection of Dr. Stephen-Chauvet together with three other items from Monsignor Jaussen’s collection, namely, the tahonga in Figure 90, the reimiro in Figure 85 and the little rapa in Figure 100.

7 and 8. In Leningrad, in the Anthropological Museum of the Academy of Science, there are two tablets (no. 402 13/2) that were donated by the Geographical Society, which had obtained them from the collection of B.-N. Mikloukho-Maclay, who visited Easter Island on June 24, 1871, on the Vitjazj. One of them had been given to him during his visit to Tahiti (July 12-24, 1871) by Monsignor Jaussen, while it is likely that he purchased the other. Both of them are made of Sophora-Tetraphera [sic; Sophora tetraptera]. One of them is shaped like a cleaver and is 62 cm long and 14 cm wide. It has eleven lines of signs on the front and on the back. The shape of the other one is similar to that of a boomerang; it is 42 cm long and 9 cm wide, with nine lines on each side.

9. The tablet in the British Museum (Figure 164) — This tablet is quite small (8.6 inches [sic]) and, unfortunately, many of the signs have been worn away and the first and last of the five lines on the back are very faded. It was acquired by the Museum in 1903 and had, apparently, been brought back by a missionary in 1864 398.

10. The tablet in the Berlin Museum.

11. The first tablet, known as the “Great Tablet”, in the Santiago Museum (shown on plates 47 and 48 of Thomson’s book) — This tablet (and the two described immediately below) was collected by the Chilean corvette O’Higgins in January 1870 and was given to the museum (no. 315 in the catalogue) by the captain of the corvette, Don Ignacio Pana. Its shape is similar, to some extent, to that of a porpoise (in profile) and it measures 45 cm x 12 cm. There are twelve lines on each side but the tablet has been partially burned. It does not have a Rapanui name.

12. The second tablet, known as the “Little Tablet of Santiago”, in the Santiago Museum – The provenance is the same as that of the “Great Tablet”. The tablet measures 32.5 cm x 12.5 cm and has sixteen lines in all. The catalogue number is 314; the tablet is made of toromiro; and it has no Rapanui name. A mold [reproduction] can be found in the museum at Braine-le-Comte.

13. The staff from the Santiago Museum — This wooden staff is covered with ideograms. Thomson refers to it, wrongly, as the third Santiago tablet!! It is made of toromiro; it is 1.28 meters long and 20 cm in circumference; and it has no Rapanui name.

14. A tablet in the University Museum in Conceptión, Chile.

15. The nameless tablet (Figures 158 and 159) that belongs to Parke Davis and Co., shown on plate 46 in Thomson’s book. There are nine lines of signs on the front and eight on the back. One corner is chipped and the tablet has many holes in it. Its shape is similar for the most part to that of Aroukou-Kourenga 399.

16. The tablet known at “A tua Matariri” (Figures 160 and 161), which is in the United States Natural Museum, Smithsonian Institution; Washington D.C. — This tablet was collected by Thomson in 1866. The front is shown on plate 38 of his book and the back on plate 39  400. One of its ends has been completely broken off and the wood is seriously damaged on both sides, such that many of the signs on the eight lines on the front and the nine lines on the back have been erased. This tablet is made of a piece of driftwood from a European rowboat.

17. This tablet is known as Eaha To ran ariki Kete and is shown on plates 40 and 41 of Thomson’s book. Collected by Thomson, it is made of toromiro and is very elongated, with one pointed end and one damaged end. There are eight lines on the front and nine on the back. Since the tablet has been damaged in several places, many of the signs have been completely erased. It can be found in the same collection as the tablet described immediately above.

18. The tablet in the American Museum of Natural History (Figures 165 and 166) — In good condition, this tablet is basically rectangular and it has eight lines of signs on each side. This is the tablet that is shown in Pinart’s article, without any indication of where it can be found.

19 and 20. The tablet at the Vienna Folk Art Museum. According to W. Lehmann, should there be a second one also?

21, 22 and 23. The three fragments of tablets in the Bernice P. Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii.

24. The carved reimiro in the British Museum.

25. Perhaps, finally, might there also exist a calabash covered with signs that was brought back by Thomson?



After questioning the wise man and maori Metoro on many occasions and after having studied the seven tablets in his possession at length, Jaussen succeeded in preparing a Table of all the ideograms that he had examined, with the translation of each one (Figures 173, 174, 175, and 176). Then, with the help of this vocabulary, he began to translate his tablets. Very few passages that he translated have been published and his unpublished texts are all stored at the museum in Braine-le-Comte in the archives of the Sacred Hearts of Picpus.

Thomson (who spent time on Easter Island in 1867 during a voyage on the Mohican) managed to obtain information from an old man called Ure-vae-ika, who claimed to be the last man to be able to read the characters on the tablets. But the information that he provided is highly suspect since W. J. Thomson noticed that when he looked at photographs of some tablets, he repeated exactly the same text as he had read from others. Moreover, Mrs. S. Routledge was able to determine that this old man had been one of the servants of the ariki Nga’ara, who might have learned certain texts by heart but had never owned any and certainly did not know how to read them!


Mrs. S. Routledge made her own serious and tenacious efforts. She first questioned a leper called Tomenika and then another man, Kapiera, who seemed more trustworthy and who was actually able to draw some of the characters. Unfortunately, this old man was so sick that he died the day after his last interview with her. This was particularly frustrating since, while some sessions with him had seemed rather fruitful, in five others he had provided contradictory information 401.


Be that as it may, Kapiera told Mrs. S. Routledge that each character not only had a literal meaning (a kind of “representative meaning”, one might say, since the characters represented people, animals, objects, plants etc.) but it also had another meaning, serving a purpose somewhat similar to that of beads on a rosary, whose role is to call to mind a text that is embedded in a person’s memory. Similarly, a knot in a handkerchief serves to prevent its owner from forgetting something, but the item to be remembered is known only to the owner of the handkerchief. If one gave the handkerchief to a stranger, all he would be able to say is, “That’s a knot” and he would not be able to guess its hidden meaning. According to S. Routledge, “No one save the owner can say whether he wishes to remember to pay his life insurance or the date of a tea-party”.

Thus, the Easter island characters that have a literal meaning, on the one hand, have an esoteric meaning on the other (the hieroglyphics of the Egyptians had three meanings, namely, hieratic, demonic, and esoteric). Monsignor T. Jaussen had been unable to determine the “esoteric” meanings of the characters and these will be difficult to determine for the following reasons.

1. Given the isolation of Easter Island, it is hardly likely that any bilingual text will ever be found (unless a text in the language of Harappa 402 is found as an intermediate?).

2. The language of the islanders seems to be very complicated in and of itself. Routledge was even unable to determine whether each character always had the same meaning. Moreover, she also wondered whether the literal translations made by T. Jaussen were accurate. Nonetheless, her research did establish one important point, namely, that the artists who carved the tablets liked long descriptions and recitations of titles or terms (certain Catholic litanies have the same feature ... which originated in Palestine). Thus, in the description of a feast, for example, all the dishes that were consumed were enumerated, and, in the description of a voyage, all the places along the way were included!

Since the research by Mrs. S. Routledge, another attempt at translation has been made, rather recently, by a member of the Société des Etudes Océaniennes who has a profound knowledge of Tahitian on the one hand and most Polynesian dialects on the other (his competence has been vouched for by the very distinguished President of the Société des Etudes Océaniennes, Ahnne). This linguist has attempted to translate the “Crescent [piece of] Wood” (no. 3 in the list of tablets on the preceding pages; Figures 155, 156, and 157), rather than any of the others because it turns out that, even though Metoro’s rhapsodies, recorded by Monsignor Tepano Jaussen and stored in the archives in Braine-le-Comte, have not been published, by contrast, the original manuscript of the translation of the “Crescent [piece of] Wood”, in the bishop’s own hand, is actually in the library of the Société des Etudes Océaniennes!

Thus, it seems to be of interest to reproduce the two texts here (they appeared in June 1934 in the Le Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Océaniennes). The reader will notice that there are considerable differences between the two versions. The translation of Monsignor Jaussen is basically a list of juxtaposed images, without any links between them, while that of the more recent translator suggests that the tablet is inscribed with the continuation of a text on another tablet, which refers to someone called Iterangi. This story is then followed, putatively, by another story about someone called Tamatua. Let us hope that the meaning of all the signs will soon be discovered! 403


Miro wood, from Arukukurega, from Togariki
(Dead at the Time of the Great Ships) 404

ka tuu i te ragi...

let it rain from the sky


ki te henua e rua... On the earth, the two of them

no Hoatumatua...

from King Hotumatua


ka hakanohoa...

that he seats the king

ki te hito o te ragi...

on the back of the sky

ki te henua (e rua)...

it is the earth

te akariki...

and his oldest son

ki te henua...

on the ground

ki tona henua...

that the ground

kua tere te vaka...On which the canoe sailed

ki tona tahina (teina)... towards the younger one


mai tae tu ki te tamaiti...

That he arrives at the child

koia e hiri ki te ragi...

that he should go to the sky

ki te henua...

to the earth

mai tae tuu ia...

that he arrives a man

ki te henua...

to the earth


koia kua koakoa ki tiragi... he who delighted in the sky

kua oho ia ki te henua (two signs)... He came to earth


e tagata e rae...

the man who is there

ka oho koe...

if you are strong

ka noho...

I will stay

ko te matua i ruga e to pepe

the father on his seat

mai tae tuu ki tona tanaiti... that he should go to his child

e kua koakoa...

and if he

ia ki te rage...

delights in the sky

kua rere te manu...

the bird flew away

ki ruga o te henua...

on the earth

mai tae tuu ki ti...

as far as

te tagata mea kai...

the man who eats

i te henua...

on earth

ko te tagata...

the man

kua haga i te moa

made a chicken*

kua tuira...

the rain fell

ki te moa...

the chicken

kua koti ia e te moa e...

he cut the wings, oh chicken


ka vero koe mai tae tuu... take flight as far as

ki te maitaki...

a good place


mai tae tuu ki te ariki e noho mai... as far as the king to live near him

ka rere ia koia...

It should take flight


kua rere ki te flew away to a good place

ka vero ia ...

It should fly away


ki te hua rae o te henua...

to the children of the earth


(two signs) koia kua hakahiri ia... [it] left


 * The part that relates to the chicken could be interpreted entirely differently because the word moa can mean both “chicken” and, with slightly different pronunciation, “saint” or “holy”. Te tagata kua haga i te moa would then be the man who “plays the role of priest”. It would be this man, then, who fled and who was pierced (note from E. Ahnne).

[Translator’s note: The translation by Jaussen into French (as translated here into English) from the Rapanui is approximately correct and checked for accuracy by Scott Nicolay. The translation published by Ahnne and quoted by Chauvet is more poetic and less accurate but is included here for completeness:


Iterangi gave the lands, of which there were two, to Hoatumatua. He was placed beside Teragi on these two lands, as king of the country, of his country. The canoe continues towards his native land, to reach his son. Kiteragi departed for his country and arrived in his land. Teragi was happy. He stayed in the country; there are men there. If you are strong, stay here. Tematua changed into a butterfly to go to his son and Kiteragi was happy. The butterfly flies to the earth and comes to the man to eat in the country of men who reared chickens. He is given some chickens. O, chicken, you are going to be pierced. Pierce the chicken before it gets as far as a safe place, as far as the king who is sitting. It flew away towards safety, was pierced at the place where the earth ends. It left.]



(and of the Ancestors of the First Easter Islanders?)

In addition to the research described above, which was aimed at deciphering the written characters of the ancient islanders (it does not matter whether we are dealing with a true written language or just a series of evocative signs, in other words, mnemonic signs: the problem remains the same and just as interesting; and it would be quite distressing if anyone were to claim that it might be possible to solve this problem by assuming — without proof, as some have done — that the signs are not true characters!), other research has been performed in an attempt to identify the origin of these characters. This approach is particularly interesting because it is linked to the problem of the origin of the ancient islanders themselves 406.

With this goal in mind, Monsignor T. Jaussen himself sent copies of his Table of island characters to various countries (Manilla, Borneo, Batavia, Nossi-Bé [a satellite of Madagascar], etc.). As a result, Monsignor Claessens, Archbishop of Batavia, informed him that similar characters were to be found on certain stones on the Celebes Islands. Thus, Monsignor Jaussen became convinced that the Easter Island characters must have been brought from the Moluccas more than one thousand years ago. I do not know if anyone has verified the assertions made by Monsignor Claessens, which is most unfortunate, because his claim, if it were to be confirmed, would be of the greatest importance both in and of itself and because, given the most recent discoveries in the Middle Indus region, it would be very interesting to know whether there were any linguistic links between this latter region and Easter Island. Be that as it may, in 1929, while researching the origins of the language of the ancient Easter Islanders, and being ignorant of the claim made by Monsignor Claessens, I felt able to write the following about the sculptures on one of the Solomon Islands — Treasury Island — basing my arguments on comparisons among the artistic styles of a whole series of peoples: 407

“We know that certain Oceanian peoples are indisputably Indo-European and that, coming without a doubt from regions around the Upper Indus, they traveled closer and closer, from island to island, until they reached the islands where they are now found (Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, New Zealand, Easter Island, etc.). This putative migration to the east is supported by numerous scientific arguments (ethnologic and linguistic, as well as by historic legends). Thus, I conceived the idea that, when we fully understand all aspects of ancient Oceanian art, we shall also find evidence of this migration in this art. If one finds, in different and distant countries, artistic forms that are both rigorously specific and somewhat similar, one can assume that, if we exclude imitations, there existed a set of identical psycho-artistic concepts for which a prerequisite is a close ancestral relationship among the peoples in question.


“The piece that I have just been studying (a sculpture from Treasury Island) seems to bear out this train of thought. In fact, I have been able to find, in the art of certain groups of people that are completely isolated in Afghanistan, heads of idols that have been treated in the same way as those on Treasury Island.These heads, in the museum in Kabul, come from Kafiristan, a land occupied by an Indo-European people that is not indigenous to the region and is completely isolated within the Muslim peoples that surround it.


“Now, we know that, from 3,000 B.C. onwards, Aryan conquerors moved into India via the Kabul passes and developed a Vedic civilization on the plains of the Indus. Thus, the Aryans, moving towards the Indus plains, left behind them, in complete isolation and among the native peoples, a people of Aryan stock (or Indo-European?) whose members did not adhere to the religious prohibitions of their Muslim neighbors and who carved, as a consequence, human images. Their efforts earned them the title of infidel in the land in which they lived. And, without any doubt, these Aryans saw things and did things in the same way as other groups of Aryans who lived elsewhere and who, also, obeyed unconsciously the same great law of intellectual constancy that is so dear to Rémy de Gourmont.


“But from the plains of the Indus, other Aryan peoples (and Dravidians and, perhaps, others too), driven by wars or famine, set off towards the East. On their way, they marked their route with ethnic groups that later became mixtures, namely, with descendants of pure ancestry and of random hybrids that resulted from interbreeding with local natives. And these ethnic groups then produced works of art that were similar to one another on the one hand and were also, on the other hand, closely related to the artistic concepts of their racial ancestry.


“These events explain, in my opinion, why it is that one can find on the Nias Islands [Sumatra], for example, soberly made sculptures of people with specifically Indo-European characteristics, while the current peoples carve beings with different anthropologic characteristics, with complex and copious ornamentation. This also would explain why we find, just a bit further away (but a lot less far than Tonga, Samoa, the Marquesas Islands and Easter Island, where this Indo-European migration ended — that is to say all along the island-scattered route of this migration), works of art that are quasi-identical to the art described above on some of the Solomon Islands.


“And it is this same art, which is realist and realistic, sober and powerful (distorted neither by hallucinatory images nor by excessive ornamentation and polychromism of the type found in the works of true Melanesians), that one also finds, as we shall discuss in another study, on the Rubiana Lagoon in New Georgia. One fact that supports this point of view is that the natives who live on these islands have none of the negroid features of the Papuans, nor any of the features of the Melanesians of the Admiralty Islands, the Bismarck Archipelago, the [New] Hebrides and New Caledonia. Their race is, at the very least, strongly impregnated with Indo-European blood. This somatic hybridism, which bears witness to the route of the migration, corresponds, clearly, to a psychological hybridism and explains why, in my opinion, the works of art that we are discussing betray an ancient Indo-European artistic ancestry which floats in the complex subconscious that the mixture of races has imposed on these peoples. Indeed, everyone knows that a work of art emanates to an infinitely greater extent from the subconscious of the artist than from his conscious thoughts, from this subconscious into which have fled and in which germinate all the elements of the human personality and, similarly, all the talents, gifts and impulses (so often taken for conscious acts) on which we so often act.


“This, then, is the hypothesis, which is based solidly on the facts, that I have developed to explain the artistic similarities between certain works of art that are encountered in different places; in India; in Borneo, Java and Sumatra; and in Oceania.”

Thus, on the basis of analogies and deductions, a common origin for the ancestors of the peoples of certain Pacific islands in the region that includes Waziristan or Kafiristan, the north of Baluchistan and the neighboring regions in Iran seems particularly plausible. These general considerations, which can be applied to the ancestors of the first Easter Islanders (as they can to those of the natives of many other islands in the Pacific), are additionally supported, as far as the ancient Easter Islanders are concerned, by the following facts and deductions:

1. First of all, the fact that the primitive Easter Islanders made monumental stone statues means that they must have had, before coming to Easter Island, a taste for such monuments and they must also have been accustomed to making them because such things are not improvised. And, indeed, according to tradition, they had structures of tremendous height in their first homeland. Well, which were the only regions of the world, long ago, to have such huge monuments? Only Egypt, the region around the Tigris and Euphrates and the north of Iran! 408

2. Furthermore, as I explained in the discussion of an ancient (Easter Island) fishhook made of polished stone, it is clear that the first settlers on Easter Island were aware of a very refined and carefully perfected method for polishing stone (Figures 69, 70, 71, and 72), which they must certainly have known of before they started their wanderings 409.


In view of this observation, it is not at all astonishing that a people who knew of the peak of polished-stone civilization were able also to bring with them a form of neolithic hieroglyphic writing (or a series of mnemonic signs — the difference is insignificant in the present context)! But a neolithic civilization could not have reached such heights on a poor and isolated island, or even in a country that was both separated from others.

In order for culture to develop and flourish, it was necessary (i) that different peoples should have been able to meet each other and exchange ideas and material goods in a favorable environment, and (ii) that, under these conditions, a certain prosperity should have developed that allowed, in its turn, artisans to produce objects to meet a certain “demand” etc. Where could such a variety of conditions have been met except in the regions noted above, at the crossroads of the great caravan routes and of the routes of migrating peoples? 410

3. The Easter Islanders made a sort of cult out of the birdman. Not only did they reproduce images of the birdman as wooden statuettes and petroglyphs but they also used the image as one of their hieroglyphic characters. This myth, which is not found anywhere else in the Pacific 411 (it involves a birdman and not the frigate bird), did exist, by contrast, (with a different stylization) in Iran and in the Chaldees. Is it not, for example, often found on Assyrian cylindrical seals?

4. Finally, if we look carefully at the Easter Island signs, we notice that the only characters to which they bear any resemblance are (Figures 178, 179, 180): the hieroglyphics of the Cappadocian Hittites; the hieroglyphics of the Jeralbus [Syrian] Hittites; Protoelamite characters (see Wright, The Empire page x); and the characters on certain pre-pharaonic cylindrical seals 412.


All these observations and deductions seem to me to support the hypothesis that I proposed in 1929 and allow us to assume that the ancestors of the ancient islanders could have come from a vast region in Central Asia, where all these civilizations, which are themselves connected, came into contact with one another. This region extended from the Indus in the East to the Tigris and Euphrates in the West.

Subsequently, a similar point of view was adopted by Robert J. Casey (in Easter Island, published by the Bobbs Merrill Co. in Indianapolis in 1931). He suggested that the future Polynesians, after leaving the Chaldees, would have traveled through India, Malasia, Indochina, Micronesia, the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti before finally reaching other archipelagos, such as the Gambier Archipelago, and Easter Island. Fernandez also believes that the Polynesians must have come from the region between the Tigris and Euphrates, which explains, in his view, why they all understand each other to a greater or lesser extent and also how the Polynesians who made up the second wave of settlers on Easter Island 413 were able to assimilate some of the knowledge of their predecessors.

Recently, thanks to their extremely interesting excavations in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (in the Middle Indus region), Sir John Marshall and Mrs. de Hevesy were able to resuscitate, in this vast area, an entire civilization that was quite obviously non-Aryan and that existed three or four thousand years before Christ, and that, moreover, had a written language which was set down “boustrophedon” and was probably half-syllabic (and not only ideographic) 414.


This form of writing, which has many similarities to that of the Proto-elamites, has been studied elsewhere, in a comparison with the Easter Island characters, by de Mr. Hevesy (the first communication was presented by P. Pelliot on September 1, 1932, and then a report was published in the Bulletin of the French Prehistoric Society in July/August 1933). Once Mr. de Hevesy had set up Tables of comparison (Figures 183, 184, 185, and 186), he was able to deduce that these two types of writing had about 130 very similar signs in common and he concluded that the Easter Island characters were linked to those of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, even though they were from different epochs. Sir John Marshall thought that the scripts from Western Asia, such as Sumerian, Hittite, Protoelamite, Cretan and Egyptian, and from the Indus — even thought they all evolved separately — might all be derived from one single source. Mr. de Hevesy suggested that the ancestor of all these scripts might be that of the Easter Island tablets themselves. Commenting on these hypotheses, Rivet wrote the following (see Le Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Océaniennes, no. 47):

“As the signs on the talking tablets are clearly more stylized than those of the Indus region, it makes sense to postulate that the Polynesian migration, which would have brought these first texts to Easter Island, would have begun in Central Asia at a date prior to the Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa eras. Thus, in short, the Easter Island alphabet is even older than that of the Indus region” 415.


We should add that during his studies, Mr. de Hevesy, following on the heels of Geiseler, Huberland and Harrison, was led to believe that the Easter Island characters should be read not from left to right but in the opposite direction. Let us hope that future studies will clarify, unequivocally, the true origin of the characters and, as a corollary, the true origin of the first Easter Islanders.





Let us accept, at least as a working hypothesis, that the ancestors of the ancient Easter Islanders set off from the abovementioned vast region of western Central Asia. On this basis, I have gathered a number of pieces of evidence that allow me to propose, with a rather large probability of being correct, that, during their long journey to the East, they passed through southern New Guinea, certain islands in Melanesia and then New Zealand, before reaching the Gambier Islands and then Easter Island itself. Let us consider each of these pieces of evidence separately.

1. Contacts in Melanesia

(i) First, let me remind the reader of the argument that I made above with respect to a sculpture from the Treasury Island.

(ii) Next, there is a whole series of facts that can only be explained by assuming that these wandering migrants were in contact with Melanesians to such an extent that the former adopted some of the customs of the latter. As a result, the ancient islanders, in addition to the manutara cult, also had a certain predilection (as indicated by petroglyphs and engravings on wood) for the frigate bird. The frigate bird provided the natives of New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides with innumerable decorative motifs, while in Tonga and Samoa, Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands, that is to say, in Polynesia, it seems to have been ignored.

(iii) The Polynesians never had large communal dwellings; they lived as family units. By contrast, we know that, for example, in New Guinea, the natives build large communal huts (which are sometimes enormous), that are called “Dubu-Dacma” (see Figures 1 and 17 in my book Art of New Guinea). Thus, the large huts of the Easter Islanders, known as hare paenga, that could house as many as 200 natives might be none other than a remembered version of the “Dubu-Dacma”.

(iv) In these very same “Dubu-Dacma”, which are so numerous along the Gulf of Papua, a small room serves as a shrine for very large anthropomorphic mannequins, made of willow, that are used by the “puripari”, who put them on during certain ceremonies, among which are those related to various tapu or tabu. Now, Gonzáles, La Pérouse, Eyraud, etc. saw that the ancient Easter Islanders also used an anthropomorphic mannequin, made of willow and covered with tapa (and not a “willow statue” as some have said), during certain ceremonies related to taboos that took place on the platform of pakeopas (large ahu). These mannequins were called païna! 416 By contrast, similar mannequins have not been found in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, the Marquesas Islands etc.

(v) While the Polynesians never carved designs on skulls, the natives of New Guinea, by contrast, always decorated skulls with carved motifs. Figures 29 and 30 in Art of New Guinea show skulls from the Fly River region and provide useful examples of such ornamentation. The ancient Easter Islanders also carved geometric designs or stylized frigate birds on skulls!

(vi) The long and deformed earlobes of the ancient Easter Islanders are much more of the “Melanesian” type than of the maori type.

(vii) The Papuans and the Melanesians have always used, as chest decorations, ornaments known as “pectorals”, made out of various materials but generally boat-shaped. The natives on Tonga, Viti, Fiji, the Marqueses Islands, Tahiti, etc. have nothing similar, while the ancient Easter Islanders had an ornament of the same shape that they wore on the same part of the body, the “reimiro” (Figure 86).

(viii) Finally, the ancient Easter Islanders also had another decorative object that they wore on their chests, the double fishhook (Figure 69; they also painted this motif on their bodies during initiation ceremonies). This double fishhook decoration was only found in two places: Detroit de Torres (Figure 66 in Art of New Guinea) and in New Zealand, in ancient times.

2. Contacts with New Zealanders

It seems to me that the problems that have been posed about relationships with New Zealanders can be solved thanks to a collection of facts, some of which have already been published but not gathered together in one place and the last of which, being very recent and unpublished, is the result of work that I undertook several months ago. I think that we can accept that, in fact, members of the same race as that of the ancient Easter Islanders lived on the Islands of New Zealand, perhaps during their journey to Easter Island or perhaps they (or rather the descendants of the first migrants) just passed through New Zealand, leaving behind them a certain number of their group. Alternatively, some of them, once they had reached a particular island (Treasury Island or Raratonga etc.), split into two groups, one of which ended up in New Zealand and the other, eventually, on Easter Island. Be that as it may, here are the various pieces of evidence that support this hypothesis 417.

(A) Tradition (see Bovis, David Hyde Rice, Rev. Thomas Williams, etc.)

(i) Vigouroux noted that, according to Maori traditions, which were still unchanged in 1898, many double canoes, with 120 to 150 passengers apiece, came from Hawaïki and landed in New Zealand in the fourteenth century. The names of each of the canoes, from which the major tribes of New Zealanders take their names, were also handed down. In the traditional songs, the word Hawaïki-Raro (Hawaïki under the wind) seems to refer to the Solomon Islands and the word Hawaïki-runga (Hawaïki of the wind) might refer to Tahiti?

(ii) Lewis Spence, in The Problem of Lemuria (published in London by Rider), noted that, according to Percy Smith (Hawaïki and also The Lore of the Wharewanenga) and MacMillan Brown (The Mystery of the Pacific), the oral traditions of the wise men of Hawaii, New Hebrides and New Zealand often mention the very first settlers who were white with straight hair.

(iii) In 1791, Chatham was surprised to find, 670 km to the east of New Zealand, a race of Morioris, “with white skin and straight hair”.

(B) Similarities Between the Cultures

(i) The polished stone fishhooks. To avoid repetition (the reader is referred to the section on polished stone fishhooks), I shall note simply that Mr. H. Beasley reported that polished stone fishhooks are found in only two places in the Pacific: Easter Island and New Zealand 418.


Moreover, on these islands, and only these islands, other fishhooks (single and double) have been found that are too tightly curved to be used for catching fish and could only have been used as decorative pendants.

(ii) Clubs (previously unpublished observations). The ancient New Zealanders had, among other weapons, a club, or rather a bludgeon, of a very particular shape that was their weapon of choice. It was called a patoo-patoo or meirei and was made of wood, whalebone, diorite or jadeite. It is curious, then, that the only Oceanic island on which a similar club can be found is Easter Island, where the club is called a paoa (Figure 95).

(C) Linguistic Considerations

(i) When the English signed the Treaty of Vaitagi with the New Zealand chiefs, they were astonished to see the chiefs draw a whole series of signs, which were clearly symbolic, instead of a signature. This document and the tablets of the Easter Islanders are the only examples of writing from all of Oceania!

(ii) With respect to the tablets, there is one minor observation that might seem trivial but that might be of considerable importance in the future. Recent research suggests, in fact, that the wood of the famous Crescent Tablet (which is not the one that most people think it is, see above) is Podocarpus, but trees of this genus never grew on Easter Island. It remains to be determined whether the wood is from Podocarpus latifolia [latifolius], which grows in many tropical countries, or Podocarpus ferruginea [ferrugineus], which is unique to New Zealand. If this problem is eventually resolved, and if, moreover, one could prove that the tablet had never been impregnated with sea salts and was, thus, not derived from driftwood, we would have a new and very valid piece of evidence for a connection with New Zealand.

(D) Comparative Study of the Hair of the Ancient Easter Islanders 419

Basing their theories on some or many of the arguments listed above, various authors have concluded that, quite probably, the first Easter Islanders and New Zealanders were not complete strangers to one another. But, in fact, they were only basing their conclusions on traditions, similarities or intuition. There has been no objective scientific proof for this conclusion. In order to find some proof, I set out several months ago to look for a test, biological if possible or, more appropriately, somatic and, as a consequence, in the realm of anthropology. Osteological characteristics have already been studied (in my view, not in sufficient detail and, all too often, by incompetents) so I search for some other parameters. Even though we are able to study the skin of authentic New Zealanders who lived well before the arrival of Europeans (and all the associated possibilities of cross breeding), as a result of the availability of very ancient mummified heads (with tattoos carved in relief), nobody has yet found a shred of skin from an ancient Easter Islander in any of the ahu on the island! Nonetheless, it might be interesting, of course, to study the dermatologic features of the few rare Easter Islanders who seem still to have some of the specific somatic traits that characterized the ancient islanders.

Given this state of affairs, I thought of the famous cord of braided hair that the Easter Islanders gave to Monsignor Jaussen as tribute in 1868, wrapped around the Crescent Tablet. Nobody has had the idea of studying this cord until now and I postulated that it might provide valuable information, both in and of itself and in comparison with the hair of the present-day natives on other islands in Oceania. Considered by itself, in fact, the cord allows, a priori, a study of the hair of adult Easter Islanders who lived before 1868, that is to say, before that period of their history when these poor people became victims to all kinds of cross breeding. But, in reality, given, on the one hand, the difficulties associated with making the cord and, on the other hand, the fact that it could only have been made by one person [sic], and, finally, that its manufacture (which must have taken a long time) could not have been a daily task, performed without interruptions, we have to assume that it took many long years to make. These considerations are, precisely, those that would have given the cord such great value in the eyes of the islanders. Thus, since it remained in the possession of the islanders who escaped the cowardly predations of the Peruvians in 1862, it is very likely that it was made, at the very latest, in the 1850's and that the adults who provided the hair, at that time, if we assume an average age of 30 years, for example, would have been born around 1820. This assumes that the hair is, indeed, that of some of the Easter Islanders.

This is a fact that seems really important to me and that nobody has paid attention to until now. It would be astonishing if the islanders had used the hair of just any natives. That seems inconceivable, given, on the one hand, the value that they attributed to the cord, and, on the other hand, their traditions, which demanded long hair for everyone except the tangata manu who had their hair cut (such a haircut would not be distinctive and would not signify high status unless the other men always wore their hair long!) Thus, it seems very likely to me that the famous cord was made both (i) by a single person, who had a monopoly and the total responsibility for making it, and (ii) out of the hair of the abovementioned dignitaries (and this novel observation would explain still further why the cord was so valuable to the native Easter Islanders). If this hypothesis is correct, we can ask how long ago the cord was begun since the cord would have grown in length in parallel with the succession of kings or some part of this succession.

The cord was given to the Bishop in 1868 because it had, for the islanders, very considerable symbolic value. The islanders may have decided that, no longer having their hereditary royal family, on the one hand, and having abandoned their ancient religion and the birdman cult (in favor of Christianity), on the other hand, they could now part with it.

We can imagine that the cord was begun a very long time ago and we can be sure that it was finished about one hundred years ago, at the very least. For a comparative study, I had to obtain hair from natives of the other principal islands in Oceania and these samples of hair had to be as old as possible so that I could examine hair that had belonged to islanders of pure rather than mixed race, from before the arrival of Europeans. I was able to obtain samples, as follows:

1) For New Zealand, from a very ancient mummified head from the Nantes Museum (now in the Lafaille Museum in La Rochelle). This head had already been mummified before it was brought to France at the beginning of the last century.

2) For the Solomon Islands, a piece collected in 1895 by Festetic de Tolna, from a very ancient object from Rubiana (New Georgia), from a part of the island that had not yet been visited or settled by Europeans.

3) For New Guinea, a very ancient piece (given its style and patina) from the Sepic region, which came from the Berlin Museum.

4) For Tahiti, a piece from a cord made of hair that was part of a pectoral decoration, identical to that brought back by Cook and of the same age (Figure 152 in the 1925 edition of the ethnographic catalog of the British Museum).


5) For the Marquesas Islands, hair from one of two tufts from a “tiki” made of human bone that decorated a large war trumpet, which was collected during the voyage of the Dumont d’Urville.

6) For New Caledonia, a piece of the wig of a very ancient mask, known as “apua”, that was brought back to France at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Having studied these different types of hair under the microscope both separately and in comparison to one another, I began to think that the hair coming from the end on the cord that had been wound around the Crescent Tablet seemed to resemble neither the hair from Melanesia, namely, from New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia, nor the maori hair from Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. By contrast, the hair seemed very similar to that from the New Zealanders. But, as, on the one hand, I wanted to protect myself from all possible criticism that I had made these observations from a position of prejudice (that is to say, that I had only seen what I wanted to see) and as, on the other hand, the initial results that I had obtained allowed me to believe that I would not needlessly be bothering as great scientist as Dr. Locard, I contacted this distinguished colleague, whose knowledge, whose extremely detailed observations and whose deductions have made him, when it comes to questions of identification, not only the greatest authority in France but also the Master before whom all scientists and all detectives in their two separate worlds respectfully bow their heads. Thus, I sent Dr. E. Locard various samples of the hair noted above, asking him simply to study them and then to verify whether the hair from Easter Island had features similar to or different from the hair from the other islands. To allow this eminent scientist to make totally impartial observations and, thus, to draw unprejudiced conclusions, I shared with him neither my own observations nor even the nature of the problem that I had hoped to solve by performing my research.

Locard studied the samples of hair in terms of color; general morphology in the lengthwise direction; general cross-sectional morphology; features of the medullary canal; structure (cuticle, cortical material, medullary cells) and appearance of the medullary canal (shape, etc.); the ratio of the cross-sectional axes; and the diameter of each hair relative to that of the medullary canal (the medullary index). On October 9 of last year, he was kind enough to send me a long report, with a Table summarizing his results 420.

Locard drew the following conclusions from his research:

“It is clear from the Table that the hair from Easter Island bears no resemblance at all to the hair from New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia. If we accept that the most strongly individualized feature of hair is its cross section, we cannot help but be struck by the fact that the hair from Waihou Island only resembled, in this regard, the hair from New Zealand. Moreover, these samples are also more similar to one another than they are to others in terms of the medullary index, the ratio of cross-sectional axes and, finally, the structure, which is of the same type in each of these two samples.”

Here, then, is new and totally objective scientific proof, which, when added to the previous evidence and conclusions, allows us to deduce that the Easter Islanders to whom the hair belonged and the New Zealanders were, to some extent, “cousins”. They might be, as I suggested above, descendants of offshoots left behind during the emigration from their original home in Asia, which seems the most likely possibility, or, alternatively, descendants of branches that were themselves derived from a split in the main “trunk”.

Considerations of this type are not only of major direct importance but they might also have some other uses in the future. Perhaps, when the entire history of the New Zealanders has been elucidated, it will be possible to make some deductions about the ancient Easter Islanders that will finally solve the mystery of their origins.

While we await further developments, it seems to me that the discussions above allow us to establish two new facts:

1) The ancestors of the very first Easter Islanders, as they moved from island to island, must have come in contact with the Papuans of the Torres Straits and then the Melanesians.

2) There is an infinitely high probability that they come from the same stock as the ancient New Zealanders.

Dr. Stephen CHAUVET




380. We should note something rather curious at this point. The ornamental necklaces of the Tahitian chiefs that date from before the arrival of the first Europeans, which were made from the large polished shells of pearl oysters that had had their edges smoothed, were made with cords of braided hair (see the necklace that the Tahitians valued so highly in the Guide to the British Museum, 2nd edition, Figure 152). In 1872, Pierre Loti succeeded in finding the last of these necklaces (now in the collection of Dr. Stephen Chauvet). With respect to the tablet in question, see below, for details of the mistake that has been made about this tablet in the past.

381. Editorís note: The crescent tablet is also known as Barthelís Text D, or chancrťe, which means "notched", or "cut in a crescent". It is on exhibit at the Musee de Tahiti, along with the skein of hair.

382. According to P. Loti, some of them were found in the tombs of the pakeopa, near statues that had been pushed over.

383. I shall emphasize the facts of exceptional importance that Eyraud recognized as relevant. His letter appears in its entirety in Annales de la Propagation de la Foi, volume 38, page 71, 1866. [Translatorís note: A translation of the letter into English can be found in the May 2003 issue of the Rapa Nui Journal 17(1):49-57.]

384. It would be very important to verify whether the symbol for tangata manu exists among the written characters of the ancient Harappa civilization and if, conversely, after their arrival on Easter Island, the natives had added, to their written repertoire, one or more characters that correspond to concepts that they had learned during their wanderings.

385. Editorís note: This may be Mahatua, on the east side of the island.

386. We know that the Egyptians wrote on papyrus. Furthermore, pieces of bamboo were found, in China in 284 A.D., on which a kind of history had written. It was called Tchou-Chou-Ki-NieuÓ and had been buried around 299 B.C. in the tomb of the Wei princes. [Translatorís note: This footnote refers to material that is now romanized as "Zhu shu jinian". It is unclear how someone writing in the 1930s could have known about this discovery unless he could read Chinese. The first article in English about it was written by A.F.P. Hulsewe in 1965; see p. 163 in New Sources of Early Chinese History by Edward L. Shaughnessy, (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, 1997). We are most grateful to Professors Beatrice Bartlett and Valerie Hansen of Yale University for this information.]

387. Metoro, who was Monsignor T. Jaussenís translator, was never able to explain a character to him without singing! Every time Roussel asked the islanders to read some characters to him, none of them dared to do so because, as Tepano Jaussen wrote, "these students, whose teachers were dead, must have been afraid to be shown a tablet that they did not know how to sing".

388. In the Marquesas Islands, the bards used to use bundles of pieces of cord of different lengths, each with a certain number of knots and each knot signifying the name of a place or a god or a chief or a date or a voyage... etc. ... Segalen, in his "Histories", wrote strikingly about the lives of these tellers of tales who handed down ancient traditions, the genealogies, and the songs about the great deeds of the heroes of long ago on islands all over the Pacific. [Translatorís note: Victor Segalen (1878-1919) was the shipís doctor on the La Durance, based in Tahiti in 1903 and 1904. On his return to France, Segalen wrote the novel Les Immťmoriaux (published in English as Lapse of Memory). In his novel, which was based on his own experiences and on extensive ethnographical documentation, Segalen evoked the "civilizing" of Tahiti in the early nineteenth century, as seen through the eyes of the Tahitians themselves.]

389. Editorís note: The Rapanui word for "feather" is huíhuru or huru-huru (Fuentes, 1960).

390. These islanders, in spite of their ancient civilization had, nonetheless, much to learn! Doesnít this annual test and coram populo [public assembly] of teachers (designed to ensure that, no matter what their age, they had retained their mental acuity and their value to the community) seem really "old-fashioned".

391. Editor's note: The 25 extant Rongorongo artefacts by name are as follows: Tahua, Mamari, Echancrťe, Aruku, Paris Snuffbox, Keiti, Chauvet Fragment, Small Santiago, Large Santiago, Santiago Staff, Honolulu (◊4), Small Washington, Large Washington, Small St. Petersburg, Large St. Petersburg, London, London Rei Miro (◊2), Berlin, Small Vienna, Large Vienna, and New York Birdman (Fischer, 1997).

392. He did not count the "crescent tablet" (Figure 152) because it was damaged and he also did not count the one in Figure 154 because, in fact, it was only a fragment.

393. This nomenclature has led to additional confusion, as indicated by the fact that the very distinguished scholar Mr. Ahnne, President of the Society for Oceanian Studies, in an article about the "crescent [piece of] wood", refers to it as the "crescent tablet" (Bulletin of the Society for Oceanian Studies, June 1934). Thus, many people have either pointed out his mistake to me or have come to the conclusion that he was talking about another "crescent tablet". This mistake has persisted to such an extent that the true tablet with a cord is "Aroukou-Kourenga"!!

394. In his bibliography, which appeared in 1907, W. Lehmann summarized them as follows: four in Belgium; three in Santiago; two in Vienna; two in Petrograd; one in Berlin; one in London; and two in Washington, namely, 15 in all. Even so, in his book, Easter Island, which appeared in November 1935, H. Lavachery only mentions 14!

395. The credit for this important piece of information is due to Fathers Ildefonse Alazard and Mr. Desmedt (the Secretary General of the Congregation), whose erudition is recognized by ethnologists everywhere.

396. N.B. It is shown, as plate 49 in his book, by W. J. Thomson, who claims that it was collected by someone from the OíHiggins and that it can be found in the Santiago Museum. This is completely incorrect

397. N.B. This tablet is reproduced in W. J. Thomsonís book on plates 44 and 45, with the title "Ate-a-ronga-Hokau-iti-Pokeraa". He also gives an extensive translation in maori and in English.

398. Editorís Note: The implication that it was brought back by Brother Eugene Eyraud, is highly unlikely. Brother Eugene was the only missionary to go to the island in 1864.

399. W. J. Thomson failed to notice that this is the same tablet, but drawn rather than photographed, that he showed on plates 36 and 37 of his book, with the designation "ApaÔ", and that he attributed to the collection of Monsignor Jaussen. Moreover, he showed, as the front of the Apai, the back of the tablet that belongs to Parke Davis and Co. and vice versa! And, in spite of these mistakes, he gives translations in both English and Maori. As a result, one has to wonder what the name "ApaÔ" might refer to!

400. Thomsonís guide on Easter Island was Salmon. Note, also, that W. Lehmann thinks that the two tablets acquired by Thomson came from Geiseler.

401. This manís faculties, already diminished by age, were probably also affected by the onset of his mortal illness.

402. Editorís note: A city in Punjab, northeast Pakistan.

403. Translatorís note: The author seems unwilling to mention the name of the "more recent translator". This personís work is referred to in a footnote to the dual translation as "translation published by E. Ahnne", while Jaussenís translation is referred to as "translation of Monsignor T. Jaussen". Perhaps this caginess on the part of the author reflects some now-forgotten academic feud....

404. See Figures 155, 156, and 157. The translation starts on the first line that is diagonally opposite the indentation via the hole in the middle.

405. As the reader can see, our translator [in the version published by Ahnne] saw the name of a person, "Iterangi", in the expressions i te ragi and kiteragi, which occur several times in the text and can mean, as Jaussen indicated, "in the sky" or "from the sky". Thus, it is possible that the tablet refers to the lofty deeds and the voyages of Iterangi. If this were true, the text would make much more sense. Similarly, while te matua (metua in Tahitian) might mean "father", it could also refer to a person, Tematua, since this is a name that is still used by the islanders. Perhaps, it is even the same as Hoatumatua, noted above, which often occurs in the traditional legends of Easter Island. Our [unnamed] translator thinks, moreover, that this passage, which is quoted as the first line on the Crescent Tablet, is actually the continuation of a story on another tablet. It is also possible that the reading was begun at the wrong place on the tablet itself. Furthermore, there seem to be two stories, one about Iterangi and one about Tematua (note from Ahnne).

406. And, even if, at the present time, this problem has not yet been solved, it is no less true that the origin of the ancestors of the first Easter Islanders would be clarified to some extent.

407. These materials come from articles by Dr. Stephen-Chauvet, as follows: "On the almost unknown art from the Solomon Islands: the art of Treasury Island", Les Cahiers díArt, nos. 2 and 3, 1929; and "The mysterious origins of the people who live on Easter Island", Atlantis Revue, February 1933. The comparisons that I have made were made without prejudice and are based on rigorous analysis, and it seems to me that they have as much semiologic value as linguistic comparisons in efforts to establish cultural spheres.

408. Editorís note: Chauvet neglects to mention places closer to Easter Island, such as Raíivavae, Tahiti, Tonga, etc.

409. For the reasons that I noted in the abovementioned discussion (see Bulletin de la Sociťtť Prťhistorique FranÁaise).

410. Editorís note: While it is true that many civilizations have sprung from crossroads and interaction between peoples, Easter Island developed in isolation.

411. Editorís note: Chauvet is in error; Bird/Man images are found throughout the Pacific and stretch back into south-east Asia.

412. [Translatorís note: The oldest Elamite script, known as Protoelamite, first appeared in about 2,900 bce in southwestern Persia (modern Iran). It consists of about 1,000 signs and remains to be deciphered.] Note that this general mode of expressing thoughts spread further and further and even towards the South-West, as indicated by the recent discovery in the middle of the Sahara of similar ideographic signs (Figure 182; compare, in particular, the two little people and some of the geometric signs with some of the Easter Island characters). [Translatorís note: It seems appropriate here to introduce a concept from biology, namely convergent evolution, which occurs when species with different ancestors evolve to look similar. Classic examples of convergent evolution are the body shape of dolphins, sharks, and penguins; and the red tube-shaped flowers of plants pollinated by hummingbirds. Chauvet seems to ignore entirely the possibility that similar carved or written characters could have arisen completely independently in different parts of the globe.]

413. Editorís note: There was no "second wave of settlers".

414. Perhaps they were Dravidians. We know that, like the Sumerians, the Dravidians were immigrants who probably originated in Central Asia. The writing has come down to us carved on sheets of copper (which provides a valuable approximation in terms of chronology) and on soapstone tablets and cylindrical seals (see Figure 181).

415. For Rivet, it appears certain "that Easter Island was settled by Polynesians" and that "there are good reasons for thinking that their predecessors were Melanesians, that is to say Oceanian Negroes"!! This last statement, which is not based on indisputable facts, seems to us, in so far as it relates to Easter Island, to be completely untenable. It is based exclusively on the fact that some authors, writing before Rivet, might have seen some skulls of Easter Islanders that appeared to have negroid characteristics! This is another reason for stating (i) that one should not give absolute credence to such notorious measurements and osteological indices; and that (ii) such research should, in any case, only be undertaken by physicians and, moreover, only by physicians with very extensive education. In fact, the so-called negroid characteristics are only the bony modifications that arise as a result of acromegaly!! Thus, the measurements provide an index of biological disorders and not of race!!

416. Editorís note: Paina refers to a feast or celebration for the dead. The barkcloth covered figures were used at these feasts.

417. This journey, obviously, took more than a few months or years but involved successive movements from one place to another with a stay of perhaps several generations in each place. This essential truth has not received sufficient attention. There is also a third hypothesis, namely, that the Easter Islanders invaded New Zealand but this would appear quite illogical!

418. According to Baron Heine Geldern, there are certain similarities between the native culture of New Zealand and the neolithic culture of Northern China. According to E. Ahnne, moreover, there one can also find polished stone fishhooks on Chatham Island, which, however, does not alter the value of H. Beasleyís observations.

419. Previously unpublished material; see also the January 30, 1936, issue of the Sociťtť prťhistorique franÁaise: Dr. Stephen-Chauvet, "A new identification method: comparative studies of ancient hair support the hypothesis of a common origin for ancient Easter Islanders and New Zealanders".

420. Translatorís note: The Table provides numerical values for the measurements mentioned above. However, these values are absolutely worthless since no units (centimeters, millimeters, etc.) are provided; no mention is given whether the measurements are single measurements or the averages (mean values) of many measurements for individual hairs or for several hairs from each sample; no "standard error of the mean" is provided as an indication of the reproducibility of measurements; and no indication is provided as to whether age or conditions of storage (heat, moisture, etc.) might influence measurements and observations made on any kind of hair, Chauvetís included. Thus, the Table is not reproduced here since the numbers in it are meaningless and the qualitative observations are worthless. To reproduce the Table would be to risk that someone might take the numerical values seriously and they are absolutely without any scientific validity or utility.





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