Easter on Easter Island, Part 2

The Rapa Nui Hospital on Easter Island desperately needed the help of Project C.U.R.E. The frustrated doctors explained that simple laboratory tests were taking a minimum of five weeks to be returned to the hospital, instead of fifteen minutes. The airlines flew only once a week from Easter Island to Santiago. They would then have to depend on getting their needed test results from an understaffed and overworked mainland hospital that also had inadequate lab equipment and continual shortages of supplies and reagents. Rapa Nui was put into a critical medical position. Within the past few weeks there had been a severe outbreak of dengue fever on the island. Tourists had brought in the fever, and the local mosquitoes had served to rapidly spread it throughout the island population before the blood tests could be cultured and returned. Several people had died because of the delays. 

After assessing their medical facilities, I felt that Project C.U.R.E. could greatly increase their efficiency by supplying to them, in addition to the needed lab equipment, essential emergency room equipment and supplies, OB-GYN diagnostic equipment, including an ultrasound machine, and a ventilator and respirator for their small intensive care ward. 

On Saturday, Governor Paoz and our other hosts continued to show us around Easter Island and share with us more impressive legends:

  • We think of two tides: ebb and flow. The islanders studied and followed sixteen different tide categories. They knew when and where to fish, plant, travel, procreate, etc. according to the tides.
  • Many rock pile structures were not Ahu formations, but rather, they were stone chicken coops. Early on, chickens were a sign of wealth. A guest was very honored if the host presented a white chicken to him. But the guest was most honored if the host cleaned the chicken, took out its intestines, washed them, and gave them to the guest to eat. A war was once started because the guests insulted the host by not eating the chicken entrails.
  • At different locations around the island were surviving evidences of schools where the students were taught how to cook, plant, judge the sun and seasons, and even how and where to catch tuna fish. The lessons were carved into the stones and we could presently observe the ancient object lessons.

Saturday evening Anna Marie and I left our hotel room, walked along the rocky coastline and turned right on the main street called Avenue Atawu Tekera. We were headed to the end of the avenue just to walk by the Catholic church. It was the only church on the island. We were hoping that the church would have posted some kind of time schedule for Easter Sunday services. As we turned the corner the church bells began pealing out across the cove. 

A little further on, we came upon a group of people spilling out into the dark street. The vacant lot abutting the street was being used by the Catholic priests and nuns to conduct an outside mass the night before Easter. The sky was very dark, and the church leaders had built a large bonfire of old wood to light the night. Many candles glowed from a small grotto as the group joined in singing, accompanied by some of the clergy playing accordions, drums, and guitars. 

Anna Marie and I found a spot along the curb and sat down to join the service. The crowd continued to grow as the outside service progressed. After about an hour the church bells from down at the end of the street began to ring out once more. The priest closed that part of the service by lighting a very large candle measuring about five feet in height. From that main candle the parishioners moved in and lit their individual candles they had brought along. 

The accordions, drums, and guitars started the music once again as all the people marched by candlelight up the hill the four or five blocks to the Catholic church at the end of the street. It was a wonderful experience, and the two of us joined right along with the marchers walking to the beat of the music. 

During the balance of Saturday night’s service and the Easter celebration service on Sunday morning, we witnessed a very emotional and memorable time of worship. The Rapa Nui islanders brought all kind of fruits, vegetables, and even freshly butchered meats, marched to the front of the chancel, and presented their sacrificial gifts to be shared. We heard remarks that were almost reminiscent of the old Puritan liturgy, “no pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.”

As I listened I marveled. These Easter Island inhabitants had come to this extremely isolated location and had created their own legacy, their own culture and civilization. They had spawned an ethic of resilience, hard work, and courage. Their determination to persevere had maximized their human potential, and they had overcome the obstacles that logically should have destroyed them. From the time they had landed in their little canoes, the emphasis had been on courage, persistence, and determination. 

As Anna Marie and I were leaving the church, I recalled one last story that our host, the governor, had shared with us as we toured the island:

    To encourage confidence in the leadership of the king’s governance of the island people, and to tacitly teach the virtues of courage, persistence, and determination, the king agreed that each year a prime minister would be selected from the tribal chiefs. But the tribal chief would not be the one determining his eligibility to become prime minister for that one year. An athlete would be chosen from each tribe to participate in a competition  

    There was a small island off the southern coast of Easter Island where a certain bird nested on its migration route each year. The tribal participants would be ferried out to the small island by boat and left there. They would wait in hiding until the first migratory bird built a nest and laid an egg.

    The first tribal competitor to successfully capture that egg into his possession would climb to the top of the small island and shout back to the king his name, his tribe, and verification that he possessed the egg.

    The other contestants would try to take away the egg from the possessor for themselves, but if the possessor could successfully jump into the sea, he then would have to swim all the way back to Easter Island. But the feat was still not finished, because once back at the island he would have to climb a vertical stone cliff from the water’s edge up to where the king was sitting at the very peak of the largest volcano’s edge.

    If the contestant was successful in fighting, swimming, and climbing without breaking the raw egg, he would then present the egg to his tribal chief, who would in turn present the egg to the king. Once the king received the egg from the tribal chief, he would declare that tribal chief the prime minister for the next year in a great celebration. The king would also bestow on the winning contestant the coveted title of . . . “Birdman.”

    The enduring virtues and legacies that were being taught to the people of the island would sustain them through the hard times and uncertainties of the future. They were all Easter Island Champions!