National Geographic : 1962 Jan
For the next 140 years ruthless adventurers brought violence, disease, and death to Rapa Nui. Then, in 1862, Easter's strange culture suffered its death blow. Slavers swooped down and carried away about a thousand men to work the fetid guano deposits off the Peruvian coast. A few months later the Peruvian Government returned the 15 who survived. Smallpox came with them, and the disease ravaged the remaining is landers. When Roggeveen stepped ashore on the Navel of the World, as the people of Easter sometimes call their island, the population stood at approximately 4,000. By 1877, it had dwindled to a scant 111. The last of the kings had died, and all memory of past greatness lay crushed beneath the island's toppled shrines. Peace finally settled over Rapa Nui when Chile annexed it in 1888. Today the Chilean Navy administers Easter and operates an is land-wide sheep farm, the sole organized in dustry. Its 40,000 sheep provide meat for the inhabitants and wool for export. The children of Hotu Matu'a have once again multiplied until they number 1,011. 94 Small Chilean Naval and Air Force detach ments add to the population. They oversee equipment which automatically records data on tides, earthquakes, and weather. But Easter remains one of the most isolat ed habitations on earth. Fishing vessels stop there occasionally, and so do training ships of the Chilean Navy. But no commercial ship makes the island a port of call. Transport Carries Civilians and Cows Easter's principal link with the outside world is a naval transport dispatched annu ally by the Chilean Government to Hanga Roa, the island's only village. This transport carries supplies to see the people through the following year. It remains about two weeks, discharging cargo and loading the annual wool crop. To reach the island, NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC photographer Tom Abercrombie and I boarded the supply ship on its 1961 voyage. Though Easter has an airfield, it is used today only by an occasional Chilean Air Force plane. However, Chile plans to convert it into a big international airport, a crossroads of the Pacific.