National Geographic : 1962 Jan
we learned, would be one pack of cigarettes per horse per day. Actually, the economy of Easter Island turns on cigarettes, not cash. By Chilean law, the $80,000-a-year proceeds of the sheep farm revert to the needs of the island, pro viding precious lumber, nails, cement, and machinery. Little remains for luxuries such as tobacco. As a result, cigarettes, generally ob tained in barter from visiting ships, have become Rapa Nui's unofficial currency. One Sunday morning I noticed a Chilean bank note lying on the grassy plaza before the church. Waiting for Mass to begin, the islanders strolled about the plaza, indifferent ly eying the money. 102 "Why doesn't anyone pick up that bill?" I asked Santiago. "What for?" he shrugged. "It will buy noth ing here." The perennial cigarette shortage has also fathered a vigorous cottage industry. Tobac co plants-their pale-pink blooms nodding on awkward six-foot stems-grace virtually every kitchen garden. Santiago's tobacco patch stood behind his house, jealously pro tected by a high wall of lava blocks. "Let me tell you, hombre, you can get used to anything," Santiago once told me mourn fully as he reached for a leaf. "Here you cure the tobacco by charring it with a match. Then you roll it in a scrap of paper and smoke it."