National Geographic : 1962 Jan
Easter Island and Its Mysterious Monuments graved pictographs on wooden tablets, called kohau rongo-rongo (page 100), once served the priestly class as "talking boards." A German cryptanalyst, Dr. Thomas S. Barthel, attacked the script in 1953 and has gone far toward cracking its secrets. Virtually every delicately carved symbol, he says, rep resents a word. Thus a stylized human figure means "man"; a blossom means "flower" or "woman," both pronounced pua in the Rapa Nui language. Tablets Refer to Polynesian Islands The tablets have proved to be religious rather than historical texts, but in Barthel's opinion they link Easter inextricably with the rest of Polynesia. He has found references to the islands we know as Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Pitcairn, as well as to common Polyne- sian plants that never grew on Rapa Nui. He concludes that the rongo-rongo script origi nated elsewhere in Polynesia and came to Easter in the canoes of Hotu Matu'a. Some archeologists see the prehistoric Easter Island culture as a mixture of Poly nesian and Peruvian ideas. They cite: (1) the resemblance between the masonry at some shrines and a type of fine dressed-stone work found in Peru; (2) the presence in Easter Is land's volcanic lakes of totora reeds, un known elsewhere in Polynesia but common along the west coast of South America; (3) the Peruvian custom of wearing earplugs, also found on Easter Island; (4) interest in solar phenomena, common to both Rapa Nui and Peru; (5) the gigantic statues of both areas, which have many similarities. Others, however, detect little South Ameri- KOUACHRUMt BY IHUMAS J. ABERCUOMBlt, NATIONAL btU AYHIUblA - th N..> . Pounding seas guard the entrance to Ana Kai Tangata, Cave of the Cannibals, not far from Hanga Roa. Feuding warriors de voured unlucky captives in the grotto. Until acceptance of Chris tianity a century ago, men feasted ceremonially on human flesh. Usually they excluded women and children from the rites. Figures of birds fly across Eat-man Cave's peeling walls. Old time artists painted with volcanic dust mixed with shark oil. "Evidently ashamed of their ancestors' eating habits, islanders were reluctant to show us the paintings," photographer Abercrom bie recalls, "and my guide refused to enter the cave."