National Geographic : 2012 Jul
say, What, you think I'm going to wash dishes?" says Beno Atán, a 27-year-old tour guide and a native himself. ough many Rapanui have married mainlanders, some worry their culture is being diluted. e population is now around 5,000, nearly double what it was 20 years ago, and fewer than half the people are Rapanui. Just about every job on Easter Island depends on tourism. "Without it," says Mahina Lucero Teao, head of the tourism chamber, "everyone would be starving on the island." e mayor, Luz Zasso Paoa, says, "Our patrimony is the base of our economy. You're not here for us, but for that patrimony." at is, for the moai. , the Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer whose Paci c expeditions helped ignite the world's curiosity about Easter Island, thought the statues had been created by pre-Inca from Peru, not by Polynesians. Erich von Däni- ken, the best-selling Swiss author of Chariots of the Gods, was sure the moai were built by strand- ed extraterrestrials. Modern science---linguistic, archaeological, and genetic evidence---has proved the moai builders were Polynesian but not how they moved their creations. Researchers have tended to assume the ancestors dragged the statues somehow, using a lot of ropes and wood. " e experts can say whatever they want," says Suri Tuki, 25, José Tuki's half brother. "But we know the truth. e statues walked." In the Rapanui oral tradition, the moai were animated by mana, a spiritual force transmitted by power- ful ancestors. ere are no reports of moai building a er Europeans arrived in the 18th century. By then Easter Island had only a few scrawny trees. In the 1970s and 1980s, though, biogeographer John Flenley of New Zealand's Massey University found evidence---pollen preserved in lake sedi- ments---that the island had been covered in lush forests, including millions of giant palm trees, for thousands of years. Only a er the Polynesians arrived around . . 800 had those forests given way to grasslands. Jared Diamond drew heavily on Flenley's work for his assertion in Collapse, his in uential 2005 Three volcanoes, quiet now, formed Easter Island half a million years ago. It has three crater lakes but no streams; fresh water is scarce. Chile, the island's source of fuel and most food, is 2,150 miles away.