Monthly Archives: January 2009

A Note On Worship

There is an island in the Pacific ocean that is the most geographically isolated piece of land on planet Earth. The nearest island is over 2000 kilometers away. Around the time that Europe was being ruled by medieval monarchs, a handful of Polynesian sailors discovered the Island, and colonized it. The people called themselves the Rapanui.

They were completely isolated on their island – for centuries, they had no contact with any other culture. Stranded in the great emptiness of the pacific ocean, a microcosm of human civilization evolved independently of any other society of human beings. Their story is surely one of the most remarkable and mysterious in all of human history.

One can imagine that they must have believed their island to be the only land in existence. Perhaps they had legends of ancestors who came from across the ocean, but after generations of storytelling, any knowledge of the outside world must have seemed vague and mystical. For them, the ocean’s horizon was the edge of the Universe. So had it always been.

And just like every human society, they worshiped some sort of God. Interestingly, the Rapanui worshiped the frigate bird. Their reasoning was simple: the frigate caught its food from the ocean, and it didn’t nest on the island, so the Rapanui never saw the birds come down to land; they were always in the sky. It’s easy to see why the islanders believed the birds to be magical – of a higher order than the rest of nature.

The Rapanui also worshiped their chiefs, and erected gigantic statues in their honour. Archaeologists suspect that they cut down the old-growth trees in order to accomplish this. Eventually, they cut down every last tree on the island. One wonders what was going through the minds of the men who cut down the very last tree.

In the 18th century, when European explorers finally arrived on the island on Easter day (they named it “Easter Island”), they did not find a thriving civilization. The population had been ravaged by famine, and their oral culture suggested that their ancestors had resorted to warfare, and cannibalism.

Today, the huge stone heads remain – ominous tombstones of a lost civilization. The inhabitants of the island eventually forgot their meaning. Their God had forsaken them. And while the Rapanui’s civilization degenerated into chaos, war, and famine the frigate birds, ever circling in the skies above as they had for millions of years, looked down on the island and on the Rapanui with uncaring eyes.