Rongorongo: The Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts

Rongorongo: The Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts

Rongorongo: The Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts

Rongorongo: The Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts

Synopsis

Rongorongo, Easter Island's enigmatic script and Oceania's only known pre-twentieth-century writing system, is here comprehensively documented for the first time. The author tells the full history of rongorongo's exciting discovery and the many attempts at a decipherment. Pre-missionary traditions surrounding rongorongo are described from previously unpublished material. Full transcriptions of all the 25 surviving rongorongo inscriptions are provided, along with detailed photographs of nearly every incised artefact. In over six years of full-time research that took the author from St Petersburg to Easter Island, a wholly new picture of the rongorongo phenomenon has emerged. This book is the definitive study of one of the world's most fascinating and eloquent graphic achievements.

Excerpt

3,200 km west of the Chilean coast and 2,000 km east of its nearest inhabited Polynesian neighbour lies Easter Island, or Rapanui, the world's most isolated inhabited island. Rapanui was probably settled by East Polynesians from the Marquesas in the first few centuries AD and perhaps not visited again until the Dutch explorer Roggeveen arrived on Easter Day 1722. Rapanui could well represent the most remarkable case of geographical and temporal isolation known to humankind. By the time of European discovery, these East Polynesian exiles had elaborated one of the world's most advanced Neolithic societies, culminating in a complex religious architecture and in an extraordinary array of statuary: over one thousand monolithic ancestral busts--the largest weighing as much as 270 tonnes--known as moai, for which Easter Island is celebrated.

However, prior to and following Roggeveen's discovery ancient Rapanui's brilliant and dynamic society suffered a "succession of atrocities and disintegrating influences" (Te Rangi Hiroa, 1938: 224) of a degree visited on few other Polynesian populations. As a result, the island's ethnological record long remained one of Polynesia's poorest. Indeed, the destruction of Rapanui's ancient society has been so complete that some recent scholars--among them Thor Heyerdahl--have even denied the Rapanui people authorship of their own erstwhile glory. "I know of few places in the Pacific", lamented the Swiss ethnologist Alfred Métraux (1940: 3), "where so little remains of the ancient culture".

One generation ago, the American archaeologist William Mulloy (1970: 11) was still deploring the "welter of frustrating literature [on Rapanui]", much of which was "contradictory, incomplete, and in some cases downright incorrect". Scientific research has since revealed a "new" ancient Rapanui; the island's prehistory is now perhaps better understood than that of any other Pacific isle. Despite the perennial influence of the lunatic fringe, jet-age journalism, and the odd remnant Nestor, interdisciplinary investigations of late have distilled a consensus of opinion among most scientists regarding the general outlines of . . .

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