Island at the End of the World: The Turbulent History of Easter Island

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Overview

Famed for its extreme isolation and breathtaking monumental sculpture, Easter Island was a verdant South-Sea idyll when the first Polynesian settlers landed there around AD 700. Island at the End of the World presents, for the first time in the English language, a comprehensive history of Easter Island told by a writer who is intimately familiar with the island, its people and their extraordinary story.

Around 1500, when voyaging in the South Pacific became far less widespread, Easter Islanders became stranded on their now desert-like isle, and were forced to adapt to survive. The first European visitors, in 1722, encountered a people thriving in total isolation, surrounded by huge architectural platforms of fitted stones topped by hundreds of monolithic busts. Subsequent intruders brought trade, disease and violence, and the Easter Islanders responded through cultural reinvention: new leaders, new rituals, new gods.

Steven Roger Fischer relates the compelling story of this unique region: how wars, smallpox and the 'Great Death' decimated the island; how Catholic missionaries arrived in 1866 to relieve the suffering of the dying people; and how a despotic Frenchman claimed the island for himself, only to be killed by the remaining islanders - a population of just 111.

He describes the modern history of the island, its colonization and annexation by Chile, and its peaceful but insistent civil rights movement in 1964-5. Today, the population has increased, as has tourism of the island - from 2,000 visitors in 1991 to 20,000 in 2001 - and continues to be managed by the indigenous Rapanui people. Foreign interest in Easter Island has never been so keen, and this book is a much-needed history of this little-known but remarkable island.

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Editorial Reviews

American Historical Review

"Fischer''s fluent narrative reveals how smallness, isolation, and a fragile environment have shaped the history of this tiny community. . . . Its strength lies equally in the author''s sensitive micro-study approach and its subject matter. Above all, it deserves a wide readership because Easter Island still presents a global warning about the imperative of environmental sustainability."--American Historical Review

— Philippa Mein Smith

American Historical Review - Philippa Mein Smith

"Fischer's fluent narrative reveals how smallness, isolation, and a fragile environment have shaped the history of this tiny community. . . . Its strength lies equally in the author's sensitive micro-study approach and its subject matter. Above all, it deserves a wide readership because Easter Island still presents a global warning about the imperative of environmental sustainability."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781861892454
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 8/1/2005
  • Series: BL - Treasures from the Bodleian Library
  • Pages: 284
  • Sales rank: 703,605
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author


Steven Roger Fischer is director of the Institute of Polynesian Languages and Literatures in Auckland, New Zealand. He is the author of A History of Language, A History of Writing, and A History of Reading, all available from Reaktion Books.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 7
1 The Polynesian Frontier 13
2 White Men and Birdmen 45
3 Pirates and Priests 86
4 Rancho Isla de Pascua 135
5 Museum Island 199
References 265
Bibliography 285
Acknowledgements 293
Photographic Acknowledgements 294
Index 295
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