My recent foray into the document folder turned up bits of writing from one of my favorite blog events from Aprils past –the A to Z Challenge. They’re pretty interesting, if I do say so myself. I’ve been sharing a few until life quiets down around here. I hope you enjoy.
E for Easter Island Moai
The ancestors of the Polynesians reached the far corner of the triangular Pacific island territory that made up their world at about 1000 BCE. These peoples were nighttime seafarers and followed the heavens until they chanced upon a remote land mass and made it their home. We know that land as Easter Island.
It’s said the island once had a thriving population, as many as 15,000 inhabitants. Just 100 years before the Dutch arrived in 1722, the history of the island says two factions –the Short-Ears and the Long-Ears– had a civil war. In 1770 a Spanish expedition found a population of 3000. Just four years later when British navigator Sir James Cook entered the scene, only around 600 men and fewer than 30 women remained. By 1877 only 111 native peoples were left. Were I to guess, I’d say diseases like smallpox contributed to the population’s decline. Any western disease to an isolated population would exact a terrible toll.
Before the Dutch decided to name the island for Easter Sunday, the day of their discovery, oral tradition says one of the island’s names was Eyes looking to the sky. Others use the name Rapa Nui. I think Eyes looking to the sky fits beautifully because of more than 1000 Moai — the famous Easter Island heads.
Surprising fact #1: The familiar heads are actually full-bodied statues buried to their chins in sediment. Recent archeological digs reveal the Moai have arms and wear sculpted clothing. They have tattoos too.
With their heavy brows and chiseled profiles (no pun intended), these enigmatic statues epitomize the mystery of the place. All but seven watch over the land, their backs to the sea. The seven facing the vast blue ocean are thought to wait for their king. No one really knows why they’re there or what was meant in their creation. There’s an assumption that the Moai were made in the likenesses of ancestors. There is also some thought that the bodies housed the essence of the sacred. One of the more interesting bits of information I’ve uncovered has to do with Leprosy. There’s some opinion that the Moai’s severe physical features may indicate the ravages of that terrible disease — that perhaps the Moai were made to ritually undo the effects in the spirit world. (Apparently the afflicted were ostracized on other Polynesian islands.) As I haven’t uncovered more than that regarding leprosy, I’ll take that supposition with a grain of salt.
Another mystery is the complete lack of trees. Islands by nature are fragile ecosystems. By the time of European discovery, this one was deforested. To peoples relying upon the sea for most of their food, lack of wood would mean starvation in the long run. Perhaps this added to their population decline. If you can’t build boats, you can’t fish beyond the shoreline. Were the island’s forests cut down to make transport logs for the 13 ton Moai? That was the prevailing thought for years. But then someone made an brilliant deduction…
Surprising fact #2
Legend says the Moai walked from the places they were carved. That’s right, the 13 foot tall, 13 ton statues carved from volcanic tuff walked to their resting places. The largest statue made of a single block weighs about 82 tons and is approximately 32 feet tall. To see that walking down from the hills must have been a powerful sight.
I can’t explain it better than this. And seeing is believing!
Easter Island was made an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995.
E for Enterolith.
When Ron Weasley inadvertently drank poison in the novel The Half-Blood Prince, Harry Potter saved his life by stuffing a bezoar into Ron’s mouth. A bezoar is an Enterolith — a stone-like formation, or concretion, found in the gastrointestinal tract of certain animals, especially ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, deer, and giraffes). Just like a pearl forming around a grain of sand inside a mussel shell, enteroliths generally grow around an undigestible irritant such as a stone or piece of twine. They’re mostly comprised of hair and stomach secretions and are really not all that rare. Odd to note, these stones have inexplicably built a reputation as lucky things. Odder still, enteroliths are ground and used as Chinese folk medicine.
The name bezoar comes from the Arabic word badzehr, which literally means antidote. For centuries, enteroliths were believed to cure the effects of any poison, hence JK Rowling’s use of them in the Harry Potter story. This age-old belief was put to a test in 1575, when a cook at King Henry III”s court was caught stealing and was sentenced to death by hanging. It just so happened that Ambroise Pare, surgeon and bezoar skeptic, desired to test the antidote properties of the enterolith that day. Given the choice, the cook agreed to be poisoned rather than be hung. Needless to say, the cook died in agony several hours later. Bezoars are also said to cure animals and people of rabies. This is done by attaching the stone to the wound to suck out the poison.
Considering their historical and modern uses, it’s no surprise that enteroliths are also called Madstones. This makes perfect sense to me.
Imagine popping one of these beauties into your mouth. *gag*
Come back tomorrow for my Funday Sunday post!
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