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Horses on Easter Island – Part 1

February 16, 2011

This is an inspiring story about an encounter with two horses, a mother and son, that occurred in February, 2008, when I visited Easter island, also known as Rapa Nui.
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The most beckoning part of the itinerary for a week-long trip to Easter Island/Rapa Nui was a day on horseback that would take our group to ancient spiritual altars and petroglyphs. This pristine northern part of the island was inaccessible by motor vehicle. The true purpose of the journey to this remote Pacific island, however, was to join an indigenous Rapa Nui elder to help forgive and heal a violent part of their human history, helping to bring the energy of this precious land back into balance. Over 70 people signed up for the trip from around the world.
 

moai

Fifteen moai facing inland along the southeastern coast of Rapa Nui or Easter Island.

Rapa Nui, also known as “the navel of the world,” is famous for its moai — hundreds of stone figures, some as tall as 18 feet, carved from volcanic rock and placed primarily along the coastline. It remains a mystery as to why the statues were created and how they were transported to their current locations on this small island, where the nearest neighbors live more than a thousand miles away. The largest moai is estimated to weigh 90 tons, and is topped with a separate 11-ton stone hat.

This gorgeous island, located equidistant between Chile and Tahiti, is the most isolated inhabited island in the world. The airline flights from either direction take five hours. The island’s triangular land mass is about 8 miles across with a large dormant volcano anchoring each corner. Fresh-water lakes fill some of the many volcano craters, providing drinking water for the approximately 4,000 people on the island, along with about 2,000 horses.

Our first day on the island was devoted to sacred ceremony with the indigenous Rapa Nui people. After watching a vigorous performance spoken in their native tongue, we were served a bountiful, earthy lunch as everyone got to know each other. Then we hiked a few miles down to an ocean inlet that opened into a cave for a group meditation as the mighty waves sang us their songs.
 

horses

Horses grazing near the volcano Rano Raraku on the southeast part of the island.

During our second day, we happened upon our first horses. They grazed around the rim of Rano Raraku, the crater that formerly provided volcanic rock to carve the moai, and now provides the island with a fresh-water lake. These horses all exhibited behavior somewhere between wild and domesticated animals.

They were clearly accustomed to people but definitely kept their distance, avoiding us if at all possible. Horses are by nature prey animals, prone to flight. We later learned that all of the horses are actually owned and branded by various island residents. And though the horses seem able to roam freely, there were a few barely discernible fences here and there. Overall, the horses on Rapa Nui appeared to experience a near paradise-like existence on open land with no wild predators, a tremendous gift for such highly intelligent, peaceful creatures.

Even though the primary industry in Rapa Nui is tourism, the island remains much the same as when Chile first colonized it more than 100 years ago. Hotels and restaurants are modest. People live simply. According to one of our guides, the majority of islanders dedicate many months of the year preparing for Tapati, an annual, week-long festival celebrating the origins of their culture. Ancient sporting events, feasts, theatrical presentations with hand-sewn feather and reed costumes, and the crowning of a queen are all part of the celebration. Luckily, our trip coincided with this festival.

On our fifth day of the trip, the day before the trail ride, our two buses turned off the primary southern road and drove inland a few miles before stopping for lunch. With our boxed meals, we decided to walk a half mile further up the earthen road to sit beneath a grove of eucalyptus and cedar trees. Finding comfortable spots on the ground, we savored our typical, unadorned island fare.

The atmosphere was jovial and we began relaxing for an hour before the buses would take us to our next destination — communing with a sacred stone near the coast that the native people believe emanates tremendous healing energy. Legend has it that an ancient chief brought the enormous, perfectly rounded stone, named Te Pito Kura (meaning golden navel or navel of light), to Rapa Nui eons ago when his home island flooded. Some people say this chief traveled with his people from the mystical land of Lemuria.

Half-way through lunch, a woman in the group approached and asked me to come with her. She said a mare nearby was in trouble, and her baby was with her. When I arrived, I saw the mare had barbed and smooth wire wrapped tightly around her left back leg and smooth wire wrapped loosely around the other rear leg, making it difficult for her to walk. From her wounds on the lower left leg, it was evident she had been tangled up for at least a week, maybe two. Her ribs were showing and though the grass was lush in the partly shaded area, there appeared to be no water in the vicinity. Her body was immobile, listless, her head low to the ground with glazed eyes. The male foal, however, seemed healthy and alert.

Soon others gathered. As a number of us were able to communicate with the mare, it became clear that she was only alive because of her devotion to her son, who was about 4 months old, not yet weaned. She seemed to be in her death process. Our initial assessment was that the situation was beyond hope. This heart-breaking scene evoked shock and tears among us.

We asked Benito, our kind Rapa Nui spiritual elder, about the possibility of euthanasia, or at least contacting the owner. He said he could find out whom she belonged to from the branding, however, he assured us that because it was opening day of the Tapati festival, it was futile to try contacting anyone, the owner or a vet. After witnessing daily evidence of the labor-intensive work that went into preparing for the festival, we knew he was right.


(Continued in Horses on Easter Island – Part 2)




 

 



 

 

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