AT THE CENTRE OF THE WORLD
Father Sebastian Englert was born in Bavaria in 1888 and for nearly 35 years was the parish priest on Easter Island. About 2,300 miles west of the coast of South America, the isolation allowed Father Sebastian to undertake his research on Easter Island without being influenced by the orientations and pre-conceptions of others. This Web site utilizes an English translation of Father Sebastian's writings to provide a rare and unique insight into Easter Island.
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Petroglyph of a fish; these are common on Easter Island.
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In the I-Kiribati (Micronesia) language the term Rongorongo can be translated to mean a "written message". This is a commonality between Micronesian and Polynesian language and an appropriate name for the hieroglyphic script of Easter Island. This script is unique to Easter Island and has remained a mystery since its discovery. It has been the subject of detailed analysis from all forms of learned people and yet the key to interpreting its meaning is still obscure.
The symbols on the Rongorongo include a fascinating multitude of little figures of men in a variety of positions, flying birds, animals, and what appear to be plant, celestial objects, and geometrical forms. They are complex in detail yet at the same time drawn with calligraphic flow. There are hundreds of different signs - far too many to suggest any sort of phonetic alphabet or syllabary.
The sequence of writing is a rare and curious one called "reversed boustrophedon" - that is, each line of script when it reaches the end of the board turns back upside down to form the next line. This means that to read the script one must turn the board around at the end of each line. There is no doubt that this writing was inscribed by experts and that it represents a work of art as well as a script.
Only a few tablets survive today. One reason for this lay in the superstitious fears of the owners. Very few dared to give or trade them to foreigners. Another cause of loss stemmed from the custom of keeping the sacred tablets in secret caves where they were decomposed by moisture. A third agent of destruction was fire among the highly inflammable thatched houses. This was particularly so during a period of internal wars when many houses were burnt along with the sacred tablets they contained.
Many attempts have been made to decipher the inscriptions but sadly our understanding of the old language of Easter Island, which the script undoubtedly represent, is by no means complete.
Though their meanings remain unknown to us, the tablets themselves still stand as a unique monument to the cultural sophistication of this tiny and isolated community that is far more important than the largest of the stone statues at Rano Raraku.