Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is famous for its moai statues that line the shore. Over the centuries, many western anthropologists and archeologists have tried to explain how a people without beasts of burden or the wheel managed to move massive stone carvings ten or more miles from the quarry to the seashore. If They Could Only Talk, in the July 2012 edition of National Geographic Magazine, explores a new theory proposed by Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii and Carl Lipo of California State University Long Beach. Oddly enough, it’s based on what native Rapa Nui islanders have been saying all along.
The moai walked.
The solution is elegant, practical, and based on physics. The statues are designed with pot bellies and rounded bottoms which allowed a few people using three ropes to “walk” the moai down the mountainside to the beach. It’s not perfect—and there are many broken moai strewn along the way to prove it—but it makes far more sense than any other “expert” opinion and fits into the native oral tradition.
My favorite line in the whole article is a quote from an islander who was observing an experiment by the Norwegian social scientist Thor Heyerdahl and his team in 1955 when 180 people strapped a real 13-foot 20,000 pound moai to a tree trunk and tried to drag it. “You are totally wrong, sir,” he said.
And he was right.
Which brings me to the real purpose of this post. Over the years as an amateur enthusiast of human migration and origin stories I’ve noticed a distinct lack of respect, credibility, and propensity to discount what indigenous cultures have to say about their past on the part of non-native social scientists and other academics. It’s the mistaken belief that outsiders with fancy degrees must know more than the people who have lived the history they are studying. The Phd-ers forget that human ingenuity, genius, and intelligence isn’t found in letters after one’s name, but in all human cultures across all centuries and environments.
Fortunately, as new DNA studies and other forensic disciplines are applied in anthropology, more credence is being given to oral histories and traditions as they are proving to be in line with the new data, often to the surprise of the experts who are taking a new look at some very old traditions.
In this more receptive environment, a few Hawaiian families are starting to come forward to share the knowledge they have kept private for centuries, some of which is very different from the accepted and established views. I can’t wait to learn more.
What about you? Do you have family stories and traditions that add new light to the “official” accounts?