With journey restrictions in place worldwide, we’ve launched a brand new collection — The World Through a Lens — in which photojournalists transport you, just about, to some of our planet’s most stunning and intriguing locations. This week, Benjamin Lowy shares a set of images from Easter Island.
Some 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile, Rapa Nui, also referred to as Easter Island, is amongst the world’s most distant inhabited islands. When I visited in 2008, it took practically 20 hours of journey to succeed in its shores.
In current years, Easter Island has drawn greater than 100,000 annual guests, most of whom are lured by its historic monolithic statues, known as moai, round 1,000 of which dot the panorama.
Much of the historical past of the island — together with that of its sculptures and the Polynesians who found it 1,000 years in the past — is shrouded in thriller. Many of the descendants of the Polynesian settlers have fallen prey to tribal preventing, European illness and the Peruvian slave commerce.
Who have been these historic craftsmen, and why did they construct these human figures? How did they transport huge stone collectible figurines, some weighing practically 14 tons? What occurred to their historic civilization? No archaeologist has been in a position to reply all these questions definitively.
I spent per week on Easter Island, exploring the awe-inspiring moai, whose lengthy faces look out throughout the panorama. They have been made in historic quarries: gigantic factories the place the stones have been mined and carved. When European settlers arrived in the 18th century, there have been hardly any timber; one prevailing idea means that they have been all harvested in efforts to maneuver the moai from the quarries to the seashore. (There are actually other theories, too.)
Massive deforestation — and the lack of trees for boat production — led to a collapse of fisheries and, eventually, it’s theorized, to cannibalism: a gruesome end for an ancient and unique society.
The land here is lush but treeless, a fertile carpet of swaying grass covering long extinct volcanoes. Wild horses roam free, galloping along the seaside crests of rocky hills.
Though beautiful, the island faces its share of challenges. Fishermen use huge numbers of rocks to sink their nets, contributing to the erosion of the shore. Garbage is often left to wallow in giant pits away from tourists’ eyes. And the ocean, with its rising levels, is swallowing up the island inch by inch.
Nearly half of the island’s population considers itself to be native Rapa Nui. Many islanders are mired in poverty and receive little support from the Chilean government.
The chasm between their daily experiences and those of the island’s tourists — many of whom withdraw to high-end secluded resorts ensconced in dense rolling valleys — has led to tensions and standoffs.
Still, the moai continue to attract visitors en masse. They have long inspired outrageous tales of U.F.O.s, ancient magic and secret societies. And it’s easy to understand why.
As the sun set in the Southern Hemisphere, with warm golden rays burning off the moisture of the rainy season, I stood before head after massive head. Dwarfed by history, I was left to grapple with archaeological mysteries that no one can — or likely ever will — fully explain.
But perhaps the explanations don’t matter. Perhaps here, as with the great pyramids and other ancient human endeavors, what matters is that we bask in the beauty of their mystery.
Benjamin Lowy is an American photojournalist based in New York, N.Y. You can follow his work on Instagram and Twitter.