on August 28, 2005
As the author of "The Complete Guide to Easter Island" and a former member of the Board of Directors of the Easter Island Foundation, I believe I can state, with all due modesty, that I am duly qualified to evaluate Steven Roger Fischer's "Island at the End of the World" -- and my general view is that this is a valuable resource anyone interested in Easter Island should have on her or her bookshelf. Until now, the history of Easter Island has been featured as chapters in larger works or in highly abbreviated form. Worse, the history of Easter Island histories has been rife with inaccuracies that are largely the product of scholars and writers regurgitating past errors without any attempt to verify facts or to take the latest information in account. Nor is there any shortage of misinformation about Easter Island (and a lot fewer mysteries than most people understand), so it's good to see such a comprehensive work devoted to the subject.
Having said this, I must nevertheless express some reservations about a few things Fischer included because they are factually inaccurate or represent poor judgment on his part and may reflect other, more serious errors. In other words, while I wouldn't go to far as to say one or two blunders are representative of the whole work, the fact that they exist (and the fact that the book covers such extensive territory, where more arcane and obscure information may be buried in the wealth of data), is cause for some concern.
1) The Chincha Islands / guano mines story (page 89). It just won't die. It's one of many myths about Easter Island -- that Peruvian slave raids in 1862 brought Easter Islanders to mine guano on the Chincha Islands off the coast of Peru. Yes, Peruvian slavers captured hundreds of islanders and took them to work as indentured servants for rich Peruvian land owners -- but this was on coastal Peru, not the Chincha Islands, and certainly not in the guano mines. It's a legend that appears countlessly in Easter Island literature and has been resoundingly debunked by island researcher Grant McCall, who conducted extensive genealogical research into the matter and has revealed repeatedly that there is no evidence whatsoever to substantiate the claim that islanders were ever on the Chincha Islands. Amidst the many horrific things Europeans did to the early Easter Islanders, this legend is far from incredible. But it's simply not true. Of course, legends deserve their space in history, but Fischer fails to adequately qualify his statements in this regard. It's surprising. Wrong and surprising.
2) Fischer repeatedly refers to the Easter Island palm as "Jubaea chilensis" (the Chilean Wine Palm) -- see, for example, page 8 -- when in fact the Easter Island palm has its own name and scientific classification: "Paschalococos disperta" (a/k/a the Feather Palm). John Dransfield of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, England, designated the Easter Island palm thus to specifically distinguish it from the Chilean Wine Palm. While there is some evidence to suggest these two palms were similar in size and possibly appearance, they are nevertheless distinct species. (Surviving, empty endocarps or seeds have been found on Easter Island -- and they are clearly not the same species as the endocarps of the Chilean Wine Palm; this was part of the basis upon which Dransfield developed a separate classification for the Easter Island palm.) Oddly enough, Fischer even cites the scientific literature in which Dransfield's classification is made but nevertheless fails to refer to the Easter Island palm correctly. Again, surprising. Wrong and surprising.
While a more detailed follow-up would be undeniably meritorious, these are but two points worth making initially. They may sound like picayune points, yes -- but, when it comes to Easter Island, it is my firm belief that there's more than enough misinformation out there already -- between the ridiculous "ancient astronaut" nonsense to the now defunct diffusionist theories of Heyerdahl. Therefore, the closer we can get to an accurate understanding of Easter Island, the better.
I would like to be able to recommend Fischer's "Island at the End of the World" without reservation but I can't. I do recommend it, however -- but with the qualification that should accompany anything written about Easter Island (including my own book): Trust but verify.
Another reviewer has mentioned that "Originally the island was forested and may have sopported [sic] larger mammals and other beasts". While the former is undeniably true, the latter is not. No evidence whatsoever has emerged to substantiate the notion that any land mammals or "other beasts" were on Easter Island before the colonists from eastern Polynesia arrived (unless by "other beasts" one means migratory sea birds!). And though the colonists may have brought with them the dog and the pig when they left their homeland, neither of these evidently survived the long ocean voyage to Easter Island. The chicken did, however -- and, together with the Polynesian rat, these represented the only land animals on Easter Island until the early European explorers arrived in the 18th century.
on May 16, 2014
a bit off the beaten path, just like the island itself. For the casual reader it is a bit long winded, but nonetheless interesting. For those planning a trip there, I would say it is useful if you want to know about the history and development of the island. Many interesting facts. For example, did you know what the statues are called? Also, less well known is the role the island had in the development of immunosuppressive drugs. The island is known as Rapa Nui to the natives and from the soil was isolated a compound that was eventually called rapamycin, used to prevent transplant rejection in humans, and mTOR inhibitors [mammalian target of rapamycin] used in cancer chemotherapy.
on August 16, 2013
If you are planning a trip or just interested in Rapa Nui, this book by Roger Fischer is a great overview of all the historical research, presented in an easy to follow format. You really will not be able to put it down as the islands history if fascinating, and sad. You keep hoping for a happy ending...Very well documented if you would like to follow up on a particular thread.
This concise account of Easter Islan history presents some new scholarhsip and rehashes the same stories of the islands remarkable facts and people. Easter Island is known for its isolation and its statues, as well as its startling degree of population decline. Easter Island was discovered, forgotten and then rediscovered. Its people originally arrived on canoes as part of the Polynesian expansion and colonization of the Pacific. Originally the island was forested and may have sopported larger mammals and other beasts, however in short time the trees were cut down and only chickens, brought by the polynesians, remained. The population embarked on the construction of the great stone statues, and then proceeded to fight endless wars. The art of canoe building was forgotten. When Europeans arrived diseases decimated the population untill few remained. The few that did remain were interviewed about their naitonal myths but no information could be found on the giant stone structures, that the people then living seemed in no position to be able to create with the tools they had.
A good book.
Seth J. Frantzman