Page images

lonely volcanic isle. The statues are literally lying about in hundreds, and the very rocks on the seabeach are carved into strange forms—tortoises or human faces.

Besides these, all along the coast, there are cairns of small stones, and on the top of each pile are laid a few white pebbles. These have probably been burial-cairns.

Unless the face of the island has undergone some wondrous change, those mysterious workmen cannot even have possessed wooden rollers to aid them in the toil of transport, for there are literally no trees—nothing but small scrub. "When Captain Cook discovered the isle, he only saw three or four little canoes, which were built of many small pieces of wood, sewed together with fibre, the largest pieces being 6 feet long and 14 inches wide at one end, 8 inches at the other; and this, he thought, was probably drift-wood. These canoes were from 18 to 20 feet long, and could barely hold four people. He found that the most acceptable gift he could bestow on the people was cocoa-nut shells, to be used as cups, since the island produced no palms, and but few gourds. Their only drink is brackish water, obtained by digging wells on the stony beach, through which the salt water filters.

Wooden tablets, covered with hieroglyphics, have been found, which might perhaps reveal something

[merged small][ocr errors]

of the old history of the race, but as yet no one has been able to decipher them. There are also stone slabs, covered with geometric figures, curious birds, animals, and faces, painted in black, white, and red — doubtless these also are hieroglyphs. They are ranged inside the quaint stone houses, of which about a hundred remain, at one end of the isle; and are built in lines, with the doors towards the sea. The inside measurement of these houses is about 40 feet by 13, and the walls are upwards of 5 feet thick; they are built of flat stones laid in layers. At about 6 feet from the ground, the slabs are so laid as to overlap one another, till they gradually close; and the small opening at the top is roofed with long thin slabs.

Till a Rawlinson arises to read the hieroglyphs of Rapa Nui, its mysteries must remain unsolved; and the cold proud faces, with the sightless eyeballs, will continue to gaze heavenward, and the great stone images, whether gods or heroes, must lie in fallen grandeur in this their sea-girt shrine, with none to tell us what unknown race devoted the labour of their lives to sculpturing the rocks on this lonely isle.

Unfortunately the Seignelay has no artist among her officers, so no one has any sketches which can give me any general idea of the isle, and though I have seen a few photographs of individual figures, I cannot from them obtain any impression of the whole effect. I confess I wish I had had the chance of doing a few panoramic and bird's-eye views of the whole scene. Though perhaps not artistic, I am quite convinced that by no other means can a traveller so fully enable friends at home to realise the scenes on which his own eyes have feasted.

The only other corner of the earth, in which I can hear of anything akin to these mysterious rocksculptures, is the far-distant volcanic isle of Java. If you sail almost halfway round the world, heading straight for the west, you come to that wonderful isle, with its terrible volcanoes and amazing wealth of vegetation. Nowhere else are there so many distinct volcanoes in so small a space. No less than thirty-eight separate cones cluster round the great central range of mountains, from 5000 to 13,000 feet in height. Some are active fire-craters, and throw out molten lava; others are watercraters, containing milk-white lakes or sulphureous geysers: in short, volcanic action is there in every form of sublime terror, and the Javanese aborigines erected temples to appease the fire-giants, and from the solid rocks sculptured prodigious statues in their honour. In one spot 400 ruined shrines have been discovered, with altars, and images— all apparently built to propitiate the fire-gods.

It is very risky to draw inferences from mere

[merged small][ocr errors]

descriptions of any sort of art, but so far as I can make out, these would appear to be the productions of the true aborigines, ere Hindu influence prevailed, leaving its mark in those marvellous Buddhist ruins at Borrobudua and Samarang, which we so unfortunately did not see, on our way from Singapore to Fiji.

It is, of course, possible that the platforms and sculptures of Easter Isle may simply have been an extraordinary development of the maraii.e., the tomb-temple, which was the accepted form of ecclesiastical building throughout the south-east Pacific. They varied considerably in form, some being great pyramids erected on a stone platform; while on other isles (as, for instance, on Huahine, in the Society Isles) there are stone terraces, built irregularly, right up the face of the hill, with spaces left between them. On one of the principal platforms a row of tall monoliths stand upright, just as did the images on the Easter Island terraces. On Huahine these are called " the stones of dividing," and are said to have been set up as memorials of the division of land among the various tribes, each stone representing the title-deeds of a clan. To this day each tribe recognises its own stone, and, beholding it, recollects its unwritten legend,—just as at the present day in Fiji a messenger who is charged with a dozen different errands, will carry in his hand a dozen small sticks or leaves, and in fancy makes each stick represent a message. From this imaginary note - book he will read off each detail with unerring accuracy.

Whatever faint resemblance may suggest itself between the irregular terraces and monoliths of Huahine, and the equally irregular terraces and statues of Easter Isle, it is hardly conceivable that such vast energy could have been expended on a mere memorial of tribal divisions, especially where there was so little land to divide. Perhaps Easter Isle was a sort of Iona—the Holy Isle of the old Druids, who there erected the 360 great monoliths, which the followers of St Columba sanctified by carving them into the form of crosses, but which in later years were cast into the sea by order of a ruthless Protestant Synod, who declared them to be "monuments of idolatrie."

The only traces of any forgotten race which I have had the good luck to see on the present cruise, have been the cyclopean tombs of the old kings of Tonga, and a huge trilithon, concerning which the present islanders know as little as we do of Stonehenge.

While in Tonga I endeavoured to procure some stone adzes, but could only buy three very coarse ones without handles. They have long been in disuse there. M. Pinart, however, succeeded in

« PreviousContinue »