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'A full solar eclipse had not occurred on Easter Island in over 1,500 years' | Lynn Danaher's Easter Island blog

Lynn Danaher of Friday Harbor witnessed the solar eclipse over Easter Island, July 12. - Lynn Danaher
Lynn Danaher of Friday Harbor witnessed the solar eclipse over Easter Island, July 12.
— image credit: Lynn Danaher

By LYNN DANAHER

EASTER ISLAND -- The day started with a drenching rain, the kind one only experiences in the tropics. The heavy rain was accompanied by very high winds, so the morning did not bode well for the eclipse.

As the morning wore on, gradually the sun came out and the sky cleared except for some white puffy clouds scudding across the sky, pushed by the remaining high winds.

Edmundo is slowly recovering from his horrible loss, as is his wife Mara. They are occupied with a tour group that arrived for the eclipse so are very busy. There can be no complete recovery from the loss of a child, especially one with so much promise. I remain supportive, cooking and tending to the kitchen duties as the many guests come through. We talk sometimes late into the night and my Spanish is getting a little bit better.

Gonzalo (Edmundo’s friend from Santiago) and I explore the island when we can and he has shown me many places I was not aware of. He is the same age as my son Brook, and I am enjoying his company. We practice our Spanish and English together; his English is much better than my Spanish and he is very patient.

This island is littered with archaeological sites, they are everywhere, not only Moai by the hundreds, a few standing at restored sites most lying about the country side, or abandoned maraes on their backs or faces, sometimes in pieces, most are broken at the neck and their red scoria stone hats are toppled. There are many abandoned stone chicken houses (hara moa), stone banana shelters (vanavai) formed as a circle of stones to protect them from the wind, circular stone astronomical observation structures (tupas), petroglyphs and platforms scattered across the island.

The Tupas are Edmundo's most recent study of interest. Many are completely intact, they are small, maybe 9 feet wide, hollow circular stone structures with a small cave-like entrance. The observer of the stars lived inside the structure and spent his time sitting on its flat roof monitoring the stars, Pleiades being one of the most significant, as it rises in the northern sky and signifies an important passage of time.

I plan to take many pictures and measurements of the Tupas because they are so fascinating and are one of the things I really want to have a depth of knowledge about.

My new friend Gonzalo and I decided we would watch the eclipse at one of the Moai sites along the north shore at Hanga Kio'e. But first we decided to visit the cave of the birdman cult, Ana Kai Tangata (the place to eat man). This was the last known site of ceremonial cannibalism. It is a large shallow cave right next to the sea, crashing surf washed all the way up to its entrance.

The view from the inside of the cave was magnificent as it framed the eroded basalt cliffs and crashing surf. Along its walls are faint painted images of birds and orongo orongo symbols. We wound our way back to town along the muddy roads to get some food and beer so we could enjoy the eclipse and have lunch at the Moai.

At Hanga Kio’e, a lone Moai stood on a restored marae facing away from the sea toward the ancient village that it used to watch over. All that remains are a fairly intact stone chicken house (hare moa) and remnants of old foundations. It was perfect site to view the eclipse, away from the crowds of Hanga Roa. Not far away toward town is the cemetery where Sebastian is buried; his recent grave is still completely covered with brightly colored flowers.

We found two other friends to join us — Robbie, Edmundo’s neighbor, and his son Pancho, an astronomer from Chile who had come to Easter Island specifically for the eclipse. We all had our black glasses to watch the eclipse safely. At 12:40, the moon began its pass across the sun, left to right, ever so slowly it began to cover the sun. The sun shown brightly in a blue sky and unless you knew there was an eclipse occurring you would not have known it without the aid of the black glasses.

I found a comfortable place to lay on the ground next to a ancient stone wall and watch the event evolve through my black glasses. The sky slowly began to darken when the moon was about halfway across the sun. When the last tiny sliver of the sun was covered by the moon; the day became night. The moon was a black orb and the outline of the sun shown only in the form of the rays casting out from the sun. It had the appearance of a large black pupil or strange eye in the sky. You could look at it without the black glasses.

There were drummers and yells from the small crowd that had gathered. Dogs barked and both Mercury and Venus became visible in the mid day dark sky. It was magical, mystical and beautiful. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude to witness such an event. Tears filled my eyes. As the moon continued its path and the first light appeared from the sun the day suddenly reappeared, the total eclipse was over. It lasted over four minutes of complete coverage!

A full solar eclipse had not occurred on Easter Island in over 1,500 years, which is before there were people inhabiting this small island in the remotest part of the Pacific. Therefore, those that witnessed this extraordinary occurrence were the first humans to see this event from this unique and mysterious place. I feel very privileged to have seen it with my own eyes.

Aloha Nui Loa,
Lynn

— Lynn Danaher of Friday Harbor is president of the Pacific Islands Research Institute and is a field assistant in charge of fund-raising. Visit www.pacificislandsresearchinstitute.org

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