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Easter Island (Rapa Nui: Rapa Nui); (Spanish: Isla de Pascua) is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle. A special territory of Chile annexed in 1888, Easter Island is widely famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai (pronounced /ˈmoʊ.аɪ/), created by the early Rapanui people. It is a World Heritage Site with much of the island protected within the Rapa Nui National Park. Historically the island has experienced a collapse of its ecosystem, with extinction of many of its prehistoric species; these events were associated with over-exploitation of the island’s resources. The underlying island geology is one of extinct volcanoes.
The name “Easter Island” was given by the island’s first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday 1722, while searching for Davis or David’s island and named it Paasch-Eyland (18th century Dutch for “Easter Island”). The island’s official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means “Easter Island”.
The current Polynesian name of the island, “Rapa Nui” or “Big Rapa“, was coined by labor immigrants from Rapa in the Bass Islands, who likened it to their home island in the aftermath of the Peruvian slave deportations in the 1870s. However, Thor Heyerdahl has claimed that the naming would have been the opposite, Rapa being the original name of Easter Island, and Rapa Iti was named by its refugees.
There are several hypotheses about the “original” Polynesian name for Easter Island, including Te pito o te henua, or “The Navel of the World” because of its isolation. Legends claim that the island was first named as Te pito o te kainga a Hau Maka, or the “Little piece of land of Hau Maka”. Another name, Mata-ki-Te-rangi, means “Eyes that talk to the sky.”
Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands. It has a latitude close to that of Caldera, Chile; lies 3,510 km (2,180 mi) west of continental Chile at its nearest point (between Lota and Lebu) and 2,075 km (1,289 mi) east of Pitcairn. (Isla Salas y Gómez, 415 kilometres to the east, is closer but uninhabited).
The island is approx 24.6 km (15.3 mi) long by 12.3 km (7.6 mi) at its widest point — its overall shape has been described as a perfect triangle. It has an area of 163.6 km² (63 sq mi), and a maximum altitude of 507 metres. There are three Rano (freshwater crater lakes), at Rano Kau, Rano Raraku and Rano Aroi, near the summit of Terevaka, but no permanent streams or rivers.
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