10. EASTER ISLAND
Finally, Easter Island. Probably the most famous on this list, but you can’t do a list of the most interesting inhabited islands in the world without it. Easter Island, or Rapa Nui in its indigenous tongue, is a 63 square mile island at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle, about 2200 miles from the Chilean coast. With the closest inhabited land, Pitcairn Island, 1300 miles away, Easter Island, like Tristan da Cunha, is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.
But unlike Tristan, Easter Island has been inhabited for nearly 2000 years. Polynesian people, also called the Rapa Nui, settled the island in the first century, establishing a thriving culture best known for the moai, monoliths of human figures prominent across the island’s stark, mostly treeless landscape (see above). The moai were built between the thirteenth and sixteenth century and numbered nearly 900 at the peak of the moai period. The average sculpture is 13 feet tall and weights 14 tons, but the largest statues reach a height of 30 feet and weight more than 80 tons, with an unfinished monolith that would have reached 69 feet and 270 tons. These statues would have been transported across the island.
Much of the early period after European contact, through the nineteenth century, was marked by enslavement, disease, and seizure and purchase of native land holdings. In 1888, the island was annexed by Chile, and, until the 1960s, the surviving Rapa Nui people were confined to a single town on the island, with the rest of the island first under the control of a private, non-native sheep-farming company and then the Chilean navy. After Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup, the entire island was placed under martial law. Today, the island has a greater degree of indigenous autonomy.
Read about Edward Albee’s trip to Easter Island at the New York Times.