Brain Food: Keeping Ghosts Alive on Easter Island

Oct 29, 2015

Spirits call out on the wind, and chains scrape the streets at night, or so go the ghost stories of Easter Island. Northern Arizona University archaeologist Britton Shepardson shifted his focus from studying the island’s mysterious and massive stone statues, to founding Terevaka Archaeological Outreach. The nonprofit organization involves local high school students in preserving the vanishing Rapa Nui oral history.

“We’ve also created short documentary films, we’ve created island databases of ghost stories from oral tradition on the island. We have most recently ventured into a project in island toponymy – looking at the origin of place-names on the island, and creating an interactive Google map so people can start to learn about the different place names and the legends or oral tradition that goes with those, and potentially how those place names have changed over time with colonization and some of the more horrific episodes of Easter Island prehistory,” Shepardson says.

Shepardson says the island legends get teens and elders talking. They’ve documented the ghost story of Pito Pito, an evil French-Tahitian businessman who violated women and was mean to children until one day, the locals had had enough.

“At that point the island community took action and searched across town until they found Pito Pito and chained him to four horses, pulled him limb-from-limb. But the story goes that even today in the Mataveri neighborhood, you can hear the chains jangling on the roadways in the evening as those horses still ride around with his separated body parts, ” Shepardson says.

Through Shepardson’s work with his nonprofit organization, ghosts continue to haunt Easter Island.