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Easter Island copes with world heritage designation


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October 16, 1996
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT)

From Correspondent Ronnie Lovler

EASTER ISLAND, Chile (CNN) -- Easter Island, one of the world's most remote places, is struggling to cope with a new distinction: It was recently named by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.

There is little question that Easter Island offers fantastic marvels, what archeologist Claudio Cristino describes as "one of the most important archeological sites in world."

The island's relics -- some weigh hundreds of tons and rise 60 feet or 20 meters -- stand as "an extraordinary example of investigation and creativity," Cristino said.


The distinctive monuments -- known as the Maoi -- along with the prehistoric etchings, give this tiny 46-square-mile island the ambiance of an open air museum.

And while local authorities are pleased by the recent UNESCO decision, there is growing worry that it be a mixed blessing for the island's 3,000 inhabitants.

'We have our rights'

"We have to remember that the island is a place where human beings live and we have to develop too," said Jacobo Hey, governor of the island. "We have the same needs as anyone else ... we can't be a museum for the world. We want to be a museum, but we have our rights ... to a better way of life."


There are other problems. Easter Island is located 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. Because of the its small size and land tenancy problems, some islanders leave horse and cattle to graze on the protected area where the monuments are located.

"We have only eight park rangers, and the danger now is general management of the island," said Jose Miguel Ramirez, Administrator of Rapa Nui National Park. "We have cattle that belong to the Rapa Nui people. They have no place for cattle so there is no way, until now, to control this."

Who built the Moai?

The Moai were built by a people who were nearly wiped out by endemic tribal warfare and later contacts with European adventurers and Latin American slave traders. By the 1870s only 111 Easter Islanders remained.


There are still plenty of questions surrounding Easter Island. Where did the first Easter Islanders come from? How did they chisel the statues in this quarry on the side of a volcano? How did they move them. Why did they do it?

The mystique of the Moai have seldom failed to intrigue those who gaze upon them. Now these giant stone statues and the archeological mysteries scattered around the island have been recognized as world treasures.


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