Three towns and three joined exhibitions for the one and only Easter Island – Meanderings through France n° 149
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Three French towns, Toulouse, Rodez and Figeac, all located in Occitania in South Western France, have joined to promote the Easter Island’s culture through three different exhibitions. A new concept that will allow visitors to learn more about this fascinating island and discover three different towns and their specific heritage and way of life.
Easter Island was first inhabited circa the year one thousand by Polynesian sailors who, onboard frail skiff, were able to reach this tiny island lost in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. There, cut off from their motherland for centuries, they developed a unique culture that has made westerners wonder since the island’s rediscovery by a Dutch explorer, Jakob Roggeveen, in 1722. Ever since the iconic giant stone sculptures referred to as “moaï” in the local language, have made anthropologists and archaeologists speculate on what they meant and why they had been built. But “moaï” are not the only secrets of this tiny island. Although a small population its people, the Rapa Nui, were able to create their own writing, society and religion that still are little known today. The three exhibitions allow us to encompass all these different aspects, lifting the veil on these mysteries even if many questions still are unanswered.
Although Figeac is a small town, it is known worldwide for being the birthplace of François Champollion, the famous French brilliant linguist who was able to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. A museum, the “Champollion Museum”, was created in his family house and is dedicated to the world writings’ history. The Easter Island’s writing called Rongorongo still is a complete mystery and although several translation systems have been imagined none has been acknowledged. There is no similar writing anywhere in the world and it still astonishes linguists that the Rapa Nui were able to create such a complex way of writing. Especially since it is the only writing system throughout Oceania.
When the first Europeans discovered for the first time the wooden tablets engraved with mysterious drawings in 1864, the island’s inhabitants no longer knew how to read them nor what they meant. The knowledge was lost for good. The exhibition in Figeac curated by Konstantin Pozdniakov and Paul Horley, recognised as the present best specialists of Rongorongo, tell us about the story and the latest finding made on the “kohau rongorongo”, the “talking wood”. Several tablets out of the 26 ones collected since the 19th century are on display as well as other Rapa Nui artefacts. A brief but fascinating immersion in this unsolved mystery.
For more information about Figeac and the Champollion Museum, you can read: https://b-c-ing-u.com/2017/01/26/champollion-figeac-outstanding-man-still-alive-hometown-meanderings-france-n-104/
The second exhibition is located in Rodez, a one hour drive South-East of Figeac. Known worldwide since the opening of the Soulages Museum, Rodez can also boast of having one of the most interesting collections of the mysterious 5,000 years old standing stones found in several different places in Europe. They can be seen in the Fenaille Museum that houses the second exhibition dedicated to Easter Island. Like all Polynesian tribes, the Rapa Nui were expert sculptors able to carve wood or stone, skilled weavers turning bark fibres into cloth, the tapa, or amazing tattoo artists.
All these artefacts actually are religious objects depicting the island’s gods and were made by priests. If the “moaï” are the most famous ones of them all, the wooden sculptures well deserve to come out of the shadows. Male and female anthropomorphic statuettes, engraved sticks, half man- half lizard arched figurines, double-headed statues fascinated artists of the early 20th century, especially Surrealist and Cubist artists such as André Breton, Tristan Tzara or Pablo Picasso. Today they still fascinate the visitors even if we don’t fully understand their religious meanings but are simply sensitive to their intrinsic beauty.
More at www.musee-fenaille.rodezagglo.fr/museum-fenaille/
For more information about Rodez and the Soulages Museum: https://b-c-ing-u.com/2016/03/31/21873/
The third exhibition located in Toulouse Museum tells us about the Polynesian adventurers who set foot on Easter Island more than 1,000 years ago, created the Rapa Nui culture and what happened until today. How living on such a remote island transformed its inhabitants? How these men and women were able to sculpt such impressive stone “moaï” with primitive tools? Why did they stop making them? Why did the trees disappear and how did the Rapa Nui adapt to this terrible change? What was the meaning of their worship of Manutara, the “birdman”? …
The exhibition tries to give answers to these questions and many others while allowing us to get rid of some false ideas. No, aliens did not make the “moaï”. No, Easter Island is not some kind of Atlantis and isn’t the only vestige of a lost continent. Too many unanswered questions have created legends and the exhibition takes us back to reality. More information at: www.museum.toulouse.fr/welcome
The exhibitions started recently and will last until November 2018 in Figeac and Rodez and until June 2019 in Toulouse. There are direct flights from several UK airports to Toulouse and Rodez and you will need a car to go from one exhibition to the next. A great way to discover this French region, its landscapes, heritage and gastronomy!
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes