"There had been two peoples on the island, and they lived side by side all over
it. One of these people had a peculiar appearance: their men and women pierced
their ears and put heavy weights in the lobes till the ears were artificially
lengthened right down to the shoulders. For this reason they were called Hanau
eepe, 'long-ears,' while the other people were the Hanau momoko, 'short-ears.'"
-- Thor Heyerdahl, Aku-Aku
When the Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeveen came across Easter Island in 1722 he was met by fair-skinned Polynesians such as those that inhabit the rest of the southern Pacific ocean; but, as a substantial minority, among the natives stood nearly caucasian men with reddish hair, almost European, one bearing a ceremonial headdress and royal air. The civilization was sun-worshipping at that point, with a small population on a nearly treeless island. Dotting the landscape were great stone giants, few standing, staring into the interior. Could such a primitive culture have erected these once-proud monuments? Scientists noted that, by its discovery by western civilization, the Easter Islanders had entered their third major 'age' of civilization, the previous ending abruptly with murder and cannibalism. This begs the question: What exactly happened to Rapa Nui's second age?
Thor Heyerdahl embarked on a quest to uncover Easter Island's past in his typical, flashy, media-star way, and in 1957 published on a book on his findings: Aku-Aku. While mostly ignored by his fellow anthropologists and archeologists for its radical theories that white men had come to the Pacific ocean centuries before the accepted date and established a remote civilization on Easter Island, it did offer up solid evidence about the island's past, ideas that fit into accepted views and filled in a lot of holes. Sadly these are mostly thrown away with the rest of the book.
What follows is a paraphrasing of a story presented by Heyerdahl as told to him by several natives. Their stories varied so little that the uniform presentation convinced him of its authenticity, which was later backed up by archeological evidence. Here is the story of Iko's ditch and the fall of the Hanau eepe:
For generations the long-ears reigned over the short-ears. Having come to the island as foreigners, they were quickly placed on pedestals and worshipped as gods. The exact date of their arrival is hazy, but the events surrounding their downfall took place in the mid-17th century CE. Since they had first landed, the Hanau eepe eagerly took advantage of their position and took the reins, so to speak.
The long-ears had great plans for the improvement of Rapa Nui, but it was the short-ears who had to enact them, toiling under a blazing sun to raise the statues of their godlike oppressors. When the Hanau eepe announced that all loose rocks were to be removed from the land, making the soil completely free and clear for cultivation, the Hanau momoko revolted and declared war shortly after the project's undertaking. It's halted progress can still be seen; even today the Poike Peninsula, the island's easternmost projection into the ocean, is utterly clear of gravel and rubble.
Overwhelmed, the long-ears fled to the Poike Peninsula and, under the direction of their leader, Iko, dug a deep ditch across the peninsula and filled it with brush and branches, ready to ignite should the short-ears attempt to storm their position. The peninsula was an ideal location to hide from siege; surrounded by 600-foot cliffs on three sides one has only to worry about a single, easily defended front. The Hanau eepe, confident in their makeshift fortress, waited for the Hanau momoko to simmer down.
Unfortunately, overconfidence will inevitably betray, and so it betrayed the long-ears. One long-ear man had a short-ear wife, Moko Pingei. Hiding with her husband's people but sympathetic to the plight of her own, she conferred with the Hanau momoko leaders and arranged a signal: When she was seen weaving a large basket, the short-ear army was to file by her and sneak around onto the plateau. During the standoff the short-ears scanned the horizon for Moko Pingei, waiting for the cue. When it came, she was sitting by one end of the ditch, peacefully plaiting; the army crept past her and, completely unbeknownst to the Hanau eepe, surrounded the plateau.
Minutes later, the short-ear troops that had stayed behind to keep the long-ears' attention advanced on the ditch. The Hanau eepe, snearing, ignited the fuel, and watched a flaming wall spring up to block their enemies' progress. Then, much to long-ears' surprise (and subsequent death), the hidden short-ears surrounding the peninsula revealed themselves and pushed forward, the long-ears not running for the flaming ditch slaughtered where they stood. It was a bloody, fiery massacre; Thor Heyerdahl, centuries later, uncovered a thick layer of ash in Iko's ditch, corroborating the tale.
All the Hanau eepe were burned or butchered save three that jumped through the flames and escaped: Ororoina, Vai, and an unnamed third man. They hid in a cave, but one cannot hide forever on as tiny an island as Rapa Nui, and the three were quickly discovered and Vai and the unnamed man killed. Ororoina was allowed to live as the last remaining long-ear. He eventually married a woman named Pipi Horeko and settled at the foot of a hill called Toatoa; their descendents, still thriving, can trace their lineage all the way back to the massacre.
People living on Rapa Nui can still point out the cave in which Ororoina, Vai, and the nameless third man hid, as well as the ditch, which is barely more than a depression stretching from coast to coast across the Poike Peninsula. Perhaps the Hanau eepe's stone legacies stand as uncanny representations: Enigmatic, bizarre, powerful, and startling, only a few remain standing, the rest cast down to the ground on their faces or buried by the inevitable progression of time.