The Easter islands, creatively named like this as they were “discovered” on Easter were not uninhabited. Therefore they had a name before being named and this name is today regaining popularity. After almost being wiped out due to several reasons, among them their own megalomania and slave ships.
It is believed that the original inhabitants of Rapa Nui arrived any time between the 8th and the 13th century from Micronesia. They started building the Moai, the gigantic statues shortly after, slowly killing off the entire forest on the island. By the 15th century things started to get dire. There were only a few trees left, land went dry and people started killing each other for food. The Moai culture started to decline and a new cult emerged: The birdman. The leader of the clans was now elected by a competition: People would swim over to a small island in front of Rapa Nui and camp there. Whoever could bring the first egg from the migrating birds back got to be leader for a year.
Nevertheless the Moai remained important in their culture. The statues look onto their people and transfer their energy to their descendants through their eyes. So every time there was a war going on between different tribes, they would go and destroy the Moais of their opponent, weakening them in a way. This is the main reason why almost none of the Moai were still standing when Rapa Nui was “discovered”.
This discovery did the rest, European traders brought the flu and other illnesses, killing many. Then the slave ships came and took about 1500 people to Peru, leaving behind less than 100 people. Chile complained about this theft of their people and eventually the view surviving slaves were returned to Rapa Nui, bringing smallpox to the island. At the end of the 19th century only 100 people survived.
It took until the mid of the 20th century before some positive developments happened in Rapa Nui, but today the culture is alive even if a lot of the (oral) history has been lost. This is particular unfortunate, as the Rapa Nui are the only culture to have developed their own writings in the pacific. It was not used to write down their history and myths.
The Rapa Nui have their traditions and their own language and as of a few years ago, they are also in charge of the national park and decide which parts are accessible to tourists and which aren’t. (Much to my disappointment.. One of the hikes I wanted to do was closed off, because of that.. The park ranger made it very clear that if it was up to him I’d be more than welcome to go, but he really didn’t want to put up with the complaints he’d get if the locals saw us walking on that path)
Today the island mostly lives of tourism and for a good reason. It’s a very relaxed little island, with the intriguing statues to see, the stone carvings and a few very cool caves. I also ran into one of my childhood heroes on that island, at least indirectly. Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian archaeologist and adventurer, spent some time there exploring the Moai and came to the, now considered unlikely, conclusion that the Easter Islands were populated from South America.