Possibly one of the biggest barriers to gaining public affection will be this planet’s name – people like to be able to pronounce a name confidently!
But the name symbolises one of the biggest revolutions in astrology for centuries and those sort of shake-ups don’t come without a degree of hesitancy. Early in the 21st century a big project to search for new planets began. It was headed by a maverick astronomer called Mike Brown and concentrated on the farthest known region of our solar system, the Kuiper Belt. Huge advancements in instrument technology had made this possible and the team was looking beyond Pluto in detail for the first time. The Kuiper Belt is a donut-shaped ring around the solar system and it contains thousands of objects from rocks to small planets.
One of the biggest events surrounding this project was the much publicised demotion of Pluto, as he was recategorised a dwarf planet of the Kuiper Belt rather than the last member of the old solar system pantheon. The public responded to this announcement in the way that most people respond to Pluto; some celebrated the new potential, others felt real loss and went into mourning over it, and some tried to cling to the old order and refused to acknowledge the change.
By the end of the project Mike Brown had re-written astronomy with the discovery of 4 new dwarf planets to add to the 2 or 3 we already had. But he also did something else; he broke centuries of strict tradition by naming the new planets after religions and mythology outside of the usual Greco-Roman choices. And in doing so he symbolised the biggest shift in religious and cultural dynasty since three astrologers rode into Jerusalem on camels and declared that a new star meant that a messiah had been born!
The names of two Polynesian deities were chosen and each introduces spiritual concepts that could not be accepted in the monotheism of the last 2,000 years, when a single god was worshipped. It is likely that this symbolises the close of a 2,000-year cycle and a return to spiritual understanding that reveres nature instead.
Makemake was the chief creator god and Great Sea Spirit of only Easter Island, just 64 square miles of planet Earth. He was believed to be a deity of birth, sexuality and fertility so this choice was a natural one for Mike Brown, who was filled with the joy and fecundity of his wife’s pregnancy at the time. It was also based on the planet’s discovery date, which was Easter, exactly 283 years after the European discovery of this tiny, isolated island in the South Pacific Ocean.
Easter Island is part of Polynesia, a race that lives on tiny islands in the vast Pacific Ocean. The Island is mid-way between the bulk of Polynesia and Chile, on the coast of South America. (You’d have to travel roughly 2,500 miles across the sea to reach either place. Just 13 miles across, it is actually a huddle of 3 volcanoes that sit directly over a “hot spot“ of a fault line in the earth’s crust, and it could erupt or disappear at any moment. The indigenous people were wiped out by a European and Peruvian inspired holocaust in the 19th century. An entire population of tens of thousands died from European imported deadly diseases and an illegal slave trade. Missionaries then arrived to save the remaining 150 Islanders; destroying all the tablets inscribed with their ancient knowledge and condemning their pagan festivals and spiritual beliefs as wicked and evil. There are contemporary writers who seek to use Easter Island as a metaphor for world ecological disaster by claiming that they savagely and mindlessly chopped down their last tree, but perhaps they are missing the point! Thankfully, since the discovery of Makemake, the planet, this point of view is now being questioned by more recent evidence.
These days, Easter Island is better known for what could NOT be destroyed and this has given us one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of our times. The Island is covered in almost 800 giant stone statues (called mo’ai) that were carved out of volcanic rock with little stone picks. They weigh from 20 to 270 tons and would have presented a greater challenge to the Islanders than the pyramids did to the Egyptians. After carving, they were moved to stand on top of equally giant stone platforms around the coastline. These were actually catacombs and built to hold the bones of the ancestors whose surviving clan members then honoured their departed elders with the carving and naming of a giant statue. But why go to these lengths? Why they suddenly stopped producing them is an even bigger mystery. Half of them were still being carved when one day the workers put down their picks and never went back. And how or why did the standing ones all get knocked down again? Island myth talks of a ferocious storm and the earliest reliable investigator, William Thompson, found evidence of earthquake. Since an earthquake and tsunami destroyed coastal cities in Peru in 1746, this is entirely possible. Any surviving statues may then have been toppled by revengeful or frightened rival clans who weren’t going to allow someone’s else’s ancestral images to remain standing.
Another unsolved mystery is a strange hieroglyphic writing that has been found on this tiny Island only and nowhere else in the world. The royalty and ancient priesthood who understood it were all killed and missionaries destroyed most of it, although a handful of pieces survived. The Polynesians never developed a writing system so where did it come from? Other unusual features of the Island are thousands of ancient rock carvings and a yearly “Festival of the Seabird’s Eggs”. This was described to Thomson by the few surviving Islander’s in 1886.
The Origins of the Early Islanders
The ancient Polynesian navigators held mental maps of the rising and setting positions of stars and used sensitivity to nature, wind, sea currents and the sky to cross oceans on journeys of up to 4,000 miles. They travelled in large ocean-going double-hulled canoes that would hold people, animals, seeds and saplings, water and enough supplies for weeks at sea. Whilst it is thought that the early Easter Islanders were mainly Polynesian, the early North American Indians and South Americans were also crossing the oceans in the first millennium and there are some obvious influences on Easter Island, although academics argue this. However, since the Island is in the middle of all these cultures and they were all sea travellers, it would be strange if there weren’t some cross fertilisation. Several things were common to both, most particularly the sweet potato, which is indigenous to South America but made it’s way all over Polynesia. The Islanders own name for their home meant ‘Navel at the Centre of the World‘ and this may have come from the Inca capital city in South America, which was also called ‘Navel of the Earth‘. Irrefutable evidence was recently provided by the discovery of chicken bones in Chile (carbon dated 1400A.D.) with the same DNA as those found on two other South Pacifican islands.
Before the European arrivals in the 17th or 18th century there were 6 or 7 main tribes or clans on the Island and it is quite obvious that these early settlers were a resourceful and clever people, deeply respectful of Mother Earth, the spirits and their ancestral inheritance. Their tribal way of life, competitive as it may have been, gave them something to be part of, they had a place, knew who they were and accepted both. Each clan had a class system of farmers, fishermen, priesthood, and royalty that supported their own statue carver’s work. Some early contact reports said the Island was flourishing and well farmed with Islanders who were robust, gregarious, good natured and inoffensive although tribal skirmishes occurred between the clans; mainly over women, honour and territory. Polynesians males, in general, regularly took part in war games and one-upmanship, and on Easter Island, in particular, they enjoyed sporting competition such as javelin, netting, and throwing.
The naturally naked and tattooed women of Easter Island were famous for their beauty, grace, seductive prowess, and eroticism. Their attitude to sexuality was very different to ours – they understood it to be a pleasurable and truly creative act that celebrated fecundity and the abundance of life.
Makemake, The Winter Solstice and Working With Nature
Makemake is an aspect of nature that the Islander’s depended on for their survival. In that quadrant of the planet and on that small island, life was about rainfall, crops, seabirds and seafood. Easter Island had no fresh water supply and so they had to organize crop planting around the potential rainfall of the coming season. They were obviously very successful at this for the little Island supported a vast work force as evidenced by the amount of carved statues and rocks. William Thomson found many thousands of skeletons and numerous empty dwellings and he was mystified as to how so many could have been sustained without even a fresh water supply.
It was obvious from the Island rock art that Makemake’s patronage was most sought at a yearly major Island event called “The Festival of the Seabird’s Eggs”. (Called the `Birdman Competition` by subsequent authors.) This sporting event combined a test of courage, strength, and stamina with sacred knowledge known to the Island’s priesthood and royalty. It centred on a knife-edge cliff between the sea and the crater of a volcano in a corner of the Island called Orongo. On the winter solstice (June 21st in the southern hemisphere), the rising Sun just happens to line up exactly with Orongo and the volcano at the other end of the Island, giving them a natural `Stonehenge`. The winter solstice is a very important spiritual occasion which marks the shortest day in the winter and therefore the beginning of the Sun’s return to power and strength; this symbolises re-birth and regeneration.
On Easter Island the winter solstice also marked the beginning of the season in which the treasured Sooty Tern seabird returned to breed. Islanders would go to Orongo and reside in special houses built for the festival, waiting for the arrival of the seabirds that came to lay their eggs on an offshore islet. As the race began, many of the Island men would climb down a steep high cliff, swim the dangerous sea on a little raft made of reeds, climb up onto the rocky islet, collect an egg, and finally carry it back unbroken. Thomson wrote:
“According to the ancient custom, the fortunate individual who obtained possession of the first egg and returned with it unbroken to the expectant crowd, became entitled to certain privileges and rights during the following year…… it was supposed that he had won the approval of the great spirit Makemake.”
Okay, this all sounds like great fun, but something else happened on the winter solstice in that quadrant of the planet and the Island’s priesthood would have taken part in this sacred event also. And for this they needed a specific deity.
The Pleiades and the Possible Origins of Makemake
Both the Easter Islanders and their neighbours the Peruvians, recognised the importance of a cluster of stars called the Pleiades, which used to rise before the Sun in the morning during winter solstice and was used in a rain forecasting system that would have been passed on to Easter Island’s priesthood by seafarers. The brightness of the Pleiades on the winter solstice told them when to plant to take best advantage of NEXT season’s rainfall and this was vital, since their all-important potato crops depended on a planting strategy that made best use of coming rainfall.
The priesthood knew that if the Pleiades looked dim around the winter solstice they needed to plant at a different time from the usual, to adjust for the coming season of reduced rainfall. Scientific research carried out in 1999 proved this to be true. The poor visibility is caused by a different pattern in very high clouds, which changes the weather pattern for the growing season 7 months hence. All this is associated with a yearly weather event in the Pacific area called the El Nino, which drastically affects rainfall.
But although the Pleiades and the winter solstice were of crucial importance for timing purposes, the real spiritual support and power for growth and re-generation came from Makemake. Another clue linking Makemake to the Pleiades comes from Polynesian mythology, which contains a lesser-known deity called Makalii or Makarika. The Pleiades (along with another group of stars called Hyades) were known as Makalii or Makalii’s nets. It is easy to see how Makarika became Makemake and the most important god for Easter Islanders who had no fresh water and a sexually indulgent population who enjoyed procreating. The Peruvians had informed the Islanders of how the Pleiades could help them, and the Polynesians had supplied a god associated with their culture. So Makemake emerged as the chief god of Easter Island only, a fusion of two civilisations and local need.
Turtles were regarded as sacred as many rock carvings testify, and they also have ancient symbolism with the Pleiades. They bridged the two worlds of deep sea and land and as such could be messengers of the Great Sea Spirit Makemake, or assist souls to the next dimension. They, like seabirds, crossed thousands of miles to lay eggs on Easter Island and they were also protected by the taboo of the priesthood, which meant the number killed was strictly controlled. These seasonal bans were imposed to allow seafood stocks to breed.
Makemake As a Bawdy Sexual Deity
World myths often tell us how a population or hero/ine recovers the strength to go on because of the arrival of a bawdy joker who brings humour when the lowest ebb is reached. Such a story can be found on the Marquesas Islands, which are the nearest Polynesian islands to Easter Island. This story can also be found in the mythology of Greece, Japan and Egypt, which is an example of how myths seem to be hard wired into our DNA and emerge when triggered by a certain event.
At some point, Makemake became a deity of sexual innuendo and lascivious comment, which may have provided a distraction from the horror and carnage of the European inspired holocaust and perhaps also a useful impetus to support procreation and replace the lost population. The Island rock art became obsessed with symbols of the female vulva and Makemake’s early ethereal image morphed into a mask that had a phallus for a nose.
The Spiritual Beliefs of the Islanders
In Eastern shamanic beliefs all things on Earth – rocks, plants, water and animals are imbued with magical power, force and energy. This concept has been alien to the West during monotheism, which worships a single god and not nature. But now quantum science confirms that the sub atomic particles in the molecules in rocks, plants, water and animals are made only of a dynamic force or excited energy. They are not inert, lifeless, solid bits; matter is made of spirit. The Easter Islanders knew this from the inside of their souls. Translations of the Rongorongo hieroglyphs given to William Thomson described how everything in existence has an associated spirit or deity, from rocks to yams, grass, pain, bad smells, sea gulls, stars, luck and life! They also had household gods who would be useful support for day to day living, and each of the earliest Island residences had special inglenooks built into the walls to hold their images.
The people in this quadrant also understood the presence of different planes or dimensions, where souls and spirit exist as pure energy and the god/desses abide. Spirit could be communicated with through the deceased ancestors who were nearer to the god/desses or deity because they had passed on. The earliest contacts reported how an Island shaman talked constantly to invisible guides. To the Islanders, the other realm was an ever present, strong reality and they were always in dialogue with it.
The Demise of the Islander’s and Their Worship of Makemake
Guided by the priesthood, who understood nature’s way and how to read El Nino‘s strength and rainfall, how to work with sea conditions and project breeding patterns, and then use festivals and taboo restrictions to control planting or fishing, they were able to enjoy abundance whilst living with nature. This was Makemake’s great gift to the islanders.
Problems came with the breakdown of the social order that occurred upon the arrival of Europeans. Their guns, which could kill so quickly, gave them immediate authority and this de-stabilised the Island hierarchy. Over the next two hundred years, murder, slavery and European diseases reduced the population to 111 survivors and the Islander’s spiritual beliefs and Makemake’s ways were lost.
What We Can Expect From the Rebirth of Makemake
Western religious dynasties of the last two thousand years took us away from the belief in a sacred, divine force that unites all in a universal web with nature. We believed that as humans we were somehow above and separate to the animals, the wind, the sea, and the earth. That we did not need to observe and honour the ways of the ancients and their affinity with nature. We lost our relationship with the environment. The Islanders lived in harmony and accord with nature, in mysterious dialogue with earth, animals, and sea creatures. We would probably regard how they grew crops and fed themselves as miraculous.
The rebirth of Makemake has already brought small awakenings in the long haul back to this awareness of nature and the oceans, and marine scientists are now working to understand how to conserve fish in the East Pacific and recommend restrictions. But of course, it is governments who will have to agree with and enforce these bans.
In 2008 it was reported in New Scientist that the area north of Easter Island had been found to be one of the richest and best places on the Earth for large ocean predatory fish such as marlin, tuna and shark. This has surprised the scientists who put it down to a perfect sea temperature.
Another amazing report came out in 2009, when scientists found that storms or changes to the usual annual weather events of the Eastern Pacific had a dramatic impact on the quantity of important fish YEARS after the event. This is due to the amount of nutrients that swirl up from deep water and boost stocks and breeding potential. It says “The effect of El Nino events on fish has probably been
observed for millennia…..” and “After discovering these relationships between decades long fluctuations in fish and climate all over the world, scientists are now probing back in time to see if similar relationships exist on the order of centuries and millennia.”
A Polynesian society now builds reconstructions of the ancient twin hulled ocean-going canoes and sails all over the Pacific Ocean using only sails, stars and the sea. One of them made a 1,450-mile journey to Easter Island in just 19 days! A crewmember said this:
“Surrounded by an immense sea and forced to turn inward, we had discovered a harmony within ourselves and with the natural world. For all of us, this voyage had been a rare gift of mana”
These are touching words. We must voyage again with the Great Sea Spirit, Makemake.