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Rongo-rongo

Rongo-rongo is the name that has been given to a type of pictograph writing that was developed in Rapa Nui (Easter Island). It is one of only a handful of ways of writing that was invented anywhere in the world. It has never been successfully translated (although many have tried, and some claim to have succeeded) and probably never will be, since so few examples remain. One small section of one tablet has been translated, however- it is clearly a lunar calendar!

In 1864, missionary Eugene Eyraud- the first known non-Polynesian to live on Easter Island- said in a letter that he had seen "in all the houses" hundreds of tablets and staffs incised with thousands of hieroglyphic figures. Two years later, only a handful of these incised artifacts were left. Some say that they were burnt to please the missionaries, who saw in them evil relics of pagan times. Today, only 21 examples remain.

The writing on them is extraordinary. Tiny, remarkably regular glyphs, less than half an inch tall, highly stylized and formalized, are carved in shallow grooves running the length of wood tablets. I have seen the two examples in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, and they are mesmerizing.

Some say that the Rapa Nuians came up with their writing after a visit in 1770 by a Spanish ship. Perhaps the locals sensed the foreign mana, the spiritual power, that resided in the wonder of writing, the coupling of human speech to graphic art. Perhaps they employed various motifs for their glyphs from the rich inventory of Easter Island's rock art. In any case, no other Oceanic people possesed an indigenous writing system, so the Rapa Nuians certainly came up with their writing after their island had become isolated from the rest of Polynesian culture. Whether it was influenced by European contact or not, we might never know.

In game terms, the Rongo-rongo card provides the player with one Victory Point. If the player also controls Rapa Nui, the historic home of the writing, the player gets a bonus Victory Point. So, when you play Conquest of Paradise, if a player draws this card, then clearly the Polynesians came up with this writing on their own. If the card remains in the deck, then Polynesians came up with the writing after the scope of the game- maybe with the help of Europeans!


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