Who visited the island fifty years later, said that the islanders had their ears, “Pierced with large holes, through which four or five fingers might be thrust with ease.” The women wore pendants in their ears made from shark’s vertebrae, or decorated them with feathers.
By 1825, a captain named Beechy described the earlobe stretching as being about an inch and a quarter in diameter, and while it was still practiced, he said, it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it once was. By the time that ship’s surgeon J. Linton Palmer visited in 1868 and wrote his account of the island, the people there were decimated by slave trade, the clan chiefs had been forced into exile on the mainland by the Peruvians, and missionaries were making inroads with the remaining population.
The rapid spread of Christianity among the people of Rapa Nui caused them to adopt more western ways, and the practices of body tattooing and earlobe stretching began to die out. The few people who remained on Rapa Nui and tried to keep living there were eventually forced onto a smaller portion of the island so the rest could be used for farming, and over the subsequent generations they either left the island or died out.
The Topaze, which carried Palmer and his crew to Rapa Nui in 1868, took back to England two of the smaller Moai statues and several of the discs made of shark’s vertebrae and tortoise shell that the men and women used to stretch and decorated their earlobes. They reside today in the British Museum.