The History of Easter Island for Kids

Have you ever heard of Easter Island?  Many movies talk about it and some even say that is where the Easter Bunny lives.  But in fact, it is a real place that has nothing to do with the holiday of Easter. But many people know of Easter Island from the large famous face statues that are often seen in pictures of the place.  So why does Easter Island have this name?

Easter Island is a large island that covers nearly 65 square miles.  It is located in the South Pacific Ocean, far off of the west coast of the country of Chile in South America.  It is also an almost equal number of miles to the east of the island of Tahiti.  

Easter Island is the shape of a triangle and measures 14 miles long by 7 miles wide. It was formed by a series of volcano eruptions over time.  The island has many hills and caves within the rocks that go way back into the mountains.  Because much of the rock on the island is made of volcanic rock, it is easy for the rock to form caves and holes over time. 

Easter Island’s largest volcano is called Rano Kao.  It has a highest point that is called Mount Terevaka that reaches 1,665 feet (or 508 meters) above the sea.  The island is sub-tropical, which means it is located below the mid-point of the Earth called the equator and has sunny and dry weather. 

Many people have been confused about the name “Easter Island” and have wondered whether the island has something to do with the holiday of Easter. Is this where the Easter Bunny lives when he is not hopping around the world delivering eggs?  Let’s find out. 

The first people to live on Easter Island arrived on the island around the year 400 A.D. about 1,500 years ago. They were from another Polynesian island close by and they came to Easter Island looking for a new place to live.  These first people called the island “Rapa Nui”.  Because of its remote, or far away, location. The first peoples of Rapa Nui lived there on their own for hundreds of years before there were any other visitors from other countries. 

The traditions and stories of the Polynesian people say that the first king of Rapa Nui was named “Hoto-Matua”.  He was a ruler of a group of people that traveled around many islands in the area.  The group of explorers led by Hoto-Matua was searching for a new place to make their home. The story says that after traveling thousands of miles, the exploring group landed at a sandy beach on the island.  The island of Rapa Nui is actually quite rocky on the coast, or edge of the land near the water.

The traditional Polynesian story says that the group, led by their leader, Hoto-Matua, landed on the sandy beach, which was one of the only sandy spots on the coast. The group explored the island and found that it was a great place to live.  It was abundant with many fish and other types of food, and had a good climate or weather.  They decided to stay and build their home on this newly found island.  This is the start of the first peoples living on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The first peoples learned how to harvest food and fish on the island, including native fruit and plants.   They grew in size over time and developed a long and rich culture over the hundreds of years since the first group arrived.

One of the best pieces of evidence of the early people that lived on the island is the giant stone statues that have been found around Easter Island.  These statues are called “moai” and are part of what makes Easter Island famous.  You may have even seen pictures of these statues before.  They look like giant stone heads sticking out of the ground. 

There are over 900 moai statues all over Easter Island!  The statues are all around 13 feet (or 4 meters) high, with a weight of 13 tons!  They are huge faces and chests carved out of a type of rock called “tuff”.  Tuff is a light and porous rock, or rock with holes in it, that was made from volcanic ashes.  One thing that many people don’t know about the statues is that they actually go into the ground and continue at least partly underground.  They are a mystery that no one has yet to solve. 

No one today knows why these statues were made and why there are so many.  It is also a mystery why they were built so big and how they were moved around the island. This would have been an amazing feat of engineering by people living at that time!

One thing is for sure: the statues show that their creators, the early people of Easter Island, were very good craftsmen and engineers. They were very skilled at design and making strong structures.  

In modern times, researchers have determined that there were three different cultural phases, or separate times in human history there.  During the early and middle periods, statues were built and torn down and then rebuilt in the same places.  In the later period, the statues were built even bigger than before and are the statues that you can see pictures of today. 

The first European person to visit Easter Island was a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen.  He came exploring the area in the year 1722. Captain Roggeveen and his crew arrived on the island on the holiday of Easter.  To help remember the day and celebrate it, the Dutch named the island Paaseiland, which means “Easter Island” in Dutch. This is where the island gets its name! 

In 1770, the Spanish government in Peru sent a group of explorers to Easter Island. The explorers spent four days on the island.  They found that there were about 3,000 native people living on the island. 

Unfortunately, as more and more explorers started visiting the island, they also had diseases that the local islanders had not been around before.  As a result, many of the native islanders died and by 1877, there were only 111 native people living on the island. 

By 1877, Catholic explorers had come to the island to convert, or teach and change the local people to, Christianity.  By the late 19th century, almost all of the people living on the island were Christians. 

In 1888, Chile started using the land to raise sheep.  The government of Chile also appointed a governor to be in charge of Easter Island in 1965, and the island’s people all became Chilean citizens. 

Easter Island does not have any natural bays to form harbors that are places for boats to be parked away from the harsh weather of the ocean. The island’s largest village is called Hanga Roa. It was made into a World Heritage site in 1995, so it will not be developed into a tourist place full of hotels and other developments. 

Today, Easter Island is home to a mixed group of people.  Many of the people living on the island have Polynesian ancestors, or older relatives. The locals now mostly speak Spanish and there are some tourists that visit during the year. 

History of Miguel Hidalgo for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine that you are hiking through a dense jungle in Mexico.  The leaves around you are thick and wet. You use a sword to chop your way ahead. Sometimes you stumble and fall on roots or get stuck in vines that block your path. The weather is hot and humid. Your body is covered in sweat. You are thirsty and your muscles are tired and ache, but you keep moving. You keep pressing on. A long line of fellow Mexicans are hiking with you, moving quietly towards your goal. You and your fellow soldiers are determined to defeat the Spanish who rule your country. You want them to leave so you can rule it yourselves. Leading your group is a priest who has great ideas of how Mexico can be independent, can become its own country, free from Spanish rule.  You are following one of the most famous Mexican men in history: Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, also known as the “Father of Mexico.”

Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Mexican Catholic priest who called for a revolution, or rebellion, against the Spanish government in 1810.  Hidalgo, as he is commonly known, is thought of as the “Father of Mexican Independence” due to his role in helping the mexican people fight against Spanish rulers. 

In 1753 Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla was born near Guanajuato, Mexico.  At that time, the name of the country was not Mexico, but rather it was called “New Spain” because Europeans from Spain had settled in the area and claimed it as their own. But most of the people living in Mexico weren’t from Spain, they and their ancestors had lived there long before the Spanish arrived and conquered their lands. 

Miguel was the second son of Cristobal Hidalgo y Costilla and Ana Maria Gallaga Mandarte y Villasenor.  Miguel’s dad was an administrator, or government worker of the hacienda, or town. 

When Miguel was growing up, his family was fairly rich, so he had a good, easy life.  He was considered to be a “creole” person, which means his ancestors were Spanish.  He had loving parents and had fun with his older brother Jose Joaquin.  

When Miguel was 12, his father sent him and his brother Jose Joaquin to the city of (Vaya-dolid) Valladolid to go to school.  Miguel studied religion and after completing a lot of courses on various religious topics, or courses about God and the meaning of life, he became a Catholic priest in 1778.  

After he was a priest, Miguel Hidalgo became known as Father Hidalgo. He returned to his hometown university to teach philosophy, which means the study of how humans think, and theology, which means the study of God.  

Now that Miguel was an adult and a priest, he was able to travel and meet people.  He loved to learn and was particularly interested in European ways and thinking.  This was not the normal path for a Mexican Catholic priest in the 18th century!  Most priests stayed in their church area and spent their days praying.  But Miguel was too curious about the world and too social to stay in one place and not ask questions and learn new things. This is the best way to learn new things, be curious and ask questions! 

Even thought he was different from most priests at the time, Miguel became the rector, or leader, of the church of San Nicolas in 1790.  Unfortunately though, the other priests in the area did not like the way he behaved, so he was only in the role as rector for two years. 

Father Hidalgo moved on to lead the churches in the towns of Colima and then San Felipe Torres Mochas and later Dolores. Besides studying, he also grew grape vines and olive trees in the church gardens.  He opened a pottery-making studio, or art area, and taught himself to make pots. He had many hobbies to keep his life interesting. 

Father Hidalgo was very giving and showed compassion for poor people in the towns where he lived.  Compassion means concern for someone’s suffering. Father Hidalgo put on classes to teach poor people skills that they could use to make money, like carpentry, or woodworking, and blacksmithing, which means to make things out of iron or metal. 

Because of his interest in learning and philosophy, Father Hidalgo became very involved with the small group of educated people that lived in his town.  These educated people had gone to university and learned about politics and government and they weren’t happy with the way that Spain was controlling their country of New Spain. Remember at this time Spain controlled Mexico and didn’t let them vote or make their own decisions.  

In 1808, a new Spanish leader named Joseph was put in charge of the Spanish territories, including New Spain, where Father Hidalgo lived.  The people of New Spain did not like their new rulers, as they were mean and greedy.  He and his friends planned to remove the Spanish rulers from being in charge and get their old king, the King of Spain, released and put back in place as their leader. 

The Spanish rulers learned that there was a secret plot to take over, so Father Hidalgo and his friends had to speed up their plans. In Dolores, Father Hidalgo climbed to the top of the church where he lived and with all of his might rang the church bell.  This was the signal that their fight against their Spanish rulers had begun. Then, he went outside the church and waved a banner of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. This was September 16, 1810 and became a famous event called the Grito de Dolores or “Cry of Dolores”. This was the beginning of the Mexican people’s fight for freedom.

Father Hidalgo’s second in command was a military captain named Ignacio Allende.  Together Father Hidalgo and Captain Allende led a group of creole and first nations men into towns and cities near where they lived.  They gathered more men in the towns and cities and slowly the size of their group grew.  With each town they moved through, the group took control of the Spanish government and replaced it with their own. 

Unfortunately as the group grew bigger, so did it’s problems.  Father Hidalgo’s goal was to take power back from the Spanish. But the group of men that became his followers grew more and more violent.  The Catholic Church was not happy about what they saw happening.  They removed Father Hidalgo from his role as priest and member of the Church.

Miguel was no longer called “Father Hidalgo” anymore, but that didn’t stop him from his mission of removing the Spanish from power in his country.  Miguel and his followers continued to move through more cities until they finally arrived at Mexico City, the biggest city in Mexico.  

There, the Spanish were ready with their army. Gunshots rang out, smoke filled the air, a battle broke out between the Spanish army and Miguel’s army. Soon Miguel and his army had to retreat or move back to safety, in a city called Guadalajara.  There, Miguel formed a new small government that declared that they were in charge.  One of the first things his government did was declare an end to slavery and promise to return lands to the Indigenous people.  These were very modern ideas for the time. 

In Guadalajara, Miguel also started a newspaper called El Despertador Americano, which means “The American Alarm Clock.”  The newspaper published stories and information about the revolution.  Revolution means a forced overthrow of the government. They were determined to become free from Spanish rule. 

In January 1811, Miguel and his men gathered at Calderon Bridge outside of the city of Guadelajara to meet a small Spanish army for a battle.  The Spanish army was well trained and well armed. Weapons were fired. The Spanish had a better army and Miguel and his soldiers had to run away.  After this loss, Miguel’s friend, Captain Allende, became the new leader of the group of rebel fighters.

But some of the survivors of the battle followed Miguel north to join a group that was setting up in what is now the American city of San Antonio.  Along the way they were captured by the Spanish army near a town called Coahuila. The group members were put on trial and were found guilty of fighting against the ruling Spanish.

Miguel and his fellow soldiers had fought bravely but did not survive to continue fighting with their fellow countrymen. But the revolution that he started continued even after he was gone.  In 1821, Mexico eventually won the war against Spain and became independent. If you live in the United States, this event was similar to Independence Day when Americans became free from British and the King’s rule.

September 16 is now celebrated as Mexico’s Independence Day, similar to the 4th of July in the United States. This is the day Mexico became its own country. Every year on this date, Mexican people celebrate their heritage and brave people like Miguel Hidalgo who fought for their freedom.  Usually the President of Mexico will do the same thing Hidalgo did, go to the church’s bell tower and ring the bell to signal the start of the war of Independence called the “Grito de Dolores” or “Cry of Dolores.”

After he died, Miguel’s remains were buried in a monument in Mexico City, now called the Angel of Independence monument.  This monument celebrates the “Father of Mexican Independence” which is Miguel Hidalgo’s nickname.  There is also a state in Mexico named after Miguel, called Hidalgo, and the town that Miguel was originally a priest at is now known as “Dolores Hidalgo.”

We can learn a lot from Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. He was very curious and was always learning. He also had many hobbies to keep life interesting. He was also very brave and risked his life to push out the Spanish rulers who controlled his country.  He was organized and a strong leader, and passionate about freedom, and because of this he had many people who followed him into battle and believed in his cause.  Because of his bravery and beliefs, Miguel is now remembered as the “Father of Mexican Independence.” 

Learning about Miguel is also a great chance to learn more about Mexico, it’s people and its culture. Mexico has a vibrant culture with delicious food, music, dancing, and artwork. Family is very important in a culture where they take care of each other and meet often to eat and enjoy time together. Mexican culture has also become a big part of American culture, seeing that over 36 million people living in the United States are of Mexican ancestry.  Be sure to look up some videos about Mexico and Mexican culture. One of our family’s favorite movies is Pixar’s “Coco.” Be sure to check it out if you haven’t yet.

Thanks for listening to this episode about Miguel Hidalgo and be sure to tune in next Monday for a new episode!

The History of Chocolate for Kids

With Easter just around the corner, many kids are getting very excited for one of the treats that often comes this time of year: chocolate!

Chocolate is a delicious treat and comes in many colours, flavours and forms including milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate and hot chocolate.  But have you ever thought of where chocolate comes from?  

The history of chocolate began with the ancient Olmec and Mayan peoples of Central and South America.  The Mayan people were a large group of Indigenous peoples of Mexico and Central America and the ancient Olmecs lived in southern Mexico before that. 

Back then, chocolate was very different than it is today.  It was a drink that people enjoyed. But it was not sweet.  It was bitter, which means having a sharp taste and was not sweet. 

Chocolate is made from cacao fruit, which comes from cacao trees which grow in hot places like Central and South America. This is why chocolate first came from these areas.  The beans from inside the cacao fruits are called cocoa beans after they are dried and roasted.  This is one of the first steps in the process of making cacao fruit beans into chocolate. 

Historians think that ancient Olmec and Maya people ground cocoa beans into powder and used it to make a chocolate flavoured drink.  The reason they think this is that there are traces of this type of powder found in old pots from ancient Olmec times.  This was around 15,000 B.C., which is a very very long time ago.

However, there is no written history from this time.  So it is not clear whether Olmec people made these drinks just for their flavour, or if it was part of a ceremony.  

The Olmec people passed their love of cacao on to their neighbours in Central America, the Mayans.  The Mayan people loved chocolate so much that they used it in their drinks and in their food.  They often made it into a thick, sweet and spicy drink, using honey to sweeten it.  And they sometimes added chilli peppers to make the drink spicy.  Have you ever tried spicy hot chocolate?  If not, it is something that you can find in some cafes today and is quite delicious, if you like spicy things.

After the Mayan people, the Aztec people came to live in the Central American and Mexican area.  They also developed a love of chocolate.  The Aztec people loved chocolate so much that they believed that cacao plants had been given to them by the gods.  They used cacao in some of their religious ceremonies.  They felt very lucky to have this drink. 

One of the things that people probably liked about cacao in the old days and that people still like about it today is that it contains caffeine. Caffeine is an ingredient that is found in tea and coffee plants that is a stimulant and makes people feel more awake and perky.  It is one of the main ingredients in coffee, and is one of the reasons why adults drink coffee, too. 

Aztec people liked to drink chocolate as a drink, either hot or cold.  They also added spices to their chocolate drinks and draft them out of special, decorated containers.  The Aztec people treated cacao beans like money.  They considered the beans to be more valuable than gold!

One famous Aztec chocolate lover was Montezuma II.  He was the ruler of the Aztec people in Mexico from 1502 to 1520.  Legends say that Montezuma II drank a gallon (or almost 4 litres) of chocolate drink per day!  He loved the taste and also believed that drinking it would make women fall in love with him. 

When Spanish explorers from Europe first arrived in Central America, they learned about chocolate.  These explorers included Christopher Columbus.  The European explorers loved chocolate as well once they tried it.  When they returned to Spain and other countries, they brought cacao beans with them.  In Spain, the Spanish people loved the drink and by the late 1500s, it had become a very popular drink throughout the country. 

As other European countries explored Central America, they also learned about cacao and brought beans back to their home countries.  That is how chocolate came to be popular across Europe in countries such as France and Italy. Europeans loved chocolate so much that a demand grew for cacao beans.  A demand is the desire of large groups of people to buy something.

Back in Central America, the European demand for chocolate meant that cacao plantations were growing in size and number.  The farmers that worked at these plantations were mostly local people who were treated as slaves.  A slave is a person who works very hard without proper pay or appreciation. The life of a slave cacao farmer was a very difficult life.  They worked hard from early morning to late at night picking beans for the European people.

The European explorers and traders continued to bring the beans back to Europe.  As European people continued to enjoy chocolate, the popularity spread.  Europeans started creating their own recipes for cacao beans as well.  Instead of just using the Central American recipes, they created different types of hot chocolate, using sugar, cinnamon and other spices.

About 150 years later, in 1828, a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Johannes van Houtan discovered a new way to make cacao powder. It was an easier way to create powder that would mix easily with hot water to make hot chocolate. The process through which van Houtan did this was later called “Dutch processing”.  The cacao powder that he made was similar to what we think of as hot chocolate powder today.  At the time it was called “Dutch cocoa.” 

Dutch cocoa powder made processing chocolate easier and cheaper than in the past.  As a result, even poor people could afford chocolate. This meant that chocolate grew even further in popularity.

Up until 1847, chocolate was primarily consumed in Europe and America as a drink, mixed with water or milk. However, in that year a company called J.S. Fry and Sons created the first chocolate bar in Britain.  They molded a paste made out of sugar, butter and chocolate and put it together into the shape of a bar. It was delicious and they knew they had a hit. Everyone who tried the solid chocolate loved it.  And a new form of chocolate was born.

By the late 19th century, family chocolate companies such as Cadbury, Mars, Nestle and Hershey were all making a variety of chocolate treats.  People across the world loved eating chocolate as well as drinking it.  There were therefore lots of customers to buy chocolate from these companies. 

Today, chocolate is still enjoyed by people around the world.  It is still available to drink, but it is more often eaten as a treat or dessert or in baking. It has changed a lot since the earliest versions of the bitter Olmec drink.  But the root of the treat is still the same. 

It is still very hard work to farm and produce chocolate however. While it is now easier than it was in the days of slaves and colonists, many cacao bean farmers still have to work very hard to produce their beans.  And they do not always get paid very much money for them. This has inspired many people throughout the world to focus on “fair trade” chocolate.  Fair trade means chocolate that is created in an ethical and sustainable way.  This means farming in a way that treats farmers fairly and without putting the environment at risk so that future generations can also meet their own needs.

Do you love eating chocolate as a treat?  Or drinking hot chocolate on a cold day? What are some of the types of chocolate that you like to eat or drink.  What would you try if you were challenged to come up with a new type of chocolate?  It is fun to think about they ways we can enjoy something so delicious and historic today.