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Eugène Eyraud (1820, Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur – 1868 August 23 Easter Island) was a lay friar of the Congrégation de Picpus and the first Westerner to live on Easter Island. He was a mechanic by profession.
Eyraud entered the Holy Ghost Fathers as a novice. Influenced by his brother, a missionary in China, he left Chili for Tahiti in 1862 and arrived at Hanga Roa on 1864 January 2. He was harassed by the islanders, and only stayed nine months before being repatriated to Chile on 1864 October 11. A year and a half later, on 1866 March 27, he settled on the island as a full priest, accompanied by Hippolyte Roussel and three Mangarevan converts.
Although fiercely opposed at first, Eyraud eventually came to be highly popular and influential among the islanders. In October 1866, Gaspar Zumbohm and Théodule Escolan joined Eyraud and Roussel in their mission, and set up schools at Hanga Roa and Vaihū.
He assisted that year in what would be the last ceremony of the Birdman cult.
During his first stay, Eyraud remarked that in each house there were wooden tablets covered with "hieroglyphs", now known as rongorongo, but that the islanders no longer knew how to read them and paid them scant attention. He didn't think to inform Roussel or Zumbohm, and never wrote of them again. In wasn't until 1869, when Zumbohm presented a gift which unknown to him included a tablet to Bishop Jaussen in Tahiti, that rongorongo was noticed by the outside world.
Eyraud wrote of the islanders and their carved wooden statues, known as mo‘ai kavakava, that
- L'île de Paques: des dieux regardent les étoiles. Michel & Catherine Orliac. Gallimard, 2004. ISBN 2-07-053063-9
- E. Eyraud, « Lettres au T.R.P, Congrégation du sacré-cœur de Jésus et de Marie », Annales Association de la propagation de la foi, vol.38, Lyon 1866 : 52-61 et 124-138.
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