Sure-footed biography of one of the first Europeans to give serious attention to Easter Island’s cultural heritage.
Herself an authority on rock art and Easter Island, Van Tilburg (Costen Inst. of Archaeology/UCLA) concentrates on her subject’s months on the island but also provides a full-scale portrait beginning with Katherine Routledge's privileged youth in Hampshire, England, and ending with her death 69 years later. She was a girl and woman at odds, writes Van Tilburg, first with the strictures of Victorian England and then with the conventions of white settlement in Kenya. Racked by real and imagined ill health, married for convenience (her husband also receives substantial biographical treatment), saddled by nascent, then full-fledged, schizophrenia, Routledge possessed a willfulness and a sharp mind that got her into Oxford at a time when few women were welcomed. She also grappled with a questing spirituality, both abetted and constrained by her Quaker background, that provoked the Mana Expedition, which landed on Easter Island in April 1914 and remained for 16 months. It was, writes Van Tilburg, “the first true attempt to conduct an archaeological survey of Easter Island.” Routledge accomplished an extensive descriptive survey of the great stone statues and compiled a map of political divisions: “the first graphic, public statement ever made of Rapa Nui land ownership.” Oral tradition and architectural evidence convinced Routledge that Polynesian influences far outweighed Melanesian ones, a conjecture that has been borne out, but she truly made her mark in peopling the island landscape with “myriad shadows that needed to be anchored in place. It was but a small step from lists of place names and genealogies to linking whole families to ancestral lands—uniting ‘locality and memory.’ ” The author makes the most of Routledge’s Easter Island papers to document her remarkable achievements in this crucial area.
It took a character of steel for Routledge to achieve what she did, and Van Tilburg calls her forth in all her headstrong, blunt, and turbulent glory.