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Dissensions and Animosities

Fischer vs Englert

In his 1997 "Rongorongo, the Easter Island Script" (Oxford University Press), Steven Fischer writes of Father Sebastian Englert:

(p.181) "All the more reason, then, to be surprised and dismayed that the German Capuchin father [Englert] distilled a yarn as far removed from the historical truth of rongorongo's erstwhile use as one can imagine. For if Englert genuflected to any dogma it was to that of the almighty Oral Tradition"

(p.183) "Even in his posthumously published Island at the Centre of the World - New Light on Easter Island (Englert, 1970: 73-81) - regarded today on the island, in the Spanish edition, as "Scripture" - Padre Sebastian only reiterated the superannuated posture toward rongorongo of the 1930s and confused its scientific discussion with sophomoric inaccuracies."

And he concludes, p.183: "Sadly to say, Padre Sebastian was essentially an unqualified amateur who based all his conclusions on recent Rapanui oral traditions. When a trained scientist [Fischer] in search of the truth behind rongorongo finds the legendary Padre Sebastian - "the uncrowned king of Easter Island" - constantly quoted in Rapanui literature as an "authority" in this regard, it smarts."

What did Englert precisely write to incur Fischer's wrath and exasperation? Read, in Englert's 1970 posthumous book, the very pages mentioned by Fischer:

What Englert wrote What Fischer says
p.74: According to the tradition, Hotu Matu'a brought with him from Hiva sixty-seven of these inscribed tablets. p.181: In his short history of the script Padre Sebastian tells of Eyraud and how the tablets had arrived with Hotu Matu'a, a recent myth that Padre Sebastian accepted as historical fact.
pp.74-75: The sequence of the writing is a rare and curious one called "reversed boustrophedon" - that is, each line of script when it reaches the edge of the board turns back upside down to form the next line. This means that to read the script one must turn the board around at the end of each line. p.181: His claim that the inscriptions were read alternately left to right and right to left, without mentioning boustrophedon or the need to rotate the artefact while reading, shows in fact just how limited his knowledge of the subject was.
p.79: A Hungarian scholar, Guillaume de Hevesy, in 1932 called attention to apparent similarities between some of the ko hau rongorongo characters and some of the characters in a script discovered in a 3000-year-old civilization in the Indus Valley. The publication was initially regarded as an important discovery with the implication that the people of Hotu Matu'a might have originated in that part of India. Specialists today are inclined to the opinion that the similarities are not close or frequent enough to suggest any contact between these two cultures so separated in space and time. They are more likely to be the sort of similarities that often exist between objects of independent origin in cultures which have no historical relationships. pp.181-182: He personally felt that de Hevesy's "discovery" might indicate either that there were connections, however indirect, with the Indus Valley or that the Polynesians had perchance learnt a graphic system from some South Asian people.
pp.79-80: The most complete work dealing with the problem up to the present time is Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift (Foundations for the Decipherment of the Easter Island Script) by Thomas Barthel, professor of ethnology at the University of Tübingen. He has presented detailed descriptions and photographs of all the tablets known, a complete enumeration of the characters and the location of each in the lines of the tablets, the texts of the recitations made by Metoro for Bishop Jaussen, and a commentary on the objects represented in the characters. This voluminous work is a true Corpus Inscriptionum Paschalis Insulae, but the translations it provides are not very intelligible.

A group of Russian scholars, including J.V. Knorozov, I.K. Fedorova, and A.M. Kondratov, have spent some years studying the problem from a point of view rather different from that of Barthel. They too have not yet succeeded in producing a satisfactory translation.

p.183: And in his discussions he included only those investigators who principally expressed pessimism toward a solution of the rongorongo question, ignoring in later years all scientific advances made by Thomas Barthel or the Russians, despite documented access to this material.
p.80: Our understanding of the old language of Easter Island, which the script undoubtedly represents, is by no means complete p.183: Padre Sebastian never undertook an internal analysis of the script, which he always doubted was a script.

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