Many of us have heard a lot about the Easter Island, the Moai and the legendary tales behind the Rapa Nui. And I'm here too to share a few interesting facts and tales about these mysteries. Come let's dig into it.

Easter Island location

This small little island of roughly 163 sq. km in size is located in the Pacific Ocean, around 3,500 km left of Chile, South America. It comes under the Polynesian triangle which is formed by three island groups at its three corners. They are Hawaii Island at its North, Easter Island at its South-East and New Zealand at the South-West corner of the triangle. So, most of these islands derive their language and culture from the continents of Australia, Asia, and South America. However, the language spoken on Easter Island is primarily Spanish, even when there is a Rapa Nui dedicated language known as Pascuan with a Latin script. The nearby islands are the Pitcairn Islands, Marquesas Islands, Tahiti and Tuamotu Islands.

Rapa Nui Inhabitants

The origin of the inhabitants of Easter Island traces to the people from South America and the nearby Polynesian Islands who believed to have moved in search of better living. The initial settlement of the island was estimated to be somewhere around 300 to 700 CE.
They lived in many caves like Ana Kai Tangata, Ana Kakenga, Ana Te Pahu, etc., before starting to build basalt-walled houses.

Houses built of Basalt Stones

They said to have maintained a proper hierarchy of class system right from the beginning, by having a head for them called "ariki" (chief). The population of the Rapa Nui has gradually decreased from 15,000 to around 2000 due to many natural calamities like volcano and flood, diseases like Tuberculosis, Smallpox, etc., and invasion from other countries.

History of the isolated island

The name "Easter Island" was coined by Jacob, a European visitor, as he arrived at this island on an Easter Sunday (1722). This island is also called "Isla de Pascua" by the Spanish, "Rapa Nui" by the Polynesians, "Mata kit e rangi" by the French and "Te pito o te kainga a Hau Maka" by the Barthelians. The people chose Anakena as their favorite place of settlement with the reason being the proximity to the sea shore. Later they started moving to other places of the island and developed their community.

Deteriorating Rapa Nui vegetation

Many theories have shown that the island was once very rich in vegetation and had grown many varieties of tropical species like palm, sweet potato, banana, taro, sugarcane and yam. In spite of its richness, the island continued to decrease its prosperity little by little. The cause of this massive deforestation could have been any of the reasons like overpopulation of the island leading to overharvesting or the break out of rat population destroying the seeds of the plants and thereby leading to topsoil erosion or the use of palm logs for transporting the gigantic Moai statues from the quarry to the Ahus or the ecocide behavior of the people leading to clearing out forest for making way to cultivation.

However the resources drained out and the option for fishing was also difficult as most of the island shores were lined with craters of great heights, the people found out no way for their living and started eating rats!

This scarcity led to wars between local clans and they ended up in loss of many lives. Later, diseases spread from the invaders took a further toll and reduced the population drastically. This is how the history tells a sad story of the island.

Tradition and Myth behind Rapa Nui culture

The people of Rapa Nui lived a life that closely synced with the Mother Nature. They had strange beliefs like spirits of ancestors help their heirs. So they offered many spiritual procedures in order to maintain that symbiotic relationship. The culture was strongly depicted by the Moai statues that they built to honor their ancestors. The top knots on the statues reveal their power and hierarchical precedence. They believed that these Moai will look after the welfare of the people as most of them are uprighted facing the village.

The myth is that the first settler was "Hotu Matua" hailing from the islands of Marquesas, and so the islanders were led by him as a single leader, later this power was passed on to his heirs forming 8 clans of people. They were led by Tu'u, Miru, Marama, Raa, Koro, Hotu, Tupahotu and Ngaure. Later they merged to form two super clans and often ended in competition and quarrel on building the biggest Moai and destroying the Moai built by the opposite clans.

Birdman Cult

This Ancestor cult was followed by Birdman cult popularly called as "Tangata manu" by the islanders. This was when the construction of Moai was brought to halt and the deity of Make-Make was made the chief god and the people were accustomed of selecting the leader through competitions. Later the population adopted the Catholicism after the arrival of the Europeans.

Legend of Easter Island

The legend of the Rapa Nui is famously called as "Pascuense legend". As per the legend passed on from ancestral islanders to the present generation, Hau Maka, a priest of Hiva in Marquesas Island had a dream in which his spirit went in search of a place to save the people of Hiva Island, as it was under the danger of getting immersed in the sea. And at one point of his travel vision, he found the Easter Island and called it the "Mata kit e rangi". After he woke up, he let his king knew about his dream. Fascinated by this vision, the king Hotu Matu'a and his fellow men took their canoes and planned to move out and settle in the Rapa Nui Island, thereby escaping the Hivaian people from increasing sea levels.

Traditional clothing of Rapa Nui

The Rapa Nui people dressed their hair in feathers and crown made of twigs, leaves, and flowers. Their dress also contained many colorful tree barks, banana leaf, shells from the sea shore, and also intended to use white and red color in their dressing as they considered it more sacred. Many of the clothing traditions had a close resemblance to the Polynesian and South American dressing. They also had a nature to tattoo their skin with many colors and that may also be the reason why tattoo symbols were found on the half buried Moai.

Gigantic Moai

The Moai are the gigantic statues carved out from the rock. There are nearly 900 Moai in the island facing in different directions, with different heights and weights. Some Moai are also seen toppled very sadly. Each Moai weighs between 12 to 15 tons, with the tallest Moai Paro and the Stoutest Moai Tongariki weighing almost 80 to 100 tons.

Unfinished Moai

Some Moai are still seen unfinished and lying half carved on the quarry of Rano Ranaku. The big heads of statues are sculpted with elegant sharp eye curves, long nose and elongated ears with distinct chin, having its two hands resting along the body with no legs!

Rano Raraku Quarry

The Moai on the Ahu is entirely visible but those on the ups and downs of the rocks of the island are seen with only heads visible. Rano Raraku is the major site where the Moai were sculpted. This quarry is fully formed of volcanic tuff and so the Rapa Nui were able to cut the rocks and build these statues. Once completed, they were moved to the Ahus near the sea shore. The art of transporting these completed Moai from the quarry to the Ahu still remains a mystery. Though many theories were tested against manually pulling and erecting the statue model, none could confirm the exact methodology of transporting it. Many materials like tuff, trachyte, scoria and basalt have been used for carving this Moai.

Moai head has body too

Recently, they excavated their body buried deep inside. The tattoo marks on the body of the buried Moai are clearly noticeable. Some predict that they have been buried only to preserve these distinct marks as a message to the future society.

Moai, a token of honor to ancestors

These were considered to be the symbol of power, leadership and symbol of spiritualism and also a token of honoring their ancestors. It is evident on the red topknots called as "Pukao" of some Moai.

Moai looks after the Rapa Nui people

Many of the Moai faces inland except those on the Ahu Akivi which faces the sun towards the sea. Evidence show that many rituals and ceremonies have been conducted in front of the Ahu with Moai facing the village.

Moai under the sea

Some Moai were also reported on the seabed sunken deep under the sea many years ago. This may be due to floods or tsunami that stroked the island.

Wooden Moai

Some others were also carved on wooden pieces. They are called as the "Kava Kava" Moai. They are believed to be structures with elegant ribs and lean body with protruding eyes and chin and are used as hanging on the doors to chase away the evil spirits.

Petroglyphs in Orongo

After the ancestor cult, came the birdman cult, during when the petroglyphs were carved with images of make-make god and the birdman. There are nearly 450 petroglyphs found in and around the region of Orongo where they conducted completion and numerous ceremonies for birdman. This place is surrounded with a deep crater on one side and deep foot drops on the other side.

Birdman competition

The competition was to bring an egg from the Motu Nui islet by swimming a few kilometer distances from Orongo volcanic craters bitten wall called "Kari Kari" (seen in next picture) to the islet and waiting for the seagull bird and her egg and after taking the unbroken egg, the winner has to swim back to the place of Orongo and claim his victory of becoming the next birdman for the island. After each winning, a petroglyph has been carved in remembrance of the victory.

Volcanic crater in Orongo

Above is a picture of the volcanic crater in Orongo. It has a bitten wall named "KariKari", through which the competitors jump into the sea and reach Motu Nui.

Ahu Akivi

Ahu Akivi is the place where we can see the Moai facing the sea rather than towards the village. There are seven Moai facing the sunrise and are researched to be carved and erected at a similar time frame. These seven Moai are also thought to be the seven explorers who were waiting on the shore for the return of King Hotu Matu'a, while others say that they are built in remembrance of the seven predecessors of the ruler of Ahu Akivi. However, the mystery knots of these Moai facing the sea remain unresolved.

Hare Paenga in Ahu Akahanga

Ahu Akahanga is a coastal area located on southern part of Easter Island. Here we can see many toppled Moai, the remains of sculptures and especially the houseboat like structures which were called as "Hare Paenga". These boat-like structures had a stone outline with wooden logs as walls and a roof cover over it. These houses were especially used for sleeping by people of high status.

Rapa Nui method of Cooking

There are also many cave-like structures with manmade entrances especially for those who were not able to afford for stone houses. Along the caves, we can also see ovens dig out in the soil, rose by stone slabs to support fire. These were primarily used as cooking areas and was called as "Umu".

Rapa Nui method of cultivation

The island houses even other interesting structures like cultivation plots with stones called "Manavai", chicken coop called "Hare Moa" where the chicken were hidden during the war times and big meeting places for the Arikis called the "Hare Nui".

Visit Easter Island

This small mystery filled island gathers her tourist around the months of December to February mainly due to the compelling pleasant climate. People who like to explore and research choose the sunny months of March to May where there is a little crowd.

The best ranked tourist places are Rapa Nui National Park, largest Ahu with 15 magnificent Moai in Ahu Tongariki, Quarry of Rano Raraku, Anakena Beach, Volcanic craters and petroglyphs of Orango, Museo Antropologico, the museum showcasing the first ever found Moai with coral eye and other tools used by the Rapa Nui and of course the best tourist attraction being the statues of gigantic Moai found all over the island. As of now, Latam Airlines of South America is the only Airline to reach this island.

Hope you liked reading this article comprising everything about "Easter Islands".


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