Rapa Nui mythology

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Rapa Nui mythology, also known as Pascuense mythology or Easter Island mythology, refers to the native myths, legends, and beliefs of the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island in the south eastern Pacific Ocean.

Myth is a folklore genre consisting of narratives or stories that play a fundamental role in a society, such as foundational tales or origin myths. The main characters in myths are usually gods, demigods or supernatural humans. Stories of everyday human beings, although often of leaders of some type, are usually contained in legends, as opposed to myths.

Legend Traditional story of heroic humans.

Legend is a genre of folklore that consists of a narrative featuring human actions perceived or believed both by teller and listeners to have taken place within human history. Narratives in this genre may demonstrate human values, and possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude. Legend, for its active and passive participants, includes no happenings that are outside the realm of "possibility," but may include miracles. Legends may be transformed over time, in order to keep them fresh, vital, and realistic. Many legends operate within the realm of uncertainty, never being entirely believed by the participants, but also never being resolutely doubted.

Rapa Nui people native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island

The Rapa Nui are the aboriginal Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. The easternmost Polynesian culture, the descendants of the original people of Rapa Nui make up about 60% of the current Rapa Nui population and have a significant portion of their population residing in mainland Chile. They speak both the traditional Rapa Nui language and the primary language of Chile, Spanish. At the 2002 census there were 3,304 island inhabitants—almost all living in the village of Hanga Roa on the sheltered west coast.


Origin myth

According to Rapa Nui mythology Hotu Matu'a was the legendary first settler and ariki mau ("supreme chief" or "king") of Easter Island. [1] Hotu Matu'a and his two canoe (or one double hulled canoe) colonising party were Polynesians from the now unknown land of Hiva. They landed at Anakena beach and his people spread out across the island, sub-divided it between clans claiming descent from his sons, and lived for more than a thousand years in their isolated island home at the southeastern tip of the Polynesian Triangle until the arrival of Dutch captain Jacob Roggeveen, who arrived at the island in 1722. [2]

Hotu Matu'a was the legendary first settler and ariki mau of Easter Island and ancestor of the Rapa Nui people. Hotu Matu'a and his two canoe colonising party were Polynesians from the now unknown land of Hiva. They landed at Anakena beach and his people spread out across the island, sub-divided it between clans claiming descent from his sons, and lived for more than a thousand years in their isolated island home at the southeastern tip of the Polynesian Triangle.

Easter Island Place in Valparaíso, Chile

Easter Island is a Chilean island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania. Easter Island is most famous for its nearly 1,000 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.

Polynesians are an ethnolinguistic group of closely related peoples who are native to Polynesia, an expansive region of Oceania in the Pacific Ocean. They trace their origins to Island Southeast Asia and are part of the larger Austronesian ethnolinguistic group with an Urheimat ultimately from Taiwan. They speak the Polynesian languages, a branch of the Oceanic subfamily of the Austronesian language family.

Ancestor cult

The most visible element in the culture was the production of massive statues called moai that represented deified ancestors. It was believed that the living had a symbiotic relationship with the dead where the dead provided everything that the living needed (health, fertility of land and animals, fortune etc.) and the living through offerings provided the dead with a better place in the spirit world. Most settlements were located on the coast and moai were erected along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the sea. [3]

Moai monolithic human figures

Moai, or mo‘ai, are monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island in eastern Polynesia between the years 1250 and 1500. Nearly half are still at Rano Raraku, the main moai quarry, but hundreds were transported from there and set on stone platforms called ahu around the island's perimeter. Almost all moai have overly large heads three-eighths the size of the whole statue. The moai are chiefly the living faces of deified ancestors. The statues still gazed inland across their clan lands when Europeans first visited the island in 1722, but all of them had fallen by the latter part of the 19th century.

Tangata cult

The Tangata manu or bird-man cult succeeded the island's Moai era when warfare erupted over dwindling natural resources and construction of statues stopped. [4] The deity Make-make was the chief god of the birdman cult. The cult declined after the island population adopted Catholicism, though the birdman popularity and memory was not erased and it is still present in decoration of the island's church. [5]

Tangata manu

The Tangata manu was the winner of a traditional competition on Rapa Nui. The ritual was an annual competition to collect the first sooty tern egg of the season from the islet of Motu Nui, swim back to Rapa Nui and climb the sea cliff of Rano Kau to the clifftop village of Orongo.

Deities and heroes

Uoke is a tectonic and destroyer deity in the Rapa Nui mythology.

Manana Take was a goddess in the Rapa Nui mythology, the original religion on Easter island. She was the consort of Era Nuku, the god of the feathers and farming.

Hanau epe

The Hanau epe were a semi-legendary people who are said to have lived in Easter Island, where they came into conflict with another people known as the Hanau momoko or "short-ears". A decisive battle occurred which led to the defeat and extermination of the Hanau epe. According to the legend, these events are supposed to have happened at some point between the 16th and 18th centuries, probably in the late 17th century.

Related Research Articles

Rano Raraku volcano in Easter Island

Rano Raraku is a volcanic crater formed of consolidated volcanic ash, or tuff, and located on the lower slopes of Terevaka in the Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island in Chile. It was a quarry for about 500 years until the early eighteenth century, and supplied the stone from which about 95% of the island's known monolithic sculptures (moai) were carved. Rano Raraku is a visual record of moai design vocabulary and technological innovation, where 887 moai remain. Rano Raraku is in the World Heritage Site of Rapa Nui National Park and gives its name to one of the seven sections of the park.

Motu Nui national monument of Chile

Motu Nui is the largest of three islets just south of Easter Island and is the most westerly place in Chile and all of South America. All three islets have seabirds, but Motu Nui was also an essential location for the Tangata manu cult which was the island religion between the moai era and the Christian era. Motu Nui is the summit of a large volcanic mountain which rises over 2,000 meters from the sea bed. It measures 3.9 hectares in land area and is the largest of the five satellite islets of Easter island.

<i>Rapa-Nui</i> (film) 1994 American film directed by Kevin Reynolds

Rapa-Nui is a 1994 film directed by Kevin Reynolds and coproduced by Kevin Costner, who starred in Reynolds's previous film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). The plot is based on Rapanui legends of Easter Island, Chile, in particular the race for the sooty tern's egg in the Birdman Cult.

Rapa Nui National Park Chilean national park, in Easter Island

Rapa Nui National Park is a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located on Easter Island, Chile. Rapa Nui is the Polynesian name of Easter Island; its Spanish name is Isla de Pascua. The island is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern extremity of the Polynesian Triangle. The island was taken over by Chile in 1888. Its fame and World Heritage status arise from the 887 extant stone statues known by the name "moai", whose creation is attributed to the early Rapa Nui people who inhabited the island around 300 AD. Much of the island has been declared as Rapa Nui National Park which, on 22 March 1996, UNESCO designated a World Heritage Site under cultural criteria (i), (iii), & (v). The Rapa Nui National Park is now under the administrative control of the Ma´u Henua Polynesian Indigenous Community, which is the first autonomous institute on the island. The indigenous Rapa Nui people have regained authority over their ancestral lands and are in charge of the management, preservation and protection of their patrimony. On the first of December 2017, the ex-President Michelle Bachelet returned ancestral lands in the form of the Rapa Nui National Park to the indigenous people. For the first time in history, the revenue generated by the National Park is invested in the island and used to conserve the natural heritage.

Makemake (deity) deity in Rapa Nui mythology

Makemake in the Rapa Nui mythology of Easter Island, is the creator of humanity, the god of fertility and the chief god of the "Tangata manu" or bird-man sect. He appeared to be the local form, or name, of the old Polynesian god Tane. He had no wife.

Easter Island was traditionally ruled by a monarchy, with a king as its leader.

Hoa Hakananaia

Hoa Hakananai'a is a moai housed in the British Museum in London. It was taken from Orongo, Rapa Nui in November 1868 by the crew of the British ship HMS Topaze, and arrived in England in August 1869. Though relatively small, it is considered to be typical of the island’s statue form, but distinguished by carvings added to the back, associated with the island birdman cult. It has been described as a "masterpiece" and "without a doubt, the finest example of Easter Island sculpture".

Orongo stone village and ceremonial center on Easter Island

Orongo is a stone village and ceremonial center at the southwestern tip of Rapa Nui. It consists of a collection of low, sod-covered, windowless, round-walled buildings with even lower doors positioned on the high south-westerly tip of the large volcanic caldera called Rano Kau. Below Orongo on one side a 300-meter barren cliff face drops down to the ocean; on the other, a more-gentle but still very steep grassy slope leads down to a freshwater marsh inside the high caldera.

Anakena beach

Anakena is a white coral sand beach in Rapa Nui National Park on Rapa Nui, a Chilean island in the Pacific Ocean. Anakena has two ahus; Ahu-Ature has a single moai and Ahu Nao-Nao has seven, two of which have deteriorated. It also has a palm grove and a car park.

Ahu Tongariki stone platform on Easter Island

Ahu Tongariki is the largest ahu on Easter Island. Its moais were toppled during the island's civil wars and in the twentieth century the ahu was swept inland by a tsunami. It has since been restored and has fifteen moai including an 86 tonne moai that was the heaviest ever erected on the island. Ahu Tongariki is one kilometer from Rano Raraku and Poike in the Hotu-iti area of Rapa Nui National Park. All the moai here face sunset during Summer Solstice.

Ahu Akivi particular sacred place in Rapa Nui (or Easter Island)

Ahu Akivi is a particular sacred place in Rapa Nui in the Valparaíso Region of Chile, looking out towards the Pacific Ocean. The site has seven moai, all of equal shape and size, and is also known as a celestial observatory that was set up around the 16th century. The site is located inland, rather than along the coast. Moai statues were considered by the early people of Rapa Nui as their ancestors or Tupuna that were believed to be the reincarnation of important kings or leaders of their clans. The Moais were erected to protect and bring prosperity to their clan and village.

History of Easter Island

Geologically one of the youngest inhabited territories on Earth, Easter Island, located in the mid-Pacific Ocean, was, for most of its history, one of the most isolated. Its inhabitants, the Rapa Nui, have endured famines, epidemics of disease and cannibalism, civil war, environmental collapse, slave raids, various colonial contacts, and have seen their population crash on more than one occasion. The ensuing cultural legacy has brought the island notoriety out of proportion to the number of its inhabitants.


Hotu-iti is an area of southeastern Easter Island which derives its name from a local clan of the same name. Located in Rapa Nui National Park, it contains Rano Raraku crater, the Ahu Tongariki site, and a small bay. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Hotu-iti was one of two polities in Easter Island.

Ana Kai Tangata

Ana Kai Tangata is a sea cave in Easter Island that contains rock art of terns on its ceiling. It is located near Mataveri, and the cave opens up directly to the incoming surf. The cave is accessible and one of the most visited caves in Easter Island.


  1. Carlos Mordo, Easter Island (Willowdale, Ontario: Firefly Books Ltd., 2002)
  2. Steven L. Danver (22 December 2010). Popular Controversies in World History: Investigating History's Intriguing Questions. ABC-CLIO. pp. 223–224. ISBN   978-1-59884-077-3 . Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  3. Barbara A. West (2009). Encyclopedia of the peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. pp. 683–684. ISBN   978-0-8160-7109-8 . Retrieved 10 January 2012.
  4. Phil Cousineau (1 July 2003). Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives. Conari Press. pp. 181–182. ISBN   978-1-57324-864-8 . Retrieved 12 January 2012.
  5. Steven L. Danver (22 December 2010). Popular Controversies in World History: Investigating History's Intriguing Questions. ABC-CLIO. p. 225. ISBN   978-1-59884-077-3 . Retrieved 10 January 2012.

Further reading

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