Culture, history & environment

According to the oral tradition, the first inhabitants of the Rapa Nui island (better known as Easter Island) arrived running away from the sinking of a mythical continent called Hiva island, being Hotu Matu`a his first king or Ariki Henua. This was approximately towards the VI century, although there are theories that date his arrival some centuries later.

Regarding the origin of its population, one of the most widespread and accepted theories (supported by archeology, comes from the oral tradition and genetics), indicates that the original inhabitants came from trips from the island of Hiva (possibly one of the islands of the Marquesas), in French Polynesia, located at a distance of 3,641 km from Rapa Nui. The legend tells that a native (Hau-Maka) dreamed of a distant place and search of a home for his king (Ariki), Hotu Matu`a.  That place was called “Te Pito O Te Hau Maka Kainga A” (i.e. “The small piece of track Hau Maka”). Studies show that the arrival of the Polynesians happened between the centuries IV and V, before C.

By the end of the 15th century lived 6000 till 10,000 people (some estimate says that it was up to 15,000 or 30,000) which had great demographic pressure on the island. It is estimated that the population of Easter Island suffered a social crisis, which has been attributed to the population and devastation of the ecosystem in the 16th to the 18th centuries. The over exploitation of forests and the decline of farm crop production, prevented them from building rafts for fishing on the high seas and get wood for the fire. To this was added the depletion of coastal marine resources and the eggs of seabirds nesting on the island.

The lack of food led to the collapse of its complex society, which began to be simplified and divided into clans competing for the remaining resources. According to tradition a civil war occurred, and the Hanau Momoko (Short Ears), the common people, rose up against the ruling class, the Hanau Eepe (long ears), with the consequent destruction of the ceremonial altars and the abandonment of the quarries where the moai were carved. The natives began to live in caves to fend off attacks. Emerged a new ceremonial rite, the Tangata manu (Birdman), who first collected the first egg of manu tara (the pascuense tern) was a leader for one year which held until 1866. Food shortages and isolation made them more vulnerable to diseases brought by the Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Another theory less accepted and widely discussed is the one developed by the Norwegian archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl, who argues that the population of Easter Island comes from pre-Inca cultures of South America.

The society of Rapa Nui was governed by Ariki, which according to their traditions, came directly from the gods. The society was divided into ten clans (mata) and each received a territory (kainga) with a coastal strip; society had a marked gradation classes (warriors, priests, sculptors, craftsmen, fishermen, farmers, builders). Most of the population lived inland, next to the cultivation areas. On the coast established religious, political and ceremonial centers (Anakena, Akahanga) and worshiped almost deified ancestors represented by Moais. They raised 300 ahu, ceremonial altars. The Kohau Rongo Rongo were hieroglyphic writings that have not yet been deciphered.

Over time the population grew and forests were cleared up for agriculture, fire, building rafts and moai. Between 1200 and 1500, the Rapa Nui culture reached its highest level of development.