The Rapa Nui Inhabitants of Easter Island, Chile

People & Culture

Moais of Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island, Chile

Easter Island, off the coast of Chile, is one of the most isolated points in the world, as it is the furthest removed from any populated place on the entire planet. This makes the Rapa Nui inhabitants of Easter Island all the more fascinating.

It is speculated that 1200 years ago, a double-hulled canoe filled with seafarers from a distant culture landed upon its shores. These people of Easter Island called themselves the Rapa Nui. Where did they come from and why did they disappear? Science has learned much about the enigma of Easter Island and has put to rest some of the more bizarre theories, however, questions and controversies remain.

Theories of Rapa Nui inhabitants and how they came to arrive at the Island vary – from UFOs, to the lost city of Atlantis, to the more believable of being ancient peoples from South America who then went on to populate the Pacific Islands… or vice versa.

Rapa Nui Woman, Easter Island, Chile
Polynesian culture offered from Rapa Nui inhabitants

Rapa Nui is part of Chile but its ancient and modern culture is very much Polynesian. One of the funnier aspects of a visit to Easter Island is on arrival, when you are met by locals who proffer the well-known lei as a welcome, but then begin to converse in Spanish! A true cross or clash of cultures!

For centuries, a remarkable society developed in isolation on the island. For reasons still unknown, they began carving giant statues out of volcanic rock. These monuments, known, as “moai” (pronounced mow – eye) are some of the most incredible, and to this day, the most mysterious, ancient relics ever discovered.

Unfortunately, the Moai, turned out to be the downfall of the civilization, as the continuing deforestation of the Island for the construction of these statues soon left the island unsustainable, forcing the inhabitants to move on.

Today, the majority of the Moai are situated on or close to the coast, and all but one face inland! One of the best areas to see the many sizes and shapes – as all Moai are unique in appearance – is at Rano Raraku, the quarry where the majority of statues were carved before moving to their intended sites.

Easter Island Moais, Chile
Easter Island Moais

The people that found and began to populate Easter Island started constructing villages and houses made in an unusual elliptical shape. It has been speculated that this style of construction started when the new arrivals turned their boats upside down for quick housing. There were literally hundreds of remains of these foundations on the island in the 1800s, but most were destroyed by missionaries to make fences.

Indeed, the missionaries did more damage to the island’s history than even the Peruvian slave traders who carted off most of the Island’s population. Those who escaped by hiding in the island’s many caves were “saved” by these missionaries, who proceeded to destroy all the Islanders’ wooden sculptures, religious artifacts, and most importantly, the Rongo-Rongo tablets, which contained a record of the lost language of the Rapa Nui. So few of these tablets remain that no one has been able to decipher them.

Aerial view of Easter Island, Chile
Aerial view of Easter Island

Easter Island sits smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Getting there involves travelling from Santiago, Chile (6 hours) or from Fiji (4 hours) with LAN airlines. Formed by a series of massive volcanic eruptions, the evidence of which is still visible in the two extinct volcanoes, Rano Raraku – where the majority of the famous statues were carved, and Rano Kau – which sits atop the airport, the Island offers an amazing walk around the rim with sheer drops to the ocean.

The volcanic activity of the past has left many lava tubes and cave systems, many of which can be explored to this day. Easter Island is also dotted with pristine white beaches, where ancient Moai “stand guard.”

Santiago sunset, Chile
Santiago sunset

For millions of years, the island was only inhabited by sea birds and dragonflies until the arrival of the sea travellers from the South Pacific. Spanning only 64 square miles, Easter Island today remains a land of mystery and virgin beauty, and is somewhat tranquil and peaceful. Tourism is the driving factor of the local economy, and as the word spreads of this amazing and unique destination, more and more people are heading to the middle of the Pacific to immerse themselves in one of the world’s most mysterious, ancient civilizations, and one of the world’s most beautiful and serene destinations.

Goway Travel offers many opportunities to visit Easter Island as a stand alone vacation or as an add-on to our Chile, Argentina, Antarctica, or Holiday of a Lifetime itineraries.

Suggested Itinerary:
Explora Easter Island 4, 5, or 6 Days

Suggested Viewing:
Rapa Nui (1994)