Easter Island

Colour: red

Mnemonic: O-LO-TÉ

Original Clue and Location: Easter Island.

The clue for this ‘energy pumping station’ was simply Easter Island. A tiny speck of volcanic rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, at 109°27’W by 27°07’S; 3700km west, or a five-hour flight from the Chilean mainland. Rapa Nui, as it is known locally, has for centuries fascinated travelers and scholars alike. Mainly because of the squat bodies and brooding faces of hundreds of stone statues or moai that rest, half buried on the sides of Rano Raraku, the volcanic crater where they were carved; or stand, re-erected along stunning coastlines gazing inland, rather than out to sea; or lie in jumbled heaps beside the ahu, or sacred platform areas, where they were deliberately toppled and broken. The sheer isolation of the island is staggering and readers will often find it referred to as the most remote, permanently inhabited place on Earth. It is perhaps hard to imagine that between New Zealand and Easter Island are 12 million square miles of ocean, or a quarter of the Earth’s circumference (McLaughlin, 2004). What really makes Easter Island unique, as well as its geography, is that it was a Neolithic Society preserved into almost modern times. Many places of antiquity such as Pompeii, or Machu Picchu are frozen in time and tend to represent the final manifestation of a culture. As one archaeologist put it: ‘On Easter Island you can see the birth, life and death of its ancient culture, all together, in the same place’ (McLaughlin, 2004). Easter Island’s long isolation finally ended on Easter Sunday 1722 when a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, found the island and named it after that holy day. 

Later research and insights:

There are many excellent sources of information about Easter Island, but one which can be readily recommended is the website of the Easter Island Foundation (EIF) http://islandheritage.org/wordpress (Last accessed 26/09/16). 

In addition, the Rapa Nui National Park has ranger posts at four locations; and they have an excellent Archaeological Field Guide in booklet form, which defines all the types of archaeology found on the island; including ahu, moai, houses, caves and rock art, including petroglyphs (Forestal).

At the suggestion of the various international tour companies providing stopovers on the island, most tourists limit their explorations of ‘Isla de Pascua’, as the Chileans call it, to just two or three days. In this short time, they are escorted around the main moai sites, the Rano Raraku quarry and the Orongo sacred home of the Birdman Cult; where they acquire just a fleeting glimpse of the Rapanui culture and, its often stark island landscape; all within the boundaries of a mostly scripted storyline. My plan was for a longer stay of about a week, based in a small hotel with one or more guides that would provide local knowledge and insights. I was particularly keen to find out whether there were any legends of dragons or serpents associated with one or more locations on the island; and to visit places which were deemed to have a special spiritual significance. From experience, there are many sacred landscapes associated with volcanoes, caves and lava tubes; and given the Rapanui belief in mana, a spiritual power or force that pervades everything; it was highly likely local medicine men, or shaman had used their skills to site their places of worship at locations where they could ‘tap into’ the energy of the landscape. 

In addition, work by Robert Coon (Coon, 1968) on the World Dragon lines, showed the female dragon line flowing through Easter Island, before heading off towards the South American mainland and the crossover point in Lake Titicaca. Perhaps the Rapanui concept of mana also included this world dragon line of energy; and by dowsing the landscape it would be possible to determine where and how the male and female aspects of this energy line flowed through the island?  

It is worth noting here that Rapa Nui is the name of the island, whilst the Rapanui are the people who live there and the name of the language they speak. The ancestors of the Rapanui are believed to have arrived from the Marquesas Islands, via Mangareva, somewhere between 400 and 600 CE (McLaughlin, 2004). In the beginning their society was characteristically Polynesian, in that authority and mana, or spiritual power, were focused in the ariki mau, or great chief. The position of ariki was hereditary and its holders were considered to be direct descendants of the gods. According to a traditional song, Hotu Matu’a, the first great chief, had six sons and he divided the island between them shortly before his death, hence the original six principle districts or mata, each associated with a clan. Some districts were later subdivided, so by the time Europeans arrived, there were ten mata grouped into big rival entities: one to the east, or ‘small district’; and the other to the west the ‘large district’. This same division was also found in the ceremonial village of Orongo (Orliac, 1995).

Following the clues on the ground: October 2005

Rapanui Culture: On my very first afternoon exploring the small town of Hanga Roa, I came across the Easter Island Foundation (EIF) shop. Having explained to the very friendly lady in charge that I was looking for a guide, or perhaps an archaeologist who could help me understand more about the island and its culture, she immediately took me next door to the Hotel Otai, where a group of archaeologists were in residence. I was in luck; one of the junior archaeologists, offered to accompany me on his day off, the following Tuesday. It was fortuitous, because this young man provided some very useful thoughts and insights into the Rapanui and their culture, which aren’t mentioned in travel guides. Indeed, these insights were confirmed during my stay by various experiences; and discussions with Edith (Rapanui name Eriti) the owner of the hotel I was staying at; and with Ian (who had a Rapanui mother), a guide from the Hotel Otai: 

  • The old Rapanui culture was very distinctive with a so-called elite or ruling class that had characteristically fair skin and long ear lobes. It was also a very violent culture where treachery and mistrust were common. 
  • Whilst the Rapanui believe in mana, a spiritual power or force that pervades everything, there is no such thing as good or bad karma, which means they have no problem stealing from, or indeed killing a neighbour who offends.
  • Each ahu, or sacred platform, belonged to a clan or mata and the moai placed on top were the embodied spirits, which held the mana of the clan. Whilst the original clan chief was buried beneath the moai, which may have been carved in his likeness, other members of the clan were burnt and their bones or remains buried at the back of the ahu, where there was a crematorium of sorts. During their lives, individuals could take mana from the clan ahu and its incumbent moai; but when they died and their remains were buried, that mana was returned. It was believed that the living had a symbiotic relationship with the dead; where the dead provided everything that the living needed including health, fertility of land and animals, fortune etc.; whilst the living, through various offerings, provided the dead with a better place in the spirit world. Once a statue was placed upright on an ahu, it was given eyes in the form of carved sockets. This ‘opening’ of the eyes is said to have activated the power and mana of the statue; with some examples having eyes inlaid with coral and, obsidian or red scoria pupils. 
  • In front of each ahu was a sacred area of rounded, cobbled, volcanic stones (called an ava’a), which had been erupted underwater and later smoothed by millennia of wave action. The colour red was and still is considered sacred; hence the red scoria top knots for some of the moai. The red scoria came mainly from the Puna Pau quarry and was often ground up very finely and strewn across the front of an ahu, giving the appearance of black cobbles surrounded by red. The ahu and its moai faced in protectively, towards the clan village, with their backs toward the spirit world of the sea.
Moai on their Ahu, showing sacred cobbled area
  • Clan members with special skills were revered in posterity. For example, if a clan member was a particularly good fisherman, when he died his bones (and their associated mana) would be hidden, so they couldn’t be stolen by another clan. These pieces of bone would later be fashioned into fish hooks; thus, his spirit or mana would enable other clan members to continue to successfully catch fish.
  • After the collapse of Rapanui society, the population dropped from an unsustainable 10,000 -15,000 people (the figure varies, dependent on the source), as warring clans killed each other; and a warrior class, the matato’a became dominant. Around this time, the Rapanui turned from their old moai based religion to a new creator god, called ‘Make Make’ and the Birdman cult, with rituals based on fertility. For the most part, all killing was done as cleanly as possible, so bodies could be eaten; as any flesh was a good source of protein on an island with dwindling food stocks and people facing starvation. Also, by eating the bodies of their enemies, rival clans would be taking over their mana and spiritual power. 
  • All possessions, especially food sources, were closely guarded. Hence plants were grown in circular, high-walled stone constructions known as mataveri, the Polynesian equivalent of a greenhouse; in which the rocks were warmed by the Sun, whilst a deep hole in the middle collected rainwater; making the inside quite humid and providing good growing conditions. The walls also protected the contents from the wind, which regularly blasts across the island. Chickens were kept in separate mataveri that could be sealed up, out of sight from prying, neighbourly eyes. Whilst rats could still slip through gaps between the stones, they built special sections in the walls that would collapse and kill them when they tried to enter. Dead rats would also then, of course, provide another source of protein.
  • Many aspects of the original Rapanui culture still exist today. Families are very insular and all wealth is kept within the family unit as much as possible. So even if a family member is not that skilled at a task, be it tourist guide, fisherman, or driver; they will still be preferred to an outsider. Unless of course their lack of skills directly affects the family purse and wealth, in which case they will be given something else to do. As an example, Edith my hotel owner and many of her 22 brothers and sisters have benefited from sponsored college educations. Edith is a midwife by training; her sister, who helps to run the hotel and the restaurant next door, is a trained dentist. Whilst one brother, a lawyer, is also a carver of all the stone and wood statues found in the hotel precincts. When one visiting couple said they were going to photograph the carvings in the Church, Edith went to great lengths to explain it was her brother who had carved them; although there was no way of knowing whether this was true or not. Likewise, when mentioning a restaurant I’d planned to visit for supper one evening, her immediate response was ‘Don’t go there, it’s not very good. XYZ is much better’. Which basically meant the restaurant I planned to visit belonged to another family, whilst the one she recommended was owned and run by a member of her family. Edith’s driving focus was to provide her hotel guests with everything they needed. She was not interested in anyone else and happily applied the principle of possession is 9/10ths of the law. So, if she had possession of a car belonging to another Rapanui family and could rent it out and make money from it, she would do so; even if the owning family wanted the car back because they had customers waiting to rent it. 
  • In Rapanui society, the family is all important and if an individual denies their family, or their heritage in any way, that is considered a gross error of judgement. At the same time though, if an individual family member can get away with not taking responsibility for their actions and someone else gets the blame, then that is fine too; especially if the person taking the blame is a non-family member.
  • There are also, still, very distinctive class differences. The Poike peninsular in the east was originally the best place to live, because there were no stones or volcanic rubble and the land was good. Now, after years of bad land management techniques, the Poike peninsular is an eroded, barren wasteland of red-orange rock; an ecological disaster area and ‘no-go zone’ that the Chilean government is trying to salvage with tree planting programs. Nowadays, the best place to live is considered to be the area south of Mataveri airport. The Rapanui however, continue to live and have their homes in the town of Hanga Roa, whilst it is the rich Chileans who live in the hills and lands to the south of the airport.                  
  • The Rapanui approach to mana means that ecological ideas have no value, but the influx of westerners and western ideas is beginning to change that. Hence some islanders are involved in the re-treeing project on Poike peninsular to reduce the effects of erosion; whilst others are known to sow fields with wild flowers to attract insects and other pollinators.
  • Lastly, he gave a sage bit of advice: be aware that you are never alone on this island. No matter that you might think you are alone, that you can see no-one, someone will always be watching you; and that includes occasions when you might want to hide behind a rock for a pee. 
Map of Easter Island’s principle sites (drawing by C. Visse after José Garanger) (Orliac, 1995)

A study of various maps of Rapa Nui, highlighted several sites that looked worthy of attention. In the east were the Poike Peninsular; the Rano Raraku quarry where the moai were carved; and the reconstructed ahu of Tongariki with its long line of 15 restored moai statues. To the north was the beach of Anakena, which legend says was the site of the first landing of early settlers; and Te Pito te Kura the location of the sacred ‘Navel of the World’. In the south-west lay the volcanic crater of Rano Kau (meaning ‘lake of new shoots’) and the sacred village of the Birdman cult at Orongo. The northwest in particular kept drawing me back; it was clearly less visited than other areas and there was no road; but the small crater of Rano Aroi and the hills of Maunga Terevaka (meaning ‘to pull out canoes’) behind it, dominated the landscape. The map showed many ancient ahu, lava tubes and caves along this part of the coastline, which would definitely be worth exploring. Underlying all this was an overall sense of two main energy flows in the landscape; one from SW to NE and the other from west to east, with a crossover somewhere between Rano Aroi and the road that connects Hanga Roa in the south with Anakena in the north. On some maps this area is marked as Vaitea and is believed to be a ‘place of spirits’, as well as a place of refuge for those vanquished in prehistoric tribal wars. Some 80 years ago a large eucalyptus grove was planted here; and whilst the eucalyptus yields little benefit and interferes with other plants growing nearby; it is an atmospheric place, which some have described as an enchanted forest (McLaughlin, 2004). It would be very interesting to see whether these perceived energy flows could be dowsed in situ. There was even the possibility they might be the dual male and female aspects of the female dragon line flowing through the island. Only time would tell.

‘Energy Pumping Station’ location and description:

The plan for day three was to explore the south-westerly point of the island; visiting Orongo, the most sacred area of the Birdman Cult; and the volcanic crater of Rano Kau. First stop was the little Ranger Station at the entrance to the ceremonial village of Orongo. This is the only place on the island where an entrance fee is charged, but if you keep your ticket and want to come back a second time you won’t have to pay again. Just before the Ranger Station was a row of tables with carved curios for the tourists. I was surprised to see the large, Polynesian man with his braided hair in a top-knot, that had been at Rano Raraku the day before. Even though I smiled and said ‘hello’ he seemed to look at me in a strange way. Perhaps he too had been guided here today, because of something that was going to happen; or perhaps it was something simpler? On Sundays he was at Rano Raraku, Mondays were Rano Kau and so on. All was bound to become clear as the day progressed. As far as the eye could see the sky was a clear, almost transparent blue and although the day was not yet hot, it promised to become so. The constant wind blowing off the vast Pacific Ocean was deceptive; and a liberal covering of suntan lotion was a must. 

After silently asking permission to enter, I followed the neat footpath that led past the remains of an ancient ahu with grassy covered rocks to my left; and an unusual carved head to the right of the trail. Having been given permission to go on, my eyes were taken by the sheer cliff drop into the clear aquamarine sea to my right. Almost every stone I passed was covered in petroglyphs, although some were clearly very old and difficult to see. Orongo was restored in 1974 by William Mulloy, who reconstructed 47 of the small, stone, grass topped, windowless houses; many of which had been torn down by treasure hunters. I was so entranced by the view of the Pacific Ocean that I didn’t realise these grass-covered houses and rocks actually ran along the rim of the volcanic crater of Rano Kau. There is a story that the beautiful carved moai statue now in the British Museum, was found lying on its side, inside one of these houses, gazing out to sea and watching the distant horizon. This moai, known as Hoa Haka Nana La (or ‘stolen friend’) is unusual; in that it is carved of basalt, rather than the normal tuff of Rano Raraku; and has petroglyphs on its back of birdmen, vulvas (komari) and dance paddles (ao) (Lee, 1990). Not all moai are made of volcanic tuff; at least 10 are made of hard basalt; 7 are made of trachyte, a stone harder than tuff but softer than hard basalt; and 18 are made of red scoria (McLaughlin, 2004). Knowledge of why this particular moai was deliberately laid in this place has been lost; but it is curious, given the Birdman cult is said to have come to prominence after the collapse of the moai as keepers of the mana, or spirit of the Rapanui. Perhaps the simple act of enclosing the moai in a recumbent pose signified the new religion taking the power and energy of the old? We’ll never know.

The grass and stone houses of Orongo

At its narrowest point the path ended at the sacred precinct of Mata Ngarau, where every single space of volcanic rock was covered in a profusion of petroglyphs; predominantly of the birdman and the face of Make Make, the creator god. Archaeologists have counted 1,785 petroglyphs at this site alone; including 375 birdman figures, 195 komari, or vulva signs and 140 faces. Mata Ngarau is the place where the Rapanui priests lived and chanted the rongo-rongo, during birdman cult ceremonies. This, still-undeciphered script, contains over 700 individual characters, which appear to be partly phonetic and partly pictographic. Current thinking is that the boards on which this script have been found may have been ‘prompts’ for the chants used during sacred ceremonies (Lee, 1990), or for storytelling.  What is clear, is that only priests would have been allowed access to this sacred area. Making my way down carefully, I hung back to allow two other tourists to admire the view. This gave time for my racing heart to settle, allowing me to observe my surroundings in detail and, my senses to tune in to the energy of the place. 

The sacred precinct of Mata Ngarau
Carving of the Creator god Make Make

Breathing slowly, I became aware of the warmth of the volcanic rock, the wind in my hair, the brilliant blue of the Pacific Ocean, and the salty smell of sea spray in my nostrils. In the distance, the three rocky islets of Motu Kao Kao, Motu Iti and Motu Nui caught my attention as they broke the water’s surface. Motu Kao Kao is simply a chunk of barren volcanic rock; whilst Motu Iti was a source of obsidian; and Motu Nui is the islet that featured in the birdman ritual. This was where eager young men would wait for the first sooty tern to lay its eggs, before swimming back to the island to present the prized egg to their sponsor, who was then declared Birdman for the year – an important status position amongst the Rapanui at that time. A clear energy line flowed through these small islands; but it was hard to tell, from this lofty perch, whether the energy was flowing into or out of Rapa Nui; as I could feel both flows clearly at the same time. Perhaps there was a dual flow in both directions?

Immediately to the southeast, but not easily visible, the outer slope of the volcano joined a knife-edged sea cliff at a place known as Karikari, which formed the southern side of the crater wall of Rano Kao. Islanders are said to descend to the base of this cliff to fish; as it is the easiest way down to the sea and may have been the route taken by the birdman contestants. It is apparently possible to walk completely around the crater rim, crossing over Karikari and continuing on to the eastern side; although I wasn’t aware of this at the time; and even if I had been it wasn’t something to necessarily try.

Rano Kau and Orongo Complex map (McLaughlin, 2004)

Making my way back to the gatehouse, I made sure to say ‘thank you’ to the various stones, which had caught my eye on the way in. The Polynesian man was no longer at his table of carved trinkets. Perhaps he had gone elsewhere? Turning right, I climbed the outer slope of Rano Kau towards the rim of the volcanic crater. Along the top was a small, round stone wall and I burst out laughing as a blast of energy shot through my body. In the middle of the stone enclosure was a rock rising up out of the crater rim, in the shape of a serpent’s head. It too was covered in birdman and Make Make petroglyphs. There is no mention of this serpent rock in any books or websites about the island; neither had the Polynesian man, nor my hotel owner spoken about it when asked; but clearly it had been considered a special rock at some time by the Rapanui. 

Serpent rock guardian – Rano Kau
Birdman petroglyph on serpent rock guardian

The serpent rock felt somewhat abandoned and so, after saying ‘hello’, I stood for a while next to it, just taking in the stunning view of the volcanic crater and the ocean beyond. Whilst my gaze took in the whole rim, my eye kept going back to a small rocky ledge half way down the inside of the crater wall. After being prompted and given permission, I decided to make my way down to sit on the little ledge. And so it was, that any visitors that morning, would have seen a small, hatted figure sitting half way down the inside of the crater wall, with a small rucksack on her lap, looking out towards the far side of the crater and the wide Pacific Ocean beyond.

Ranu Kau Crater Lake

Edith had mentioned the crater lake used to be a source of fresh water for the Rapanui; but on this day it was a sombre sight, mostly covered in large patches of reeds (nga’atu) and vegetation; and not looking particularly healthy. From my vantage point the dip in the crater rim, which created the knife-edged sea cliff of Karikari, dominated the view; with the curvature of the earth clearly visible across the unending vista of empty, blue ocean beyond. The air was warm and the wind had dropped now that I was hugged down below the crater rim. Sitting, watching and observing the rocks of the inner crater around me, the gnarled faces of various rock beings started to make themselves visible. I said ‘hello’ and smiled, but there was no notable response. After meditating for a while, in the quiet solitude, a familiar energy signature began to present itself and an image started to form in front of me. The image was that of a giant snake, that floated through the gap of Karikari and across the crater lake until it stopped, rising up to full height just in front of me. I nodded and said ‘hello’ then smiled as it dipped its head. Every hair on my body was standing to attention as now familiar waves of energy flowed through me. In an instant, the giant snake had passed through my body and was on its way across the island to exit via Te Pito te Kura; the stone which legend says was brought to the island by the first king Hotu Matu’a and said to symbolize the island as the ‘navel of the world’. The stone is in fact naturally shaped and of local origin, but nothing gets in the way of a good story on this island. 

Te Pito te Kura the ‘navel of the world’

Sitting there, with these waves of energy flowing through, there was no doubt in my mind I had found and connected in with the female dragon line mentioned by Robert Coon (Coon, 1968). This was clearly the place where it flowed into the island. I had felt this same warm energy in several places along the Michael/Mary line in the UK (Miller & Broadhurst, 1989); in the dragon kingdom of Bhutan; at the crossover point of Bali; and in several locations in Australia. It was now very familiar and welcoming. 

After some minutes enjoying the energy flow, images of many people dancing and singing appeared along the rim of the crater, including the Polynesian man I’d seen earlier. There was a celebration going on and it seemed I was somehow part of it. By the time the singing reached a crescendo I was smiling from ear to ear and really enjoying the spectacle; with the sounds of ululating, chanting voices bouncing off the sides of the crater; and a soft, warm energy flowing through. Sometime later the beat slowly abated and the figures wavered then vanished, leaving me perched on my ledge, looking out across the crater to the vast expanse of ocean beyond. The time had come for me to leave this beautiful space and so, after saying ‘thank you’ I climbed back up to the rim. The serpent rock guardian, for that is clearly what it was, rested quietly in its stone enclosure; only now its outline seemed to shimmer, or perhaps that was my imagination, or the sharp sunlight? Saying my good byes, I walked slowly back to the car, conscious that this had been one of those very special experiences and places that would forever stay in my memory.

It was sometime later, whilst sitting meditating in one of the lava caves and gazing out to sea, that the idea of the whole island as an ‘energy pumping station’ inserted itself into my consciousness; with the three volcanoes of Rano Kau (SW), Pua Katiki (Poike Peninsular in the East) and Maunga Terevaka and Rano Aroi in the North forming the three corners of a triangle. This image instantly struck a chord, because it was very similar to the triangular shape of the symbol for Easter Island. This symbol looks a bit like a stylized treble clef, suggesting music could be an important key to the energy flow. I’d already had several experiences of music on the island; both in a physical form on the first night when I attended a show of local music and dance put on for tourists; and my spiritual and energetic experiences sitting inside Rano Kau with drummers and dancers lining the crater’s edge above me. So, this thought came as no surprise.

Once these ideas had settled in my mind, there was no question anymore; the whole island was part of the ‘Energy Pumping Station’, with the crater lake of Rano Kau and the female dragon line that ran through it being the heart, or pump, that kept the energy flowing. The moment I realised this, a finely tuned sliver of energy shot up my spine, affirming this was so.

Local geology: 

The volcanic speck that we now call Easter Island, formed at a point in the Earth’s crust where three tectonic plates are moving away from each other; the Nazca Plate to the east, the Pacific Plate to the west and, the Antarctic Plate to the south. The Nazca Ridge runs through the middle of the Nazca Plate with Easter Island at its western end, over a tectonic hot spot (Easter Island Digest). The first volcanic island formed 3M years ago from a strato-volcano that created the Poike Peninsular, in the east. Around 2M years later, further volcanic eruptions formed a second island to the SW of the first, now known as the Rano Kao crater. Rano Kao is a source for basalt on the island and was used by the Rapanui to make the tools, which carved and shaped the moai. Basalt picks called toki were especially effective when wet (McLaughlin, 2004). Then 300,000 years ago a series of effusive volcanic eruptions slightly further north, filled in the space between the first two islands, to make one single larger island shaped like a triangle 13x11x10 miles; with the fissure complex located on what is now the circle of high hills in the northwest, known as Maunga Terevaka (the highest point on the island at 536metres), Maunga Puka and Maunga Kuma (Lee, 1990). It was these effusive eruptions and associated cones that created many of the features seen in the island’s landscape today; including the more easily carved volcanic tuff found in the moai quarries of Rano Raraku; and the red scoria ‘top-knots’ (pukao) of some moai, found in the quarry at Puna Pau. The volcanic eruptions also created the many lava tubes, which the Rapanui both hid in and, made their homes in, during periods of war and massacre. In fact, parts of the island are reported to be like Swiss cheese, with multiple caves formed by lava tubes. At the time when these volcanic eruptions occurred, sea levels must have been higher than they are today, because pillow lavas, which form underwater, can clearly be seen along several parts of the coast where they have been rounded by thousands of years of pounding wave action. In fact, most of the coastline shows the debris and remains of huge outcrops of pillow lavas. More recent lava flows from Terevaka occurred 12,000 and the last confirmed 3,000 years ago. All three major volcanoes are now extinct and the island rests on a submarine platform some 50-60m below the ocean surface. Between 15 and 30km off the coast the platform ends and the ocean floor drops sharply to between 1800m and 3600m.

Earthquakes, called papa-papa, meaning ‘trembling’ or ‘shifting’ rock in Rapanui, do occur and have been suspected as possible causes for the toppled moai, although a quake in 1987 registering 6.3 on the Richter scale, had no effect on re-erected statues (McLaughlin, 2004).

For those wishing to know more, there is a very good geological map available from the Centre for Volcanology Studies in Santiago, Chile entitled: Geología del Complejo Volcánico Isla de Pascua Rapa Nui © O. Gonzalez-Ferran (2004). ISBN: 956-299-258-6. I purchased my copy from the Easter Island Foundation website in 2005, but this may have now been updated.

Local legends: 

There are many ancient legends associated with Easter Island and just a few have been included here. Other excellent sources of information online include:

http://www.crystalinks.com/easterisland.html (accessed 18/10/2016) – page down to section entitled ‘Easter Island Mythology’; and https://www.easterisland.travel/easter-island-facts-and-info/legends-and-mythology/ which describes many of the legends and traditions of Easter Island as translated from Sebastian Englert’s Leyendas. 

The legends of Tangaroa and Make Make: (Orliac, 1995)

In Polynesian legend, Tangaroa was the creator god of everything, but he only appears discretely in Rapa Nui traditions; where the main divinity is Make Make, the guardian protector of the Hotu Matu’a clan. However, the depictions of Make Make as a human being with a bird’s head, do evoke the myth of how Tangaroa created the world. 

For millions of years Tangaroa remained in the darkness. Existing before the world he had created himself and given himself a name. His shell was like an egg spinning in infinite space, with no sky, no earth, no sea, no moon, no sun and no stars. When he broke his shell, he got rid of the feathers that covered his body; these fell to the earth and gave birth to vegetation. This myth of the original egg holds a primordial place in the mythology of Easter Island.’ (Orliac, 1995)

Petroglyphs of Make Make show him with two big eyes, like those of a skull. Local stories also tell of how human sacrifices were offered to him, as well as to his companion Haua. 

The story of Lizard Woman and Gannet Woman: (Orliac, 1995)

Make Make was the creator of human beings and he brought them forth from the ground like plants. By masturbating in the earth he gave birth to a pantheon of first gods, including Tive, Rorai, Hova and the old woman Arangi Kote Kote. The considerable hosts of minor divinities were called akuaku; that could be incarnated in living beings, or materialize in the form of objects or natural phenomena. Te Emu was a landslide and Mata Vara Vara was large raindrops. From these akuaku came certain techniques, including: tattooing, dyeing with turmeric (taught by two female demons Lizard Woman and Gannet Woman), or the manufacture of bone fish-hooks. These gods resided in the territories of different clans, with most of them revered as divine protectors of the families to which they transmitted messages from the next world, in the form of omens. People never forgot to present them with food offerings every time an oven was opened; to forget to do this would invoke the wrath of these spirits. It is said that two generations after their conversion to Christianity, the Rapanui could still recall 90 gods; but by 1935, three generations later, only 30 were listed (Metraux, 1940).

The Old Witch of Rano Raraku: (McLaughlin, 2004)

One local story, told by a woman called Mariana to Thor Heyerdahl, appears in his book Aku-Aku:

Mariana began to tell a long story about an old witch who lived at Rano Raraku at the time when the sculptors made the great figures. It was her magic which breathed life into the stone giants and made them go where they should. But one day the sculptors had eaten a big lobster, and when the witch found the empty shell, and realized none of the contents had been given to her, she was so angry that she made all the walking statues fall flat on their noses, and they have never moved since.’

Astronomical lore: The Fearsome Sky (Liller, 1993)

Much of the ritual knowledge of the ancient culture of the Rapanui was lost or forgotten, before scholars had the opportunity to study it; and although knowledge of Easter Island star lore is scanty, it stands up surprisingly well when compared to other islands in Polynesia. ‘According to tradition, astronomer-priests preserved vital information about the stars, sun and moon, their risings and settings and the seasons. It was their responsibility to warn people of the evil powers of Matamea (the planet Mars, also known as ‘Evil Eye’), Tautoru (Orion’s Belt) and a star known as Pau (possibly Arcturus). When these objects were all above the horizon at the same time, fishermen were in danger of being caught by a formidable shark known as nuihi (probably a hammerhead shark); and everyone had to behave properly lest a member of their family disappeared. At the end of the month the priests climbed a tupa (coastal tower) near the ahu and from there announced that the position of the stars had changed and could no longer do any harm.’

Those wishing to find out more about the Archaeoastronomy of Easter Island should read the excellent book ‘The Ancient Solar Observatories of Rapanui’ by William Liller and available from the Easter Island Foundation (Liller, 1993)

Additional information:

Moko means lizard in Rapanui, and moko were Carved ‘lizard men’ with a lizard’s head, tail of a bird, but the ribs, fingers, legs and penis of a human. Said to have been house spirits, they could also have been clubs. The only natural lizard on the island is a tiny gecko (McLaughlin, 2004).

Ahu Tepeu, 8km north of Hanga Roa is one of several sites on the island aligned to the sunrises of the solstice and equinox (McLaughlin, 2004).

Works Cited

Coon, R. (1968). The Planetary Gates of the New Jerusalem. Glastonbury, England.
Easter Island Digest. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.waymarker.co.uk/m1/rapanui/digest1.htm.
Forestal, C. N. (n.d.). Archaeological Field Guide – Rapa Nui National Park. Republica de Chile Ministerio de Agricultura.
Hitching, F. (1978). The World Atlas of Mysteries. London: Pan Books.
Lee, G. (1990). An Uncommon Guide to Easter Island: Exploring Archaeological Mystries of Rapa Nui. Arroyo Grande, California: International Resources.
Liller, W. (1993). The Ancient Solar Observatories of Rapanui. Cloud Mountain Press and Easter Island Foundation.
McLaughlin, S. (2004). The Complete Guide to Easter Island. Los Osos, California: Easter Island Foundation.
Metraux, A. (1940). Ethnology of Easter Island. (1. Michael Bullock, Trans.)
Miller, H., & Broadhurst, P. (1989). The Sun and The Serpent. Launceston, Cornwall: Pendragon Press.
Orliac, C. a. (1995). The Silent Gods – Mysteries of Easter Island. Thames Hudson/New Horizons.
P.E. Baker, F. B. (1974). Petrology and Geochemistry of Easter Island. Mineralogy and Petrology 44, 85-100.
Sanger, K. K. (2015). Easter Island, The Essential Guide. Easter Island Foundation.


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