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Rapa Nui mythology

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Title: Rapa Nui mythology  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Easter Island, History of Easter Island, Polynesian mythology, Easter Fracture Zone, Reimiro
Collection: Easter Island, Rapa Nui Mythology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Rapa Nui mythology

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.


  • Origin myth 1
  • Ancestor cult 2
  • Birdman cult 3
  • Deities and heroes 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

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 (probably the Marquesas). 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 arrival of Dutch captain Jacob Roggeveen, who discovered the island in 1722.[2]

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]

Birdman 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 island's church.[5]

Deities and heroes


  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.  
  3. ^ Barbara A. West (2009). Encyclopedia of the peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. pp. 683–684.  
  4. ^ Phil Cousineau (1 July 2003). Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives. Conari Press. pp. 181–182.  
  5. ^ Steven L. Danver (22 December 2010). Popular Controversies in World History: Investigating History's Intriguing Questions. ABC-CLIO. p. 225.  

Further reading

  • Kjellgren, Eric, et al. (2001). Splendid isolation: art of Easter Island. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  
  • Robert D. Craig. Dictionary of Polynesian mythology. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1989 ISBN 0-313-25890-2, ISBN 978-0-313-25890-9
  • Peggy Mann. Easter Island: land of mysteries. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1976. ISBN 0-03-014056-0, ISBN 978-0-03-014056-3
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