WellBeing

The evolving stories of Rapa Nui

In the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, more than 3700km from its closest neighbour, Chile, lies Rapa Nui. The small (163.6 km²) island has three extinct volcanoes and is itself an extinct volcano — an isolated, magical place with many stories of its people and their spectacular stone statues.

The legends tell that Rapa Nui was colonised by Polynesians sometime between 800 and 1200 CE. Evidence suggests several arrivals over time. According to the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum in Hanga Roa, it was colonised by the Tongans and Samoans. Others say the first islanders arrived from the Marquesas, Mangareva, the Cook Islands or Pitcairn around the 8th century. They were some of the world’s best seafarers, crossing vast oceans in flimsy sailing outrigger canoes looking for land and a new life.

It is said their pigs helped. With the Polynesian ability to read the currents and the waves of the oceans, they could detect if land was nearby and, if it was, a pig was thrown overboard. If the pig returned they continued on as the land was not considered hospitable. If the pig did not return they went looking for landfall, following the direction the pig indicated. Another theory suggests the Polynesian sailors followed the migration patterns of the ancient green turtle.

According to legend, two large canoes of settlers led by King Hotu Matua ( is Polynesian for

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