There are several theories about the past of Easter Island which contribute to increasing the mystery around it. Its history is passed from generation to generation through oral tradition and mythology. According to it, ariki (king) Hotu Matu’a, along with his sister ariki (queen) Vi'eAva Rei Púa and other 100 men, left his native land Hiva in the IV century A.D. guided by the directions of the royal advisor Haumaka. Thus, on board two boats, they arrived in Te Pito o te Henua, which means “The navel of the world”, the spiritual center of the Polynesian cosmovision.
According to the legend, ariki Hotu Matu’a established the social and religious organization of the community by setting forth the rules of kinship and offspring and the construction of housing units and monuments.
The moai are their main symbols and they rise around the 250 ceremonial sites or Ahu. Along with the petroglyphs carved on volcanic rocks, these beautiful megalithic sculptures represent the richness of the rapa nui ancient culture. They reflect the images of their ancestry, who would then witness all the ceremonies of the people.
In the XVI and XVII centuries, a social crisis started and led to new tribal wars and the decline of the moai culture. As there is hardly any written testimony of these facts, this part of history has been thrown into enigmatic oblivion.
On the other hand, anthropological and archeological research has proved that groups from Southeastern Asia would have migrated to Melanesia and Polynesia and occupied most islands in Oceania up to the boundaries of this insular territory: Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. The voyages would have been made on double canoes of 30 meters of length and 8 meters of height and Rapa Nui would have been populated by 300 A.D.
It would have not been until 1772, when the Dutchman Jacob Roggeween arrived on the island on Easter day, that the first contact of the dwellers of Rapa Nui with the rest of the world took place. There are written records of their culture as from that moment.
Later on, expeditions and pirates left a negative balance for the rapa nui culture, especially the slave trade to Peru in 1862 and 1863 to work in the guano works.
Likewise, the evangelizing missions from Tahiti and Chile formally started a process by which the islanders would adopt a new culture, by restructuring their society according to catholic canons. It was then when the hieroglyphic writing system known as rongo rongo -their ceremonial tongue and one of the main elements of the ancient rapa nui culture- disappeared.
In 1888, the island was annexed by Chile as a result of the tasks performed by Captain Policarpo Toro. At first, the territory was exploited by a cattle company, which forced the dwellers to abandon fishing as their main way of subsistence and be subject to labors such as agriculture and cattle-raising.
This situation began to be gradually reverted as from 1917, when the management of the insular territory passed onto the hands of the Chilean Navy. In the 1930s, tourist activities began on the island as new way of subsistence thus strengthening the departure of Compañía Ganadera (the cattle company) and in 1935 it was declared National Park and Historical Monument. It was then when the islanders were entitled to their own territory, when the first municipal government was formed and the island became a district in the Province of Valparaíso.
At present, with over 3,600 inhabitants, Easter Island is marked by tourist development and scientific research. Among other sciences, archeology is making significant advances in the historical and social elements on the island.
Studies prove that, even though the Rapa Nui culture is linked to Polynesia, its isolation has enabled this culture to develop their own authentic system of beliefs which may not be observed elsewhere.
Source: Rapa Nui Chamber of Tourism www.visitrapanui.cl
Matato'a Website: www.puc.cl/related/atees/chile/matatoa
Authors: team of professors of Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile.
Here are some excerpts of the story told by elder Pua Ara Hoa and picked up by Simeón Riroroko in 1910. In 1959, this manuscript was published by a German called Thomas Barthel, who managed to translate it with the help of islanders Arturo Teao, Esteban Atan and Aaron Pakarati:
“The territory of the ariki in the maori land of Hiva, called Marae Renga, as well as its second residence, Marae Tohia, began to be flooded by the sea in the times of the ariki Roroi a Tiki Hati; the fourth in the genealogical line of 10 kings that ended with Hotu A Matu’a (Son of Matu’a), Rapa Nui’s colonizing king [...] The sinking of the soil had been predicted by Moe Hiva, a wise man and prophet (Kohou Tohu) of the five in court [...] Ariki Roroia Tiki Hati sent his three sons in search of new lands, but they never came back.
Later on, Haumaka’s spirit traveled to the island. Old Pua Ara Hoa says that [...] the spirit moved towards the East going past a series of islands until it reached an eighth land. Ko nga Kope Ririva Tutuu Vai a te Taan (the beautiful sons of Te Taanga who lie on the water) were identified there in the three islets off the Rano Kau (Motu Kao kao - Motu Nui - Motu Iti ). The spirit of Haumaka went through the island identifying 28 sites with their names [...] Thus, after recognizing many other sites, it named the island "Te Pito o te Kainga a Haumaka o Hiva”.
The spirit went back to Hiva to the body of Haumaka, who told his brother Huatava about his vision and, as a member of the royal lineage (Ariki Paka), addressed the ariki Hotu a Matu’a, who resolved to build a boat to go sailing in search of the new land.”
Source: “History according to Pua Ara Hoa and S. Riroroko” by Juan Soler B. www.rapanui.co.cl/numero8/pua.htm