Rapa Nui is the name of the people, place and Polynesian language of the original inhabitants of Easter Island, Chile. Traditionally, the population was divided into ten stratified clans with the famous large stone statues perhaps serving as markers of clan territories as well as chiefly portraits. Although settlement was coastal, subsistence was primarily agricultural. Modern subsistence supplements protein from fishing with herding of sheep and cattle, and paid employment is found within the government and the tourism industry, the latter sparking a cultural revival.
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Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.
Few investigators can resist the siren calls of the monumental anthropomorphic statues
Accounts by eighteenth and nineteenth century explorers recount early cultural encounters
with the Rapa Nui and describe their island (Anonymous 1908 "Journal of…", 1908 "Narrative
of…"; Cooke 1899). Métraux (1940), a member of the 1934-35 Franco-Belgian Expedition
to Easter Island, provides an early ethnography incorporating some historical reflections.
He also wrote a history of the Island, discussing various theories, including his
own, on the origin of the precontact stone statues and petroglyphs (Métraux 1945).
Another early theory about Rapa Nui cultural origins is found in Lavachery (1937).
Ferdon (1957) supplements observations of contemporary customs with a brief history
of the island. Drapkin (1935) provides a demographic study and report. Routledge wrote
extensively about Rapa Nui culture, including an archeological survey of early settlements
(Routledge 1920), a reconstruction of the Birdman Cult ceremony (Routledge 1917),
and a reconstruction of the
culture as a whole, with a theory of the origins of the stone statuary (Routledge
1919). Lee (1986) also writes about the Birdman Cult. More recent studies examine
change in Rapa Nui identity and cultural revival (Stanton 2000) and the revival of
the Rapa Nui language and rise of ethnic politics (Makihara 2004). Studies of Rapa
Nui art include an examination of the meaning and function of prehistoric rock cupules
(van Hoek 2000), changes in rock art following Euro-American contact (Pollard et al.
2010), and protohistoric wood and barkcloth sculptures (Kaeppler 1981). Paleoecological
studies include a report on indigenous agricultural practices (Stevenson et al. 1999)
and an examination of early climate and flora based on pollen samples (Mann et al.
2007). A spatial survey of
For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.
Ahu – ceremonial platform – – use RELIGIOUS AND EDUCATIONAL STRUCTURES (346)
Consanguinity – use REGULATION OF MARRIAGE (582)
Cupule – hemispherical stone carving – – use VISUAL ARTS (5311)
Mata – clan – – use LOCALIZED KIN GROUPS (618)
Moai, Moai kavakava – statues – – use VISUAL ARTS (5311)