Rapa Nui

explora RAPA NUI

Rapa Nui

Long before Europeans were able to sail the high seas, skilled Polynesian mariners had already ventured far into the ocean, exploring and colonizing even the most remote Pacific islands, among them Rapa Nui. Hundreds of years passed before new explorers reached the island; this time they were European travelers.

“This is the farthest we have come”, the well-traveled Captain Cook wrote in his journal, when he reached the island in 1774.

The island’s remoteness, stunning geography and rich culture led UNESCO to declare Rapa Nui a world heritage site in 1995.

Living culture Living culture

Living culture

The culture of Rapa Nui still preserves many of its original forms, which are expressed through cuisine, sports, dances, music, ceremonies, craftwork and most of all through the language, vananga.

The inhabitants of Rapa Nui are proud of their origins. Apart from the isolation of the island, this is one of the main reasons why this culture remains surprisingly vital even to this day.

The culture has been passed from generation to generation, mainly through oral traditions. The elders -who meet in a Council- have played a very important role in preserving the history and ancestral legends and myths.

Vananga, the language of Rapa Nui, continues to be actively used; dances such as the Sau-sau and the Tamuré, together with musical traditions, continue to bring life to festivities and ceremonies. Rapa Nui cuisine also includes some ancient recipes, such as Tunuahi, where fish is cooked on volcanic rocks heated by burning firewood.

The arrival of Catholic missionaries in the 19th century generated religious syncretisms, which can be seen during Sunday mass at the church of Hanga Roa, the island's largest town. The service includes chanting in vananga and churchgoers wear typical Easter Island clothing and flowers.

A number of music and dance groups are active on the island, and sometimes organize performances in the evenings.


This festival is best represents Rapa Nui's culture. For 10 days during February, the inhabitants and tourists to the island split up into teams for competitions.

There are a number of trials, including Vaka Tuai, in which each team has to make a traditional Polynesian canoe from totora reeds (Scirpus californicus) and then sail it, accompanied by their candidate for Queen, in traditional dress. Another challenge is the Takona, where participants paint their bodies with natural pigments and describe the meaning of their paintings to the community. Other trials are the Tau’a, or triathlon; the Haka Pei, in which competitors throw themselves down a hilltop inside the trunks of banana trees, at speeds of up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour. The team with the highest number of points across all the trials is the winner and its candidate is crowned Queen of the Tapati.Take a Rapa Nui travel adventure with Explora to learn more living culture.