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Cruise to the End of the World: Easter Island (Rapanui)

Aggiornamento: 22 set 2023

Easter Island is the most isolated land on the Earth. We had to sail 2.000 miles to get here from Galapagos and the same distance we will have to cover in order to reach Chilean Cost.

But all this efforts were really worth. Not only for the incredible beauty of this island and its inhabitants, but because we arrived just in the middle of the most import an cultural event in the island and in the entire Polinesia: the TAPATI RAPA NUI.

The Tapati Rapa Nui festival, which literally means “Rapa Nui week”, is celebrated every year during the first two weeks of February. This festival was born in 1968 with the goal of promoting the Rapanui culture among the islanders and instilling a sense of belonging within the youth. Originally born as music festival (very common in all Polinesia), over the years Tapati Rapanui evolved in a real celebration of the ancient Rapanui culture.

During the Tapati celebration, the island is divided in two, each part constituting a clan representing the ancient races of the island. Each clan chooses a queen to represent and “lead” them during the competitions and the winner will have the right to the title of “Queen of the Island” for that year. It’s not a beauty contest, but rather a peaceful confrontation between the two clans that will compete through the days and night, where each participant will be able to express their physical and artistic skills to earn points for his clan. These are the disciplines where the clans compete:

Vaka Tuai: Each clan must recreate a traditional Polynesian vessel and sail in it.

Takona: A body painting competition.

Riu: Competition in which the participants perform ritual songs that tell epic stories and legends of the Rapa Nui people.

Koro Haka Opo: Band or musical group competition.

Haka Pei: Competition where daring young men slide on plantain trunks on a 120 meter long slope with 45 ° angle. Athletes reach speeds up to 80 km / h.

Pora: Swimming competition on a reed float

Tau’a Rapa Nui: The Rapa Nui triathlon which consists of three traditional races: the Vaka Ama (canoeing in small reed boats), swimming with a Pora (reed float) and the Aka Venga (running with two bananas clusters carried on a stick upon their shoulders).

Tingi Tingi Mahute: Mahute-works competition (a plant introduced by the first Polynesians) with which, after being processed, typical costumes are made.

What it is really unbelievable is that these game are seriously taken from the Islanders, involving at least 20% of the populations

To better understand the sense of all this I started asking people here and reading as much as possible on this little island .

From what I have discovered so far, the island was most likely populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Gambiers Islands, (2,600 km, away) or the Marquesas Islands (3,200 km/ away).

The island originally had a strong class system, with an ARIKI, (high chief), wielding great power over nine clans and their respective chiefs. The high chief was the eldest descendent through first-born lines of the island's legendary founder HOTU MATU’A. The most visible element in the culture was the production of massive statues called MOAI that some believe 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. Unfortunately the construction of the moai contributed to environmental degradation when extreme deforestation destabilized an already precarious ecosystem.

Sometime before the arrival of Europeans on Easter Island, the Rapanui experienced a tremendous upheaval in their social system brought by a change in their island's ecology. By the time of European arrival in 1722, the island's population had dropped to 2,000–3,000 from a high of approximately 15,000 just a century earlier. Deforestation also affected agricultural production. At first, the native tropical forests provided ideal shade cover for soil. But with many of the native forest being destroyed, the topsoil became eroded causing a sharp decline in agricultural production. This was further exacerbated by the loss of land birds and the collapse in seabird populations as a potential source of food.

As the island became overpopulated and resources diminished, warriors known as matatoa gained more power and the Ancestor Cult ended, making way for TANGATA MANU, the Bird Man Cult. This cult maintained that, although the ancestors still provided for their descendants, the medium through which the living could contact the dead was no longer statues, but human beings. An annual cycle of ritual activities which culminated with the election of the island leader for the following year was established: the TANGATA MANU

TAPATI RAPA NUI is the wish of this wonderful and welcoming population to revival their ancient traditions.

We thought Rapa Nui deserved a little more than a shot video. So we decided to do a little more, studying the story of the island and producing a short documentary on this unique culture.

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