Polynesian Culture

by Sean N. Bennett

Easter Island Culture



Flag of Easter Island - Wikipedia.com

Under Construction

The culture of Easter Island—also known as Rapa Nui—is heavily influenced by both the Polynesian culture from its original settlers in 400 A.D. and the unique experience it has from its constant isolation and limited resources on the island (Boersema, 2015). Located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, the island has many unique customs. Still, little is left of the original Easter Island culture as western colonialism and its European-introduced diseases devastated the aboriginal population in the 1860s and was quickly annexed by the Chilean government with Latin American influences in 1880 (Kahn et. al, 2020). First introduced to the rest of the world by Dutch sailors, the population was soon reduced due to an influx of European foreigners who brought along diseases, contention, and slave trading in the late 1700s. Today, it has more than 100,000 visitors annually, with a constant Spanish influx and control from the Chilean government, but dating back 16 centuries, the island people, isolated and small, focused their efforts on religion, crafting, and farming within the 63 square miles of hilly land. Farmers would typically grow fruit trees, vegetables, pigs, chickens, and even dogs. As the indigenous people were surrounded by water, many became expert boat builders and would sail from island to island, navigating by stars and current patterns (The British Museum, 2022).

Along with their daily survival tasks, the people of Rapa Nui were excellent craftspeople, working with wood, fiber, and feather to create symbols of religious power. The culture is heavily tied to the ecclesiastical hierarchy they followed. Societies develop a class system based on their status. The status comes from their direct descent or lineage to gods as the gods are very powerful and well-respected. To further honor these gods and. The important individuals of their society, the craftspeople, would create embodiments and sculptures of these gods to have tangible representations, giving them access to commemorate better and

Although this custom is throughout the Polynesian island customs, the most popular and widely known of these sculptures are the “Stone Giants,” or Toki, made of stone on Easter Island. Most averaging 13 feet high and 14 tons, the Toki represent ancient spirits and vessels for the gods and other high-ranking individuals within their society (Public Broadcasting Service, 2020). Again, these were created and transported in specific configurations to better pay homage to the gods within their original religion, despite the abundant pressure of assimilation to Chilean and Latin American culture.

Values and Norms

There is not much known from the original citizens of Easter Island, and the little information known regarding it comes from the settlers. Individuals from different countries came to the islands, and they applied their own beliefs, and some began to Christianize the native people. This led to losing their own culture and religious beliefs; therefore, they were not passed down to the next generations. However, it is believed that the natives used to wear shell necklaces with skulls on the ends, with pierced and elongated ears, and tattoos. The piercing and elongation of the ears were started at a very young age in little girls. Significant events in their lives were their first haircut, tattooing of the legs at age eight, and wearing their cape or loincloth. Some rites are performed during birth and ceremonies such as cutting the umbilical cord and rites during puberty. Once they went through the puberty ritual, the boys and girls would be painted white and red and covered with ornaments called Tahonga. They went to a school or skill center where the elders and teachers taught them skills such as tattooing, writing, stonework, or sculptors. They were also taught about their cultural traditions. This was all done on the small Island of Moto Nui (Chile, 2012). The most important rite for them is the ones that are performed after death. This is most likely related to their ancestors' critical place in their lives. In the Rapa Nui culture, they believe that their ancestors could come and help them throughout their lives. The spirits have more substantial power depending on their position in the village; for example, a chief can intervene in more significant events than other members. During the ceremonies, it was typical to have moai figures present, which were of minor wooden status, and it is believed that they represented ancestors. The figures were used during death rites and fertility or the first fruit harvest. When the figurines were put away after rituals, the islanders kept them covered with a cloth during the year within their home (Britannica, n.d). During the death rite, the bodies would be wrapped with vegetable cloth and left in the ahu exposed to the air to decompose (Imagina, 2022). Typically, the bodies were left in the open for two years inside the ahu. When chiefs or other members of the hierarchy would pass away, it was typical to have maoi sculptures made in the Rano Raraku quarry (see figure 3,4,5.), a geographical location on Easter Island.

After the two years passed, they would cleanse their bones and put them into a special burial place dug by the family, and they had to be placed in the same ahu as their ancestors to reunite with them after death (Chile, 2012). The spirit or the energy is called mana. When a chief died the rest of the members would go to the Rano Raraku volcano which is where almost all figurines have been found (Rano Raraku, 2022). This was a convenient place because the rock they would use to make the figures was a product of the volcano they called the material lapilli tuff. Once the Moai figure was made it would be transported to the chief’s ahu to pay them respect. They later placed eyes and Pukao, and this way, the moai would obtain their mana and will be able to intervene for its people. On the island, there are more than 600 moais and 300 ahus the island which face the island as the symbol of protection of their families. Around the 17th and 18th centuries, the cult of their moais and ancestors declined, and new religious beliefs or different governments gained power (Imagina,2012).

Traditions, beliefs, and attitudes

Easter Island has many unique traditions in their culture with several of them coming from Latin and Polynesian roots. The traditions on this island are very well preserved and passed down through generations. As previously discussed, there is a culture known as the Rapa Nui culture or the people of the island. To celebrate the Rapa Nui culture, there is a festival on the island called the Tapati Festival held through the month of February (Triptipedia, 2019). This festival is both to celebrate their ancestors as well as to have some friendly competition within celebrating their history and ways of life. The people use song, dance, art, and dress to celebrate. Traditional Polynesian dancing is one of the traditions that they hold on Easter Island. They wear “lavish” costumes and hold dance competitions on the stage in the main island called Hanga Roa (Triptipedia, 2019). The dancers perform to live music and there are judges that decide who the winner is. The traditional dancing is very upbeat and fun to watch as the community gathers to watch and participate in the dance celebration (Triptipedia, 2019).

Another tradition that Easter Island holds is called “Haka Pei” (Triptipedia, 2019). This is traditional tobogganing, but there is no ice. They build toboggans out of wood and they toboggan down a hill of dirt or grass alone or in pairs of two. They say that this part of the festival is for the brave. People come to watch the event and support the participants as they speed down the hill in their toboggans (Triptipedia, 2019).

The Rapa Nui Triathlon is another race performed in a volcano (Triptipedia, 2019). The race is completed in traditional Easter Island clothing. The race consists of three different legs--just as a regular triathlon--but the legs of the event are different from a typical race. There are two water legs, one of them is swimming and the other one is a race on a boat that is made of reeds. The final leg of the race is a run, but they carry two large bunches of bananas for this part of the race (Triptipedia, 2019).

Along with the traditional clothing that is worn throughout all of the events, Takona is another part of their traditions of celebrating their people and the Rapa Nui. Takona is body paint (Triptipedia, 2019). They use all natural materials to make the body paint and pigments. Then, they draw symbols all over their bodies to remember the mythologies of their tribes and the history of Easter Island. There are many traditions that they have. They do deep sea fishing and have a huge fish barbeque with the people on the island (Tapati Festival, 2021). There is He tui korone pipi where the people make their traditional shell necklaces. There are sports and races and exhibits of local flowers (Tapati Festival, 2021). There are so many traditions to experience on Easter Island.

The traditional belief of Rapa Nui culture is known as “Ivi Atua” (Easter Island Tourism, 2022). This is the belief that the soul is immortal. They believe that their spirit ancestors help them throughout their lives. Their supreme and creator god is known as “Make-Make” (Easter Island Tourism, 2022). They believe in the “Mana”, meaning the mental and supernatural power held by the chiefs of the tribe. These beliefs that they hold are the reasons why they have festivals and traditions to honor their ancestors that have come before them and continue to help and guide them. As previously mentioned, they create these massive statues of heads on their main island and they use them to worship and seek guidance. Specifically, they use certain statues to worship the Birdman, or the bird of luck (Easter Island Tourism, 2022).


Rapa Nui's mythology dates back somewhere between 400-700 A.D., after being settled by Polynesians from a different island (Boersema, 2015; Haun 2008; Buck 1967). They brought the same Gods and beliefs they shared from their previous culture, with some minor changes in the names. There are several "lesser" gods and spirits, but the Supreme God or Creator God is Make Make (Boersema, 2015; Buck 1967). Make Make created humans, plants, animals, and all living things. In the beginning, according to Rapa Nui legend, Make Make created three men and one woman (Buck, 1967). This "Supreme God" is also responsible for all aspects of life, including crops, fertility, weather, etc. (Buck, 1967). Additionally, all the Gods were responsible for the permanence of the world, including all things "light" and "dark" (Van Tilburg, 2009).

Although there were several Gods, Make Make is the most prominent, and relics, statues, and carvings can be found in caves, ancient homes, and the holy ceremonial center of Orongo (Haun, 2008; Boersema, 2015). This being was often worshiped and idolized in the form of a "birdman.". This is due to Easter Island, like man island cultures, observing some form of deity function in the birds around them. The most prevalent birds were the frigatebird and the sooty tern (Boersema, 2015). Priests and islanders gathered to worship Make Make and often performed human sacrifices to this "God of Creation.". Afterward, the priests would consume parts of the human sacrifice before heading back to their tower, called a tupa, where they would continue prophesying the tribe's subsequent decisions (Van Tilburg, 2009). Make Make passed his "mana" (energy/spirit/right to rule) down to the tribal leader, and this was passed on from generation to generation until the "birdman" tradition later started (Boersema, 2015; Buck. 1967).

As traditions shifted on the island, the passing of leadership among the tribes also changed. An annual ritual was held at the ceremonial center of Orongo to decide who would be the next "birdman," known as the Tangata Manu. The birdman was Make Make's direct representation on this world and was responsible for everyday decisions since the Supreme did not bother himself with minor concerns (Boersema, 2015; Buck, 1967). The tribal leader would compete for the title by appointing a young athletic man to compete for them in the trial. Each candidate would begin at Orongo head to the cliffs by the sea to scale down the 300-meter cliffside into the ocean. Next, they would swim over 2 kilometers to a smaller beach/island and wait for a specific bird to lay its first season egg. After retrieving the egg, they swim back, scale the 300 meters up the cliffside, and run to Orongo, where they would present the egg to their tribal leader. The winning tribal leader would shave all the hair off their head, including eyebrows, and perform a ritualistic dance. The new Tangata Manu would live in seclusion for the next year as the tribes came to him for guidance. Additionally, the birdman was also prohibited from bathing or cutting his nails for the next year (Boersema, 2015; Buck, 1967). As the Tangata Manu changed from person to person each year, his name was carved down and remembered, like a long line of Kings.

One of the most popular aspects of the Easter Island religion is the famous Moai or the stone statues. There are 887 statues erected all over the island, and some that were never finished or are still stuck in hillsides as they were being carved from the volcanic rock (Buck, 1967; Easter Island, 2009; Boersema 2015; Trachtman, 2002). Paro, the largest one, is about 10 meters tall and weighs 82 tons. Paro's stone "headdress" weighs an additional 12 tons by itself (Boersema, 2015). Smaller versions of these gigantic stone statues were found in homes and caves. It was once believed that these statues were meant to represent Gods, but that is no longer the case. It is now thought they are representations of their ancestors, and these erected monuments help their ancestors watch over their lineage (Buck 1967). Early explorers documented witnessed events of daily fires being lit in front of the statues while the people of Rapa Nui kneeled in front, bowed their heads, and made motions with their hands while chanting, almost as if praying (Boersema, 2015).

Although the people of Rapa Nui were the only known Polynesian culture to participate in cremation, they eventually abandoned this practice. They began burying their kinsman at the base of the Moai (Haun, 2008). The practice of burial versus cremation was mainly due to the artificial deforestation of the island, which is also what led to the halt of Moai sculpting, and why the Moai cult died off (Boersema, 2015; Buck 1967). To honor their dead, they would wrap the body in dry leaves and place them on stick pedestals off the ground, which allowed them to dry and decompose. Eventually, they would scrape the corpse down to bones and bury the bones under the Moai (Boersema, 2015).

By the time explorers visited the island, many religious traditions and rituals had already been stopped, and many of the Moai had been torn down. Christianity was the first new religion on the island. The Catholic missionary, brother Eugen Eyraud, arrived in 1864 to baptize what inhabitants remained on the island after the forced slavery and other historical events (Haun, 2008); Easter Island, 2009). Today, Roman Catholicism is the primary religion on the island, but with a twist. The liturgies are in Spanish due to the annexation of the island by Chile in 1888, but the songs in the church are sung in the ancient Rapa Nui language (Haun, 2008). Additionally, the Holy Cross Church on Easter Island has the traditional cross above the doorway and is covered in Rapa Nui artwork.

Sense of Self and Space

As the Rapa Nui culture is very intertwined with the Polynesian and Chilean cultures, family is a huge part of their self-perceptions and lifestyle. From the time of birth, the teaching and examples from adults—whether conscious or subconscious—has a very family-oriented and group mindset (Bennet, 2017). Due to this lifestyle, it can be very challenging to break free from the group and become independent as an adult. Therefore, island families generally stay together and continue with the family-centered methodology and lifestyle. Whether on the island or throughout expansion into new countries, demographic studies support that Polynesian and Chilean families typically cluster together in neighborhoods so they can share a set organization, centering around social, ceremonial, and religious life (“Polynesians,” 2022). Sense of self on Easter Island portrays a pattern of an intertwined self-perception with family ideals and orientations, being heavily influenced by generational mindsets.

The people of Rapa Nui were island people, meaning that they were commonly cut off from civilization from the mainland until explorers came and made contact. Their sense of place came from the island of their home and did not expand past those borders. In a study, islanders spoke of their ‘sense of place’ as a “kin-centered level of connection; these landmarks and sites of significance are inescapable” (Te Aramoana Waiti, 2019). The people heavily emphasize the cultural significance and personal connection they have to the land.

Although the discussion regarding the harmful effects of colonization on Easter Island has been stated, the silver lining did come from European and Chilean influence on the people of Rapa Nui. From the interactions with newcomers and the expansion of their self-assuming space, the identities of the island were about to be reinforced and solidified due to the innovation of tools and modern political institutions that created a self-sustaining atmosphere (Campbell, 1997). This enhancement to make survival easier through technologies and tools allowed the culture of Rapa Nui to live on and pass on for generations today. In fact, by the 1890s, the conservatism for this culture was so pervasive that any attempts by the foreign colonial government to reform practices and implement a more modern take regarding land sales, reducing chief powers, integrating a government, and developing policies for development all failed (Campbell, 1997). Both Polynesian and Chilean cultures are strong today. As colonialization of the Rapa Nui culture happened earlier than most, the slight assimilation shows that the culture of Rapa Nui is also solid and strong in its culture, however, isolated.

Communication Style & Language

There is a rapid decline of the Eastern Island's native language Rapa Nui because of the annexation to Chile; the Spanish language is rapidly replacing it. Although this is a normal thing that can happen, it causes concern in many natives as losing their historical language means losing their culture. According to UNESCO (2021), most Rapa Nui speakers in a 2016 survey are in the age group above the age of 40. Additionally, only 35 percent of inhabitants between 20 and 39 speak the language.

The current effort to sustain the language was created in 1990 by the Department of Rapa Nui Language and Culture at the Lorenzo Baeza Vega school. They have translated textbooks with the help of teachers for kids to learn the language and use them for the first two years of elementary school (UNESCO, 2021). When Chile helped establish an education system back in 1934, all the teaching was done in Spanish, and kids had to learn things without understanding what they meant since they did not speak Spanish. However, with time the Spanish language has become more common, and with the increase in tourism, Spanish has unfortunately become more prevalent. Efforts continue to maintain the language by finding more teachers who speak the language and for those individuals to receive proper training and support from the Chilean government and education system. They are also encouraging the youth to further education where the Polynesian language is used more widely, for example, in the U.S, specifically Hawaii or New Zealand (UNESCO, 2021).

Before colonization, the people of Easter Island had developed rongorongo, a system of writing in Easter Island. There rongorongo tablets and the glyphs were typically carved into wood or stone using shark teeth or obsidian. Unfortunately, there is a limited number of them globally, maybe a dozen and all of them are not on the island but in other countries (BBC,n.d). The Rongorongo system was exclusively read-only by priests, religious, or elite people. For example, priest-chanters on the island used it as a mnemonic device to know which sacred chant would follow the previous one.

The rongorongo tablets have an ideogram, and their meaning is not always fixed (see figure 5). It may vary, with different levels of symbolism and signs to note names (Horley and Lee, 2021). This language consists of different shapes and figures like animals, circles, and ovals. It was typically read from bottom to top but could also be read from left to right.

This is the only indigenous written language developed in Oceania before the 20th century. However, it has not been able to decipher due to the lack of anyone who knew the language who could interpret it. It has become a big mystery since there is no information on how the written system was developed or when it was invented (The Mystery,2021). There have been numerous attempts to interpret the glyphs because some individuals claim to understand them but have been a lie. Rongorongo seems to remain a mystery for the rest of time, but Rapa Nui does not have to suffer the same fate.

Food & Feeding Habits

Food is a very big part of the Rapa Nui culture as it brings many people together on the island. The common foods eaten when the first settlers came to Easter Island were chicken, sweet potatoes, and seafood (Sustainable Footprint, 2015). When they first arrived on the island, the climate was too severe for many plants to grow. Instead, they would use the plants such as banana leaves to wrap foods in and everything would be cooked in something called an “umu pae”. This is also known as an earth oven, and many people still cook like this today (Baillergeon, 2020).

Tunu ahi is their other traditional way of cooking. This literally means to cook with fire or heat. This type of cooking includes creating a blaze with volcanic stones. These stones become very hot and once they reach the desired temperature, the food is placed directly on the stone to cook (Easter Island Food, 2021). Tunu Ahi was a resourceful way of cooking the fish they caught during the day and would be slow cooked on the stones for the evening meals. This is an ancient way of cooking, and although many use a grill now, there are still people or occasions where they use the stones.

Currently, the Easter Island cuisine is similar to many Polynesian cultures as well as Chilean culture. Their specific type of cuisine is referred to as Pascuence cuisine (Baillergeon, 2020). This type of cuisine focuses on foods that are found in the waters surrounding the island, which include fish, tuna, swordfish, octopus, lobster, shrimp, eels, snails and many other types of seafood (Baillergeon, 2020). Additionally, they also eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, pineapples, coconut, taro, guava, sweet potato, and pumpkin are some of the most common (Baillergeon, 2020). Lastly, for dessert they would add po’e. It is a type of bread pudding created with flour, pumpkin and bananas. Some native dishes are known as kahi (Easter Island tuna), Rapanui ceviche, tuna carpaccio, tuna empanadas, french fries with shrimp sauce (Easter Island Food, 2021).

There are many dishes on the island that people love and enjoy, but it is argued that the most traditional of Rapa Nui is known as the Easter Island curanto, or the Umu Rapa Nui (Baillergeon, 2020). In this dish they have meat, chicken, a variety of different vegetables, seafood as well as other things that they want to add. All these ingredients are placed together and cooked on the top of hot stones that are in a hole in the ground that are covered by the banana and plantain leaves, also known as the earth oven (Easter Island Food, 2021). This is a feast for the people of the island and is typically only prepared when there are special events. It is a communal meal for everyone to come eat and share. The people love being together, and they love eating together. When people make food, they make it to share with friends and family. People on the island love to gather and share meals as it is a time to enjoy and celebrate.

Time Consciousness

Referred to as "Island Time," Polynesians tend to spend their time valuing interpersonal relationships and meaningful conversations rather than schedules and deadlines (Cultural Atlas, n.d.; Polynesian Perception of Time and Space, 2017). For example, if one is caught up in a three-hour conversation and all parties enjoy each other's company, one would not cut off that experience just because they must be somewhere else in twenty minutes. Island time is relative and is meant to allow individuals to enjoy the good things in life. This is more important than running around on "city time" and being robbed of life's finer things (Zevallos, 2011). This is why many Polynesian students who transfer to other countries have difficulty keeping up in a more modern-day sense. They find that adjusting to "western time" and meeting deadlines and relationships that come second is challenging to adhere to (Polynesian Perception of Space and Time, 2017). It is also important to note that some derogatory connotations of Island time have surfaced over the years, referring to laziness rather than a time consciousness of a culture.

Other Polynesian cultures call this perception of time Maori, or "event-time." Maori is closely related to nature and the day's changing and is elastic (Morris, 2020). According to Maori tradition, social relationships should dictate the length of a meeting or event and not an external device, such as a clock (Morris, 2020). It is also believed in Maori culture that time is not linear, as it is in Western culture, but is circular. Past, present, and future are interconnected, and events are not separated from each other but part of a bigger picture (Morris, 2020).

Relationships & Social Organizations

Relationships and the Social Organization within the Easter Island community provide an intriguing and enlightening allowance into the everyday life of a Rapa Nui native. Through the organization, types of rankings and status give clarity to what this culture prioritizes.

In a journal dedicated to the workings of the Polynesian Society, Easter Island’s social order was obliterated in 1862 when slave traders kidnapped the majority of the higher-ranking population that governed the order. This created an upheaval of regulation and created mass confusion. The years following proved disastrous as smallpox raged and the tiny population struggled to survive, making evolution to new technologies and more efficient or progressive ideas extremely hard (Metraux, 1937). As civilization reformed and took shape, kingship and its social order transformed into chiefs and clans. Chiefs were originally picked from the divine phenomena occurring around their birth and the merits they procured during their growth into adulthood. Chief governed their people and worked in order of status. The social distinction came from kinship and its four social classes: nobleman, or ariki; priests, or Ivi-atua; warriors, or matatoa; and servants, or Kio (Garlington, 2020).

In today's society, families within the Polynesian culture consist of three or more generations, producing a heavily intertwined value of traditions in everyday life. Even when children marry and have children, they still may be living in the same home as their parents. These kinships are traced through the male lineage, and most newly married couples reside in the husband’s multi-generational household. This allows patriarchal lineage to continue and maintain the direct descendant line from gods and deities. Overall, the society is distinguished among clans and their ties to the mythological ancestral past (Rodriguez, 2022). Relationships among clans, generations, and social order provide a unique build in the Rapa Nui society. This way of living offers protection for the stories passed on to generations and their contact with the divine.

Another relationship that the people of Rapa Nui value involve the land. According to Marisol Hitorangi, the spokeswoman for Rapa Nui’s Hitorangi clan, the land is known as their ‘Kainga,’ which translates to mean the mother’s womb that needs to be nourished to remain fertile (Wright, 2020). The earth and the valuable resources it bring to the native people are highly respected and honored by the Rapa Nui. The people believe in a two-way relationship with the Earth, meaning that they care for and nurture the organic beauty of the land and the land gives them the resources to survive. This supports the additional deterrence from tourism and socialization with other parts of the world. The island people do not care to assimilate with other lands, create mass trading, and bring in tourism for financial help; tourism and the resources and commercialization that would need to occur to make tourism successful on the island would jeopardize the natural and wild power of the land and disrupt the relationship the people have with it.


The Chilean education system has been developing since the end of the 19th and 20th centuries. Easter Island was not included until the second half of the 20th century. During this time, the Chilean government wanted to expand education to the remote and marginalized groups of the country—the education system aided in the assimilation and acceptance of the modern culture.

The first school was run by the Chilean military and established in 1917. The government forced all children between the ages of 7 and 14 to go to school. The soldier was there to ensure all children attended school for the families who did not send their children to school had to pay a fine of one to six hours of labor. As a result of this, the school had 120 students by 1930. Some of the things taught at the time by using an object to teach the correct name and pronunciation in Spanish. They were also taught general and straightforward phrases, numbers, verbs, reading, the meaning of words, letters, economy, hygiene, and other skills like chores, laundry, cooking, and sowing. The teachers were also teaching them the New Testament by reading small passages and allowing questions at the end. The children were only required to study for three years, and by the final year, they had learned "all" they needed to (Corvalan, 2014).

According to Corvalan (2014), because the education was not systemized and did not have dedicated teachers for different subjects, the instruction was passed down to the religious nuns of The Divine Heart of Jesus until the year 1956. They successfully expand education from fourth grade to sixth grade. Many of the islanders who went to school during this time admit dropping out because they needed to work, they disliked the nuns, or the nuns were physically and verbally abusive to them in hopes of making them learn (Corvalan,2014, as cited in Soto and Fuentes, 2010). In 1956 the government started to manage the education system on Easter Island, but some of the same nuns stayed as teachers. Eventually, the government expanded the school years to the eighth grade, and most people contributed that to the Reform of Education of 1965. Many children and adolescents saw the value of education and wanted to continue; however, no school offered education after the eighth grade (see figure17). Many of them had to leave the island to go to Chile to further their education. It was not until 1987 that this became available to them; in the 2000's they built two private schools offering high school education, deterring the migration of adolescents. It is also important to note that all schools are immersed and are currently required to teach the Rapa Nui language to retain their culture (Corvalan,2014, as cited in Soto and Fuentes, 2010).

Work Habits & Practices

Rapa Nui is extremely far in distance from other civilizations, so the community works very hard to keep the island progressing and thriving. This means that they are isolated when it comes to providing many things for the island and working on the island. The economy of Rapa Nui continues to grow based on agriculture, fishing, governmental services of the Chilean government, transportation, and tourism (Institute of Island Studies, 2007).

The main source of income for the island has been tourism since the year 1966 when the airport opened on the island (Institute of Island Studies, 2007). People travel from many miles away to come and experience the culture, food, and beauty that is found on the island. The people of the community work to keep the tourism available and vibrant. They make food, have tours, restaurants, and help visitors to explore the island and see the beauty that is there. The Chilean government hires Easter Islanders to help with small businesses as well as the tourist industry (Easter Island, 2018). The Chilean government also provides funds to help with the tourism costs. There are hotels on the island for many tourists to stay in that provide work for many of the islanders. The Easter Island Tourist National Park is another major attraction that needs to be kept up and managed by islanders. They welcome tourists and help them to experience the culture of the island (Institute of Island Studies, 2007).

Many people on the island also work cultivating crops such as sweet potatoes, taro, yams, sugarcane, bananas, turmeric, berries and other things (Easter Island, 2018). Farming and growing crops was a much more common practice when the island was first founded but many people on the island continue to farm in small areas today. There are also sheep ranchers, cattle ranchers and fishermen that provide meat for the island. The Chilean government provides many other material goods that are necessary for people to buy in stores (Easter Island, 2018). There are also many restaurants that provide cultural foods.

Previously, the Easter Islanders were stone-cutters, carvers, masons, woodcutters and canoe makers (Easter Island, 2018). These trades are not as common as they used to be in the Rapa Nui culture. Woodcarving is still done, but on a smaller scale for the tourist population. A major tourist draw to the island are the moai statues, as discussed previously. These moai statues are replicated and sold by residents on the island as a symbol of the rise and fall of the Rapa Nui people (Easter Island, 2018).

In Rapa Nui, men and women have different responsibilities when it comes to working and what work they do. Men have the responsibility to fish, plant gardens, build stone structures and trades of this sort. Whereas the women harvest crops and do the domestic chores (Easter Island, 2018). It is common to pass down a job or trade from father to son. People tend to work based on traditions that are passed down from their families.

Working on the island is very much based on tourism and keeping the island in good condition for the people. The Chilean government helps the island, especially when it comes to tourism. The people on Rapa Nui welcome visitors and help to create an environment that welcomes people to their island.


The health care infrastructure of Easter Island is relatively small. Although the Island is home to thousands of people, it has only one hospital: Hanga Roa Hospital. Set in the country’s capital, this 63,722 square foot building is the only source of modern healthcare on Easter Island, including dental care (Serpell, 2018; Infraestructura Hospitalaria 2013). Hanga Roa opened in 2013 and was the multi-billion-dollar replacement for the hospital that the United States donated in the 1970s (Serpell, 2018; Infraestructura Hospitalaria 2013). The hospital includes two surgical pavilions, one emergency department with five beds; one resuscitation bay; 12 outpatient rooms; 16 inpatient beds; one maternity/delivery ward for the practice of traditional birthing techniques (Serpell, 2018; Infraestructura Hospitalaria 2013). In 2014, the hospital had 121 employees. This low-complexity hospital can treat the majority of medical concerns, and real-time data can be shared with specialists in Chile. However, if life-threatening conditions are present and the patient needs a higher level of care, the patient would be flown to the nearest hospital in Chile, about a fourteen-hour flight (Serpell, 2018). For prescription needs, there are currently four pharmacies/drug stores on the island that rotate their store hours to ensure one is always open.

Health insurance on Rapa Nui is identical to its mainland partner, Chile. Three types of insurance are typically seen, which are public insurance (Fondo Nacional de Salud [FONASA]), private insurance (Las Instituciones de Salud Previsional [ISAPRE]), and military/police insurance (International Trade Administration, 2022); Crispi et al., 2020). FONASA is funded by state funding through a mandatory 7% tax deduction of citizens’ gross income. This insurance gives free healthcare to indigent individuals and families, women, and the elderly (International Trade Administration, 2013; Crispi et. al, 2020; Serpell, 2018). While roughly 77% of Chileans participate in FONASA, only 61% of Easter Island inhabitants utilize FONASA, with the insurance status of the other 39% unknown (Serpell, 2018). Those the choose to enroll in the ISAPRE insurance typically have access to better healthcare services and a broader range of specialists. These individuals tend to be of higher socioeconomic status and in better health (Crispi et al., 2020; International Trade Administration, 2022).

External Links


  1. Baillergeon, Z. (2020, December 2). The Best Places to Eat on Easter Island . Ecochile. https://ecochile.travel/the-best-places-to-eat-on-easter-island/
  2. Boersema, J. J. (2015). The Survival of Easter Island : Dwindling Resources and Cultural Resilience: Vol. English edition. Cambridge University Press.
  3. Buck, P. H. (1967). Vikings of the Pacific. University of Chicago Press.
  4. “Chile Precolombino.” Chile Precolombino Beliefs and Funerary Practices Comments, http://chileprecolombino.cl/en/pueblos-originarios/rapa-nui/culto-y-funebria/Links to an external site.
  5. Caviedes, C. (November 3rd, 2020). Picture of Easter Island map [image]. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Easter-Island
  6. Campbell, I. C. (1997). Culture Contact and Polynesian Identity in the European Age. Journal of World History, 8(1), 29–55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20078694
  7. Corvalán R, J. (2014). De Escuela Evangelizadora colonial a sistema educativo competitivo y segmentado en Isla de Pascua. [From evangelizing colonial school to a competitive and segmented education system on Easter Island].Chungará (Arica), 46(4), 681–692. https://doi.org/10.4067/s0717-73562014000400010
  8. Crispi, F., Cherla, A., Vivaldi, E. A., & Mossialos, E. (2020). Rebuilding the broken health contract in Chile. The Lancet 395(10233). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30228-2
  9. Cultural Atlas (n.d.). Etiquette. https://culturalatlas.sbs.com.au/samoan-culture/samoan-culture-etiquette
  10. Easter Island. (2009). History. https://www.history.com/topics/south-america/easter-island
  11. Easter Island. (2018, June 08). Encyclopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/places/australia-and-oceania/pacific-islands-political-geography/easter-island.
  12. Easter Island Food: Imagine Rapa nui easter island. Imagina Rapa Nui Easter Island. (2021, September 3). https://imaginarapanui.com/en/easter-island-food/
  13. Easter Island religion and beliefs. Easter Island Tourism. (2022). http://www.easterislandtourism.com/easter-island/culture/religion-2/
  14. Garlinghouse, T. (May 30, 2020). Picture of stone statues on Easter Island [Photograph]. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rethinking-easter-islands-historic-collapse/
  15. Garlinghouse, T. (2020, May 30). Rethinking Easter Island's historic 'collapse.' Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/rethinking-easter-islands-historic-collapse/
  16. Haun, B. (2008). Inventing “Easter Island.” University of Toronto Press.
  17. Infraestructura Hospitalaria. (2013, June 12). Hanga Roa Hospital on Easter Island. https://web.archive.org/web/20151222113234/http://www.hospitalaria.cl/portada/noticias/nacional/149-hospital-hanga-roa2.html
  18. Institute of Island Studies. (2007). Rapa Nui (Easter Island) . Islandstudies.ca. http://islandstudies.com/files/2016/11/Rapa-Nui-Easter-Island.pdf
  19. International Trade Administration (2022, January 25). Chile- Healthcare. https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/chile-healthcare
  20. Kahn, M., Kiste, Robert C., & Suggs, Robert Carl (2020, November 16). Polynesian culture. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Polynesia
  21. Markgraf, Eric J. (2017). Polynesian culture. http://freebooks.uvu.edu/polynesian_culture/01_General_Polynesian_Culture.php
  22. Metraux, A. (1937). THE KINGS OF EASTER ISLAND: Kingship. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 46(2(182)), 41–62. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20702667
  23. Morris, D. (2020, March 02). Maori & Pakeha Conceptualisations of Time. The Hour Glass. https://www.thehourglass.com/cultural-perspectives/maori-time/#:~:text=In%20traditional%20M%C4%81ori%20culture%2C%20the,and%20interconnectedness%20are%20more%20important
  24. "Polynesians ." (January 4, 2022). Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life. https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/polynesians-0
  25. Polynesian Perception of Space and Time. (2017, September 16). Nepituno. http://nepituno.to/index.php/education/item/2416-new-publication-explores-polynesian-perception-of-time-and-space
  26. Public Broadcasting Service. (2020, November). Nova online, secrets of easter island, stone giants. PBS Nova. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/civilization/giants.html
  27. Rodriguez, E. (2022). Kinship and Social Hierarchy. Encyclopædia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/place/Polynesia/Kinship-and-social-hierarchy
  28. Rano Raraku, the quarry of the Moai. Imagina Rapa nui Easter Island. (2022). https://imaginarapanui.com/en/easter-island-sightseeing/easter-island-volcanoes/rano-raraku/
  29. Rongorongo tablets: Imagina easter island. Imagina Rapa Nui Easter Island. (2022). https://imaginarapanui.com/en/rapa-nui-culture/rongorongo/
  30. Serpell, R. (2018). Health and Education. EFPL. https://www.epfl.ch/labs/far/wp-content/uploads/04-Health-Education.pdf
  31. Sustainable Footprint. (2015, May 22). Easter Island, a lesson for us all: Sustainable Footprint. Sustainable Footprint. http://sustainablefootprint.org/teachers/theme-lessons/easter-island-a-lesson-for-us-all/
  32. Te Aramoana Waiti, J., & Awatere, S. (2019). Kaihekengaru: Maori Surfers’ and a Sense of Place. Journal of Coastal Research, 35–43. https://www.jstor.org/stable/26851741
  33. Trachtman, P. (2002). The Secrets of Easter Island. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-secrets-of-easter-island-59989046/
  34. Tapati Festival. Galapagos Travel. (2021). https://galapagostravel.online/tapati-festival
  35. The British Museum. (2022). Polynesia, an introduction (article). Khan Academy. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-oceania/oceania-peoples-and-places/polynesia/a/polynesia-an-introduction
  36. Triptipedia. (2019, January 27). Tapati Festival: Easter Island Traditions and Culture. Triptipedia. https://www.triptipedia.com/tip/Wzin451/tapati-festival-easter-island-traditions-and-culture
  37. Van Tilburg, J. A. (2009). Facts About Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Easter Island Project. http://www.eisp.org/120/
  38. Wright, A. (2020, June). Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Sacred Land. https://sacredland.org/rapa-nui/
  39. Zevallos, Z. (2011, December 30). Samoa Loses a Day: Sociology of Time. Other Sociologist. https://othersociologist.com/2011/12/30/samoa-time/
  40. Zwegers, A. (September 9th, 2022). Picture of a Rapa Nui-Isla de Pascua-family [photograph]. Thousand Wonders. https://www.thousandwonders.net/Easter+Island.