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Rapa Nui (Eastern Island)

This page has been written with help from Easter Island Home Page

Easter Island has long been the subject of curiosity and speculation. How and why did its inhabitants carve and transport the massive statues which surround the island? What remains of this culture today, and what lessons can we learn from their legacy?  This page is a resource for information on the Internet about Easter Island, also known as “Rapa Nui” and “Isla de Pascua”.

AnchorSouth Pacific – it is best known for the giant stone monoliths, known as Moai, that dot the coastline. The early settlers called the island “Te Pito O Te Henua” (Navel of The World). Admiral Roggeveen, who came upon the island on Easter Day in 1722, named it Easter Island. Today, the land, people and language are all referred to locally as Rapa Nui.

There has been much controversy and confusion concerning the origins of the Easter Islanders. Thor Heyerdahl proposed that the people who built the statues were of Peruvian descent, due to a similarity between Rapa Nui and Incan stonework. Some have suggested that Easter Island is the remnant of a lost continent, or the result of an extra-terrestrial influence . Archaeological evidence, however, indicates discovery of the island by Polynesians at about 400 AD – led, according to legend, by Hotu Matua. Upon their arrival, an impressive and enigmatic culture began to develop. In addition to the statues, the islanders possessed the Rongorongo script; the only written language in Oceania. The island is also home to many petroglyphs (rock carvings), as well as traditional wood carvingstapa (barkcloth) crafts, tattooingstring figures, dance and  music.  

 Click Here for a sample of Rapa Nui Music       

The population of Easter Island reached its peak at perhaps more than 10,000, far exceeding the capabilities of the small island’s ecosystem. Resources became scarce, and the once lush palm forests were destroyed – cleared for agriculture and moving the massive stone Moai. In this regard, Easter Island has become, for many, a metaphor for ecological disaster.

Thereafter, a thriving and advanced social order began to decline into bloody civil war and, evidently, cannibalism. Eventually, all of the Moai standing along the coast were torn down by the islanders themselves. All of the statues now erected around the island are the result of recent archaeological efforts.

Contacts with western “civilization” proved even more disastrous for the island population which, through slavery and disease, had decreased to approximately 111 by the turn of the century. Following the annexation by Chile in 1888, however, it has risen to more than 2,000, with other Rapanui living in Chile, Tahiti and North America. Despite a growing Chilean presence, the island’s Polynesian identity is still quite strong .

Easter Island today, remains one of the most unique places you will ever encounter; an open air museum showcasing a fascinating, but unfortunately lost, culture. The Rapanui are among the friendliest people you will ever meet, and the landscape is truly amazing – with its volcanic craters, lava formations, beaches, brilliant blue water, and archaeological sites .


Lan Chile flies to Easter Island, with flights operating between Santiago, Chile and Papeete, Tahiti. Airfare from Santiago, Chile to Easter Island and back costs approximately $800 US. There are several companies who can arrange package trips, including hotels, tours etc., but it is possible, and much cheaper, to arrange a place to stay upon arrival. Many locals who operate hotels and guesthouses arrive at Mataveri Airport to greet the tourists, and is something you might consider. Staying in a private home is a great way to meet the islanders and experience the local culture; however, one should use judgment in choosing accommodations, as not all places are of equal quality.

Notably, the tourism on Easter Island is run entirely by the Rapanui themselves. In late January to early February the islanders celebrate Tapati, a festival honoring the Polynesian cultural heritage of the island. Far Horizons Archaeological and Cultural Tours organizes tours to the festival.


For those interested in present-day Rapa Nui, an invaluable resource is the “Uncommon Guide to Easter Island” – available from the Easter Island Foundation, which also publishes the Rapa Nui Journal – the premier source for Easter Island events and scientific studies. Contact RNJ through: Georgia Lee Ph.D.   Highly recommended  if you are planning a trip to the Island are: Moon Publications’ “South Pacific Handbook” by David Stanley, or Chile and Easter Island – Travel Survival Kit by Wayne Bernhardson – published by Lonely Planet.


Map of Easter IslandEasterIslanders.comNOVA – Secrets of Easter Island“Mysterious Places”-Easter Island Easter Island Photo AlbumDr. Ruggles’ Easter Island Images Photos by Massimo CasuliniEaster Island TravelogueImages AquaroneEaster Island in 3DRapa Nui Outrigger ClubRapa Nui En EspañolA Japanese Easter Island sitePåskön  (Swedish site)German SiteÎle de Pâques (French site)Easter Island Rock Art 
(Bradshaw Foundation)
Pacific Island Internet ResourcesPacific Islands YearbookLocal Rapa Nui Web Site
Local Time on Easter IslandEaster Island Weather Report – CNN Chile Information ProjectEaster Island WomanRapa Nui SyndromeReimiro Flag of Easter IslandOceanic Tribal ArtsArt of Lorenzo DomínguezPolynesian ArchaeologyDiscover MagazineEaster Island on eBay.comTopographical MapRapa Nui PuzzleYAHOO! Easter Island
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This page was written with help from NOVA Rapa Nui

What do the Moai statues mean?The Moai and ceremonial sites are along the coast, with a concentration on Easter Island’s southeast coast. Here, the Moai are more ‘standardized’ in design, and are believed to have been carved, transported, and erected between AD 1400 and 1600. They stand with their backs to the sea and are believed by most archaeologists to represent the spirits of ancestors, chiefs, or other high-ranking males who held important positions in the history of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, the name given by the indigenous people to their island in the 1860s.Photo of Moai
 Archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg, who has studied the Moai for many years, believes the statues may have been created in the image of various paramount chiefs. They were not individualized portrait sculptures, but standardized representations of powerful individuals. The Moai may also hold a sacred role in the life of the Rapa Nui, acting as ceremonial conduits for communication with the gods. According to Van Tilburg, their physical position between earth and sky puts them on both secular and sacred ground; secular in their representation of chief and their ability to physically prop up the sky, and sacred in their proximity to the heavenly gods. Van Tilburg concludes, “The Moai thus mediates between sky and earth, people and chiefs, and chiefs and gods.”
 Van Tilburg’s painstaking effort to inventory and carefully measure the nearly 900 Moai statues on Easter Island has enabled her to construct a digital version of an average Moai. This digital statue has informed her hypothesis for a potential transport method for moving the Moai; the statue which Van Tilburg’s team will attempt to move and erect for the NOVA program has been made to the exact dimensions of this digital Moai. The dimensions are as follows:Statistically average Moai:
Height: 13.29 feet (4.05 meters)
Width at Base: 5.25 feet (1.6 meters)
Width at Head: 4.86 feet (1.48 meters)
Depth through body at midpoint: 3.02 feet (92 cm.)
Total volume: 210.48 cubic feet (5.96 cubic meters)
Center of gravity: 4.46 feet (1.36 meters)
Total weight: 13.78 tons (12.5 metric tons)What is an ahu?The word “ahu” has two meanings in Easter Island culture. First, an ahu is the flat mound or stone pedestal upon which the Moai stand. The ahus are, on average, about four feet high. The word ‘ahu’ also signifies a sacred ceremonial site where several Moai stand. Ahu Akivi, for example, is an ahu site with seven standing Moai.

Moai StatsThe following statistics on Easter Island’s Moai are the results of Van Tilburg’s survey in 1989. She reported, “A total of 887 monolithic statues has been located by the survey to date on Easter Island…397 are still in situ in quarries at the Rano Raraku central production center…..Fully 288 statues (32% of 887) were successfully transported to a variety of image ahu locations….Another 92 are recorded as “in transport,” 47 of these lying in various positions on prepared roads or tracks outside the Rano Raraku zone.”Number of MoaiTotal number of Moai on Easter Island: 887
 Total number of Moai that were successfully transported to their final ahu locations: 288 (32% of 887)
 Total number of Moai still in the Rano Raraku quarry: 397 (45%)
 Total number of Moai lying ‘in transit’ outside of the Rano Raraku quarry: 92 (10%)

 Less than one third of all carved Moai actually made it to a final ceremonial ahu site. Was this due to the inherent difficulties in transporting them? Were the ones that remain in the quarry (45%) deemed culturally unworthy of transport? Were they originally intended to remain in place on the quarry slopes? Or had the islanders run out of the resources necessary to complete the Herculean task of carving and moving the Moai?
 Size and weight of MoaiMeasuring the size, weight, and shape of the 887 Moai on Easter Island has been a 15-year process for Van Tilburg. The most notable statues are listed below:
Photo of MoaiLargest Moai:
Location: Rano Raraku Quarry, named “El Gigante”
Height: 71.93 feet, (21.60 meters)
Weight: approximately 145-165 tons (160-182 metric tons)

 Largest Moai once erect:
Location: Ahu Te Pito Kura, Named “Paro”
Height: 32.63 feet (9.80 meters)
Weight: approximately 82 tons (74.39 metric tons)

 Largest Moai fallen while being erected:
Location: Ahu Hanga Te Tenga
Height: 33.10 feet (9.94 meters)

 Smallest standing Moai:
Location: Poike
Height: 3.76 feet (1.13 meters)
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The Hamsa Hand

The Hamsa (also known as Khamsa) is a hand shaped amulet used for protection by both Jewish and Muslim people. Its name comes from a Semitic root and literally means “five”. The Hamsa is usually shaped in the form of a symmetrical hand, with thumbs on both side, and not in the anatomically correct way. Though it is widely used by both Jewish and Muslim people, its origins pre-dates both religions and is attributed to the goddess Tanit who was a Phoenician lunar goddess, worshiped as the patron goddess at Carthage.

Islamic Hamsa

In Islam, the Hamsa is also known as “The hand of Fatima“, after the Prophet Mohammad’s only daughter, who’s also related to many miracles such as rain making. The story tells that one day Fatima was busy stirring a pot when her husband Ali came into the house with a new wife he had just married (Muslim men are allowed to marry 4 wives). Struck by grief and sorrow, Fatima let the ladle slip from her hand and continued stirring with her own hand, not noticing the pain. Her hand has since become a symbol for patience and faith. The Hamsa is also said to symbolize the five pillars or tenets of Islam.

Judaic Hamsa

In Judaism, The Hamsa is also known as “YAD HA’CHAMESH” (The hand of five) or “The hand of Miriam” after the sister of Moses and Aaron. It is also connected to five books of the Torah.

Hamsa for protection

The Hamsa is used to ward of the evil eye and can be found on the entrances of homes, in cars, on charm bracelets and chains and more. It is also common to place other symbols in the middle of the Hamsa that are believed to help against the evil eye such as fish, eyes and the Star of David. The color blue, or more specifically light blue, is also considered protective against the evil eye and we could see many Hamsas in that color or with embedded gemstones in different shades of blue.  In Jewish use, Hamsas are often decorated with prayers of a protective fashion such as the Sh’ma Prayer, the Birkat HaBayit (Blessing for the Home), or the Tefilat HaDerech (Traveler’s Prayer).

In a world that seems more uncertain then ever, the Hamsa hand provides a link with a mystical time, when life was simpler. Regardless of belief the Hamsa Hand artwork has been bringing people peace, tranquility and beauty.

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The Ichthus

The Meaning Of The Fish Symbol Used By Christians
Today And In History
By Rebecca Geiger

This article is reproduced with permission from

Historically one of the first symbols used by Christians to identify themselves to others was the fish. There is a literary reference made to the fish by Clement of Alexandria, born around 150 a.d., that recommended his readers to have their seals engraved with a dove or a fish. Christians had been using the symbolic fish long before Clement of Alexandria was born in such Roman monuments as the Capella Greca and the Sacrament Chapels of the catacomb of St. Callistus. The fish symbolized the baptismal waters, the loaves and fishes, and Jesus’ own declaration to the disciples to become “fishers of men”. See Matthew 4:19.

The Greek work for fish, Ichthus, is an acrostic consisting of the initial letters of five Greek words forming the word for fish (Ichthus), which briefly but clearly described the character of Christ and His claim to the worship of believers: Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, i.e. Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. It is possible that this Christian acrostic originated in Alexandria, and was intended as a protest against the pagan coin from Alexandria of the reign of Domitian (81-96) that was had inscribed on it Theou Yios (Son of God). The fish and the word Ichthus held a meaning of high significance for the Christians. It was a brief profession of faith in the divinity of Christ – that He was the Redeemer of mankind. Tertullian referred to believers in this way, “we, little fishes, after the image of our Ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in the water”.

The fish symbol was frequently found associated with such other symbols as the dove, the anchor, and the monogram of Christ. The monuments, too, on which it appears, from the first to the fourth century, include frescoes, sculptured representations, rings, seals, gilded glasses, as well as enkolpia of various materials. The type of fish depicted calls for no special observation, save that, from the second century, the form of the dolphin was frequently employed. The reason for this particular selection is presumed to be the fact that, in popular esteem, the dolphin was regarded as friendly to man. A considerable number of objects containing the fish-symbol are preserved in various European museums, one of the most interesting, because of the grouping of the fish with several other symbols, being a carved gem in the Kircherian Museum in Rome. On the left is a T-form anchor, with two fishes beneath the crossbar, while next in order are a T-form cross with a dove on the crossbar and a sheep at the foot, another T-cross as the mast of a ship, and the good shepherd carrying on His shoulders the strayed sheep. In addition to these symbols the five letters of the word Ichthus are distributed round the border. Another ancient carved gem represents a ship supported by a fish, with doves perched on the mast and stern, and Christ on the waters rescuing St. Peter. After the fourth century the symbolism of the fish gradually disappeared; representations of fishes on baptismal fonts and on bronze baptismal cups like those found at Rome and Trier, now in the Kircherian Museum, are merely of an ornamental character, suggested, probably by the water used in baptism.

Something Fishy

There are several references to fish within the Bible. Here they all are!

Their Creation

“Then God said, Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens. God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” Genesis 1:20-22

Their Purpose

“The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Genesis 9:2,3

Determination of Clean or Unclean

“`Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales–whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water–you are to detest. And since you are to detest them, you must not eat their meat and you must detest their carcasses. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you.” Leviticus 11:9-12

“Of all the creatures living in the water, you may eat any that has fins and scales. But anything that does not have fins and scales you may not eat; for you it is unclean.” Deuteronomy 14:9,10

Fishing Expeditions that Snare the Soul

“Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” Ecclesiastes 9:12.

“You have made men like fish in the sea, like sea creatures that have no ruler. The wicked foe pulls all of them up with hooks, he catches them in his net, he gathers them up in his dragnet; and so he rejoices and is glad. Therefore he sacrifices to his net and burns incense to his dragnet, for by his net he lives in luxury and enjoys the choicest food. Is he to keep on emptying his net, destroying nations without mercy?” Habakkuk 1:14-17

Tall Fish Tales that are True!

“He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” Luke 5:2-6

“He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.” John 21:6-8.

Warnings by the Lord

“The Sovereign LORD has sworn by his holiness: “The time will surely come when you will be taken away with hooks, the last of you with fishhooks.” Amos 4:2

Miraculous Fish Events

“But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
Matthew 17:27

“But the LORD provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was insidethe fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17

“For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12:40

“And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.” Matthew 14:19

“Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people.” Matthew 15:36

“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” Luke 5:6

“He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish–unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.) But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everybody sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to set before the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.”