Also known as: Easter Island

The Pacific island of Rapanui (Easter Island) represents the easternmost point of known Austronesian settlement. The island is famous for its stone statues (moai), which probably represented founding ancestors or chiefs. It is widely argued that Easter Island had suffered a demographic and cultural collapse several decades prior to European contact. This collapse, sometimes known as the "1680 event", has been attributed, most famously by Diamond (2005), to ecological overexploitation. However, the reasons for the event, as well as whether it occurred at all, are controversial.

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Traditional Culture(1862)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 316-317
Nature god(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 316-317
Ancestral spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 308-341, 319-320
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 316-317
God(s) Present, and the principal focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 309-316, 331-341
McCall (1994), pp. 40

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife Principal determinant of one's afterlife (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 119
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 119
Myth of humanity’s creation Present, and evolutionary (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 314
Culture hero(es) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 316-317

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 310

Classes of Tapu

Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 328
Resource management tapu Present (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 328

Mana

Mana as a personal quality Present (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 130, 328
Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Present (Source)
Kirch (1984), pp. 277
Metraux (1940), pp. 130
Mana and social status Tightly coupled (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 130-131
Mana linked to genealogy Present, linked to both paternal and maternal lines (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 120
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 149-151, 329-343
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 118, 329-343
Largest religious community Whole society or larger (Source)
Kirch (1984), pp. 277
Political and religious differentiation Some overlap (Source)
Sahlins (1958), pp. 54-55
Kirch (1984), pp. 277

Rites

Piercing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 228
Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 219-248
Scarification Absent from culture (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 219-248
Tattooing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 240-248
Genital cutting Absent from culture (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 219-248
Social Environment +
Population 4000 (Source)
Boersema (2015), pp. 113-114
Metraux (1940), pp. 20
Population of largest political community 1,000-9,999 (Source)
Kirch (1984), pp. 277
Metraux (1940), pp. 20-21
Importance of Patrilateral descent High (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 120
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 120
Kinship system Hawaiian (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 54
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 54

Conflict

(No) external warfare Occasional, at least every generation (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 36-49, 55-93
Conflict within community Endemic (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 145-147
(No) internal warfare Common, at least every five years (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 149
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Occasional but not often (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 53, 55
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 2076.3 (Source)
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
'Pitcairn Island' (2021)
Distance to nearest continent 3515.0 (Source)
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Absent: No evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence and not in region of known contact (Source)
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.23
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 53
Metraux (1940), pp. 314
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Medium (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 19, 38-39
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Kirch (1984), pp. 271
Metraux (1940), pp. 19
Land-based gathering Medium (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 53-54
Metraux (1940), pp. 18, 331, 332
Kirch (1984), pp. 271
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Absent (Source)
Kirch (1984), pp. 271
Metraux (1940), pp. 18-19
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 53-54
Metraux (1940), pp. 14

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 54
Kirch (1984), pp. 265, 261
Metraux (1940), pp. 172-192
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 54
Kirch (1984), pp. 265, 261
Metraux (1940), pp. 172-192
Water-based gathering Medium (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 191-192
Kirch (1984), pp. 265

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Medium (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 54
Metraux (1940), pp. 136-137
Metalworking Absent (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 165-172
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 8

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Volcanic high island (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 7
Island Size (km²) 165.0 (Source)
Boersema (2015), pp. 28
Metraux (1940), pp. 7
Maximum elevation (meters) 600.0 (Source)
Heyerdahl & Caviedes (2020)

Location

Latitude -27.1 (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 8
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude -109.4 (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 8
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1862-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +

Conversion

Role of social status in conversion process Primarily a bottom-up process, although those in power showed little or no reluctance. (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 44
Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 44
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 55
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Metraux (1940), pp. 44
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Heyerdahl & Caviedes (2020), pp. 54
Immigration Medium (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 53
Makihara (2005), pp. 728
Language shift High (Source)
Makihara (2005), pp. 727-728
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Delsing (2009), pp. 325-334

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence High (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 54
Metraux (1940), pp. 47-48
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present but minor (Source)
Delsing (2009), pp. 66, 101-133

Modern Infrastructure

Vehicles and roads Present and widely used (Source)
Delsing (2009), pp. 7
Air travel Present and long-distance (Source)
Heyerdahl & Caviedes (2020)
Sea port Absent (Source)
Heyerdahl & Caviedes (2020)
Delsing (2009), pp. 15

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Largely voluntary (Source)
Delsing (2009), pp. 78-90
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Hays (1991A), pp. 53, 54
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Delsing (2009), pp. 30
External Links
References
Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Boersema, J. J. (2015). The survival of Easter Island: Dwindling resources and cultural resilience. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Brunton, R. (1989). The Abandoned Narcotic: Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014). http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm.

Delsing, M.R. (2009). Articulating Rapa Nui: Polynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation State. (Dotoral Thesis). University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/docview/304861594

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from maps.google.com

Hays, T.E. (1991A). Easter Island. In Hays, T.E. (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of World Cultures (Volume II: Oceania). New York, NY: G.K. Hall & Co.

Heyerdahl, T. and Caviedes, C. N. (2020). Easter Island. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Easter-Island

Kirch, P.V. (1984). The Evolution of the Polynesian Chiefdoms. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Makihara, M. (2005). Rapa Nui Ways of Speaking Spanish: Language Shift and Socialization on Easter Island. Language in Society, 34 (5), 727-762. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4169464.

Marck, J. (1996). The First-Order Anthropomorphic Gods of Polynesia. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 105 (2), 217-258. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20706661

McCall, G. (1994). Rapanui: Tradition and Survival on Easter Island (2nd Edition). St Leonards, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Metcalf, P. (2002). They Lie, we Lie: Getting on with Anthropology. London, U.K.: Routledge.

Metraux, A. (1971). Ethnology of Easter Island. Honolulu, HI: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press. (Originally Published in 1940).

Pitcairn Island (2021). Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Pitcairn-Island.

Sahlins, M. D. (1958). Social stratification in Polynesia. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press