The island was discovered about 1,500 years ago. The true history of the island begins with the Polynesian migration of Ariki Hotu Matua in the ninth century. This Polynesian group (with DNA analysis) installed and developed over the centuries through the moai statues a worship of death, a unique worship in the world that was only reserved for heads of tribes and clans in order to protect fertility and prosperity in the feudal society.

Despite scarce freshwater resources and climate changes, adaptation to the environment progressed with the development of agriculture and fishing.  Such activities were governed by "tapu" that gave great importance to the different phases of the moon, the equinoxes and solstices. In the seventeenth century, it was estimated that the population reached over 10,000 inhabitants.  These inhabitants began carving giant statues with some reaching heights of more than 8m, 10m, 12m and 21m. Accidents were numerous and the sacred art of sculpting and the honorable act of spirituality were gradually transformed into an act of materialism which then led the weakened society to rebel. According to archaeologists around the 1670s, 1680s the clan wars began. Royalty lost its political and economic power to the warlords called Matato 'a. The latter were responsible for the toppling of the moai.

Soon after the priests of a solar religion organized a new order that concentrated around the god Make Make: the frigate bird, rites and the annual ceremony "Tangata Manu" (The birdman competition).  This allowed for a different distribution of political, economic and spiritual power, beginning with the search for the first egg laid by the frigate bird. These ceremonies continued until the missionaries arrived from Tahiti in 1868.