THE RAPA NUI CULTURE

The Rapa Nui culture is understood as the various manifestations of popular culture, indigenous, regional or urban, populations or traditional communities, local languages nd dialects, crafts and folk art, traditional costumes, customs, traditions and, in general, the characteristics of a people or culture. Ultimately, it is the product of a historical, dynamic process and the result of the society’s interaction with its surroundings, which are recognized as an integral part of their cultural heritage "(UNESCO). This "living culture" that is passed on from generation to generation is constantly recreated by the Rapanui community in accordance to their environment, to their interactions with nature and to their history. This gives them a sense of identity and continuity thus helping to promote respect for cultural diversity and human creativity in a sustainable manner. The "living culture" is particularly evident in the following areas:
- Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle for the "living culture"
- Performing arts
- Social practices, rituals and festive events
- Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
- Traditional craftsmanship.

 

Rapanui is a Polynesian language, which distinguishes it from other native languages f the country (Chile) that are classified in the American Indian group. It belongs to the Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family; it has many similarities with the languages found between Southeast Asia and Easter Island. This is due to the fact that the Rapa Nui people are different from the rest of the ethnic groups of the Chilean territory, a country that annexed Easter Island in 1888. Currently, the Rapa Nui people are bilingual: they speak Spanish and their original language Rapanui. The Easter Island children speak Rapanui until they enter school, where they learn Spanish as a second language which is used excessively on the island due to its relations with the continent. Although many Rapanui words are similar to the languages of Tahiti, Samoa, New Zealand, the Cook Islands and Hawai'i, the vast majority of the vocabulary is completely different. They are different languages not different dialects. In fact the ancient Rapanui language that was spoken in 1774 was not understood by a Tahitian who traveled with Captain Cook. There are even some researchers that argue that a few words were introduced with origins from the South American continent some centuries ago. A classic example is the kumara or "sweet potato", an Andean product with a similar name from Quechua. It gives rise to the debate about possible contact between trans-Pacific Polynesians in general with South America. Many of the words in use today have a Tahitian origin, including the greeting Iorana. The conversion to Catholicism on the island which occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century primarily used Tahitian texts influencing modern communications with Tahiti and more social and cultural contact between the two. The current Rapanui language has undergone major transformations thanks to foreign contact resulting with many of its words having English, French, Spanish and Tahitian origins. Furthermore this allows the addition of new words to the vocabulary that did not exist before for new inventions such as the car and the airplane, which were introduced directly to the language. These facts characterize the language today as modern Rapanui, a language which is very different today compared to the language spoken prior to European contact.

The traditional Rapa Nui dance, as well as all cultural expressions, is an important part of the worldview of the Rapanui people. With ancestral origins many of the islanders’ dances have become extinct due to the influence of the Catholic intervention.  They greatly censured many of the islanders’ customs and rituals as they were seen to possess an erotic nature as they had close connections with fertilization or sexual initiation. The best known dance is Ori Rapa Nui which gives off great energy and presence and has gradually become the emblem of the islands cultural presentations to the world. In the 1960s the dance Tamure became popular on Easter Island. It was nearly as popular as the Sau Sau on the continent but the Tamure has Tahitian origin and is much more aggressive, even acrobatic, with strong pelvic movements that look similar to the act of lovemaking. There are also a number of other dances that mimic and incorporate legends, fighting or simulate everyday activities. Among these dances there is a type of dance in which the dancer only uses the movement of their arms and hands to give brief gestures to describe the song that is being performed which has deep meaning in the Rapa Nui tradition.

tapati rapa nui

In February each year the Tapati festival is celebrated, it displays the main artistic and cultural activities of Rapa Nui. It usually begins the first week of February and lasts for about two weeks. The festival plays hosts to a series of ancient ceremonies such as the competition of body painting (Takona), the storytelling through song of epic stories and legends (Riu) and the competition of sleighing down a steep hill on banana trunks (Haka Pei).  It also elects the next queen of the island, who is crowned at the end of the festival. Some other cultural activities of the Rapa Nui people are: Music, tattoos, the use of traditional medicine etc. These cultural activities help to transmit the customs and history of the Rapanui from generation to generation.