Guide to traditional competitions on Easter Island

As a way to preserve and to transmit their culture, the inhabitants of Rapa Nui celebrate ancestral rites every year. These celebrations are marked by painted bodies and complex challenges that require great bravery and resistance.

1_11022010_11195_guíadecompetenciastradicionalesenrapanui550x290thisischile

Easter Island is one of the few places in the world where you can find and appreciate an ancient living culture and its inhabitants know that. That is why every year they organize a series of competitions that help to preserve their traditions for future generations. If they want, the tourists who come to this island that has belonged to Chile since 1888 can become privileged witnesses of these rites and even actively participate in them.

The vast majority of these competitions are held during Tapati Rapanui, the largest celebration, which is held in Easter Island in early February and is equivalent to 18 September for Chileans.

Interested in learning more about these celebrations? This guide of traditional Rapa Nui competitions will help you.

Takona

This is a ceremonial body painting competition. As with the other inhabitants of Polynesia, in their traditional ceremonies the Rapanui were in the habit of painting their faces and bodies to show their rank and importance within society.

Currently the participants preserve the technique of mixing natural pigments and describing the significance of each painting to the community.

To participate in this rite, men wear the traditional hami loincloth, while women pose nude from the waist up, covering the lower parts of their bodies with tiny articles of clothing.

A local artist, known as Moko Mae, is the best when it comes to tattoos, symbols that are used to decorate the body. But that is not all: Moko Mae has dancing talents, which can be seen in the presentations by the group Kari Kari, which never fails to participate in the Takona competition.

Tokerau

Its origins go back several decades and all of the island’s families, participate grouped in clans with their respective candidates for queen.

The idea of the festival is to preserve ancestral customs via songs, dance, and other ancient traditions.

Tau’a Rapa Nui

This activity takes place in the waters of Lake Rano Raraku, where athletes alternate between different traditional races like in a triathlon.

Here it is possible to observe Vaka Ama, which consists in canoeing in small reed craft; swimming with Pora, in which competitors are equipped with a reed floating device, and Aka Venga, in which participants run with two banana stalks carried on their shoulders using a pole.

Riu

A competition in which the most experienced  people in each Alliance take part, interpreting ritual songs that tell stories and epic legends of glories that the Rapa Nui people have experienced over the years.

These tales are practically extinct and this is the only way to preserve them and transmit their mark to future generations. In ancient times this practice was regular and was fundamentally aimed at transmitting culture to the island’s inhabitants.

Hoko Haka Opo

A competition between musical groups representing the respective alliances, in which the participant’s choral abilities are rewarded after interpreting songs in alternation with rival groups without repeating or mistaking the lyrics.

Titigui Mahute

The desire to revive Rapa Nui’s ancient traditions is made clear once again in this competition, which measures participants’ capacity and imagination.

It consists in working with mahute, a plant that was introduced into the ecosystem by the ancient inhabitants of Polynesia. This raw material is processed to produce clothing and traditional outfits. The speed with which they are made is evaluated alongside the quality and beauty of the clothing.

Vaka Tuai

The representatives of the respective alliances must recreate a traditional Polynesian craft, which will be used for the candidate for queen to navigate the waters of the island accompanied by a group representing her clan and dressed in the traditional clothing of Easter Island’s ancient inhabitants.

Haka Pei

This is a competition that measures the courage and daring of Rapa Nui youths and adolescents, as they risk themselves by sliding down the mountain Pu’i on banana trunks at angles of 45 degrees and for distances of up to 120 meters.

The idea is to descend as quickly as possible to win and to add more points to the island’s candidate for queen. They achieve respectable speeds, which can surpass 80 kilometers per hour.

This post is also available in Spanish