22nd April: Easter Island (Hanga Taharoa)

Hanga Taharoa (or Taharoa Bay, if you like) is on the north coast of Easter island, about four kilometres east of Ahu Te Pito Kura and about four kilometres over the peninsula from Tongariki.  In 1722 Roggeveen landed somewhere along this coast, which could have been at Hanga Taharoa or else a bit further west, at or near Ahu Te Pito Kura.

Two birds on fence-posts in front of a hare moa (chicken house) or tupa (tomb). The birds are Chimango Caracara, introduced from South America. There are no native land birds remaining on Easter Island (unless you count the moa or chicken). We are at Hanga Taharoa, about 80 metres back from the shoreline.

First Contact:  Roggeveen in 1722

The first European visitor to Easter Island was the Dutch Roggeveen in 1722, who arrived with three ships and 223 men.  There are two accounts of the landing, one by Roggeveen and another by Behrens.

This was not without incident.  Many Rapanui swam out to the ships or came by canoe and one was shot “by some misadventure”.  The Dutch landed with 143 men and “10 to 12” Rapanui were shot dead and others wounded when “they tried to lay hold of our weapons”.

The remains of an ahu that would have been part of the Hanga Taharoa village, about 100 metres back from the shoreline.

The Rapanui, though, were neither armed nor hostile and after the Dutch had assured them they had no desire to use their weapons, they continued to a remarkably exuberant welcome given the earlier incidents:

They kept up an uncommon yelling: women as well as children brought palm branches, red and white streamers, and various kinds of fruits, indian figs, large nuts, sugar-cane, roots, fowls, – alive, boiled and roast.  They even flung themselves at our feet, displayed the streamers in front of us, and prostrated the streamers on the ground in front of us, presenting their palm branches as peace offerings.  They also made tender of the womankind, asking whether we would accompany them into the huts, or had rather take them off to the ships.  However, we did them no ill, … and they gave 50 or 60 ells of brightly coloured cloth (probably 50 or 60 metres), coral baubles and mirrors and received large quantities of live fowl, sweet potatoes and other foods in return. (Behrens)

Most or all of the moai appear to be standing at this point.  The accounts are brief but do not include any mention of toppled moai.  There might have been some toppled in other areas because they probably wouldn’t see toppled moai from the ship and they were only ashore for a couple of hours.

We could see great numbers of heathen idols erected on shore.

Sunlight through the clouds, looking probably a bit North of West from Hanga Taharoa

Whatever had happened since the wood ran out, the traditional religion appears fully functional and there are several accounts of worship at the ahu by the people as well as of the appearance and behaviour or the priests.

In the early morning we looked out and could see from some distance that they had prostrated themselves towards the morning sun and had kindled some hundreds of fires, which probably betokened a morning oblation to their gods. (Behrens)

What form the worship of these people comprises we were unable to gather any full knowledge of, owing to the shortness of our stay amongst them; we noticed only that they kindle fire in front of certain remarkably tall stone figures they set up; and, thereafter squatting on their heels with heads bowed down, they bring the palms of their hands together and alternately raise and lower them. (Roggeveen)

… they relied in case of need on their idols which stand all along the sea shore in great numbers, before which they fall down and invoke them.  … I took some of the people to be priests, because they paid more reverence to the gods than did the rest; and they showed themselves much more devout in their ministrations.  One could distinguish these from the other people quite well, not only by their wearing great white plugs in their ear lobes, but in having the head wholly shaven and hairless. … They wore a headdress of black and white feather that were just like stork’s feathers…. (Behrens)

I have read about pyramidical ahus and presume this is one. They are a later development and would also be a grave for one or more persons. At Hanga Taharoa.

The place where they had landed appeared to be quite a substantial village, and with an abundance of planted crops in the vicinity.

There was, in the place where we were standing, a village of about twenty houses. (Behrens).  Roogeveen, however, cites six or seven hare paenga or houses.

The houses were from forty to sixty feet long, six to eight feet in width and similar height. As regards their subsistence it appears that it must be procured by tillage of the soil, as we saw it everywhere planted and bearing crops.  moreover, the fields and lands were all measured off with a cord and very neatly cultivated.

The island is a suitable and convenient place for refreshment, as all the country is under cultivation and we saw in the distance large tracts of woodland. (Behrens)

Wall of Ahu at Hanga Toharoa with view looking West.

Google map location (green arrow).

The Rapanui commonly had long earlobes stretching down to the shoulders.  When active, they might hitch their earlobes over the upper ears to keep them out of the way, which looked strange to the Dutch.  They could be naked (males or females), or wear cloaks or wraps about the waist or chest (the latter for women).  They made their clothing from the white inner bark of the paper mulberry tree.

Due to deforestation, the things they required most appeared to be wood and textiles.  They do not appear to have lacked for food though variety of protein was no doubt another matter.  As far as the brief record of a fleeting visit can attest, their traditional society appeared to be largely intact.

… (more in a following post on Second and Third contact (Gonzalez and Cook).)…

5 comments on “22nd April: Easter Island (Hanga Taharoa)

  1. […] to arrive on the island, Gonzales in 1770, and follows on from the First Contact discussion in the Hanga Taharoa post. The back of Ahu Hanga Poukura (from the sea) showing one block much more eroded and therefore […]


  2. […] First Contact:  Roggeveen in 1722 […]


  3. Navid says:

    You culodn’t pay me to ignore these posts!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s