Traditional genealogy of Easter Island has its origins in the recorded myths and legends of the early settlers who first came and settled on Easter Island. Legend has it that this settlement resulted either from a supernatural being called Uoke or the dreams of Hau Maka.


An old tradition related many times to Father Sebastian Englert tells of a story of a potent supernatural being named Uoke, who came from a place called Hiva, who, for reasons unknown travelled about the Pacific with a giant lever with which he pried up whole islands and tossed them into the sea where they vanished forever under the waves.

The word Hiva, mentioned in the legend as the name of the place from which Uoke came, is also the traditional name of the homeland of at least some of the people of Easter Island. The same word has also been preserved in the names of three of the Marquesas Islands - Nuku Hiva, Fatu Hiva and Hiva Oa. Today the Easter Islanders do not know where Hiva lies; they remember it only as the place from which their ancestors came. Indeed, in modern times, all foreigners, regardless of their origin, are called tangata hiva, which means "men from Hiva". 

Two versions of the tradition as to why the great Polynesian King, or ariki henua, Hotu Matu'a, set sail for the naval of the world have been given. The first version tells of a great cataclysm in Hiva, in which most of the land, also through the mischief of Uoke's lever, was submerged under the sea. The second version tells how a certain Hau Maka in Hiva saw in a dream the future land of Hotu Matu'a. In the spirit, Hau Maka travelled over the whole of the island observing everything and searching out the best beach for a future landing.

As other Polynesian voyages frequently appear to have done, Hau Maka sent out a reconnaissance voyage from Hiva which included Ira, one of seven youths who were told to explore the land that Hau Maka had seen in his dream. The legend left no doubt that their voyage was towards the rising sun.

After arriving at Easter Island, it is said that they treated heartlessly and without compassion one of their numbers who had been wounded by the flippers of a supernatural turtle that had come from Hiva. The members of the group decided to abandon the mission and return to Hiva. When they were making ready to leave the island, they awoke one morning and saw near the islet of Motu Nui the double canoe of Hotu Matu'a. When it was a short distance from the coast, the vessel was hailed by Ira who recommended that a reconnaissance be made around the coast. The voyagers cut the lashing that held the two canoes together and allowed them to continue their courses separately. In one canoe came Hotu Matu'a and his wife Vakai a Hava and in the other came his sister Ava Rea Tua and her husband, who according to legend was the first carver of the wooden statues of Easter Island.

Hotu Matu'a anchored on the east side of the bay at Anakena at a point still called Hiro Moko. The second canoe was moored at the other side of the bay at a place called Hanga o Hiro. With Hoto Matu'a came a master builder called Nuku Kehu who built a house at Anakena for Hotu Matu'a and another was built nearby for his wife. 

Most of the people who came with Hoto Matu'a appear to have moved immediately to other localities where they began to establish new communities. Eventually they came to form eight distinctive kin-groups each with its own name. Each group had its own persons of rank called tangata honui. Their system was clearly that of a class organised or stratified society. 

The genealogical succession of ariki henua, is much more confused on Easter Island than is the corresponding succession on many other Polynesian islands. Four principal lists had been compiled and each differs greatly from the others. The one collected by Alfred Metraux in 1934 includes thirty names and was regarded by Father Sebastian as the most reliable. This list is as follows:


1.  Hoto matua
2. Tuu maheke
3.  Miru
4.  Ataranga
5.  Ihu
6.  Tuukunga te mamaru
7.  Mahaki tapu vaeti
8.  Nga uka te mahaki
9.  Haumoana
10. Anakena
11. Tupa ariki
12. Marama
13. Tokoterangi
14. Kao aroaro
15. Mataivi
16. Kaohoto
17. Te Rahai
18. Te Ravarava
19. Te Hetuke
20. Tuu ko te mata nui
21. Hotu iti ko te mata iti
22. Honga
23. Takena
24. Tuukoihu
25. Kamakoi
26. Ngaara
27. Ngaara rua
28. Kaimakoi iti
29. Rokoroko hetau
30. Rukunga
Sadly, during the period 1859 and 1862 the Peruvian blackbirders and the subsequent introduction of smallpox and other diseases reduced the population of the island to a few hundred people taking with it forever the knowledge and the civilization of Easter Island. Indeed, it has been speculated that the masters of the art of writing and the only real key to the decipherment of the rongorongo disappeared only a short time before the arrival of the missionaries who would have recorded it. With these sad events, the old culture of Easter Island came to an end forever.

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                      click here Easter Island and the Blackbirders                             
                      click here Aspects of Easter Island                                               
                      click here Easter Island: At the Centre of the World                   
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Jane Resture
(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 30th November 2008)