After five hours flying over the Pacific Ocean, a deep-blue sea sprinkled with foaming waves, Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, appears in the fringe of the horizon. So isolated, so far away from everything and everyone else this portion of land is, that everything that happens in it turns to inside and is intensely lived through, leading the natives into watching and caring for each place in the island as if it were the last one or the only one ever created by Make Make, the god of Rapa Nui. Indeed, everything that happens there is noteworthy: the aromas, the tastes, the textures, the colors, the sounds, everything results from the surfacing life, be it volcanic or marine.
Located in the easternmost end of Polynesia, smack into South Pacific, 3,700 kilometers from mainland Chile and 4,050 km from Tahiti, Rapa Nui is a volcano-originated island, with a total area of only 166 km2 and 3,791 inhabitants. Its geography was shaped by the joining of three volcanoes which lended it a triangular format, whose geographic singularities are the freshwater ponds that raised from the volcanoes' craters, boasting two beaches and a characteristic look where smaller craters and gentle ondulations mingle together. Its original topography was conserved by the great permeability of the lava strata.
A visit to the island can make us understand the reasons why it was declared a Historical Monument in 1935, chosen as a Patrimony of the Humanity and a World Inheritance by UNESCO in 1995 and how this surprising, millenium-old culture could develop there, despite the fact this is the most isolated inhabited island territory.
The island's landscape and natural charms are blended with the mysteries involving the culture of its people. The diversity and density of Rapa Nui flora and fauna bear no Polynesian features, but these characteristics are to be found in the patriarchal cultural bases of its community. It is the man's role to take over the island's political and social orders, while womanly functions are secondary, for all that they complement each other; even today, when they constitute an important bracket in the work force due to the growth of tourism, the education of children and all domestic chores are the women's responsibility.
Discovered by Dutch sailors in the Easter Sunday of 1722, Rapa Nui is a veritable open-air museum whose main assets are the gigantic stone statues which are scattered over the sea coasts and the volcanic slopes. All of these are colossal human figures carved out of petrified lava and referred to as the Moai, most of which look toward the center of the island, some of them as tall as nine meters in height, sculpted to represent the tribesmen's ancestors as a kind of competition between the different clans to show one another their respective power.
There were found also stone walls, altars, and houses and discovered wooden boards bearing a form of writing now considered to be pictographic. Some of these boards are as large as two square meters and the symbols covering them were engraved with shark teeth and can be identified as representations of humans, birds, fish, and other animated and unanimated objects. This particular writing hasn't be decyphered to date, but stories told by the island inhabitants report on their functions or on their subjects: religious cerimonies, wars, prayers, and many other different sorts of records (Diringer, 1985).
Back in 1888, Rapa Nui was annexed by Chile and this country stablished there its westernmost reaches. The languages spoken are the rapanui and the Spanish. Information collected from Father Sebastián Englert Archaeological Museum refer the rapanui writing as being
...a unique system of writing among all those existing in the world – the
kohau rongo rongo – whose main characteristic consists in the fact that in each line the carved signs are inverted in respect to the prior line. Therefore, when we want to read a plaque, it must be set upside down everytime the end of a line is reached. The movement associated to this peculiar way of reading was denominated bustrofedon, a word of Latin origin that expresses the movement of oxen when tilling the land. The rongo-rongo writing was known only by a group of experts named Tangata rongo-rongo or Maori rongo-rongo. Data available allows us to state that the symbols inscribed on the boards were a device to help into the remembering of songs, traditions, and genealogies.
The knowledge that on these boards, among those with different meanings, there can be found signs whose function is that of an aid into the remembering of songs is relevant to us for perhaps it may help us to explain what is going on today with relation to music.
On the first day of my visit to the island, when milling around within a craftsmen's fair, having listened to the island inhabitants speaking only Spanish until that moment, I was surprised by the sound coming from a radio on a raised shelf. It was a song, whose rhythm, melody, and harmony looked familiar and predictable, as those of so many others broadcast by radio stations in every country. However, what called my attention was that I could not make out a single word in the song. I realized it was a language unknown to me. I waited for the tune to end and then the speaker kept on speaking in that same language, unrelated to any of the most well-known tongues and of which I could not recognize but a word. This was the point when I first realized the Rapa Nui islanders spoke this language while communicating with each other, only employing the Spanish for their addressing us, the tourists.
The information collected in the museum may indicate the song lyrics have been transmitted orally and/or from existing records. However, the unrecorded tunes were only kept by means of oral descension and therefore were meddled with by the influence of those tunes reaching the island through media.
Even the prayers and the canticles employed in the religion followed by the people – the Roman Catholicism – during Sunday Mass celebrations, are spoken or sung in rapanui. All the same, in the several discos opened in the island town we can appreciate a blending of tradition and modernity, for there both international and Polynesian songs can be heard. Yet, all the musical instruments employed are old acquaintances of ours.
Every year, during the months of January and February, they hold the Tapati Rapa Nui  festival. This was created as a tribute to their rich history as well as to preserve the genuine islanders' cultural traditions and nowadays it is said to be the largest folk festival in all Polynesia. Here are presented popular celebrations including traditional cooking, sports, theater plays, and the ransom of their ancestors' music and dances and it has also become an important economical component as well for its attracting tourists from every corner in the world.
The festival is purely based on the expression of local culture and its central feature is the Queen's election. Music, dances, handicraft, gastronomics, traditional games, and the ancient traditions of a millenium-old culture compose this celebration that, since the 1980s, reinforces the effort for ransoming the local culture. In the first issues, these festivities included elements from other cultures, like Chilean mainland folk manifestations, but all of these were later purged.
Therefore, all competitions and tournaments stablished for the different groups to amass points for the Queen's election turn around the main sport and art manifestations of olden days that must be therein recreated. Among the sports are included sliding down slopes riding banana boles; three different modes of running: canoeing in small boats; swimming on a totora floater, racing while bearing whole banana clusters on the back, and horse races. Among the artistic manifestations are the rebuilding of a traditional Polynesian ship – on which the candidate to queenship and her supporters should navigate wearing traditional clothing; bodily painting – faces and bodies are to be painted as they are in other areas of Polynesia; sewing or knotting together typical outfits made of natural fibers, flowers, and feathers; a dispute among craftsmen in the carving of small wooden moai, and the shows of folk dance groups that mix together the traditional Polynesian culture (songs and representation of legends) with current rhythms and instruments to produce an energy-filled sound, all the while they exhibit eye-feasting, vibrant coloring.
The singing and dancing skill competition is mainly assessed by a complex handplay which claims its origins from the oldest roots of poetical tradition. Thread-woven figures are shaped by hand movements all the while the verses are being spoken. The skill is not only evaluated by the final shape interwoven, but also by the way the verses are declaimed and the movements performed by the body and hands and, last but not least, by the song tuning. This particular competition is set up according to age brackets and children can participate from the age of six on.
The singing contest constitutes an extremely important ceremony for the promoting and preservation of oral patrimony. Two large choir groups get into competition and these are supposed to sing alternately three songs from the traditional rapanui repertoire, never repeating a song. This particular contest lasts sometimes for many hours till a winner can be appointed.
While interviewing island dwellers I was able to glean many information that is not included in none of the sources I had consulted to better understand the art and the music of this people as a way of expressing themselves. One female participant in the festivities reported there are competitions amongst women whose goal is that of improvising on some given themes and that said contestants accompany themselves with the rhythmic support of stones clattering against one another. The competition is lost the moment one of the participants repeats one improvisation. Men also compete likewise, but their rhythms are marked by the percussion of animal jawbones. The interviewee could not explain to me the reasons for this difference.
Asked about the employment of music in rites of cure or as a therapeutical element, she reported only herbs are used with medicinal purposes by them.
Many people get busy with the festival preparation and with the organization of the manifold competitions. After the Queen is elected, her family is supposed to offer a feast with typical foodstuff and a curanto to all those who contributed to her being chosen.
We didn't have an opportunity of going to Mass and listening in loco to the tunes presented there in accompaniment to the rapanui lyrics, therefore we have to make do with the impressions received from the music heard in the many other spaces we have had a chance to attend. On these, two qualities call the listener's attention: the first is that no Spanish-worded songs were ever heard in any of the spaces visited. On the other hand, the tunes and lyrics are strange bedfellows, for the tunes are mostly those from well-known grounds while the lyrics bring along with them the same mystery we experience while facing one of the numerous, huge, totem-like statues, whose building is still to be convincingly explained away in their overimposing of present and past ages!...
 Rapa Nui, meaning "big land", is both the island’s name and that of its people as well as the name their language is referred by. This column was elaborated from information collected in the Father Sebastián Englert Archaeological Museum during the author’s recent visit to the island and also collected from interviews with islanders to which was added some extra material also gathered in said occasion.
 Although the caption on the Museum’s tag describes this word as being of Latin extraction, it is actually a Greek-originated term, where bous means "ox" and strophé indicates "turn around" [when a field is being tilled and its limits are reached the ox and the plow are turned in the opposite direction for the next groove to be dug]. The Etruscan alphabet and the earliest Greek writings were written this way.
 The italics are mine.
 Reproduced from the exhibit tag as read on December 18, 2008.
 Tapati means "week". The festivities used to last a week, though nowadays they are celebrated during a fortnight.
 Totora is a bush of which bark and wood the rapanui build their boats.
 Interview with the island dweller, Andreia, between December 18 and December 19, 2008.
 The curanto is a typical food the Chiloé Island (the largest in the archipelago by that name), located much closer to mainland Chile coastline, which became popular throughout Chile and also in neighboring Argentina. It is cooked inside a hole dug about a meter deep into the ground and then covered with stones.
Acontece a festa Tapati Rapa Nui no "umbigo do mundo" [The Tapati Rapa Nui celebration happens in ‘the Navel of the World']. Available at http://sergiosakall.com.br/americano/materia_chile.pascoa.html. Accessed on December 28, 2008.
Diringer, David (1985). A Escrita [Writing]. [S/l], Editorial Verbo.
Ilha da Páscoa, Argentina, Equador, Venezuela e República Tcheca no Festival de Folclore [Easter Island: Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Czech Republic present in the Folklore Festival] (2008). Available at http://www.gramadosite.com.br/noticias/id:16368. Accessed on December 29, 2008.
(Viajes) Rapa Nui Alucinante [(Travels) Mind-boggling Rapa Nui], Edición número 175, Cuaderno de Viajes d'El Mercúrio [El Mercurio Travel Section Issue #175], August 10, 2008.
Portal Rapa Nui [A Rapa Nui Portal] (n.d.). Available at http://www.portalrapanui.cl. Accessed on December 29, 2008.
Barcellos, Lia Rejane Mendes (2009). The Song of the Rapa Nui. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colbarcellos090209