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The First King[]

The legendary first king of Easter Island is said to have been Hotu Matu'a, who supposedly arrived around 500 to 600 A.D.[1] Legend insists that this man was the chief of a tribe that lived on Marae Renga. The Marae Renga is said to have existed in a place known as the "Hiva region". Some books suggest that the Hiva region was an area in the Marquesas Islands, but it has now sunk beneath the sea. Some versions of the story claim that internal conflicts drove Hotu Matu'a to sail with his tribe for new land, while others say a natural disaster, possibly a volcano, caused the tribe to flee.

Despite these differences, the stories do agree on the next part: A priest named Haumaka appeared to Hotu Matu'a in his dreams one night. The priest flew out to sea and discovered an island which he called "Te Pito 'o te Kāinga", which means "the center of the earth." Sending seven scouts, Hotu Matu'a embraced his dream and awaited the return of his scouts. After eating, planting yams, and resting, the seven scouts returned home to tell of the good news. Hotu Matu'a took a large crew along with his family and everything they needed to survive in the new land. They then rowed a single huge double-hulled canoe to "the center of the earth."[2] and landed at Anakena, Rapa Nui

Tu’u ko Iho[]

According to Steven Roger Fischer's "Island at the End of the World", a certain individual named Tu'u ko Iho co-founded the settlement on the island. He not only did this, but as Fischer's book claims, a legend says he 'brought the statues to the island and caused them to walk'.[3]

Children of Hotu Matu’a[]

Shortly before the death of Hotu Matu’a, the island was given to his children, who formed eight main clans. In addition, four smaller and less important clans were formed.

1. Tu’u Maheke: the firstborn son of Hotu. He received the lands between Anakena and Maunga Tea-Tea.

2. Miru: received the lands between Anakena and Hanga Roa

3. Marama: received the lands between Anakena and Rano Raraku. Having access to the Rano Raraku quarry proved extremely useful for those living in Marama’s lands. The quarry soon became the island’s main source of Tuff used in the construction of the Moai (large stone statues). In fact, 95% of the moai were made in Rano Raraku.[4]

4. Raa settled to the northwest of Maunga Tea-Tea

5. Koro Orongo made a settlement between Akahanga and Rano Raraku

6. Hotu Iti was given the whole eastern part of the island.

7 and 8. Tupahotu and Ngaüre were left with the remaining parts of the island.[5]

Royal Patterns throughout Easter Island[]

Over the years, the clans slowly grouped together into two territories. The Ko Tu’u Aro were composed of clans in the northwest, while the Hotu Iti were mainly living in the southeast part of the island. The Miru are very commonly seen as the true royal heirs, who ruled the Ko Tu’u Aro clans. Since then, leaders of Easter Island have been hereditary rulers who claimed divine origin and separated themselves from the rest of the islanders with taboos. These "ariki" not only controlled religious functions in the clan, but also ran everything else; from managing food supplies to waging war.[6]


Ever since Easter Island was divided into two super-clans, the rulers of Easter Island followed a predictable pattern. The people of Rapa Nui were especially competitive during those times. They usually competed to build a bigger moai than their neighbours, but when this failed to resolve the conflict the tribes often turned to war and throwing down each other statues.

With the arrival of the Europeans, the system was destroyed, because many chiefs and religious leaders were taken away to serve as slaves in Peru. The system of rule on Easter Island may be destroyed forever, but the monuments erected to honor leaders still stand as a warning.

See also[]


  1. Carlos Mordo, Easter Island (Willowdale, Ontario: Firefly Books Ltd., 2002) Page 14
  2. Mordo: P. 49
  3. Steven Roger Fischer, Island at the End of the World (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2005) P. 38
  4. Mordo: P. 109
  5. Mordo: P. 50
  6. Mordo: P. 50-51