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Text I of the rongorongo corpus, also known as the Santiago Staff, is the longest of the two dozen surviving rongorongo texts. Statistical analysis suggests that its contents are distinct.

Other names[]

I is the standard designation, from Barthel (1958). Fischer (1997) refers to it as RR10.


Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Santiago. Catalog # 5.499 (316).

There are reproductions at the Institut für Völkerkunde, Tübingen (prior to 1989); Bishop Museum, Honolulu; van Hoorebeeck Collection, Belgium; and in Steven Fischer's collection in Auckland.

Physical description[]

This beautifully carved, 126-cm long staff is entirely covered with glyphs running along its length. It is round in cross-section, 5.7 cm in diameter at one end and 6.4 cm at the other, and made of unknown wood. It is in good condition, but with some splitting, and it is battered on one side of the thick end, evidently from resting diagonally on the ground when held. There is some pitting just below the start of line 12 (Fischer's line 1), which Fischer believes may be due to corrosion from the sebum of the bearer's thumb.

This is widely thought to be one of the finest rongorongo inscriptions. Fischer writes The scribe displays the same expertise as the scribe of side a of "Échancrée", and Barthel that The creator must have been a master of his discipline.


The staff was presented to the officers of the Chilean corvette O'Higgins in 1870 by the French colonist Dutrou-Bornier, who claimed that it had belonged to an ‘ariki (king). At that point it disappeared,[citation needed] but in 1876 it was given to the director of the Museo Nacional de Historia Natural, Rudolf Philippi.

This is the only incised kouhau (staff) that remains, the sole remnant of a corpus once as numerous as the tablets.


Main gallery: Rongorongo#Fischer: Attempted decipherment.

Dutrou-Bornier thought that the staff was a weapon and had belonged to an ‘ariki (king). When Anacleto Goñi, the commander of the O'Higgins, asked the Rapanui people its significance, he reported that he was,

shown the sky and the hieroglyphs that [the staff] contained with such respect that I was inclined to believe that these hieroglyphs recalled something sacred. (Philippi 1875:676, translation by Fischer 1997)

This staff provided the basis of Steven Fischer's attempted decipherment, which is widely known through his book, but which has not been accepted by others in the field. Fischer believes the staff consists exclusively of creation chants in the form of "all the birds copulated with the fish; there issued forth the sun". The sign which Fischer translates as 'copulate', a putative phallus, occurs 564 times on the staff.

Guy (1998) argues that this is untenable, and further that if Butinov and Knorozov are correct about a genealogy on Gv, then Fischer's putative phallus is a patronymic marker, and the staff would consist almost entirely of personal names. Fischer's creation chant given above might instead "Son of (bird) was killed", since the fish was used metaphorically for a war victim. (The kohau îka "lines of fishes" rongorongo were lists of persons killed in war.) The staff would more likely be a list of battles and of their heroes and victims.


There are thirteen full and one partial line, containing ~ 2,320 glyphs.

Although the direction of reading has been determined, the point where the text starts has not. Philippi's line numbers were arbitrary, but kept by Barthel. The main asymmetry is that line 12 (Fischer's line 1) runs only three quarters of the length of the staff; before the beginning of line 12, line 13 swings up and widens to fill in the gap, and from that point on is parallel with line 11, rather than antiparallel as is normally the case for adjacent lines. Fischer took the short line to be the beginning of the text, while Philippi took it to be the end. However, for it to be the end, the author would have had to calculate exactly how long the line would be before inscribing, whereas for it to be the beginning, the author would only have had to have indented the first line.

The staff is the only rongorongo text inscribed with vertical bars (|), 103 of them, which Fischer believes divided the text into sections.

Fischer (1997) writes,

Much thin outlining of glyphs, using obsidian flakes, was subsequently covered with other glyphs using a shark's tooth, leaving the traces of the unused outlines.
The text as traced by Barthel. Barthel's lines have been rearranged to all be right-side up, I1 at top, I14 at bottom, though this is not likely to reflect the reading order of the staff.

Fischer made at least one obvious error in his transcription, with the very first glyph: Archivo:Santiago-Staff-Compare-I12.jpg

The palm tree (at the left of Philippi's drawing and to the left of the red line in Barthel's rubbing) and subsequent glyphs (three-quarters of the way through Barthel's line 13) fill in the gap left by the short line 12. Plantilla:Sectionstub

Image gallery[]


  • BARTHEL, Thomas S. 1958. Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift (Bases for the Decipherment of the Easter Island Script). Hamburg : Cram, de Gruyter.
  • FISCHER, Steven Roger. 1997. RongoRongo, the Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts. Oxford and N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
  • GUY, Jacques. 1998. "Easter Island - Does the Santiago Staff Bear a Cosmogonic Text?" Anthropos, 93:552-555.
  • PHILIPPI, Rudolfo A. 1875. "Iconografia de la escritura jeroglífica de los indigenas de la isla de Pascua" (Iconography of the hieroglyphic writing of the natives of Easter Island). Anales de la Universidad de Chile 47: 670-683.