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Archivo:Englert kavakava.jpg

Father Sebastian Englert, OFM Cap. standing next to a moai kavakava statue of Rapa Nui.

Father Sebastian Englert OFM Cap., (born November 17, 1888 in Dillingen an der Oder, Bavaria, died January 8, 1969 in New Orleans, Louisiana) was a Capuchin Franciscan friar, Roman Catholic priest, missionary, linguist and ethnologist from Germany.

Early Life in Bavaria[]

Born Anton Franz Englert, Father Sebastian spent his school days in Eichstätt and Burghausen. In 1907, he entered the novitiate of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin and received the religious name Sebastian. He undertook his canonical studies in philosophy and theology in the Capuchin studium of Dillingen, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1912.

During the First World War, Father Sebastian served as a chaplain in the German Army in France and Belgium, and after the war he worked for five years as a parish priest in the Schwabing district of Munich. In 1922, he went at his own request as a missionary to the Mapuche in Southern Chile.

Missionary and Scientific Activity in Chile[]

Father Sebastian served in the Apostolic Vicariate of the Araucanía in Villarica and Pucón, which at the time was administered almost entirely by Capuchins. There, in addition to his pastoral duties, he conducted original ethnological and linguistic research into Mapuche culture and the Mapudungun language. From 1934 to 1938, he published studies in Araucanian literature, ethnology and folklore. During this period, his linguistic studies included an investigation of the relationship of the Quechua and Aymara languages to the Mapuche language.

Rapa Nui[]

From 1935 until his death, Father Sebastian worked as a missionary priest on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Whereas his previous pastoral assignments had found him in the ministerial context of his Capuchin Franciscan brotherhood, the mission on Rapa Nui left him outside the cloister for more than thirty years. Consequently, Father Sebastian devoted himself entirely to the people of Rapa Nui. As Bavarian Capuchins had learned in their missions throughout the world, in order to minister effectively to a people, the missionary priest must comprehend its history, culture and language. Father Sebastian understood this principle and approached it scientifically as well as pastorally. During the period of his apostolic presence on the island, he was perhaps the only non-Rapa Nui in the world to have mastered their language. Although Father Sebastian always celebrated Mass in Latin, he nonetheless preached, heard confessions and catechized the faithful in the Rapa Nui language. Moreover, he translated popular Catholic devotions into Rapa Nui and promoted the long-standing tradition of native religious song. In 1964, he produced a history of the early activity of the French Sacred Hearts missionaries who first evangelized the island and documented the remarkable story of the Rapa Nui lay catechists, Nicolás Pakarati Ure Potahi and Maria Angata, through whose activity Roman Catholicism took deep root on Rapa Nui soil.

Archivo:Englert mulloy2.jpg

Father Sebastian and William Mulloy at the steps of the church in Hanga Roa after Mass. Father Sebastian is wearing the white habit of Capuchin Franciscan missionaries.

In spite of the extreme isolation of Rapa Nui during the period before air travel, or perhaps because of it, Father Sebastian conducted substantial original research into the language, ethnology and anthropology of Easter Island. His extensive and detailed knowledge of all aspects of Rapa Nui culture and prehistory astonished the scientific staff of the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition of 1955. William Mulloy, a member of that expedition, writes the following: “I retain a sharp memory of a day shortly after our arrival, when he was asked to summarize his views of the local prehistory in a lecture to the expedition archaeologists. He presented a beautifully organized exposition based largely on his interpretations of painstakingly collected local genealogies and traditions. I wrote down everything I could and that single lecture provided the basis for discussions with Father Sebastian that continued at every opportunity until the time of his death.” [1] Father Sebastian published several books, of which his magnum opus was La tierra de Hotu Matu'a (The Land of Hotu Matu'a) a 1948 study of the history, archaeology, anthropology, and language of Easter Island, in its ninth edition as of 2004. His original research is best known to English-speakers through a collection of radio broadcasts prepared for Chilean naval personnel in Antarctica. Edited and translated by Dr. Mulloy, Father Sebastian’s lectures were published in the United States under the title Island at the Center of the World: New Light on Easter Island. Nonetheless, as Mulloy points out, Father Sebastian “published a good deal, but he had learned much more and he gave of this knowledge without hesitation.” [2] Mulloy goes further:

“In regard to his meticulously gathered information as well as in every other aspect of his life he was the most selfless man I ever knew. No one understood better the true essence of the universality of scientific information or felt less sense of personal ownership of it. One had only to ask to be told in full precisely what Father Sebastian knew or inferred about any subject related to the island. The fruits of his investigation were a free gift to anyone who could use or improve upon them. I knew him through eight subsequent trips to the island, continuing until shortly before the time of his death. Never once did I see him violate this principle.” [3]

Because of his commitment to the Rapa Nui people, and especially the lepers on the island, Thor Heyerdahl, leader of the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition, called Father Sebastian the "uncrowned king of Easter Island."[4] In 1963, Fr. Sebastian was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit) First Class by the Federal Republic of Germany. He died in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1969 during a lecture tour of the United States. His remains were returned to Rapa Nui and interred in the cemetery in the Tahai district. His remains have since been transferred to the site of Holy Cross Church in Hanga Roa.


  • Englert, S. 2004. La tierra de Hotu Matu'a: historia y etnología de la Isla de Pascua: gramática y diccionario del antiguo idioma de Isla de Pascua. 9th ed. Santiago de Chile: Editorial Universitaria.
  • Englert, S. 1980. Leyendas de Isla de Pascua: textos bilingües. Santiago de Chile: Ediciones de la Universidad de Chile.
  • Englert, S.1978. Idioma rapanui: gramática y diccionario del antiguo idioma de la Isla de Pascua. Santiago de Chile: Universidad de Chile.
  • Englert, S. 1977. Diccionario Rapanui-Español. New York: AMS Press.
  • Englert, S. 1970. Island at the Center of the World; New Light on Easter Island. Translated and edited by William Mulloy. New York: Scribner.
  • Englert, S. 1964. Primer siglo cristiano de la Isla de Pascua, l864-1964. Villarrica, Chile: Escuela Lito-Tipográfica Salesiana “La Gratitud Nacional”.
  • Englert, S. 1938. Diccionario Rapanui-Español redactado en la Isla de Pascua, por p. Sebastián Englert, Mis. Cap. Santiago de Chile: Prensas de la Universidad de Chile.
  • Englert, S., and M. Buschkühl. 1988. Missionsgeschichte der Osterinsel: Pater Sebastian Englert O.F.M.Cap. (1888-1969) zum 100. Geburtstag. Ausstellung, Dezember 1988-März 1989. Eichstätt: Universitätsbibliothek.


  1. William Mulloy. 1969. "Sebastian Englert 1888-1969." American Anthropologist 71:1110.
  2. William Mulloy. 1969. "Sebastian Englert 1888-1969." American Anthropologist 71:1110.
  3. William Mulloy. 1969. "Sebastian Englert 1888-1969." American Anthropologist 71:1110.
  4. Thor Heyerdahl. 1960. Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island. Cardinal Giant edn. New York: Pocket Books.

Further Reading[]

Heyerdahl, T. 1960. Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island. Cardinal Giant edn. New York: Pocket Books.

Mulloy, W.T. 1969. "Sebastian Englert 1888-1969." American Anthropologist 71:1109-11.

Mulloy, W.T., and S.R. Fischer. 1993. Easter Island Studies: Contributions to the History of Rapanui in Memory of William T. Mulloy. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Mulloy, W.T., World Monuments Fund, and Easter Island Foundation. 1995. The Easter Island Bulletins of William Mulloy. New York; Houston: World Monuments Fund; Easter Island Foundation.

Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and the East Pacific, T. Heyerdahl, E.N. Ferdon, W.T. Mulloy, A. Skjølsvold, C.S. Smith, Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and the East Pacific. Reports, and v. 1961. Archaeology of Easter Island. Stockholm; Santa Fe, N.M.: Forum Pub. House; distributed by The School of American Research.

External Links[]

Father Sebastian Englert Anthropology Museum of Rapa Nui

William Mulloy Library

Order of Friars Minor Capuchin in Chile

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