Vinapu, the “inca” ahu of Rapa Nui


Vinapu, a great megalithic work

Vista general del Ahu Tahira en Vinapu en Isla de Pascua
General view of the Ahu Tahira in Vinapu

Vinapu is an archaeological complex located in an extensive esplanade on the edge of the south coast of the island, where the airport runway ends. Although remains of three platforms have been discovered, two ahu of great monumentality stand out. Here, as in other ceremonial centers, all the moai were torn down around the 18th and 19th centuries, during the wars that took place between the different clans of the island.

At Vinapu the statues pass to a second plane, because what it stands out in this place is the great domain of the construction and carving techniques that were developed for building of the ahus or platforms in Easter Island. Here it is possible to admire a way of working the stone that does not exist in any other part of Polynesia and that has given rise to many theories about the origins of the population of the island, which relate it to the Inca culture of South America.

Ahu Tahira, an “Inca” wall in Rapa Nui

Moai derribados en la parte delantera del ahu Tahira en Vinapu Isla de Pascua
Knocked down moai in the front of the ahu Tahira

In the main ahu, also called Vinapu I or Tahira, located to the left of the route, there are six fallen statues face down with three of the pukao that topped them. Its orientation, as in many other platforms on the island, is related to the position of the stars, and in this case it is directed east of the winter solstice.

In the back side that faces the sea, there is another buried moai from which only the head protrudes. His figure is very deteriorated due to erosion and it is appreciated that the eye sockets were not carved, so it is deduced that he never reached the platform.

Cabeza de moai enterrada en la parte posterior del ahu Tahira en Vinapu Isla de Pascua
Moai head buried in the back of the ahu Tahira

Behind the statue is the back wall of the ahu that has originated the fame and the diverse theories of this unique place on the island. This enigmatic wall shows one of the finest works of Rapanui architecture. It consists of large blocks of stone weighing several tons, joined without mortar and adjusted with great precision and great aesthetic sense.

This construction has a great resemblance to the structures that can be observed in the fortress of Saysachuaman and in the citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru. This surprising similarity has led to the scientific community of thinking of possible contacts between the ancient inhabitants of Polynesia and South America.

Vinapu and Tupac Yupanqui

El famoso muro "inca" del ahu Tahira en Vinapu Isla de Pascua
The famous “Inca” wall of the ahu Tahira in Vinapu

There is a theory that states that Vinapu was built by the Inca Tupac Yupanqui during his expedition to the Pacific. This theory is supported by the Peruvian historian José Antonio del Busto, which is based on the chronicles written in the sixteenth century by the Spanish chroniclers Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, Martín de Murúa and Miguel Cabello de Balboa. According to these chronicles, when Tupac Yupanqui was in the northern zone of Peru, became aware of the existence of distant islands and decided to go and conquer them. He prepared a large number of sailing rafts and together with 20,000 warriors he arrived at the islands called Ninachumbi and Auachumbi.

José Antonio del Busto maintained that these two islands could be Mangareva (in French Polynesia) and Easter Island. He said he had found several proofs that proved it, especially the fact that in Mangareva there is a legend about a King Tupa who came from the east in a sailing raft, carrying goldsmithing, ceramics and textiles. A very similar story would exist in the Marquesas Islands.


The French historian Jean Hervé Daude maintains that the platforms of Vinapu are made in the same way as the chullpas of Sillustani, near the Titicaca Lake in Peru, the same ones that were raised in the period of Tupac Yupanqui. Both buildings are formed by a stone facade that supports the rubble that serves as a filler. He also points out that on Easter Island, the Inca would have been called Mahuna-te Ra’a, which means “son of the sun”.

Controversies and theories apart, this will remain for the moment another of the great mysteries of Easter Island.

Ahu Vinapu

Pukao en primer plano en el ahu Vinapu Isla de Pascua
Pukao in the foreground in the ahu Vinapu

The Ahu Vinapu known as Vinapu II and located to the right of the Ahu Tahira, is an older platform. There are five knocked down moai and several pukao scattered around. There is a huge headdress in red stone, on whose surface a taheta or cavity has been carved to collect the rainwater.

But the main attraction of this place is the singular red column that rises in front of the ahu. Discovered and erected again by the archaeologist William Mulloy during the expedition of Thor Heyerdahl in 1956, it is made of red scoria, the same material of the pukao, and carved in the quarry of the Puna Pau volcano.

Columna de escoria roja representando a un moai femenino Vinapu Isla de Pascua
The red scoria column representing a female moai

It seems that this eroded “column” actually represents a singular feminine moai, as the details of its surface show. According to some witnesses it could have originally two heads, and it could have been used to hold a wooden frame where in ancient times corpses were put to dry before being buried.

The statues which have been found that represent the female gender are very scarce. Furthermore to the “column” of Vinapu, the most important female moai was found in Anakena beach by Heyerdahl’s expedition, and it can now be seen at the Sebastian Englert Museum.

There are remains of a third platform, called Vinapu III, which would be the oldest of the complex, but there is hardly a pile of stones left. This area was removed for the installation of the large fuel tanks of the ENAP company that are on the far right and that constitute the main reserve of gasoline and kerosene with which the island is supplied.

How to get to Vinapu

To access Vinapu from Hanga Roa, take the Hotu Matu’a avenue that runs parallel to the Mataveri airport runway. Passing the fuel tanks, you have to turn left until you reach a fork in several dirt roads. Taking the second on the right there is a sign indicating the road to Vinapu.

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