Hanga Roa is the only urban center that exists on Easter Island. Here is where the main social, economic and cultural activities of Rapa Nui are developed and where almost all its inhabitants reside.
Brief history of Hanga Roa
Before the arrival of Western visitors, the inhabitants of Rapa Nui occupied all the territory of the island, which was distributed among the different family clans that ran it, as evidenced by the numerous archaeological remains found. However, from the middle of the nineteenth century, the spatial organization of the terrain changed abruptly due to successive foreign occupations that took place on Easter Island.
During the time that the Chilean state leased the island to the Compañía Explotadora de Isla de Pascua (Easter Island Operative Company), the natives were held in the space occupied by Hanga Roa, leaving the rest of the island uninhabited and dedicated exclusively to livestock exploitation. The town of Hanga Roa was surrounded by a wall with access gates, so it became a kind of ghetto for the islanders themselves, who were banned from free circulation in other parts of the island, as well as other fundamental rights.
This situation continued until the middle of the twentieth century, when in 1964 a popular uprising led by Alfonso Rapu, faced the local administration, then in the hands of the Chilean Navy, to demand an improvement in the living conditions of the rapanui. Fortunately, their demands were heard and culminated in 1966 with the enactment of Law 16,441, better known as Ley Pascua, by which the Rapanui people acquired Chilean citizenship with all their rights.
Since then, great social, political and cultural changes have taken place, breaking the isolation of the Rapanui and their traditional way of life, and introducing them into modernity and a new way of life marked by mestizaje, tourism and Consumer society, as is currently seen in Hanga Roa.
Hanga Roa today
As a result of this historic heritage, Hanga Roa remains the only inhabited nucleus and the only city on Easter Island, where more than 90% of the population, that today exceeds five thousand inhabitants, is concentrated. Of these, less than half are of rapanui origin, and the rest are mainly Chilean continental and a small group of foreigners of other nationalities. Excluding a small percentage still engaged in traditional fishing and small-scale farming, the majority of the population is engaged in tourism which is the main source of income.
Hanga Roa, which means “wide bay or long bay” in rapanui language, is located geographically southwest of the island, between the volcanoes Rano Kau and Maunga Terevaka. There also are located the Mataveri Airport and the small ports of Hanga Roa Otai and Hanga Piko which are the only access points to the island by air and sea.
The main streets of Hanga Roa
The city is organized around two major main axes. The first is Atamu Tekena Street, named after the last ariki (king) of Easter Island, which begins on Hotu Matu’a Avenue leading to the airport. In this busy street, the Chilean Navy, the Rapa Nui Parliament, the LAN office, the pharmacy and the Municipality, as well as a large number of restaurants, hotels, shops, supermarkets and tourism agencies are located.
The other major axis is the Te Pito or Te Henua street (“the navel of the world” in the rapanui language), which begins at the edge of the sea in the Hanga Roa Otai creek and rises to the end of the church of Santa Cruz. The post office, the fire station, the Liceo Lorenzo Baeza Vega school, and another series of shops, hotels and restaurants are located here.
Both axes are in the Policarpo Toro-Atamu Tekena Square, a small garden area where the busts of the protagonists of the annexation of Easter Island by the Chilean state are found. In the rest of the streets of the interior of Hanga Roa, are located more residential and private houses.
Finally, there is the lively coastal edge that begins on the lower slope of the Rano Kau volcano, passes through the Hanga Piko port, continuing along Apina Avenue, until reaching Pea beach and the Hanga Roa Otai cove. Near this point are the two bank branches, the Sernatur office, the Tongariki Cultural Center and the Municipal Stadium.
The road continues along Policarpo Toro Street until ending at Hanga Vare Vare, a place that hosts all kinds of events, especially the Tapati Rapa Nui, which is located near the interesting cemetery and the impressive Tahai ceremonial center, where one of the best sunsets on the island.