Make Make, the creator god of Easter Island

Petroglyph of Make Make, the creator god of Rapa Nui
Petroglyph of Make Make, the creator god of Rapa Nui

Make Make is the creator god of the world according to the Rapa Nui culture. The transcendence of this supreme being has remained throughout history, so the memory of him is still very much alive on Easter Island.


Who is Make Make?

Make Make petroglyph in Orongo village
Make Make petroglyph in Orongo village

Make Make is considered the supreme divinity of Easter Island and the most important mythological being in the Rapanui worldview. Although in the legends of Easter Island, transmitted from generation to generation by oral tradition, other spirits and minor gods appear, Make Make occupies a prominent place in Rapa Nui beliefs.

In fact, no figures or idols have been found showing other divine beings. Only the god Make Make, generally represented with large circular orbits, appears with some frequency in the petroglyphs of Orongo, in engravings found in caves and other rocks on the coast.

The first references to the god Make Make, also written as Makemake or Make-Make, appear in the chronicles of the Spanish navigators who arrived in 1770 in the second European expedition that arrived on the island under the command of Don Felipe González de Haedo.

During his brief visit, a large group of 250 soldiers, sailors, officers and chaplains landed on Ovahe beach with the mission of officially taking possession of the island for the Spanish crown. This group was joined by many islanders and together they proceeded in procession to the Poike volcano to erect three crosses. While the Spaniards sang hymns in honor of their Christian God, González recounts that: “a group of islanders came forward; the men offered their capes and the women some hens and chicks, and everyone shouted macamaca (Make Make) with great devotion”.

There is also a theory that some Rongo Rongo tablets, called “kohau kiri taku ki te Atua” (lost or diffuse translation term), contained hymns of a religious nature in honor of Make Make and other supernatural beings. Because their enigmatic symbols remain undeciphered, it is not known for sure but it is possible that they were used in the annual Orongo festivities during the birdman ritual.

However, when the first Catholic missionaries arrived on Easter Island in the second half of the 19th century, they found no notable religious practices or celebrations that prevented them from carrying out their apostolate.

But after the studies carried out and the evidence found since then, the experts affirm that, prior to the evangelization of the island, Make Make was considered the supreme god who was worshiped and offerings were made to him. Make Make was the creator of all things, the first man and the first woman, and he had the power to reward the good people and punish the bad ones.

Make Make is usually represented by a face with large eyes, similar to a mask, among which a prominent nose stands out. The image, reminiscent of male genitalia, clearly symbolizes the god of fertility.

Next, we will see some myths and legends related to this divine being.


The myth of Make Make, the creator god

Make Make petroglyphs in Tongariki
Make Make petroglyphs in Tongariki

Father Sebastian Englert, a Capuchin of German origin who lived on Easter Island for more than 30 years, recounts the myth of the creation of man in this way:

Make Make was alone; this was not good. He took a gourd filled with water and looked inside. Make Make’s shadow entered the water. Make Make saw how the shadow of his face had entered the water. Make Make spoke and greeted his own shadow: “Hail young man! how beautiful you are, similar to me”. Then a bird landed suddenly on Make Make’s right shoulder. This one got scared, seeing a being with a beak, wings and feathers. Make Make took both of them, the shadow and the bird, and left them together.

(Some scholars see in this union the birth of Make Make’s first-born son, who could be the Tangata Manu or bird man who was worshiped in Orongo and who was considered the incarnation of the god.)

After a while, Make Make thought of creating the man, who would be just like him, who would have a voice and speak like him.

Make Make fertilized some stones but there was no result because the reflux waters ran over the extension of unproductive and bad land.

He fertilized the water and from the scattered semen only many small paroko fishes came out.

Finally, Make Make fertilized the clay soil. Man was born from it. Make Make saw that this turned out well.

Then Make Make saw that he was still not well because the man was still alone. He made him sleep in the house. When he was asleep, Make Make fertilized his ribs on the left side. Hence the woman was born.

In this legend the references to Genesis are more than evident. Here the influence of Catholic missionaries on the early oral tradition is clearly seen. The adoption of Christian ideas and their fusion with ancient beliefs gave rise to a religious syncretism that is still present in many aspects of Rapa Nui. Examples of this mixture of beliefs can be seen in the iconography of the church of Santa Cruz, the Tahai cemetery or the umu or curanto blessed by the Christian priest during Tapati Rapa Nui.


The ritual of the Tangata Manu

View of the motus (with Motu Nui in the background) from the village of Orongo
View of the motus (with Motu Nui in the background) from the village of Orongo

At some point in history, which some studies place at the beginning of the 18th century, the cult of deified ancestors, represented by the moai statues, was abandoned due to a loss of prestige of the old political and religious order.

Gradually the old beliefs are replaced by new rites related to fertility and linked to a single deity, the creator god Make Make.

The most important ritual, in honor of Make Make, was the Tangata Manu (bird-man) celebration that took place every year in the ceremonial village of Orongo.

Read more about
the competition of the bird man or Tangata Manu

The election of the Tangata Manu was carried out through an extreme competition between Orongo and Motu Nui to obtain the first egg of the manutara bird. The winner of this original test was consecrated as the bird man or tangata manu, becoming Make Make’s representative on earth for a year, during which time his group received special privileges.


Make Make and the first birds of Rapa Nui

The manutara bird or sooty tern Easter Island
The manutara bird or sooty tern

The celebration of the birdman competition originally had a religious character in honor of Make Make. According to tradition, the creator god had brought the seabirds from Motu Motiro Hiva (the current Sala y Gómez islet) to Easter island, where they nest during the spring and summer months. The legend, also compiled by Father Englert, tells that:

Formerly, when the first settlers arrived in Rapa Nui, there were no birds on the island. At that time there lived a witch or spirit called Hitu in the bay of Hanga Nui, near Tongariki. Hitu had a skull that she kept as treasure in the cavity of a rock. One day, when the sea grew, a great wave dragged the skull and carried it to the coast. Hitu threw herself into the water to retrieve it, but she could not reach it. Although she swam and swam, the skull floated among the waves and moved away.

Thus Hitu continued swimming day and night after the skull. When she was about to give up due to exhaustion, she glimpsed on the horizon the rocks of Motu Motiro Hiva (Sala y Gómez islet). When the skull reached the edge of the islet it became the creator god Make Make. Hitu reached the islet shortly after and both were welcomed by the spirit Haua who lived there because he was destined to care for the numerous seabirds that inhabited the small island.

After a few days off, Make Make ordered Haua to bring him some pairs of birds to take them to Te Pito o Te Henua (which means navel of the world, one of the names by which Easter Island is known). When Make Make arrived on the island, he went to Hanga Nui and climbed the Poike hill where he left the birds free to reproduce, and later returned to his islet.

The following year, Make Make returned to Te Pito o Te Henua to see if the birds had multiplied, but discovered that the inhabitants had eaten all the eggs. Then, furious, he picked up the birds and took them to Vaihú, where he again released them to nest there. But the same thing happened in Vaihú, and the natives ate the eggs again. The following year, Make Make, desperate, took the birds to Vai Atare, a place located on the edge of the crater of the Rano Kau volcano. There finally, the villagers left a nest with only one egg, from which the first manutara bird of the island was born.

But Make Make, to better ensure the breeding of the birds, returned again next year and left the birds on the Motu Nui islet in front of the Rano Kau volcano. There the birds multiplied in large numbers due to the difficult access of the small islet.

Later, Make Make, allowed the islanders to be able to collect the eggs of the birds in a certain period of the year, punishing those who collected them in times not allowed. In order not to provoke the wrath of God, the Ariki (king) and the priests decided to declare the eggs as Tapu (or taboo, that is, forbidden) during the closed periods. This taboo allowed the protection and development of seabirds in Rapa Nui”.


A planet named after the Rapanui god

Location of the dwarf planet Makemake in the Solar System
Location of the dwarf planet Makemake in the Solar System

Astronomers who study the Universe do not stop scrutinizing space in search of the unknown. Even our well-known and “small” Solar System still holds new surprises for science. This was the case in 2005 when the Spitzer Space Telescope discovered a new dwarf planet located beyond the orbit of Neptune.

At first, this new space object was baptized “Easterbunny” (Easter rabbit in English) by its discoverers, since it had been discovered at Easter week. But, later, they decided to call it Makemake in honor of the creator god of Rapanui mythology, and thus maintain a relationship with Easter. Its planetary symbol is Makemake symbol (fixed width).svg, a schematic design reminiscent of representations of the Rapanui deity.

Makemake’s surface is covered with methane, ethane, and possibly solid-state nitrogen, due to its extremely low temperature of −243.2 °C. Its diameter is 1420 km, approximately 60% of the diameter of Pluto.

Makemake is located in the Kuiper belt, a region that is populated by small bodies in the solar system. These objects have given rise to a new category called plutoids, of which Pluto is its type object, to which most of the dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Neptune correspond.

Among those small planets that accompany Makemake is Haumea. This dwarf planet gets its name from the Hawaiian goddess of earth and fertility. So fate has wanted the memory of both Polynesian gods to be honored in the form of celestial bodies.


Make Make in our days

Jewelry inspired by the god Make Make | Maea Moana Jewelry
Jewelry inspired by the god Make Make | Maea Moana Jewelry

The influence of Make Make on the culture of Easter Island is still very present today. Travelers visiting Rapa Nui will be able to discover Make Make by visiting the Orongo petroglyphs and the Papa Tataku Poki carvings at Tongariki. Many caverns, such as the so-called Make Make cave, also keep the god of the great orbits.

During the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival, which is celebrated every year in the first fortnight of February, you can also follow the trail of the ancient Rapanui divinity. For example, during the extreme competition of haka pei, the participants gather in a circle and raise a prayer to Make Make to implore the mana or spiritual power that protects them during the risky test.

The memory of the creator god is also shown in the performances that take place at Hanga Vare Vare during the festival. Be it in takona or body painting performances, kai kai demonstrations (traditional thread play) or in the legends interpreted in theatrical works.

Make Make wine from Viña Santa Cruz wineyard
Make Make wine from Viña Santa Cruz wineyard

The iconic image that represents Make Make appears on many of the souvenirs that can be purchased on Easter Island. Stone carvings imitating petroglyphs, sarongs, polo shirts or shirts and precious jewelry, such as those offered by Maea Moena jewelry, exhibit one of the most important Rapanui symbols.

Another way to carry the memory of Make Make indelibly is with a Rapanui tattoo. Magnificent local tattoo artists such as Mokomae or Ataranga often include the image of the mythical being in their compositions, creating beautiful designs.

Even the Chilean winery Viña Santa Cruz, located in Colchagua, has been inspired by the ancient Rapanui god to name and design the bottle of a special edition called Make Make. A red wine that pairs perfectly with any of the typical dishes of the tasty Rapanui gastronomy.