The Tapati Festival is the most important cultural and sporting event that is celebrated on Easter Island every year during the first half of February.
What is the Tapati Rapa Nui?
Tapati Rapa Nui literally means “Rapa Nui Week” in the local language, but under that name a series of unique events take place to constitute the most important cultural festival of Easter Island and one of the most important in all Polynesia.
The Tapati festival is celebrated every year during the first half of February, so the original concept that gave it its name has extended one more week. The Tapati Rapa Nui, which was born more than 40 years ago and had its origins in the ancient “spring festivities” that were celebrated in Chile, has been transformed over time to become a tribute to the ancestral traditions of the Rapanui people, and on a unique occasion to relive, share and preserve the cultural identity of this fascinating corner of the planet.
The ultimate reason for the celebration is the election of the queen of the Tapati. Two candidates for the title are presented and will be supported by their families, friends and visitors. Each group forms an alliance that will face the other through a series of tests and competitions, evoking the rivalries between the old clans that ruled the island. The group that obtains the most points will get for its representative the symbolic right to reign on the island for the rest of the year.
Participation in the Tapati Festival is massive on the part of the inhabitants of the island, everyone gets involved with pride and enthusiasm and many invest their time, money and energy preparing and rehearsing throughout the year. That passion for their party is spread to the visitor who is invited to participate supporting one of the groups, living a unique and unforgettable experience.
This festival is celebrated during the austral summer and coincides with the high season of the southern hemisphere, so the number of travelers and tourists arriving on the island is multiplied significantly, compared to the small contingent that visits it the rest of the year . Therefore it is advisable to book the flight and accommodation several months in advance if you want to get availability and good prices.
Activities and Competitions of the Tapati
The celebration of the Tapati festival is materialized through the different activities and competitions, which are part of the program, in which the Rapanui people are reunited with their music, their gastronomy, their art, their mythology and their physical skills. In recent years variations of the program are being made, so it is possible that some tests are not carried out or are replaced by new ones.
Ancestral sports competitions
The sports competitions combine the traditional physical activities that have been carried out on the island for centuries with some new tests, inspired by the ancient cult of the Tangata Manu, which try to revive the rivalries of the Hopu Manu.
Tau’a Rapa Nui or Rapa Nui Triathlon
This competition took place inside the crater of the Rano Raraku volcano until the year 2017. The lack of water of the volcano lake due to climate change made to move the competition to Hanga Roa village. It consists of three traditional disciplines that have come together to form a very peculiar kind of triathlon. The route, which totals 3 km, begins with the first test, called “Vaka Ama“, in which participants crossed paddling the crater lagoon in small rafts built in totora, a kind of water reed.
When they reach the shore, the “Aka Venga” begins, in which two banana heads weighing about 20 kg are hung on the participants necks, and in this way they will have to run once around the lake. Finally, they have to cross the lake again swimming with the help of a float of reed fibers called “Pora“.
The Haka Pei is possibly the most audacious, risky and expected competition. The public congregates at the foot of the hill Maunga Pu’i, located on the road to Anakena beach, to observe a unique extreme sport in the world. The young and brave participants are adorned with Takona paintings and traditional clothing, before ascending to the top of this hill, which has a height of 200 meters and a slope of 45º.
This risky game consists of sliding down the slope, lying on a kind of rustic sledge built with two trunks of bananas joined together. At speeds that sometimes reach 80 km per hour, the contestants descend to the base of the hill in less than ten vertiginous seconds. The winner will be the one who manages to travel the greatest distance from the launch point.
On an island populated by thousands of horses an equestrian event could not be missed. These races, carried out mainly by very young riders, take place without saddle in sections of 500 and 1000 meters in the Vaihu area. Currently the races are not counted to score points for the Tapati candidates, so the jockeys are awarded individually.
The rowers of Rapa Nui are excellent competitors internationally. This is a good opportunity to observe how they move their modern polynesian canoes (with built-in stabilizer) on the waves of Hanga Roa. The navigation is done in sections of 3 to 5 kilometers with canoes of 6 rowers.
Haka Honu and Haka Ngaru
The “Haka Honu” consists of gliding on the waves only with the body, adopting a peculiar posture that imitates the way in which the turtles approach the shore. The objective of the “Haka Ngaru” is similar but a totora float is used, which acts as an old Bodyboard, with which faster surfing is achieved. In both cases, the winner is the participant who goes the furthest along the route and who comes closest to the shore. These tests are usually carried out at the Pea Beach located in downtown Hanga Roa.
Sometimes there are tests of shore fishing and underwater fishing, highlighting the traditional fishing of the eel. The latter is done using a rig called “Here” a kind of loop with which the fisher grabs the fish very skillfully.
Handicraft, agricultural and gastronomic competitions
In addition to demonstrating the strength and physical condition of participants in the sporting events, a series of tests are carried out linked to the ancestral knowledge of the Rapanui people in the art of carving, handicrafts and agriculture.
Tingitingi mahute and Mahute painting
The “mahute” is a plant introduced by the first Polynesian inhabitants). Its bark has been used since ancestral times to manufacture the raw material used to make linen, ornaments and clothing. For this the participants, usually women, tap (“tingi tingi“) with a wooden stick to flatten, stretch and shape the bark on a rounded stone (“Maea poro“) until it becomes a kind of cloth. The winner will be who gets the largest and finest fabric.
Using the cloths obtained by the technique of Tingitingi Mahute, other competition take them as a base to paint designs linked to the ancestral rock art that decorated the interior of the caves and the stone houses. The paint used is made from local natural pigments.
Stone and wood carving
In these competitions the century-old tradition of carving art is manifested. A skill that has been transmitted from generation to generation to continue very alive in our days. In the carving tests both wood and stone are used as raw material. For example replicas of moai, petroglyphs of Orongo, Reimiro (a pectoral ornament in the form of a half moon), mangai (rapanui hook), Rongo Rongo tablets, etc. are made. The objective is to demonstrate the mastery of the technique, the speed of the artist and the perfection of the detail of each carving.
Making of traditional costumes, crowns and necklaces
In these tests it is necessary to demonstrate the skill in the artisan confection. For the typical costumes mahute and feathers are used among other materials. On the other hand, in the making of the necklaces and crowns, polynesian flowers such as tipanie or tiare are used for the welcome necklaces and a kind of little shells (“pipi”) for the farewell necklaces. In both cases the most beautiful and original designs will be valued.
In this contest, local farmers show off their most impressive agricultural products, such as the heaviest banana head, the largest watermelon, and other local products such as sugar cane, taro, sweet potato or pineapple. In this contest, local farmers display their most impressive agricultural products, such as the heaviest banana head, the largest watermelon and other local products such as sugar cane, taro, sweet potato or pineapple. The winner is the team that collects the larger and heavier products.
In this competition, typical dishes of Rapanui cuisine are prepared and then evaluated by an expert jury. The participants have to cook the Umu tahu or traditional curanto, the Tunu Ahi, fish on hot stone, the Rapanui cebiche or the po’e or sponge cake made of banana, sweet potato or pumpkin.
Artistic and musical performances
At night, the Tapati festival transforms and acquires a more emotional, mythical and festive character. Although sometimes the space in front of the Ahu Riata located in Hanga Piko is used, most of the performances take place in the main stage located in Hanga Vare Vare.
Each rival group has to present a performance of songs and dances in the modalities of adults and children. Undoubtedly, the competition of groups is one of the great attractions of the Tapati festival. Contemplating the scene of dozens of dancers, dressed in traditional costumes, dancing the native rhythms and developing elaborate choreographies on the stage of Hanga Vare Vare, is absolutely spectacular.
The members of each participating clan decorate their bodies with typical paintings that refer to their personal experiences or those of their family. The drawn motifs must have a meaning and the used pigments must be natural. One by one they explain in a theatrical way the reason for their designs in front of a jury formed by the council of wise men and women.
In the Kai Kai, the competitors, dressed in traditional ancestral costumes, recite a story, known as “Pata’uta’u“, which is narrated with the help of hands that are involved in creating figures by interlacing a long thread between the fingers. Each combination of verses and figures is specific, and has been preserved in tradition since ancient times.
The word Riu means song. In this contest the participants sing different types of songs, some are sentimental or erotic, while others are expressions of gratitude, affection and respect for the ancestors.
Koro Haka Opo
This representation consists in the confrontation between the choirs of each rival group. Each choir has to demonstrate the ability to interpret songs without repeating them, or making mistakes, alternately with the other choir. The songs are accompanied by dancers who entertain the show while time goes by (sometimes several hours) until one of the sides is mistaken and loses.
Final parade and caravan of floats
The penultimate day of competition is reserved for the grand parade, known locally as farandula. It is developed in an absolutely festive and fraternizing tone and enjoys great popularity among the visitors of the island given that the winning clan of this test is the one that manages to have the presence of more people, so each family encourages tourists to be part of his entourage and help them to dress and paint for the occasion.
With the bodies painted and dressed in the traditional way, the more than a thousand participants walk the main street, Atamu Tekena, singing and dancing next to the allegorical floats on which enormous works of carving in stone and wood are exhibited.
Coronation of the queen and king of the Tapati
The last day of this great party that is the Tapati Rapa Nui ends with the coronation of the winning couple of the Tapati on the main stage of Hanga Vare Vare and a great fireworks show. At the sunset of the next day the moving ceremony of ancestral coronation takes place in Ahu Tahai.
The dates of the next edition of the Tapati Rapa Nui are already confirmed. It will be held from February 3 to 11. More information here.