[This story of Hotu Matua is summarized from a version published in
S. Barthel's The Eighth Land: The Polynesian Settlement of Easter Island
(Honolulu: University of Hawaii 1978; originally published in German in
1974). The story is much more detailed than here presented; see the publication
for the complete text. Other versions are found in W.J. Thomson's "Te
Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island" in Report of the United States
National Museum 1889 (Washington D.C.: 1891, pp. 447-552); Katherine
Routledge's The Mystery of Easter Island (London: 1919; pp. 277-280);
and Alfred Metraux's Ethnology of Easter Island (Honolulu: Bishop
Museum Press, 1971, pp. 55-75; originally published in 1940).
According to the Barthel account, the ancestors of the natives of Te
Pito O Te Kainga ("A Little Piece of Land", later called Rapa
Nui by other Polynesians and Easter Island by Europeans) came from two places
known as Marae Renga and Marae Tohio in a land called Maori ("Land
of the Native People"), or Hiva ("Black"; perhaps a reference
to the basalt of volcanic islands, perhaps Mangareva; Hiva was a Polynesian
name for the Marquesas Islands).]
Hiva, Hau Maka had a dream in which his spirit
traveled to a far country, looking for a new residence for his king
His spirit arrived at three small islands (Motu Nui, Motu Iti, Motu Kao-kao)
and a big hole (the volcanic crater of Rano Kau) on the southwest corner
of Te Pito O Te Kainga. The spirit traveled counter-clockwise around the
island, naming twenty-eight places including Anakena (an anchorage on the
north coast of the island and future residence of the king); Papa o Pea
(where young princes would be raised), and Ahu Akapu (where the abdicated
king would live). When Hau Maka awoke he told his brother Hua Tava about
the dream. The island was the eighth, or last, island in the dim twilight
of the rising sun. He named the island "Te Pito O Te Kainga A Hau Maka"
("The Little Piece of Land of Hau Maka"). Hua Tava told his brother
to tell king Hotu Matua of the new land.
After hearing about the dream, Hotu Matua ordered Hau Maka to send some
young men to explore the island. Hotu Matua told his two sons Ira (the first
born) and Raparenga, and Hua Tava's five sons-Kuukuu, Ringiringi, Nonoma, Uure, and
Makoi-to build a canoe and search for the island of Hau Maka's
dream. He gave them the directions to the island:
i lunga (upwind; i.e.,
southeastly, into the southeast tradewinds)
e tau (it juts out)
e revareva ro a (as a permanent contour)
i roto i te raa (in the midst of the [rising] sun)
He told them that there were three islets and a big hole, also a long
and beautiful road. So the seven men left in a canoe stocked with yams,
sweet potatoes, bananas, and other foods. The canoe was named Oraora-ngaru
("Saved from the waves"), or Te Oraora-miro ("The pieces
of milo wood lashed together"). They left on the 25th day of Vaitu
Nui (April) and arrived on the 1st day of Maro (June), a voyage of five
weeks.2 The explorers found the three islets and the big hole.
on to Hanga Te Pau, where they landed. Makoi was placed in charge of marking
and naming the land. Kuukuu was placed in charge of farming. On the tenth
day of Maro (June), they climbed the slopes of Rano Kau. Kuukuu planted
On the fifth day of Anakena (July), the explorers began to go
around the island counterclock-wise, starting with the south coast. They
followed the footsteps of Hau Maka's dream soul and named the places as
Hau Maka had named them. When fish swarmed near shore at Hanga-o-honu (Bay
of Turtles, on the north coast), they caught the fish with their hands and
tossed them ashore. They cooked and ate the fish there.
When they were near
Anakena, Ira saw a turtle and tried to lift it, but
it was too heavy for him; Raparenga tried and failed. Kuukuu tried and lifted
the turtle off the ground, but it struck him and broke his spine. The turtle,
which was a spirit (kuhane), swam back to Hiva. Kuukuu was taken to a nearby
cave on the plain of Oromanga. He begged the others not to leave him, but
his companions departed after piling six stones outside the cave to take
their places and to keep Kuukuu company. Kuukuu died in the cave.
The explorers went to the west side of the island and discovered a surfing
spot. They rode a wave to the right and called the place where they landed
Hanga Roa; they rode a wave to the left and landed at Apina Iti. They rode
a third wave in and landed by Hanga O Rio. They caught more waves, then
went ashore and rested in a cave at Pu Pakakina.
Ira sent the other explorers surfing so he and his brother Raparenga
could secretly place some stone figures Ira had brought from Hiva. While
the others were surfing, Ira set up three stone figures with necklaces of
mother-of-pearl shell. The shining necklaces could be seen from the ocean:
the shells of Ruhi Hepii when a surfer rode a wave to the right, the shells
of Pu when a surfer rode the wave to the left, and the shells of Hinariru
when the surfer went straight ahead.
Ira sent Makoi around the island to name places with names from the homeland
of Hiva. [Sixty place names are given.] After this was done, Ira taught
Makoi string figures and the secret content of the figures.
A man named Nga
Tavake, who had preceded the explorers onto the island,
then appeared, and the six explorers told him, "This is a bad land,
for when we planted yams, grass grew up instead." Then they all went
to the yam plantation planted by Kuukuu and weeded it.
Ira taught the secret of the shells necklaces and directions to his brother
Raparenga; Uure overheard their conversation and tricked Ira into giving
the secret to his brother Makoi.
Raparenga, Uure, Nonoma, and Ringiringi left Te Pito O Te Kainga
on the twenty-fifth day of Tangaora Uri (October) to return to Hiva. Makoi
remained on Te Pito O Te Kainga. As the canoe left, Makoi chanted the directions
back to the island: "There are eight islands. Te Pito O Te Kainga is
the eighth. Once it has been lost, it cannot be found again! Ruhi to the
right, Pu to the left, necklace around the figure of Hinariru at Papa O
Rae straight ahead!"3
King Hotu Matua ruled Hiva after his father
Matua. During Matua's reign,
a group of people called the Hanau Eepe came and took one side of the island
from the Hanau Momoko, the people whom Matua ruled. Then the Hanau Eepe
tried to move the border to gain more territory. They were captured and
imprisoned. In the meantime, Matua told his son Hotu Matua to launch a canoe
and immigrate to Te Pito O Te Kainga because a rising tide was destroying
Hotu ordered his assistants Teke and Oti to get plants and animals to
take with them on their voyage. The two men gathered banana shoots, taro
seedlings, sugarcane, yam, sweet potatoes, hau trees, paper mulberry trees,
sandalwood trees, toromiro trees, ferns, rushes, yellow roots, tavari plants,
moss, and ngaoho plants, along with birds, pigs, and chickens.
Matua reminded Hotu to take along flies as well, since the number of
human beings depended on the number of flies. He told Hotu to take the Hanau
Eepe prisoners as well to farm the land.
Hotu then ordered his master canoe builder Nuku Kehu to launch the double-hulled
canoe that had been built for the voyage. The canoe sailed on the second
day of Hora Nui (September) and arrived at the southwest corner of Te Pito
O Te Kainga on the fifteenth day of Tangaroa Uri (October)-a six-week voyage.
In the morning, when the explorers awoke [earlier it was said the explorers
had returned to Hiva], two canoes were seen approaching the southwestern
tip of the island, off Motu Nui. The canoes were bound together into a double
canoe, but as they came near the land the lashings which united them were
cut. One boat named "Oteka" carried Hotu Matua and his wife,
the other boat, named "Oua," carried Hineriru and his wife, Ava
Raparenga signaled with leaves to the voyagers the following message:
"The land is bad; yams won't grow because of the weeds." Hotu
Matua told Tuki to signal back that Hiva was also a bad land, as the rising
tide of the ocean was ruining it. Raparenga then signaled to the voyagers
that if they sailed to the right (east), they should stay way out or they
would be pushed into the cliffs.
The two canoes traveled in different directions around the island. Hotu
Matua went around the southern and eastern coasts of the island. Five fishing
grounds were established through the mana of a man named Honga. Hineriru
went around the western and northern coasts of the island; nine fishing
grounds were established through the mana of Teke, who had been transferred
to that canoe. Hotu wanted to be the first to reach Anakena (an anchorage
on the north side of the island, where the royal residence would be established).
When he saw the other vessel approaching, he ordered a spell chanted, which
made his own boat go fast and Hineriru's go slow. Two more fishing grounds
were established near Anakena.
The canoe of Hotu Matua landed first at the cove. A son named Tuu Maheke
was born there to Vakai and Hotu Matua. Hineriru was a man of intelligence,
and wrote rongo-rongo (native script) on paper he brought with him. Among
those who came in the canoes was the ariki (chief) Tuu Ko Ihu, the maker
of the wooden images; two of his sons and two grandsons have given their
names to four subdivisions of the Miru clan.
On the other canoe, a daughter named Ava Rei Pua Poki was born to Hineriru
and Ava Rei Pua (identified as a queen, perhaps the younger sister Hotu Matua).
Vaka, "the master in charge of tying the umbilical cord,"
performed the rite for Tuu Maheke and then for Ava Rei Pua Poki. The canoes
were then brought ashore and taken apart so the wood could be used to make
houses. After Nuku Keku (the master canoe builder) finished the houses,
seedlings were distributed to the settlers. Then Hotu Matua told Teke to
take the Hanau Eepe and settle them in a suitable place where they would
farm the land. Teke took them to Poike, on the southeastern end of the island,
and told them "Settle here, work, and keep peace among yourselves!"
Iko ("Insect") was installed as the king of the Hanau Eepe.
Among Hotu Matua's company there was a concealed passenger whose name
was Oroi; he was an enemy of Hotu, who had killed some of Hotu's children
in Hiva, and had hidden himself on board the migration canoe. He got on
shore at Anakena without anyone having guessed at his presence.
One day the five children of a man named Roro went to bathe at Ovahe
(a small cove east of Anakena), and as they lay on a rock in the sea, Oroi
came from behind and killed them by thrusting a lobster spine up their anuses
and pulling out their intestines.5
When the children did not return, the father said to the mother, "Where
are the children?"
The mother said, "On the rock."
But when Roro went to look, the rock was covered with water, for it was
high tide; by and by when the water went down, he saw the five children
Roro then told Hotu Matua: "Oroi, that bad man, is here, for he
has killed my children.
Now Hotu Matua went to see his adopted daughter Veri Hina, who was married
and who lived at Mahatua (past Ovahe on the north coast). Oroi put a noose
in his path and tried to catch his foot in it, but Hotu avoided it by stepping
to one side.
When he had finished his visit to his adopted daughter, he said to her
and her husband, "Follow me and watch above me. If the sooty terns
circle high above me, I will live; if the terns dive down on me, I have
been killed." As he returned, he saw that the noose was still on the
path, and he knew his enemy was hidden behind the rock. Terns circled high
above him. This time Hotu Matua intentionally stepped on the noose and fell,
and when Oroi came at him with a bone knife, he killed Oroi with a spell-"Spin!
Spin! Fall down! Fall down! Die!" Then he called to his adopted daughter
and son-in-law to see that Oroi was dead. When, however, they put the corpse
in the oven to cook it, it came to life again, so they had to take it over
to the other side of the island to an ahu called Oroi, and there the corpse
cooked quite satisfactorily, and they ate it.
Hotu Matua lived in Oromanga, in a house called Hare Tupa Tuu. One day
when Hotu's first born son Tuu Maheke was fifteen, Rovi, his food preparer,
went to catch eel as a side dish (inaki) for sweet potatoes; he stayed away
overnight. Tuu Maheke's mother had gone to dig up and cook the sweet potatoes
for him. Tuu Maheke began to cry. After a while Hotu Matua got a headache
and shouted, "Be quiet, you bastard! You crybaby!" Then he left.
When Vakai came home, she noticed the swollen eyes of her son and asked
why he was crying. He told her what his father had shouted at him. After
cooking the sweet potatoes for her son, Vakai went to the house of Hotu
Matu and told him "Tuu Maheke is not a bastard! You are a bastard!
Your real father was Tai A Mahia! Kokiri Tuu Hongohongo was your foster
father." Hotu Matua replied, "Why didn't you tell me this back
in Hiva, our homeland?"
Hotu Matua moved a short distance away and built a house called Hare
Pu Rangi. A month later, Vakai came to live with him. They conceived another
boy, named Miru. Hotu moved again and built a house called Hare Moa Viviri;
Vakai followed him. Another boy was born, named Tuu A Hotu Iti; then another
son was born, named Hotu Iti A Hotu. Hotu moved again, to Hare Moa Tataka,
and Vakai followed. Another son was born, named Tuu Rano Kau.
After the last son was born, Hotu and Vakai moved to Te Ngao o Te Honu.
Vakai died. Her corpse was carried to Akahanga and buried there. Hotu Matua
moved here and there until finally settling at Akahanga. After a year he
moved to Rano Kau, where he lived on the south side of the crater, opposite
Orongo. His last task was to fit two stones together. Then he went into
his house and laid down. His children came and received his final blessings.
Then he arose and went to Orongo to announce his death. He looked in the
direction of his homeland, Hiva, and called out to his guardian spirits
Kuihi and Kuaha: "Let the voice of the rooster of Ariana crow softly.
The stem with many roots (i.e., himself) is entering!" Then he fell
down and died.
His children carried him on a litter to Akahanga, where he was buried
in Hare o Ava. Later his eldest son, Tuu Maheke, cut off the head, dried
and cleaned it, painted it yellow, wrapped it in tapa, and hid it in a stone
crevice. A man named Ure Honu found the skull while weeding his banana plantation.
A rat (Hotu Matua's spirit) had led him to the hole where the skull was
When Ure Honu built a new house at Vai Mata, he hung the skull in it.
At the feast for the new house, King Tuu Ko Ihu saw the skull and exclaimed:
"Here are the teeth that ate turtles and pigs in Hiva!" He stole
the skull and buried it under a stone near his house. Ure Honu discovered
the theft; his foster son told him who had stolen it. Angry, Ure Honu gathered
his men and went to the King's house. They tore down a wall looking for
the skull, but found nothing. They searched outside, digging up the ground.
The king was sitting on the stone under which the skull was buried. Ure
Honu's men lifted the king off the stone, looked under it, and found the
skull. Ure Honu was satisfied and took the skull back home.
1. Hau Maka had tattooed Hotu, and had
"received from him in return
a present of mother-of-pearl which had been given to Hotu's father by an
individual called Tuhu-patoea. Tuhu had seen that the men who went down
to get pearls were eaten by a big fish, so he invented a net by which the
precious shell could be obtained without risk, and the pearl so procured
he had presented to his chief, Ko Riri." (Routledge 277-8). Routledge
gives a different reason for the migration: on Hiva, at the death of the
chief Ko Riu-i-ka-atea, "a struggle for supremacy arose between his
two sons, Ko Te Ira-kaatea and Hotu Matua, in which Hotu was defeated"
2. During May, in the southern hemisphere winter,
westerlies blow 32-33
percent of the time, allowing sailing canoes to travel in an easterly direction.
(See Ben Finney's "Voyaging and Isolation in Rapa Nui Prehistory.")
3. According to Barthel, the ornaments may
represent star bearings back
to the homeland. Or the figures could be markings used for backsighting
when leaving the islands; or markings used as alignments for safe entry
into the bay (96).
4. These two groups later came into conflict;
"the short ears,"
descended from Hotu Matua and Vakai-a-hiva, settled the western end of the
island; "the long ears," descended from Hineriru and Ava Rei Pua,
settled the eastern end of the island (Routledge 281).
5. This unusual method of killing was used in
the Marquesas Islaands (See E.S.C. Handy's work on the Marquesas.)