Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Help support both NHPR and the NH Food Bank when you make a gift of support today.

Outside/In: The So-called Mystery of Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Carlos Reusser Monsálvez
Moai at Ahu Tongariki

Who moved the giant monolithic statues of Rapa Nui, a remote island in the South Pacific? And how did they do it? These questions have been at the center of much speculation and debate since Europeans first arrived there on Easter Sunday, 1722, and called it “Easter Island.” The most popular theory was that this remote civilization destroyed itself – cutting down all the trees to make contraptions for moving statues.

But according to the indigenous people of Rapa Nui, their ancestors didn’t need to cut down any trees to transport the statues. In fact, their oral history has always been clear about how the statues were transported. The question is: why hasn't anyone been listening?

Featuring: Sergio Rapu Haoa, Carl Lipo, Terry Hunt, Sergio Mata’u Rapu, and Gina Pakarati

Duché de Vancy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Engraving of French explorer La Pérouse and his crew on their 1786 visit to Rapa Nui. His was the fourth major European visit to the island. La Pérouse wrote of the Rapanui: “these people were indebted to the imprudence of their ancestors for their present unfortunate situation of the island.”
Eric Gaba
Map of Rapa Nui
Google Maps.png
Screenshot: Google Maps
Rapa Nui is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island, 1,289 mi away. And the nearest continental point is Chile, 2,182 mi away.


A profile of Sergio Rapu Haoa for the 2002 Rotary World Peace Scholars program at Berkeley.

Eating Up Easter – a documentary film produced by Sergio Mata’u Rapu, about how the people of Rapa Nui are grappling with environmental and social changes brought on by tourism and economic development.

The NOVA-National Geographic Documentary

Lectures by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo

Felix Poon first came to NHPR in 2020 as an intern, producing episodes for Outside/In, Civics 101, and The Second Greatest Show on Earth. He went to work for Gimlet Media’s How to Save a Planet before returning in 2021 as a producer for Outside/In. Felix’s Outside/In episode Ginkgo Love was featured on Spotify's Best Podcasts of 2020.
Outside/In is NHPR's podcast about the natural world and how we use it. Click here for podcast episodes and more.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.