Tapati Rapa Nui: Easter Island’s Iconic Festival in Images

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Tapati Rapa Nui: Easter Island’s Iconic Festival in Images

A Tapati festival contestant sleds downhill during the Haka Pei contest © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet
A Tapati festival contestant sleds downhill during the Haka Pei contest © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

Colorful, spectacular, grandiose – words do little justice to the annual Tapati Rapa Nui, Easter Island’s greatest festival and a vibrant celebration of the island’s Polynesian culture. For about two weeks in the first half of February, Easter Island (Rapa Nui) comes alive with a series of music, dance, cultural and ancestral sport contests between two clans. Each one puts up a candidate who stand for the title of queen of the festival. This year, Tapati festivities take place from January 29 until February 13.

The Pora race

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Pora racers paddle across the lake inside Rano Raraku crater © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

The Pora is the first race of the Taua Rapa Nui triathlon; it consists of paddling across the lake inside the Rano Raraku crater on a reed boat. All competitors are dressed in traditional costumes and adorned with body paint.

Tapati Rapa Nui: The Aka Venga race 

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The Aka Venga race is the most physically challenging of the Taua Rapa Nui events © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

The Aka Venga is the second race of the Taua Rapa Nui triathlon. The contestants run around the lake carrying two banana bunches on their shoulders – it’s considered the most exhausting of the triathlon’s three events.

Tapati Rapa Nui: The Vaka Ama race

A Vaka Ama contestant © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

During the last leg of the Taua Rapa Nui triathlon, the Vaka Ama race, contestants swim across the lake using a small reed raft as a board.

Takona: the art of body painting

Takona, a Tapati body-painting custom © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet
Takona, a Tapati body-painting custom © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

Also part of Tapati’s festivities is Takona, a body painting contest that’s taken very seriously by young men. They use the technique of mixing natural pigments and clay. The aesthetics and symbolic significance of the designs are taken into consideration by a jury.

Tapati Rapa Nui: Haka Pei contest

A Haka Pei racer prepares to launch © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet
A Haka Pei racer prepares to launch © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

The pinnacle of the Tapati celebration is without a doubt the Haka Pei. A dozen male contestants, wearing nothing but body paint and a breechcloth, speed downhill on a makeshift sled (feet first, like a luge) made of two banana tree-trunks lashed together with twine on the steep, 120m-long slope of the Cerro Pui hill. The speed can reach a hair-raising 70km per hour.

Horse races

Tapati festival contestants race horses bareback © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet
Tapati festival contestants race horses bareback © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

The horse races, which take place along a coastal track, will take your breath away. The bareback riders tear along the racetrack several times.

Traditional dancing

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Youths perform a traditional Rapa Nui dance during the Tapati festival © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

During the evening, dancing contests take place on a huge purpose-built stage in a vast field by the seashore just outside the island’s main town of Hanga Roa. Each night, a number of groups participate in exuberant Polynesian routines, with ukuleles jangling and drums pounding long into the night, while judges mark their performances.

Culinary and cultural delights

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Beef (pictured above) and fish are prepared in an umu tahu (barbecue) and served at Tapati festival gatherings © Jean-Bernard Carillet / Lonely Planet

Events during the Tapati festival also include traditional meal preparations as well as arts and crafts displays. Tourists are welcome to join the umu tahu, a massive barbecue and a community meal, which usually consists of beef and fish. During Tapati, numerous craftspeople exhibit their handicrafts such as shell necklaces, baskets and wood- and stone-carvings.

(Source)