Rapa Nui Language Information & Dictionary 

of words used on this website


I realized that it is nearly impossible for me to be writing these e-mails to all of you and not use words from the Rapanui language.  So, instead of always having take up space in each letter explaining the meanings, I've decided to create this page to serve as a resource to my messages.  I hope it helps!   

Please do not take anything I say here as Word.  I am not anything close to an expert.  I am simply sharing what I have observed to date.  This page is just meant to serve as a reference to anything that I might mention in my stories.  


Language Basics

The Rapa Nui Language is very similar to the Hawaiian Language, and the more I stay there the more I feel I can understand.  The basic letters used are nearly the same  - while the Hawaiian Language consists of 13 letters:  a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w & ‘okina, the Rapa Nui language also uses most of these letters with slight variations.  

Hawaiian   Rapa Nui
K = T
L = R
N sometimes = NG
W = V
‘okina = K
kahakō sometimes =

You'll notice the ‘okina mark at the bottom right corner of the table.  I don't know what that particular symbol would be called in the Rapanui language, so I am refraining from giving it any kind of name.  As for it's placement in the above chart, a very helpful visitor to this website told me that this symbol functions much like the Hawaiian kahakō, in that it serves to lengthen the sound of the vowel.  (Technically, I think that would mean that it couldn't actually be called a "glottal stop"...  I'm really not sure.)  Another friend of mine once told me that it is a carry-over from the original language, and that the only other Polynesian language that still exhibits this ‘okina-like marking is Tongan.  (i.e. Matu‘a became Matua (parent) and ra‘ā became rā (sun)).  He also said that it was complicated to explain.  If there's anyone out there who could offer any more information, I would gladly accept the help!  



In all Polynesian languages, the vowels are pronounced in their long form and the consonants are pronounced similarly to the English forms, with the exception of 'r', as shown in the chart below.  


a as in above   o as in sole
e as in bet   u 'oo' in moon
i 'y' in city   r slightly rolled to resemble a 'd' sound

Below is a list of some of the words I might have mentioned along with their meanings (as I've been told).   




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click here to see a map of Rapa Nui

ahu -    altar, ceremonial platform.  

Ahu Akivi -    this was the first site to be scientifically restored, between 1960 and 1961.  The curiosity about this ahu is that it was constructed inland and the moai seem to be facing the ocean, whereas all other large ahu platforms are along the shore with the moai facing in, towards the land.  This site is located near Sector Ana Te Pahu, where there is a large number of caves that can be explored.  



Ahu Nau-Nau -    located at the top of Anakena beach, this ahu is one of the best preserved since it was buried in the sand until it was restored in 1980.  During the restoration a coral 'eye' was found - the only whole piece to be found so far.  The eyes are inserted into the moai's eye sockets during ceremonies, to assure that the gods are looking down upon the participants.  



Ahu Vinapu -    one of the many ahu where the moai have either fallen or been knocked down by the ancients.  This ahu is unusual in that the stones used to build the platform for it are cut very precisely and fitted together perfectly, resembling the construction of the temple at Manchupichu in Peru .  Archaeologists think that this represents some kind of connection with Peru .  Islanders will argue on that point... 



ana -     cave

Ana Kai Tangata -    the only cave where you can still see paintings on the walls and ceilings.  Scholars have speculated on the source for the name of this cave, as it is literally translated as meaning "man-eating cave."  (Kai = to eat; Tangata = man)  Those 'smart people' always like to jump to the conclusion that the ancients practiced cannibalism, however there is no proof to support this theory.    

click here to see a map of Rapa Nui


Ana O Keke -    also known as "the virgin cave".  This cave is located along the cliffs of Poike.  You must literally walk down the side of the cliff to get here.  It is closely related to the Tangata Manu, or Birdman, competition.  The woman chosen for the competition's winner was placed in this cave to "purify" for six months.  The object was to whiten her skin by removing her from the sun.  (I heard once that the ancients valued white skin, but I don't know how true that is.  I've got white skin, and I don't value it all that much...)



Anakena -    one of only two white sand beaches on the island, located on the northern coast of the island.  This is where Hotu Matua, Rapa Nui's first King,  is said to have landed.  




haka -     to do, usually used as a prefix to a verb.  

    Haka Pei -    one competition in the Tapati festival where two banana tree stumps are tied together and used as a sled.  The competitor lies, back down with feet facing downhill, on the sled and slide down a hill.  The competitors are judged by speed and by their ability to stay on the sled throughout the duration of the slide.  

hanga -    bay

    Hanga Roa -    name of the island's only town, where nearly all the locals live.  

hare - house

    hare mauku - grass house

click here to see a map of Rapa Nui

hiku -     tail

Hiku Te Ika -    tail of the fish.  one of our favorite fishing spots.  





    Hotu Matua -    the first King of Rapa Nui, who first arrived and disembarked with his wife, Avareipua, at Anakena beach.  There are a few theories on where he came from, but unfortunately I don't know enough to try and list them here.  

ika -     fish

iorana -    greeting, used like hello and goodbye.  

    "Iorana tatou" -     hello/goodbye everyone.  

kai -    to eat

karikari -     cliffs.  also the name of a well-known dance troupe on the island.

Makemake -    a Rapa Nui God that served as a protector for the people.  

Manutara -    name of a sea bird that nests on Motu Nui.  During the Bird Man competition in ancient times, a competitor needed to swim to Motu Nui after diving off the cliff at Orongo.  Once on the island, he had to find an egg of the Manutara bird, then swim back, climb up the cliff, and present it to his king, intact.  The first person to achieve this feat won the competition, and whoever he represented would be king for a year.  Although the Bird Man competition no longer occurs, the Manutara symbol is still seen prominently on the island today.  

matato‘a -     warrior, tribal chief; brave, strong, valiant.  also the name of Rapa Nui's most popular rock band.  

mauku -     grass

click here to see a map of Rapa Nui

maunga -     mountain/hill 

Maunga Pui -    hill on the island where the Haka Pei competition is held.  







moai -     stone statues thought to be created as representations of familial Gods.

moana -     ocean or blue

motu -     island



Motu Nui -    in this picture, the island farthest away.  (nui -    big)

Motu Iti -    in this picture, the second island, nearest to the biggest.  (iti -    small)

Motu Kaokao -    the small, tall island that resembles a spike jutting out of the ocean.  (kaokao -    side)



Nanue Para -    name of a fish, bright yellow in color, that one must be either very skilled or very lucky to catch.  

click here to see a map of Rapa Nui

nene -     sweet, delicious.  

Orongo -    ceremonial village overlooking the ocean and the motu's (Motu Iti, Motu Nui & Motu Kao Kao) on one side, and Rano Kao on the other.  This was the site of the annual Birdman Contest (see Tangata Manu) in ancient times.  Also, the seventh night after the full moon.  




Ovahe -    white sand beach, smaller than Anakena, located on the same end of the island but separated from Anakena by a hill.  




Piditi -    a disco on the island located just a short way up from the airport.  I'm not sure if it is open for operation or not...  

pito -    navel

    Te Pito O Te Henua -    The Navel Of The Earth.  Said to be Rapa Nui's ancient name.  

Te Pito Kura -   a perfectly rounded stone said to have been brought to the island by chief Hotu Matua.  It was originally placed on the ahu next to it, but rolled off and landed where it is now.  The surrounding rocks were then built up around it.  




Poike -    portion of the island where the battle between the Hanau E`epe and the Hanau Momoku was said to have met it's fateful end.  


click here to see a map of Rapa Nui



rano -     volcano, volcanic crater and it's lake.  

Rano Kao -    crater located on the SW area of the island, where Orongo sits along it's rim.  





Rano Raraku -    known as the 'moai quarry', the ancients carved moai's out of the sides of this crater.  You can still see the remains of hundreds of abandoned moai along it's flanks.  Today the Tau`a competition during Tapati is held in this crater's lake.  




roa -    long

Tahai -    

tangata -     man; to be human.  

    Tangata Manu -    bird man.  In ancient times there was a competition called the Birdman contest, in which each competitor raced to find the egg of a manutara bird, then bring it back, intact, to the finish line.  Whomever the winner represented would reign as King for one year.  There are a few theories as to why the bird became an important symbol and why a combination of man and bird became desirable...all I know is that feathers have been seen in traditional attire from that time on, and is still very apparent on the island today.  

tapati - week.  Also the name of the annual festival which usually begins on the Friday closest to February 1st and currently lasts for 15 to 20 days.   





Tau‘a -    war.  Also the name of the marathon competition which takes place every year in Rano Raraku as a part of the Tapati festival.  Competitors must create a kayak-like vessel and a paddleboard out of reeds to use in the race.  The must first paddle across the lake in the kayak-like boat, then run around the perimeter of the lake carrying 2 banana bunches on their backs, then they must run another 1/4 of the distance free of burden.  At the 1/4 way mark, they pick up the reed paddle boards and carry it to the lake entrance, another 1/4 of the way around the lake.  Then they must paddle across the lake again to the finish line.  

click here to see a map of Rapa Nui

te -    the

tokerau -    wind

Tongariki -    

toroko -   the name of a certain plant (which I don't know).  Also the name of the islands most popular disco.  It's a shack...but there's nothing else like it!  





trumpet stone -   a stone located near Poike that is (naturally) acoustically designed so that if you blow into one of it's holes on the top, a loud horn-like sound will come out.  It was supposedly used in ancient times to call people together.  






umu -    underground oven

upa‘upa -    accordion.  Believe it or not, this instrument has been accepted into the culture of the island, and is used in it's music so much that there in an entire competition during the Tapati festival which features the playing of this instrument.  

vai -    water

The above map came out of a Rapa Nui guide for tourists.  I apologize for the lack of quality...  I also apologize for the size.  I tried to make it smaller, but the words become unreadable when shrunken.  I've included this map, however, because it gives a good idea of where everything is situated on the island.