Rapanui Proper and Place Names versus Rongorongo Texts

© Sergei V. Rjabchikov

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Part 2.

1. A Rapanui myth tells of two young men, Heru and Patu, who met two witches known as the Lizard woman and the Gannet woman. Later these beautiful women gave birth to two sons named Heru and Patu as well. The natives compared the boys with crabs, crayfish and octopuses (Brown 1996: 173-174; Métraux 1940: 367-368).

In my opinion, here the deities of death and the sun are described. Undeniably cosmogonic myths of the Polynesians were the main source of this narration. According to the Maori beliefs, Tane and Whiro, personified forms of Light and Darkness, both are offspring of Rangi (the Sky Father) and Papa (the Earth Mother) (Best 1924: 99).

It is felt that the initial Rapanui myth contained two general ideas:

1) The characters (h)e Rua ‘The sunset’ and Vie Moko ‘The Lizard woman’ produced (h)e Rua ‘The sunset’; crabs and crayfish were their integral symbols. It is the description of the rain season. The following data are noteworthy: cf. Maori rua ‘setting-place of the sun’, Rapanui moko ‘lizard’, and momoko ‘to hide oneself’. In the Rapanui and Maori religious systems the Lizard is the symbol of the chthonic god known as Hiro or Whiro (Barthel 1978: 251; Best 1924: 107). Moreover, the moon goddess called ‘The Black Crab’ (Pikea Uri; Ungu Uri) is a symbol of solar eclipses in the Rapanui beliefs (Rjabchikov 1997b: 37). Let us investigate the place name Ahu Rua tau raa (Liller 1993: 126). It signifies ‘The ceremonial platform ‘The disappearance (rua) of the time of the sun’’ literally. Perhaps, this place and its environs were an ancient religious centre where natives observed the sun during eclipses.

2) The characters Patu ‘The appearance of leaves’ and Vie Kena ‘The Gannet woman’ produced Patu ‘The appearance of leaves’; octopuses were their integral symbols. It is description of the hot season. The following data are noteworthy: cf. Rapanui patu ‘to come into leaf’ and patupatu ‘club’. The wordplay is quite possible: in Old Rapanui heke means not only ‘octopus’ (heke), but also ‘sprout’ (heke) and ‘to rise’ (eke).

I distinguish variants of both segments of this myth in the basic cosmogonic Rapanui myth known as the “Creation Chant” (Métraux 1940: 321). I offer own translation of two sentences:

Vie Moko ki ai ki roto kia Tea, ka pu te kena ‘The Lizard woman (= Darkness) by copulating with Whiteness (the sun, the increasing heat) produced the gannet (= birds; the solar symbol).’ Here the information is encoded that the sun deity won a victory over the deity of darkness, rains and death. The transition from the austral winter to the austral summer is described.

Te Rehue ki ai ki roto Vie Raupa ka pu te raupa. ‘The star Antares by copulating with the Leaf woman produced the leaves.’ Here the austral spring and summer are described. Maori Rehua ‘the star Antares’ is indicative of the austral summer in some Maori folklore texts (Best 1955: 56).

Let us examine two place names, Ahu tahu reue and Rehu paihiihi. I keep the list of Rapanui place names in mind (Barthel 1962a). The first name means ‘The ceremonial platform ‘The heat (associated with) the star Antares’’ (Rjabchikov 1999a). The second name can be reconstructed as Rehu(a) Pai(na, nga) hihi ‘The star Antares (is a mark) of the feast Paina of the solar rays’.(1) Old Rapanui hi and hihi ‘dawn; solar rays’ correlate with Maori hi ‘dawn’ and hihi ‘solar rays’ (Rjabchikov 1997c: 208).


Figure 1.

Let us read a text written down on the Great St. Petersburg tablet (Pv 10/11), see figure 1, fragment 1: 4-4 73 29 4-4 6-6 12 25 65 8 Atuaatua (h)e Rua [Heru], atuaatua haha ika hua Rangi Matua ‘The god ‘The sunset’, the god looking like a fish (who is) a son of (the god) Rangi Matua [the Sky – the Father].’ The parallel text is presented on the Great Santiago tablet (Hv 9), see fragment 2: 4-4 73 29 4-4 6-6 12-12 25 65 8 Atuaatua (h)e Rua [Heru], atuaatua haha ikaika hua Rangi Matua (the same interpretation).

Old Rapanui haha ‘to resemble; to look like’ corresponds to Maori haha ‘to look for; to search’. The wordplay is also quite possible: cf. Rapanui ika ‘fish; dead; corpse’. In this context the fish is other sign of the chthonic world. This idea can be illustrated with folklore data. The two fragments of a Rapanui song were recorded: ko matamahore apero and angakope komata mahore (Routledge 1914-1915). The first fragment has an additional note that it is a song for the dead. I reconstruct the text as follows: (R)anga kope, ko mata mahore, a peri[ngi] ‘A young man swims, (his) face (resembles) the fish mahore, (it is) a decomposed corpse.’ So, this dead person was compared with a fish. The wordplay is quite possible: cf. Rapanui mahore ‘name of a fish’, hore ‘to amputate’ and horehore ‘to tear; to cut off’.

The name Heru correlates with Maori heru ‘to begin to flow’. In this context one can understand the Rapanui place names Te hukinga heru and Ahutehuteaheru (Thomson 1891: 511). The last name reads in the following manner: Ahu te hu tea heru. In the names the following words are presented: Rapanui huki ‘to sink’, hu ‘strong wind; storm’ and tea ‘white; whiteness; to appear’.


Figure 2.

Two parallel segments are presented on the tablet Mamari (Cb 3/4) and on the Great Whashington tablet (Sa 3), see figure 2, fragments 1 and 2.

The first record reads as follows: 6-4 44-30 4 44-30 44 6-4 56-4 8 33 A atua Tane, atua Tane Taha; a atua Patu Matua Ua ‘The deity Tane, the god Tane (resembling) the frigate bird; the god ‘The appearance of leaves’ who was created by (the season of) rains.’

The second record reads as follows: 6-4 44-30 (the decorative representing of two glyphs 30 is registered here) 56 7 33 8 A atua Tane tuu; Patu Ua Matua ‘The deity Tane is coming; (this is the god) ‘The appearance of leaves’ who was created by (the season of) rains.’ Interestingly, Old Rapanui matua ‘father; to create’ is comparable with Rapanui matua ‘father’. According to the Rapanui beliefs, the ghost Ko te huki a potu te rangi lived at the Poike peninsula in the east part of Easter Island (Englert 1974: 137). I suppose that the original name of this deity was Patu/Potu te Rangi ‘(The god) ‘The appearance of leaves’, (a son of) the Sky Father’. This god is one of the personifications of the sun associated with the east.

Besides, two segments are presented on the London tablet, see fragments 3 and 4. The text (Kr 5) reads: 6-4-24 56-4 A atua ai Patu ‘The god/place ‘The appearance of leaves’’. The text (Kv 2/3) reads: 6-4-24 56-4 44 72 33 A atua ai Patu Taha MANU Ua ‘The god/place ‘The appearance of leaves’ (connected with) the Frigate bird BIRD [the determinative] (who is a descendant) of the season of rains.’

Old Rapanui ai ‘place’ is comparable with Rapanui ai ‘to be; to be situated; to exist’ and ainga ‘location’ (ai-nga). The same root is included in Rapanui moai (< ma/mo ai) ‘statue; figurine’.

So, the name of the personages Heru < (H)e Ru(a) (73 29) and Patu/Potu (56 4, 56 7) are presented on the “talking boards”.

2. The London tablet contains names of deities. Some interesting examples are presented below, see figure 3.


Figure 3.

The first segment includes the following text (Kr 4), see fragment 1: 6-4-24 6-21 A atua ai Aka ‘The deity/place ‘The Root/Family Connections’.’

This name corresponds to the name of the ceremonial platform Ahu Akahanga. It was the burial place of the legendary king Hotu Matua and his descendants (Thomson 1891: 509-510). The place name means ‘The ceremonial platform ‘The Root/family connections’’ (hanga is a suffix here), cf. Rapanui aka ‘root’ and Samoan a’a ‘fibres of a root; family connections’.

The second segment includes the following text (Kr 5), see fragment 2: 6-4-24 26 15 4 A atua ai Mari/Maro atua ‘The deity/place ‘The month Maro – the deity’.’ This name corresponds to the place name Ahu Mari.

The third segment includes the following text (Kr 5), see fragment 3: 6-4-24 4-26 25 A atua ai Tuma hua ‘The deity/place ‘The Base – the fruits’.’ This name corresponds to the place names Ahu Tumu hei para and Ahu Tumatuma. The first name means ‘The ceremonial platform ‘The Base – the old fruits’’, and the second name means ‘The ceremonial platform ‘The Base’’.

It is possible that these names are relevant to some ideas about the development of the Universe. In the Tahitian mythology Te Tumu (Source, Cause) is one of the conditions of the initial nature. In the mythology of the Cook Islands Tangaroa, the god of the Ocean, has an epithet, Tumu-metua-kore (the Source-without-a-father) (Buck 1938: 81, 111). In the Rapanui religion the name of the deity Tumu is known (Orliac and Orliac 1995: 19). Besides, the name of the deity Tutuma-Koekoe incarnated in a crayfish is known (Lavachery 1934). This name means ‘Source – Darkness (Kore)’ (Rjabchikov 1997d: 13).

The fourth segment includes the following text (Kr 5), see fragment 4: 6-4 44-24 8 A atua Tari Matua ‘The deity/place ‘The Upper Part – the Father’.’

According to the “Creation Chant” (Métraux 1940: 322), the characters Taaria and Taaria produced tau eehu. Both names signify ‘The Upper Part’ (Tari), and ‘the time of ashes’ is their offspring. It is significant that the idea “above” is associated with the east, otherwise with the rising sun (Barthel 1978: 36). Hence, the deity Tari is connected with the cult of the sun and fire.

In compliance with the Rapanui mythology (Arredondo 1987: 265), the ghost Vera (Paepae a Tari) killed souls of people which were hidden from cold, dampness and rain in a hut. I conclude that the god Tari (cf. Rapanui iku vera ‘ashes’) associated with the houses (paepae; paenga) is the personification of the heat.

The fifth segment includes the following text (Kv 1), see fragment 5: 6-4 27 8 A atua Rau matua [= koro] ‘The deity ‘The Growth – the Father’.’

The synonyms for the word ‘father’ (korokoro, matua) have been registered in the rongorongo records (Rjabchikov 1998-1999: figure 6). The following words are important for our study: cf. Maori whakarau ‘to multiply’, Samoan malaulau ‘to grow vigorously‘, Rapanui raua ‘to form’ and Tahitian rahu ‘to create’.

The name of the god is comparable with two place names: Koro rau and Maunga koro rau.

The sixth segment includes the following text (Kv 2), see fragment 6: 6-4-24 4-4-4 24 49 A atua ai atua, atua, atua ari(k)i (ariki) mau ‘The deity/place ‘The great god – the King’.’ One can offer Old Rapanui ariki mau ‘king’ and ariki ‘king; chief’. Rapanui ariki ‘king’ reads arii because of the alternation of the sounds k/-. The name of the god is comparable with place name Ahu Tongariki.

A trice-repeated Rapanui word means plurality in the folklore texts (Fedorova 1963: 89). In this context the expression atua, atua, atua means ‘the great god’.

The seventh segment includes the following text (Kv 2), see fragment 7: 6-4 11 44b 4 A atua Maha tua atua ‘The deity ‘the Shark (Maha < Manga) is turned – the deity’.’ One can offer Rapanui tua ‘behind; back’. I believe that the name of a place where the Shark (either a god or a king) died is mentioned here. This text correlates with place name Ahu Mahatua.

The eighth segment includes the following text (Kv 3), see fragment 8: 6-4-24 24 69 24 6-4-24 68 6-4-24 26 9 6-4-24 68 4 22 A atua ai ai-Moko-ai, a atua ai Honu, a atua ai Maniva, a atua ai Honu atua rapa ‘The deity/place ‘The place, the Lizard, the place’, the deity/place ‘The Water’, the deity/place ‘Light – Darkness’ (Ma niva = the deity Mahiva), the deity/place ‘The Water – the deity of the paddle Rapa’ (the deity Rapahango)’.’

Old Rapanui honu ‘(fresh) water’, maa ‘bright’, niva ‘black’ are comparable with Maori honu ‘fresh water’, Rapanui maa ‘clear’, hakamaa ‘to clean’, Maori ma ‘white, clean’, hama ‘light-coloured’, whakama ‘to make white’, Maori niwaniwa ‘dark, deep black’.

In the Easter Island folklore the turtle is associated with the place name Hiro Moko (the name of a beach) (Barthel 1978: 66). The name of the ghost Mahiva is known. Besides, in the Rapanui beliefs the spirits Hiva and Rapahango are both connected with the area of the Tupa-hotu tribe (Routledge 1998: 198; Brown 1996: 124; Métraux 1940: 317). Furthermore, the places Te Piringa Avina and Papa Hirohiro were situated on the path of the people of the king Hotu Matua from the ceremonial platform Ahu Akahanga to the volcano Rano Kau (Barthel 1978: 219).

The name Ma Niva corresponds to the name of the spirit Mahiva (< Ma hiva) ‘(The conditions) ‘Brightness – Darkness’’, cf. Maori hiwa ‘dark’ and hiwahiwa ‘black; dark’. The name Rapahango consists of the root rapa and the suffix hanga, and it signifies ‘The ceremonial paddle rapa’. It should be remembered that I.K. Fedorova (1981: 268-269) connects paddles ao and rapa with the god Hiro. The ghost Rapahango denotes the west and rains.

Some important texts are presented in figure 4.


Figure 4.

Let us consider a segment presented on the tablet Aruku-Kurenga (Bv 3), see fragment 1: 6-25 1 6-24 44-51 17 44 Ahu Tiki a ai take te Taha ‘(It is) the ceremonial platform ‘(The sun god) Tiki – the place (the statue?) – the initiation – the Frigate Bird’.’ In my opinion, this text corresponds to the name of the ceremonial platform Ahu A Hooa Take which was called Ahu tautira later (Englert 1974: 258). Really, both place names contain epithets of the sun god (cf. the name of the Rapanui deity Hoa or Hova; cf. also Rapanui tau ‘season’ and Maori tira ‘rays of light’). Perhaps, it was one of places where children were collected before the rite of initiation. One can offer the name Ahu Ko te Take as well. It signifies ‘The ceremonial platform ‘The initiation’’.

Let us consider a segment presented on the tablet Keiti (Ev 2), see fragment 2: 6-4 11 44-44 5 12 5 12 A atua Mango/Pakia tata atua ika, atua ika ‘The god ‘The Shark/the Seal – the Nearness – the great god (incarnated in) the fish’.’ Here the god Tangaroa is described. This name corresponds to the place name Papa Tata ika. It means ‘The rock ‘The Nearness – the Fish’’. Notice that Fish is a symbol of the god Tangaroa in the Maori religion (Buck 1966: 439).

In an archaic chant of the Cook Islands the following words are presented: Tangaroa i te tataTangaroa (the god of the Ocean) in the tata’, and the informant did not know the meaning of the last word (Buck 1938: 103). Hereafter I shall use the Proto-Polynesian forms and their derivatives (Biggs and Clark 2006). The word tata is comparable with Proto-Polynesian *tata ‘near’. It is apparent that in this expression the god Tangaroa situated in the initial space is described.

Let us consider a segment presented on the Small Vienna tablet (Na 4), see fragment 3: 6-4-32 6-28 15-25 A atua ua Hanga Rahu ‘The deity/dwelling ‘The bay of Growth’.’ Old Rapanui ua ‘dwelling’ is comparable with Rapanui uaua ‘dwelling’. This text correlates with two place names: cf. Hanga a Rahu and Hanga Rau.

Let us consider a segment presented on the Great Washington tablet (Sa 6), see fragment 4: 6-4 17 25 3 24 A atua tehua Hina (Mara) Ari ‘The deity/place of worship ‘The night Ari’.’ Old Rapanui mara ‘crescent’ correlates with Rapanui marama ‘crescent’, cf. also the name of the moon goddess known as Hina Hau Mara. Rapanui tahua means ‘paving in front of ahu’ (Brown 1996: 287). Old Rapanui tahua signifies ‘place of worship’ (Barthel 1978: 24). On the other hand, Marquesan tohua means ‘ceremonial area’ (in the Rapanui language the alternation of the sounds a/o is possible). The form tehua could exist because of the alternation of the sounds a/e (cf., e.g., Rapanui matua and metua ‘father’, atua and etua ‘god’).

This text corresponds to the name of the ceremonial platform Ahu Marari (< Mara Ari).

3. According to the “Creation Chant” (Métraux 1940: 320), the characters Ngingi-e-ai and Humu-toti produced mahute. Here the characters ‘Dryness-the place’ and ‘The Attached earth oven (umu)’ are parents of the tree mahute. The first name includes Old Rapanui term ai ‘place’ presented in the rongorongo records with the deities’ names. The second name contains Old Rapanui toti ‘attached’, cf. Tahitian toti ‘attached’.

Based on this result, one can investigate the name of the ghost Umu korai who lived at Poike (Englert 1974: 137). It reads Umu ko rai ‘The earth oven of the sun’ indeed. I suppose that Humu-toti and Umu ko rai are one and the same spirit.

Interestingly, the Old Rapanui toti is written down in some rongorongo texts associated with proper and place names.

4. Let us investigate the place name Tu rongo titiero. It reads as Tuu (hina) Rongo, (hina) titi ero ‘(The 26th moon/night) Rongo comes, (then) the full bright (moon/night) comes’.

Proto-Polynesian *titi means ‘skirt or kilt worn in the dance’, and Tuamotuan titi means ‘band or wreath of coconut leaves tied round a tree to denote that the fruit is sacred’. Besides, in an unclear subgroup of the Polynesian family of languages there is such a form: *titi ‘lunar halo’ (Biggs and Clark 2006). Here the idea “round” is significant. I add Rapanui titi ‘full; around’ and Maori ‘tia how great!’ to this list. So, I offer my own interpretation of Proto-Polynesian *titi (< *ti) with the meanings ‘full’, ‘round’, ‘completed’. Old Rapanui (h)ero ‘bright’ is comparable with Rapanui herohero ‘bright’.


Figure 5.

In the light the obtained data one can read a segment of the tablet Tahua (Ab 4 = Av 4), see figure 5: 19 56-56 6 62-5 62-62-5 2 5-5 3 5-5 Ku popo; a toti, tototi Hina titi, hina titi ‘The moon became full; the moon goddess Hina who is full and the full moon join (the month).’

The name of the goddesses Hina-popoia and Hina-kauhara are mentioned in the “Creation Chant” (Métraux 1940: 321). The first name can be translated as ‘(The moon goddess) Hina who becomes full’, and the second name can be translated as ‘(The moon goddess) Hina swimming on the ecliptic’ (cf. Rapanui kau ‘to swim’, ara ‘way, road, path’).(2) The wordplay is quite possible, cf. Rapanui ara ‘to awake; to arouse; to be awake; to watch, to guard’ and Maori mataara ‘to watch, to keep awake’ (< mata ara) as well.

5. In some rongorongo records the names of deities correspond to the platforms and statues which are located in the neighbourhood. Several texts are presented in figure 6.


Figure 6.

We start with the place name Ahu Tongariki (Englert 1974: 268-269). It reads Tonga (< to-nga) Ariki ‘The Rain Season of the King’ (the symbolism of rains and eclipses), cf. also Maori tonga (< to-nga) o te ra ‘sunset’. This name is presented on the tablet Keiti (Ev 4), see fragment 1: 6-4-4 2 (= a reversed variant) 4-4-4 32-32 6 4-4 49 A atuaatua Hina uri atua, atua, atua uaua a atua-atua (ariki) mau ‘The black moon goddess Hina (is united) with the great god ‘The Rain – the King’.’

Now one can read several names of the places situated not far from this platform. A record (Ev 5) is presented in fragment 2, it reads as follows: 6-4 6 3 48-15 33 A atua A hina (h)uri vai ‘The deity ‘The black moon of the water (the rain god Hiro)’.’ It corresponds to the name of the ceremonial platform Ahu Huri Avai. It reads Ahu (H)uri a vai correctly. The record (Ev 4) is presented in fragment 3, it reads as follows: 6-4 6-28 24 A atua Hanga Ai ‘The deity ‘The bay of Copulation’’ (the fertility symbolism). It corresponds to the name of the ceremonial platform Ahu Ai nini.

The record (Ev 3) is presented in fragment 4, it reads as follows: 6-4 30-51 35 4 6-4 17 69 1 17 69 1 17 A atua anake Pa atua, a atua te Moko Tiki tea, Moko Tiki tea ‘The first deity ‘(The statue called) the god Pa [‘The Adze’]; the deity ‘Darkness – Whiteness (‘The white god Tiki’ literally), Darkness – Whiteness’.’ Old Rapanui anake ‘single; one; first’ corresponds to Rapanui anake ‘single’. Glyph 35 pa represents an adze, cf. Marquesan paopao ‘adze’. The god by the name of Pa is the personification of the adze, and it is an epithet of the god Makemake (Tiki, Tane, Tangaroa). The Adze is associated with Tane who separated the Sky from the Earth (Buck 1938: 151). This inscription containing the names of the two gods (statues) corresponds to the name of the ceremonial platform Ahu te Pa Haha Tea with two statues. Hence, Pa (the Adze) is the name of the first statue, and Haha Tea (Darkness – Whiteness) is the name of the second statue. Old Rapanui haha ‘darkness; the Underworld’ is comparable with Samoan Fafa ‘the Underworld’, cf. also Rapanui po haha ‘dark night’ (Rjabchikov 1996a).

6. A text (Cb 4/5) of the tablet Mamari is presented in figure 7.


Figure 7.

It reads as follows: 4-6 3 3 3 56 2 (= a reversed variant) 19 69 24 69 21 19 21 23 24 A atua hina, hina, hina po, Hina uri, ki Moko-ai, moko Koa, ki Koa, Ura-ai ‘The deity ‘The moon/night (moves) as the black goddess to (the night, place called) ‘The Lizard’ (Hiro) (associated with the rain girl) Akoa, to Akoa of the place of the Crayfish’.’ According to the Rapanui beliefs (Métraux 1940: 364), the girl Akoa is related to rains. This form contains the article a, cf. also Rapanui koa ‘gladness; satisfaction’. This girl is the personification of the rain during the dry season.

In conformity with a Rapanui myth, a boy was turned into a red fish. He shouted: “I am in the hands of the spirits Hiti-Kapura, Urauranga te Mahina” (Métraux 1940: 372). One can say that a solar eclipse is described in such words. The boy is the image of the sun and moon that are both invisible during the eclipse, and the red colour = the eclipsed sun.(3) Hiti-Kapura is the personification of the sun (cf. Rapanui hiti ‘to rise’, hitihanga raa ‘sunrise’, ka ‘to set fire’, pura ‘light, shine’, kapua, kohu ‘fog’, kohu raa ’solar eclipse’, Maori kapura ‘fire’), and Urauranga te Mahina is the personification of the moon (cf. Rapanui ura ‘crayfish’, mahina ‘moon’) during the eclipse. The latter name is also preserved in the name of the ceremonial platform Ahu Urauranga te mahina.

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