Por Ana-María Rojas Zepeda & Paola Moreno Meneses


Human cultures distinguish themselves through their methods of utilizing the materials that nature offers them.  In spite of having few resources, from very early days the inhabitants of Easter Island  knew how to make textiles for daily use as well as for symbolic or religious use.  This aspect has been very little studied until now.

Currently some pieces of this heritage are part of the collections at the Museo Fonck in Viña del Mar and the Museo de Historia Natural in Santiago.

According to the archaeological and ethnological information available, all of them were made using only fish spines, wooden or bone shuttles and plant materials, such as reeds, straw, leaves, bark, and organic material, such as human hair and feathers, which mostly were worked in their natural colors.  Fragments of needles are found in the Museo Arqueológico on Easter Island.

From the mentioned collections, we show three objects which seem to well represent the culture.  In them, the mastery that the ancient Rapanui artisans had is well displayed, showing how, from few resources, they achieved objects of great beauty and creativity.

The first piece is a cape, designated as “Nua o Nua Mahute”.  It is made from a vegetable felt, produced from the interior bark of the Mahute (Paper mulberry) tree.  It measures approximately 104cm x 107cm  (40 x 42 in.).  The manufacture of the material consists in scraping, soaking and beating the material to obtain pieces similar to felt which are then worked by placing them over each other with a vertical grain over a horizontal grain.  As these fragments are beaten together, the piece gets bigger until it is the size desired.  This particular cape presents a surface that is embroidered with delicate threads of other vegetable fibers which are sewn in parallels over the entire surface.

Among several objects, an outstanding one is a diadem, corresponding to what Metraux called “Hau Hiehie”, made with a technique called “coopering”, which joins six circles of vegetable fiber into one continuous spiral.  The spiral material is a very delicate but strong cord that is then sewn together with other vegetable fiber.  The adornment of the diadem is with groups of three to five semi-rigid rooster feathers.  These feathers are also joined by coopering and the material used to hold them is a flat fiber similar to Mahute.

From the collection in the Museo Fonck, we have an object called “Kete”.  This is a bag or container, which can be of varying sizes, made with flat vegetable fibers in natural colors with a technique called plaiting, which permits making the object in a single piece without seams.  This makes a light, flexible structure that can change from a flat piece to a voluminous basket.

All the artifacts show an organic unity between territory, ethnicity, tradition and culture and leave us with a clear impression of the ability to obtain and transform the resources of their environment, as well as the amazing creativity, of the inhabitants of  Easter Island.