Easter Island Cemetery

Cementerio de Isla de Pascua con Ahi Tahai al fondo

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An atypical cemetery

The Easter Island cemetery is the fourth Catholic cemetery on the island. The first was in front of the mission of Vaihu, a bay located on the south coast. The second just behind the Koro Paina Kori Gym, of which today only remains a wooden painted white cross. Here they were buried among others, the missionary Eugenio Eyraud and the rapanui leader Maria Angata, who now rest in the Holy Cross church.

The third was in the sector of the agricultural colony, an old leprosarium. In this place was buried in 2013, Papiano Ika, the last of the leprosy patients who was left with serious sequelae and remained living in the lands until his death.

A tomb with a moai statue holding a cross at the Easter Island cemetery

A tomb with a moai statue holding a cross

The current cemetery is on the west coast, very close to Tahai, 30 meters from the sea and was inaugurated in 1951. In addition to the church of Santa Cruz, the cemetery is another place where it is possible to appreciate the religious syncretism of the Easter Island. Some of the tombstones are adorned with motifs that combine Christian and Rapa Nui iconography.

Thus can be found figures of moai holding a cross, reliefs of the Birdman or Tangata Manu, of the divinity Make Make and wooden benches with engravings that imitate the Rongo Rongo tablets.

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There are no clear records from which year burials are made in the cemetery. There is also no history of the number of graves, because when the land was used, it was not customary to write the date of death.

Due to natural events that affected the former graveyard, it is possible to find graves from the early twentieth century. The first person buried at this site in 1940 was a Chilean sailor, José Paredes González, who had previously been buried in a cave near Anakena.

Famous Rapanui people lie here

Keva Matoto'a's tomb at the Easter Island cemetery

Keva Matoto’a’s tomb

Important figures in the history of Rapa Nui lie here such as Uka A’Hey A’Rero (wife of King Atamu Tekena), deceased in 1946. Unfortunately, in recent times have been added two tombs adorned with colorful guitars that attract attention. These are the small mausoleums dedicated to Robert Pakomio (known as Rockberto) and Keva Matoto’a Atan, leader of the Matato’a group. Both were two of the most relevant figures in contemporary rapanui music.

In the center of the cemetery, there is a large cross of red scoria sculpted on an old pukao (headdress worn over the heads) of the moai statue of the Ahu Ko Te Riki, located at Tahai Ceremonial Center.

A cross carved on a pukao at the Easter Island cemetery

A cross carved on a pukao

In Rapa Nui, with 5,600 inhabitants according to the last census and 25 deaths during 2012, the most common cause of death are cardiovascular accidents, events in which the sick are often transferred to Santiago de Chile. In cases where the patient dies in the capital, his remains are transferred to the island.

On the island there is a belief that when there is a series of very frequent deaths of elderly people, they will not stop until a child or young person dies.

Funerals are held in the church of Santa Cruz and then the funeral procession accompanies the coffin on the street Te Pito or Te Henua until the coastal road and reach the cemetery. There are no funeral companies on the island, so the relatives have to take care of all details of the funeral, from the construction of the coffin to the transfer to the cemetery. The deceased are always buried with their heads facing the Pacific.

Access to the graveyard is free and you can walk through the aisles to observe the tombstones, always maintaining the due respect that the place demands.

How to get to the Tahai cemetery

Address: Policarpo Toro Street – Hanga Roa

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