Rapa Nui's festival of culture, music and sport

Haka Pei competition

Haka Pei competition


For two weeks each year...

Tapati is an exotic and uniquely Polynesian – uniquely Rapa Nui – event like no other.  The festival promotes Rapa Nui ancestral customs through song, dance, typical dress, arts, and ancient traditions.  Over the course of two weeks the entire island comes out for a mix of friendly rivalry and celebration of their history and ways.  Individual events happen across the island and along the coast, with a concentration around the village and harbor making them easy to take in.  Typically two or three teams will put forward a contestant hoping to be crowned queen at the end of the festival, selected by mysterious accrual of points earned at each contest.  

Nightly open-air performances will feature the best music and dance performances for nearly 2 weeks.  The festival culminates with an extravagant parade down the main street of the village, with nearly the entire island population either participating or watching.  The queen is typically crowned later that evening following the tallying of final points earned during the parade. 

Many (most) of the individual events at Tapati defy description…  Following is a small sampling of what has been included in recent years.  Other events like a deep sea fishing contest culminate with an enormous fish barbecue that the entire island, including visitors is invited to. 

competitors create costumes made from feathers...

competitors create costumes made from feathers...

native arts

This category might cover everything from traditional cooking demonstrations to weaving mats and hats, wood and stone carving, designing clothes of feathers, mahuate fabric or shells, and more.

He Haka Rarama te Kai Ha’ a’apu: an agricultural exhibit of local flowers and produce where winning entries are judged on size and appearance both – similar to a county fair exhibit here at home.

He tarai mōai: competitors carve small stone moai replicas

He tui korone pipi:  competitors create traditional shell necklaces

He ‘a’ati tui korone tiare o te Uka: competitors crafting flower leis

Takona: traditional body painting using natural pigments where contestants describe the meanings and legends behind their ornamentation on stage one night.

Titinggi Mahauta: costumes made with Mahuate plant fabric are created.

He ‘a’ati tunu kai: a culinary competition of traditional dishes.


music and dance

An elaborate festival stage is constructed in a waterfront park with evening performances under the stars.  Anticipate everything from solo performances, traditional chants, and story telling, to thunderous extravaganzas with over 100 dancers on stage at a time.  Occasionally visiting groups from other islands in Polynesia might perform one evening as well.  It should be noted that virtually none of the evening performances have any English interpretation (and only rarely Spanish interpretation). Schedules are loose and the nights are long, with most shows going until past midnight.  Arrive early to get a seat, which are generally reserved for local dignitaries and "mature" foreign visitors.

Hoka Hako Opo: Music groups vie with each other, testing their choral skills with complex lyrics without repeating themselves.
Riu: Ritual songs that tell legends and epic stories of the culture and history

He ‘a’ati ‘ori tango:  Rapa Nui tango, which bears only minimal resemblance to traditional Argentine tango.  This is one of the few events in modern dress, rather than traditional dress.

He haka rarama te ‘ori o te nā poki:  children’s artistic dance presentation

He riu tuai:  ancient chants

Kai-kai: the telling of stories by string figure or “cat’s cradle”

A’ati ori o te Uka e o te’Aito hai kahu huru huru: couples dancing in costumes of feathers.

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sporting events

The sporting events typically hearken back to early life on the island, including swimming, paddling, fishing for eels, spear fishing, deep sea fishing, canoe and horse races, and more. Other events, like sliding down a volcano seem to be more for fun than anything else… Rather than uniforms competitors are more likely traditionally dressed.

‘A’ati Hoi: an exciting series of horse races run along a dirt road, with riders riding bareback.  It is not clear if it is the horses who actually win, or if it is the jockeys that are moving up in rank in succeeding heats; we think the latter.

A'ati Hoi

A'ati Hoi

Akavena: a multi-mile relay foot race with the competitors running, often barefoot, carrying large stocks of bananas on their shoulders.



Haka Honu: an offshore surf contest with the competitors using reed floats rather than boards

Haka Naru: a traditional bodysurfing contest with competitors using elaborate reed floats as they attempt to outdistance each other while also staying within bounds in a race course.

Haka Pei: Competitors first craft “sleds” by lashing two banana tree trunks together and shaping the leading edge with a machete.  The goal is to travel the farthest, which means reaching crazy speeds, riding down a huge grassy volcanic cone, while laying on your back and unable to see where you are going.  This is the only event that also carries a cash prize for the winning competitor.

He Tautanga:  a javelin (pole with obsidian tip) target throwing competition.

Pora: Dressed with typical outfits competitors swim on a handmade float.

Tau’a: Rapa Nui triathlon taking place in the Rano Raraku crater, consisting of swimming, paddling a tortora reed raft, plus a footrace where the runners are weighted with banana stalks.  Separate races are run by teens, adults, and teams.

Vaka Tuai: Teams recreate traditional Polynesian boats which they then take to sea


The festival dates vary from year to year, but typically Tapati is roughly the first two weeks in February.  Dates are usually set the preceding August. 

blessing before starting the Haka Pei

blessing before starting the Haka Pei