Easter Island was discovered by Europeans in 1772, attacked by Peruvian slave ships in 1862 and later devastated by epidemic diseases. Sadly much of the island's musical traditions disappeared along with the population.
The traditional genealogy of Easter Island has its origins in the recorded myths and legends of the early settlers who first came and settled on Easter Island. Legend has it that this settlement resulted either from a supernatural being called Uoke or the dreams of Hau Maka. The name of Hau Maka is one of the few old ones still remembered today. His memory is kept alive in a song which recounts part of the legend:
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The music of Easter Island has a most distinctive Tahitian influence and comprises traditional singing and chanting. In this sense, every family forms a choir. Each of these groups vies in imagination with the others in relating the life of the community and thus perpetuating the memory of the Rongorongo. In the past, these groups had come together each year to take part in the contest. Supposedly judged in an unbiased manner, the contest results in disputations and quarrels which can go on until the following year and the next contest.
In the early days, these groups were accompanied by the conch-shell trumpet with rhythm being provided by a dancer leaping on a thin stone slab set over a pit containing a large calabash resonator. It is also believed that in the early days stone castanets were also used. Unfortunately, none of these instruments remain in use today and singers are now accompanied by guitars. In common with other Polynesians, the traditional music also forms the basis for the dance and several examples of this are shown below:
Sau-sau and chorus.
The dance of the incompetent bride.
Contemporary Easter Island music tells stories about the arrival and departure of loved ones, the story of the new bride which praises marriage, the villages, the sunrise and the wind blowing on the island. There are also songs which are concerned with the past, the Rongorongo tradition which traces the history of the family from the very earliest times along with the song of the moai sculptures in which the rhythm is provided by the striking together of two stones, representing the sound of the sculptors of the giant statues at work in the quarries. These songs can all be heard on Jane's Pacific Islands Radio Stations below.
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