How Easter Island Got Its Name
Photo: Erik R. Trinidad
This Easter holiday, you may (or may not) be wondering about one thing: just how did Easter Island get its name? One of the world’s most remote inhabited islands — famous for its stone moai statues — also goes by its Polynesian name Rapa Nui. So where did this “Easter” business come from?
It was in the early 18th century when Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen was sailing the south Pacific. In his exploration, he “discovered” the island on Sunday, April 5, 1722 — which just so happened to be Easter that year on the Christian calendar. In honor of the day, he named the Polynesian island Paasch-Eyland — Dutch for “Easter Island” — and its name stuck throughout the centuries in different translations. In fact, Easter Island is now under jurisdiction of Spanish-speaking Chile, where it is known as Isla de Pascua.
Surprisingly, “Rapa Nui” is a name which came after the arrival of the Dutch and the name “Easter Island.” The island became a center of slave trading with South American countries, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century when “Rapa Nui” — or “Big Rapa” — was used as a name when categorizing people, to distinguish it from other south Pacific islands using the word “rapa.”
Thankfully slavery is abolished there, and its inhabitants mostly use the Easter moniker. (Coincidentally, it’s a mostly Christian island.) If you travel there, marvel at the moai statues — just don’t expect to see any bunny rabbits or Easter baskets year-round.