Here is a description of the flag accompanied by a brief history of the island's native inhabitants:
The inhabitants of this charming and mysterious place called their land Te Pito o TeHenua, "the navel of the world." Ancient master navigators who settled the island related stories of a great flood when all humans perished and nothing alive was left above the sea except the navel of the world and its people. Other pre-historic tales mentioned that they were the only people on the world.
However, these inhabitants â€” cut off in one of the loneliest place of the globe â€” created a complex and prosperous culture. In 1722 a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggeveen, sighted and visited the island. This happened to be on a Sunday, Easter Sunday to be precise; and the name stuck: Easter Island ("Isla de Pascua" in Spanish). And since then, what Roggeveen saw has captured the imagination of every visitor.
Today's inhabitants are of Polynesian descent, but for decades anthropologists have argued the true origins of these people â€” some claiming that ancient South-American mariners settled the island first. According to Dr. William Mulloy, an archeologist who studied Easter Island for many years, ". . . .anybody who got here, in prehistoric times, was lost and had to stay."
Sadly and much later, what many explorers who visited the island found was a scattered population with almost no culture they could remember and without any links to the outside world. The Easter Islanders were easy prey for 19th-Century slave traders which depreciated even more their precarious culture, knowledge of the past and skills of the ancestors. Today the knowledge of belonging is much more in evidence.
After decades of neglecting traditional art forms, Easter Islanders have begun to take pride in their heritage. In On Giants of Easter Island
by Charles Lebaron, a more in-depth study of the culture and research done on the Easter Islanders is presented. The Polynesian name of the island is Rapanui, which is a name given by a Tahitian visitor in the 19th century who says that the island looked like the Tahitian island of "Rapa" but bigger: "Nui."
With this clear Polynesian connection, symbols and elements began to be used by the islanders. The first flag-like object we have knowledge to be used by the natives was ". . . .the 'Te-reva,' which means 'to hang' in Polynesian," writes Grant McCall from the University of New South Wales. McCall also added that "Te-reva is the name used for such standards in Tahiti. One of such Te-reva is preserved in the Museum of Valparaiso in Chile. The banner has on it many devices of Polynesian origins, like the paoa (warrior's paddle or club) on each side; two facing Tangata Manu, or bird men; and two Reimiro."
However the most striking symbol of the island is absent on the flags: the famous Moai, monolithic statues carved from the island rock. The Moai are seen all over the island in different shapes, sizes and stages of completion. Many Moai are left unfinished at the quarry site. No one is sure yet as to what purposes did the Moai serve, but outside scholarly research together with accumulated local knowledge shows evidence that the Moai were carved by the ancestors of the present inhabitants. Ron Fisher in his work Easter Island: Brooding Sentinels of Stone
mentions as one explanation for the statues that ". . . .two classes of people, the so-called Long Ears and Short Ears, lived on the island. The Short Ears were enslaved by the Long Ears, who forced the Short Ears to carve the Moai. After many generations and during a rebellion the Short Ears surprised the Long Ears killing them all, which explains the abrupt end of the statue-carving."
Perhaps this is the reason as to why the Moai were not chosen as a symbol of Rapanui, since the Moai are a representation of oppression and slavery. Further, the tourist industry and commercialization of the island since the mid 1970s have made the Moai a very commercialized artifact. On the other hand, the Reimiro is presently used as the main and sole device of the current Rapanui un-official flag. Georgia Lee of the Easter Island Foundation describes the Reimiro as ". . . .ancient ceremonial wooden pectorals worn by chiefs. It is of lunette shape with heads on the ends." It is a symbol of kinship and authority. Further to this significance, Grant Mc Call added: "One of the precious surviving samples of Rapanui writing, the Rongo-rongo, is carved on a Reimiro."
The current flag is of a white field with a red Reimiro at the center. The flags are homemade and held in secret. The flag does not represent separatist feelings or intentions, but rather is representative of the Polynesian past and culture of the Rapanuians ("Pascuenses" in Spanish).
But according to Georgia Lee, writing after returning from a recent trip to Rapanui, the Reimiro flag has separatist intentions today; whether or not this was true in the past. "I noted," she goes on, "that on New years Eve 1999/2000, the Rapanui flag was flown by some islanders with the Chilean flag BENEATH it." However the government of Chile, which had given to the island larger autonomy than in the past as well as the means to get connected to the outside world and other Polynesian cultures, isn't supportive of the Reimiro flag. The only official flag allowed to be hoisted is the flag of Chile.=^..^=