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Reign ca 1835–1859
Predecessor Kai Mako‘i
Successor Kai Mako‘i ‘Iti
Died 1859
Issue Kai Mako‘i ‘Iti
Father Kai Mako‘i
Anakena, where Nga‘ara held his annual rongorongo festival.

Nga‘ara[note 1] (reigned from the death of his father, Kai Mako‘i ca. 1835 to his own death just before 1860) was the last great ‘ariki, or paramount chief, of Easter Island, and the last master of rongorongo, the Easter Island script.

Before becoming king, Nga‘ara ran a hare rongorongo (rongorongo school) at ‘Anakena Bay. Generally fathers would teach their sons and any other boys who were interested, and Nga‘ara was the most famous teacher on the island. Boys would study three to five months to learn rongorongo.

At the time he became ‘ariki, the real power on the island lay in the Birdman priests of ‘Orongo. One of the sacred responsibilities of the tuhunga tā (scribes and reciters of rongorongo) seems to have been the recitation or chanting of rongorongo tablets at ‘Orongo during the annual Birdman ceremonies. That quarter of the village was off limits to everyone else during the ceremonies. Nga‘ara sent students, but did not himself attend.[1]

Rongorongo was considered to contain mana (sacred power). For example, chanting a timo (vengeance) tablet could release supernatural powers to kill a murderer. A woman would carry a pure (fertility) tablet while the scribes chanted it to increase her fertility. Tablets were used to increase crops or a catch of fish.[2] Katherine Routledge was told that one of Nga‘ara's tablets, called Kouhau ‘o te Ranga and thought to be Rongorongo text C, was one of a kind and had the power to "give conquest in war" and enslave the conquered.

In order to take control of the island from the Birdman priests of ‘Orongo, Nga‘ara established an annual rongorongo festival at ‘Anakena. Rather than using the tablets for specific ends, it was a festival for the tablets themselves, and it became the most important assembly in pre-missionary times:[3]

The people were assembled at Anakena Bay once each year to hear all of the tablets read. The feast of the tablets was regarded as their most important fête day, and not even war was allowed to interfere with it.

— Thomson (1891:514)

Hundreds attended these festivals. Heuheu staves were brought by all and stuck in the ground where the attendee stood. The tablets were recited from dawn to dusk, with a break for dinner. Nga‘ara presented the reciters with veri tapa cloths.[4] Since the mana of the tablets went through him at this festival, Nga‘ara was able to assert spiritual primacy over the island.

When Nga‘ara died, his son Kai Mako‘i ‘Iti (Kai Mako‘i Jr) took over the festival at ‘Anakena for three years, until he was captured in the great Peruvian slaving raid of 1862. Although the slaves were freed the next year, Kai Mako‘i did not survive to return.


  1. ^ The name Nga‘ara has been variously spelled Gnaara, Gaara, Ngaara, Nga-Ara, Gahara, and Gobara. The letter g is a common convention in the Pacific for the ng-sound [ŋ], and Roussel, the one who transcribed the name as Gahara, frequently used h for glottal stop. Gobara may have been a typo for Gahara. Routledge's informants, some of whom had known the king, supported a pronunciation of [ŋaʔaɾa] Nga‘ara.


  1. ^ Fischer p. 333
  2. ^ Fischer p 331
  3. ^ Fisher, chapter 29, note 11
  4. ^ Routledge