Rongorongo is a form of writing or proto-writing discovered on Easter Island in the Pacific during the 19th century. It was first mentioned in a 1866 report by Eugène Eyraud, who landed on the island in 1864. Many attempts have been made to decipher the script, but none have so far been successful. Some symbols that are thought to represent dates and genealogical information have been identified, although nobody knows how to read them.
A few inscriptions appear carved into stones on Easter Island, and there are 26 wooden objects with texts in Rongorongo on them that were collected on the island during the 19th century. They are now in museums and private collections around the world. Only half of the texts are in good condition and are believed to be authentic. According to oral tradition the script was also written on banana leaves with obsidian flakes or small shark teeth, however no examples survive.
The name Rongorongo means "to recite, to declaim, to chant out" in Rapa Nui, the native language of Easter Island. This possibly comes from the expression kohau motu mo rongorongo (lines incised for chanting out).
It is not known when Rongorongo was invented or by whom. A few of the wooden tablets with inscriptions in have been dated, and the oldest dates back to the early 17th century.
Rongorongo was used until the 1860s, after which knowledge of the script was lost. However during the 1880s a group of elders devised a version of the script called ta'u to decorate carvings to make them more valuable.
Nowadays most Easter Islanders write in Spanish using the Latin alphabet though a few write their own language, Rapa Nui, also with the Latin alphabet.
Information about Rongorongo script
An introduction to Rapa Nui - includes Rapa Nui dictionary
Page last modified: 01.06.21
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