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Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island, by William J. Thompson, [1891], at


Previous to the general recognition of the name bestowed by Admiral Roggeveen in commemoration of the day upon which the land was discovered, it had not been regularly christened by either of the earlier navigators who claimed to have sighted it. The Spaniards afterwards gave it the name of San Carlos, but the Dutchman's title of Easter Island was preferred by the chart-makers and was adopted by the world in general.

The island is known to the natives as "Te Pito te Henua," the literal interpretation of the words signifying the "navel and uterus." This singular name was given to the land, according to the ancient traditions, by Hotu Metua immediately after its discovery, and has been handed down through succeeding generations unchanged. To the simple-minded Polynesian this name is suggestive, appropriate, and beautiful. The child of nature recognizing the volcanic origin of the island can see in the great volcano, Rana Roraka, a resemblance to the human "te pito" in relation to its shape and gently sloping sides surrounding the shallow crater. The same association of ideas would picture the majestic volcano, Rana Kao, at the southwest end, as "te henua," in whose womb was conceived the embryo and whose vitals brought forth the rocks and earth from which the island was formed.

"Kiti te eiranga" is stated by an English writer of some note to be the native name for the island, but we could not find any authority for it, nor did the natives with whom we came in contact recognize the name.

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Throughout southeastern Polynesia this island is known as Rapa Nui, but the name is of accidental origin and only traces back about twenty years. When the islanders, kidnaped by the Peruvians, were being returned to their homes, there was for a time a question as to the identity of those from Easter Island. The native name of "Te Pito te Henua" was not recognized by the French officials, and finding certain fellow-sufferers hailing from Oparo, an island lying 2,000 miles to the westward, were more successful under the local appellation of Rapa iti (Little Rapa), the euphonious title was dropped and Rapa nui (Great Rapa) substituted. Teapy, Waihu, and various other names have been given to the island, but clearly without warrant. Vaihu was the name of a district and was occupied by the most powerful clan in the days of Cook and La Pérouse, but it was never applied to the entire island.

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