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The Tangata manu is the mythology of the Birdman religion and cult which had creator god Makemake and a competition with eggs to choose the birdman who would remain sacred for five months.More recent Rapa Nui mythology includes the story of the epic battle between the Hanau epe and the Hanau momoko.

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The best known aspect of the Rapa Nui culture is the moai, the 887 human figures carved from rock between 12 CE and transported throughout Easter Island.This idea that Rapa Nui society collapsed came out of the imbalance between general resources present on the island, mainly population, timber and food sources, and the energy- and resource-intensive feat of transporting and raising the moai.Food resources may have been scarcer than in other areas of Polynesia because of factors like the cooler climate, lack of rainfall in comparison to other islands in the area, high winds and a lack of biodiversity, leading to common Polynesian crops not faring as well as they would in other areas of the Pacific.Previously, the date of arrival was estimated to be around 700–800 CE, but more-recent evidence from radiocarbon dating supports an arrival date as late as 1200 CE.The Rapa Nui People have been found to be of Polynesian origin through genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA of pre-historic skeletons.Recent protests by the indigenous Rapa Nui on Easter Island against Chilean rule have led to violence against the Rapa Nui by the Chilean police.

Rapa Nui are believed to have settled Easter Island between 3 CE.

Genetic analysis performed by Erik Thorsby and other geneticists in 2007 revealed genetic markers of European and Amerindian origin that suggest that the Rapa Nui had European and Amerindian contributions to their DNA during or before the early 1800s.

Jacob Roggeveen was the first European to record contact with the Rapa Nui.

A common hypothesis is held that the apparent decline of Rapa Nui culture and society before European discovery in 1722 was caused by the over-exploitation of the island’s environment, most notably through deforestation of almost all the island’s trees.

The most prominent proponent of this explanation is Jared Diamond who proposes a scenario for the "ecocide" on Easter Island in his 2005 book Collapse.

The Rapa Nui are the native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean.