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.
- Type of writing system: unknown
- Direction of writing: boustrophedon (alternating left to right and right to left in horizontal lines)
- Writing media: wood, banana leaves, stone
- The Rongorongo script consists of about 120 symbols, mainly
representations of birds, fish, gods, plants and a variety of
geometric shapes. There are another 480 glyphs that are thought
to be variant forms of these 120.
Some of the symbols used in Rongorongo
Sample text in the Rongorongo script
Information about Rongorongo script
An introduction to Rapa Nui - includes Rapa Nui dictionary