Riro Kāinga

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Riro ʻa Kāinga
Riro Kainga Bust.jpg
Bust of Siméon Riro Kāinga at Hanga Roa
King of Rapa Nui
Reign 1892–1898/1899
Predecessor Atamu Tekena
Born Mataveri
Died 1898/1899
Spouse Véronique Mahute
Issue 4
Father Ngure a Pariko
Religion Roman Catholicism

Siméon or Timeone Riro ʻa Kāinga Rokoroko He Tau[1] (died 1898/1899) was the last ‘Ariki or King of Rapa Nui (i. e. Easter Island) from 1892 until his death.[note 1] He ruled the island during a brief period of indigenous autonomy between Chile's initial annexation in 1888 and the reassertion of colonial authority in 1896. He died unexpectedly under the suspicion of poisoning during a diplomatic trip to Chile to discuss the island's sovereignty with the colonial authorities.[2][3]

Early life

Riro Kāinga was born at Mataveri, the son of Ngaure or Ngure, the son of Pariko. His father was a follower of Torometi, a native strongman and supporter of French adventurer, Jean-Baptiste Dutrou-Bornier. He was baptized Siméon or Timeone into the Roman Catholic faith by the French Picpus missionaries on 9 March 1879.[4][5] He was a member of the Miru clan.[4][6][7]

After the 1892 death of Atamu Tekena, who had been appointed as King by the Picpus mission, Riro was one of the candidates for the vacant throne against Enrique Ika a Tuʻu Hati. Although both were of royal descent, his opponent was more closely related to Kerekorio Manu Rangi, the last undisputed ‘ariki mau who had died in a tuberculosis epidemic in 1867.[8] His cousin Maria Angata Veri Tahi 'a Pengo Hare Kohou, a Catholic catechist and prophetess, organized many of the women on the island to support him. He was probably around seventeen or twenty-one years old at the time and was elected mainly because of his good looks and Angata's strong influence.[5][6]


Following his election, Riro adopted the epithet Rokoroko He Tau which had been used by Kerekorio. Angata arranged his marriage to Véronique Hitiairangi Renga Mahute (1874–1947), a Tahitian-born Rapa Nui woman adopted by a Rapa Nui couple who had returned to the island in 1888. They had four children: three sons and one daughter together. His descendants adopted the surname Rikoriko to signify their clan.[4][9]

His predecessor Atamu Tekena had ceded Easter Island to Chile on 9 September 1888 under Captain Policarpo Toro. However, the treaty of annexation was never ratified by Chile and the colony set up by Toro failed. The Chilean government abandoned the settlement in 1892 due to political troubles on the mainland, which was embroiled in the Chilean Civil War of 1891, prompting the Rapa Nui to reassert their independence.[2] Like his predecessor, Riro ruled under a council of native leaders and the influence of the Catholic Church represented by Angata and other native catechists.[5] He also appointed his opponent Ika as his prime minister.[10][11]

It is noted, during this period "the Rapanui under Riro Kāinga restored their government in even clearer forms than before the annexation, to the point where it might indeed have qualified as a State, so that its arbitrary second takeover by Chile in 1896 could be considered legally questionable as well."[12] Unlike his predecessor, he reasserted native rule by standing up against the foreign residents such as Charles Higgins and restored a degree of peace and stability on the island.[6] European diseases and Peruvian slave raids had decimated the native population, and by 1896, the population of the island was about 214 returning from its all-time low of 110 in 1877.[13]

Flag of the Kingdom of Rapa Nui

After four years of neglect, in which no foreign ships visited the island, Chile reasserted its sovereignty in 1896, leasing the island to the Sociedad Ovejera Merlet & Cia (Sheep Society Merlet & Company) under Enrique Merlet, who took over and expanded the island's sheep ranch and appointed Alberto Sánchez Manterola as the company's manager on the island. Sánchez was also appointed the Maritime Sub-Delegate of Easter Island. The company which employed one fourth of the island's population prohibited the display of the Rapa Nui flag and restricted the rights of the native population to the land and animals on the island. The company tricked then into building a 3-metre high wall around Hanga Roa and Moeroa, separating them from the land used for ranching and restricting the Rapa Nui people to the constraint of these walled settlements like human livestock.[2][14]

Merlet personally wrote to Riro calling him an impostor and ordering him to stop calling himself king because he owned the entire island. Despite initially starting off on good terms, the company manager Sánchez did not respect his royal authority either. In 1898, Riro and his men attempted to discuss with Sánchez about problems surrounding the working conditions and wage of his people but was thrown out of the manager's office. In retaliation, the Rapa Nui refused to work until the next Chilean ship could come and abitrate their case. Sánchez and his armed guards marched to Hanga Roa to force them back to work but the islanders refused to comply with the order, disarming one of his men in the confrontation.[5][15]

Death and legacy

In response to these abuses, Riro journeyed to Valparaíso in late 1898 or early 1899 to air his grievances with the Chilean government despite warnings by his people not to go. Accompanying him were the Rapa Nui soldiers of the Maipo Regiment of the Chilean Army: Juan Tepano Rano, Juan Araki Tiʻa, and José Pirivato. They traveled on board of the company's ship Maria Luísa. On the day of their arrival, the regional Intendant offered to forward his case to the government but the king insisted on meeting as equals with Federico Errázuriz Echaurren, the President of Chile. The delegation was hosted by Merlet's men Jeffries and Alfredo Rodríguez at a local tavern and the king was invited to lodge with Rodríguez while the soldiers went to their barracks. During the course of the evening, the king was induced to drink heavily and the next morning his men were informed that he had been sent to Hospital Carlos Van Buren where he died of alcohol poisoning.[2][3] The news of his death did not reach the island until March 1899.[16] Merlet claimed that the young king drank himself to death while Rapa Nui oral tradition asserts that he was poisoned on the orders of Merlet while he was at the hospital. He was buried in a pauper's grave in Valparaíso.[2][3]

Riro Kāinga's cousin Angata, 1914

After Riro's death, Angata took over nominal leadership of the Miru clan and his relatives unsuccessfully attempted to restore the kingship despite Sánchez's orders abrogating the institution and forbidding the islanders from appointing a new king.[note 2] Fearing for her own life, his widow Véronique remarried to a Chilean shepherd on 29 January 1900. In 1914, Angata led an unsuccessful revolt to overthrow the company's control.[2][19] In 1902, Chile appointed Juan Tepano as cacique to head the community in an attempt to end the indigenous resistance.[2][20] However, the independent movement continued on the island up to the present day.[21] His grandson Valentino Riroroko Tuki declared himself as King of Rapa Nui in 2011.[22][23]

In 2006, President Michelle Bachelet repatriated the remains of Riro Kāinga to Easter Island where it was received in a ceremony where the Rapa Nui flag flew alongside the Chilean flag. His surviving grandchildren Benedicto, Valentino, Milagrosa, Ambrosio, Luís and María played a part in the ceremony. A bust of the king was erected by the Chilean Navy in front of the Governor's Office at Hanga Roa.[14][24]

See also


  1. ^ Although Riro Kāinga and his predecessor Atamu Tekena held the title of King, their actual power and legitimacy are in doubt when compared to their predecessors. Historian Alfred Métraux noted,

    Although the islanders of to-day speak of the late kings, Atamu Te Kena and Riroroko, as if they were really kings, informants make it clear that they had very little in common with the ariki of olden days. Their power was of an indefinite, dubious nature, and they seem to have enjoyed none of the prerogatives of former ariki. Perhaps their only claim to the title lay in their descent-line; both belonged to the Miru group. Possibly if native civilization had continued, they might have been true kings. Personal pretension, supported by Chilean officers who needed a responsible intermediary to deal with the population, might have contributed toward the restoration of power to this fictitious and ephemeral royalty.

    — Métraux 1937, p. 42
  2. ^ Enrique Ika was proclaimed king in January 1900 and Moisés Tuʻu Hereveri was briefly elected in 1901 until being ousted in 1902. Rapa Nui historian Cristián Moreno Pakarati noted that these last two individuals have been unjustly forgotten in the historiography about Rapa Nui.[17][18]


  1. ^ Fischer 2005, p. 150.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Gonschor 2008, pp. 66–70.
  3. ^ a b c Fischer 2005, pp. 152–154.
  4. ^ a b c Pakarati 2015a, p. 9.
  5. ^ a b c d McCall 1997, pp. 115–116.
  6. ^ a b c Fischer 2005, p. 147.
  7. ^ Métraux 1937, pp. 41–62.
  8. ^ Fischer 2005, pp. 91–92, 99, 101, 147.
  9. ^ Fischer 2005, pp. 147, 152–154.
  10. ^ Pakarati 2015a, pp. 10, 14.
  11. ^ Pakarati 2015b, pp. 3–14.
  12. ^ Gonschor 2008, p. 94.
  13. ^ Fischer 2005, pp. 152, 188.
  14. ^ a b "Riro ʻa Kāinga". Moe Varua Rapa Nui. May 2010. pp. 5–8. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
  15. ^ Fischer 2005, p. 152.
  16. ^ Pakarati 2015a, p. 13.
  17. ^ Pakarati 2015a, pp. 13–15.
  18. ^ Simonetti, Marcelo (12 November 2011). "El último Rey de la Isla de Pascua". Enlace Mapuche Internacional. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
  19. ^ Fischer 2005, p. 154, 166–172.
  20. ^ Fischer 2005, p. 155.
  21. ^ Gonschor 2008, pp. 126–132, 185–193.
  22. ^ Simonetti, Marcelo (16 October 2011). "Los dominios del rey". La Tercera. Santiago. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
  23. ^ Nelsen, Aaron (30 March 2012). "A Quest for Independence: Who Will Rule Easter Island's Stone Heads?". Time. New York City. Retrieved 26 March 2017. 
  24. ^ Gonschor 2007, p. 244.


  • Fischer, Steven R. (2005). Island at the End of the World: The Turbulent History of Easter Island. London: Reaktion Books. ISBN 978-1-86189-245-4. OCLC 254147531. 
  • Gonschor, Lorenz Rudolf (August 2008). Law as a Tool of Oppression and Liberation: Institutional Histories and Perspectives on Political Independence in Hawaiʻi, Tahiti Nui/French Polynesia and Rapa Nui. Honolulu: University of Hawaii at Manoa. hdl:10125/20375. 
  • Gonschor, Lorenz (2007). Rapa Nui: Issues and Events, 1 July 2005 to 30 June 2006. 19. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, Center for Pacific Islands Studies. pp. 240–247. hdl:10125/13991. 
  • McCall, Grant (September 1997). "Riro Rapu and Rapanui: Refoundations in Easter Island Colonial History" (PDF). Rapa Nui Journal. Los Ocos, CA: The Easter Island Foundation. 11 (3): 112–122. OCLC 197901224. 
  • Métraux, Alfred (June 1937). "The Kings of Easter Island". The Journal of the Polynesian Society. Wellington: The Polynesian Society. 46 (2): 41–62. JSTOR 20702667. OCLC 6015249623. 
  • Pakarati, Cristián Moreno (2015) [2010]. Los últimos 'Ariki Mau y la evolución del poder político en Rapa Nui. 
  • Pakarati, Cristián Moreno (2015). Rebelión, Sumisión y Mediación en Rapa Nui (1896-1915). 
Government offices
Preceded by
Atamu Tekena
King of Rapa Nui
Chilean annexation
Titles in pretence
Chilean annexation King of Rapa Nui
Succeeded by
Enrique Ika
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