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History: Polynesians and Native South American Ancient Cultural Exchanges in Easter Island

BCFOS -- The island was most likely populated by Polynesians who navigated in canoes or catamarans from the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2,600 km (1,600 mi) away) or the Marquesas Islands, 3,200 km (2,000 mi) away. According to some theories, such as the Polynesian Diaspora Theory, there is a possibility that early Polynesian settlers arrived from South America due to their remarkable sea-navigation abilities. 

Theorists have supported this through the agricultural evidence of the sweet potato. The sweet potato was a favored crop found among Polynesian society for generations. But the origins of the sweet potato trace back to South America, proving evidence of interaction at some point in time between these two geographic areas.

When James Cook visited the island, one of his crew members, a Polynesian from Bora Bora, was able to communicate with the Rapa Nui. The language most similar to Rapa Nui is Mangarevan, with an estimated 80 percent similarity in vocabulary. In 1999, a voyage with reconstructed Polynesian boats was able to reach Easter Island from Mangareva in 19 days.


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