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Umu:  the Rapa Nui curanto

The umu is the island’s version of the classic Chilean curanto, a dish that’s served on special occasions and is famous for its not-to-be-missed preparation, which is a show in itself. But, where does it come from and what does the umu, or Rapa Nui curanto, ritual represent? In today’s blog, we explain…


The umu is one of Easter Island’s most traditional culinary preparations. It’s cooked in a similar way to that of the Chilean curanto, which comes from the Chiloe Archipelago. The Rapa Nui people prepare the umu on a number of special occasions. It’s common to see it served at religious celebrations, weddings, or in honor of both newborns and the deceased.

The preparation of this traditional dish is taken on by the entire community and it’s always served to a large number of people. The root of its symbolic significance lies in its ability to successfully gather large numbers of people together, with the sole purpose of sharing a meal.  But, when is it cooked and how is it cooked? Keep reading for the details…


What is it?


The umu is a dish that’s cooked in the ground. First, you must dig a hole in the ground and cover the base with kindling. The next step is to build a pile of volcanic rocks on top of the kindling and set everything alight. As soon as the stones have reached a high temperature, they are covered with banana leaves, and strips of meat and fish are placed on top. Another layer of banana leaves and then a layer of rocks are used to cover the meat and fish, so that the food is cooked from above and from below. The top layer is then covered with vegetables and different kinds of potatoes, and the entire preparation is left to cook slowly for around six hours.


Rapa nui

Umu preparation in Easter Island.


The most famous umu of all time


The most talked about tourist preparation of the umu is the one that’s prepared during the Tapati, an annual celebration, dedicated to the Rapa Nui culture, which is held every year in February. During this celebration, the entire Rapa Nui community comes together to prepare the famous umu and tourists are invited to participate.


A couple of theories


A number of anthropologists who have visited Easter Island have suggested that the similarities between the umu and the curanto from Chiloe are in no way haphazard. Indeed, some studies demonstrate that the first colonizations that took place in the south of Chile were organized by immigrants from the Polynesia. Upon arrival to the island, it is believed that these immigrants adapted the umu in order to make use of local ingredients.

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