index.html Astronomical Utility and Poetic Metaphor in the Rongorongo Lunar Calendar


Gordon Berthin, Michael Berthin
London School of Economics


Existing models of Rongorongo, it would seem, are not adequate to enable translation of the corpus. We wrote this paper to develop a model for the script—vocabulary, syntax and anthropoid glyph deconstruction—which might be used as basis for further translation. Our next paper will show this. Incidental to the purpose of our authorship but valuable to the cause of scholarship, we further developed the current translations of the lunar calendar and addressed deficiencies associated with current models.


Geography and History

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) and its uninhabited islet neighbour Sala y Gomez represent the southeastern extremity of the South Pacific Polynesian archipelago. This region is remote—the westerly distance to the next island cluster (the Pitcairn group) is approximately 2,000 km. To the east, it is about 3,000 km to the Juan Fernandez archipelago off the coast of Chile.  Despite these distances, Rapa Nui was settled in pre-colonial times (500 to 1000 AD) by Polynesians and possibly other ethnic groups. A successful civilization grew upon its tiny 175 square km landmass and the islanders carved the famous Maoi ‘stone statues’ from indigenous volcanic tuff. (Diamond, p.79)

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          Perhaps 200 years before the first European explorers arrived at Rapa Nui, the timber supply on the island became depleted, ending the ‘golden age’ the island. The Europeans found an impoverished people; successive visitors documented the decay and turmoil within the civilization evidenced by the upending of the magnificent stone statues. (Diamond, p. 106-110).

       Variously trading and skirmishing with the Europeans, the Rapa Nui people struggled to maintain their lot. Unfortunately, in the 1860s, acts of genocide all but destroyed the Islanders. Peruvian slave raiders, in search of labourers for domestic and plantation tasks, removed most able-bodied Rapa Nui from Easter Island. Conditions were harsh for the islanders and many persons died. French diplomats and public opinion in South America ultimately led to the repatriation of the few surviving islanders (Englert, p. 151). In yet a further catastrophe the returning islanders brought disease with them and the island population was decimated to perhaps 200 persons or less (Fisher, Rongorongo, p. 8-9).

          Rapa Nui was formally annexed by Chile in 1888. Today it boasts an airport and welcomes over 25,000 tourists per year. There are only a few thousand permanent inhabitants of the island and approximately 70 percent are descendents of the indigenous population (Samagalski,  pp. 210-216).



Rongorongo is the name given to the hieroglyphic script of Rapa Nui.  Nineteenth century scientist and Rapa Nui visitor Miklouho-Maclay proposed the meaning:  Kohau-Rongo-Rongo = “talking wood” (Tumarkin, Fedorova, p. 110) as samples of the script are exclusively found, carved upon slabs of wood. According to lore, the inscriptions were engraved using a shark tooth or obsidian flake. The earliest European explorers made no reference to any form of indigenous writing. Then, in 1864, missionary Eugène Eyraud noticed script covered tablets in the dwellings of some islanders (Gérard, p. 166). In the late 1860s, the visiting Father Gaspard Zumbohm received as a souvenir, a cord of braided hair wrapped around a small piece of wood. His colleague Tepano Jaussen observed the wood to be covered with small, neatly inscribed, hieroglyphics—men, fish, birds, astronomical signs and geometric symbols. He attempted to decipher the inscriptions and also drew international attention to the newfound script (Tumarkin, Fedorova, p. 110,115).

In the following decades, outsiders scoured the island for additional samples of the hieroglyphics. Today, 26 wooden Rongorongo artifacts are known—catalogued both by the letters of the Alphabet and ‘common names’ typically associated with traditional use or current location. The total corpus of Rongorongo comprises approximately 12,500 glyphs. The prominent researcher Thomas Barthel suggested an ‘alphabet’ of approximately 120 unique symbols—compounded, affixed or infixed to produce upwards of 1,500 to 2,000 logographs (Fisher, Rongorongo, p. 234). A peculiarity of Rongorongo is that it is boustrophedon (Greek for ‘ox turning’).  Alternate lines are inscribed upside down such that the tablet must be inverted each time a line is completed, in order to read the next line (Gérard, p. 167).


The Lost Script

All persons literate in Rongorongo apparently perished during the time of de-population of the island and the tablets ceased to be of use to the surviving islanders.  Thompson, an early investigator, elicited that the tablets had been used to record folk stories (Thompson, pp. 514-526) but his informant Ure Vaieko could not match specific Rongorongo glyphs to the lore that was purported to be represented (Thompson, p. 517).  Over one hundred years later today and notwithstanding the work of investigators such as Fischer and Rjabchikov, there remains a paucity of Rongorongo translations. The only verifiable texts are a Lunar Calendar on the Marami tablet and a possible genealogy on the Small Santiago Tablet (Knosorov & Butinov, p. 15).

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Whether because of the beauty of the script, its Polynesian character or its similarity to caricature illustration or animation (Mizon, p. 1) there continues to be a high degree of interest in Rongorongo.  It is even possible to obtain computer font sets for the script and these are of value for both recreational and research purposes.


Attempts to Translate Rongorongo

Numerous attempts have been made to translate Rongorongo. The ‘classical’ researchers Jaussen and Thompson relied upon the skills of ‘informed’ Rapa Nui persons—Metoro and Vaeiko respectively. Neither was able to demonstrate matches between claimed content and specific glyph sequences upon the tablets. Vaeiko apparently relied upon memory—Metoro upon imagination (Thompson, p. 517), (Guy, 1999, pp. 125-6).


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We note two recent efforts.  Fisher (1995, pp. 311-312) proposed a connection between the folk chant: “Atua Mata Riri” and Rongorongo signs on the ‘Santiago Staff’ (Rongorongo item I). The most general form of this scheme is a triplet system in which:  [Glyph A with phallic affix] + Glyph B Glyph C (in which glyph C is some ‘progeny’ of A and B). A general reading would be of form “Glyph A creatively associates with Glyph B to produce Glyph C”.  Fischer contends this to be a reasonable basis on which to develop translation of the staff.  In particular, the triplet:  Bird + Fish Sun (see Figure 1) exhibits prima facia agreement with the phrase of Atua Mata Riri “All the birds copulated with all the fish and there was brought forth sun.”


Figure 1: Bird + Fish  Sun Translation of Atua Mata Riri Chant. (Fischer, 1995)

Rjabchikov (1997 citation) has proposed two links between Rongorongo glyph series’ and Rapa Nui folklore. First, he hypothesizes that short excerpts of the Échancrée Tablet (Tablet D) and Small Santiago Tablet (Tablet G) correspond to the Rapu Nui chant "He Timo te Akoako" the “Great Old Words” (Routledge, p. 248), (Fischer, 1994, p. 413, 434).  Second, he proposes that the Keiti and the Aruku-Kurenga tablets correlate with Thor Heyerdahl's records of the Rapanui incantation known as ‘Takapu’ (Rjabchikov, S., 2001, pp. 69-71).


Theories on the Linguistics of Rongorongo

Regarding the mechanisms by which Rongorongo glyphs encode communications, there are nearly as many theories as scholars. Some epigraphers are skeptical that the glyphs encode a written language at all (Buck, pp. 243-245), (Comrie, et. al. p.100). Yet, theoretical mathematics affords support for a language. In known languages, patterns of information repetition conform to Zipf’s law (Shannon, p. 52). Some information units are used frequently; others are used seldom.  A frequency diagram of this law produces a negative power curve of general form P(x) = C/x (Shannon, p. 52) where ‘C’ is a constant and ‘x’ is, in the case of Rongorongo, the glyph classification number (by frequency of occurrence). Figure 2 superimposes the character probability ‘P(x)’ of approximately the first 300 glyphs on the Marami Tablet ‘A side’ onto a ‘best fit’ Zipf’s law curve with  reasonable coincidence.  However, many alternative processes such as music and visual art also have stochastic component, so conformity to Zipf’s law is necessary but not sufficient proof of language.

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A Syllabary

A credible minority of scholars such as Fedorova (Fischer 1997, Rongorongo, p. 204) Pozdniakov (Pozdniakov, p. 301-303) and Rjabchikov (1987, p.361) contend that Rongorongo is a type of syllabary (see Figure 1). With the exception of the small offerings of Rjabchikov this hypothesis has not afforded a means of translation.


A Memory Aid

Symbols serve as mnemonic guides to a cantor and may or may not carry consistent values from one Rongorongo board to the next or even one sentence to the next. The works of T. Jaussen (Routledge, p. 247), H. Lavachery and M-C. Laroche (Fischer, 1997, p. 163) advocate the mnemonic hypothesis. To paraphrase unpublished work attributed to Jacques Guy as it pertains to mnemonic scripts; a red hooded girl and wolf could be sufficient to elicit a description of the story of Red Riding Hood. By contrast, a red shoed girl, with scarecrow, robot, lion and dog may be sufficient to encode the story of the Wizard of Oz.


A Semiotic/Logographic Model

This paradigm envisions a ‘Chinese’ type system in which each character represents a concept. It has been supported by the works of investigators such as Miclouho-MacLay (Tumarkin &. Fedorova p. 112), Englert (Englert, p. 80), Barthel (Fischer, 1997, Rongorongo, p. 234) and Fischer (Fischer, 1997, Glyphbreaker, pp. 215-218). Using this model, scholars Krupa (Krupa, pp. 8-9) and Guy (Guy, 1991, pp. 135-147) attained some success in translation of the Lunar Calendar of tablet Marami.   The limitations of the work of Krupa have been documented (Guy, p. 146).   The work of Guy, likewise, leaves opportunity for further development.





Insofar as the Marami Lunar Calendar is the longest sequence of Rongorongo for which some consensus exists with respect to content; the calendar presents a logical starting point upon which to build knowledge of the script.  We shall re-visit and extend the calendar translations of Guy and Krupa. In support of ongoing epigraphic work, we shall develop vocabulary and syntactic understanding of the script.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 90


Physical Layout

The Marami Tablet A Side comprises an odd number of lines of inscription such that only one edge line presents itself in proper orientation to the reader. This is the starting line and the direction of reading is left to right (as determined from current decipherments of the Lunar Calendar). The calendar begins approximately 200 glyphs beyond this starting point. It is approximately 100 glyphs in length, lacks punctuation and there is no consensus as to exactly where it ends.  Our interpretation ends two glyphs beyond Guy’s and seven glyphs prior to Krupa’s (Guy, p. 136), (Krupa, p. 8).





Lunar Calendar Glyph Types

Guy notes glyphs of similar morphology within the lunar calendar sequence. He proposes the following divisions. (Guy, pp. 139-145).

I:  Representations of the moon—crescent or full—lunar horns point to the right.

II: Single glyphs beside type I moons and, therefore, possible descriptors.

III:  Discoursing Anthropoid or Zoomorphic characters in possession of a crescent moon (lunar horns point left).

IV:  A quartet of glyphs consisting of a bird, sun, cord and fish.

V:  A glyph series at the end of the calendar enclosing the final two ‘Type I’ moons.

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Type I Glyphs 

This glyph type (shown in Table 2) is a crescent moon—horns point right. Per Guy (p. 145) each Type I crescent moon (Barthel no. 40A) serves as “a count of one night” in the Lunar Calendar.  There are thirty glyphs of this type in total—conforming approximately to the length of the lunar month—29.53 days. Instead of crescents, the fourteenth and fifteenth Type I moons are modified to show the ‘almost full moon and then the ‘full moon’ —classic semiotic depictions!  Additionally, the last two crescents in the calendar are separated from the others by unusual Type V glyphs.  This division has been interpreted to mean that these two moons are ‘extras’. The lunar month would, therefore, have either 28, 29 or 30 days.  Modern lunar calendars such as Hebrew or Muslim incorporate systems of 29 and 30-day lunar months.  Frequent addition of one or two ‘intercalary moons’ to a core 28-day calendar (Guy, p. 140) would have enabled the Rapa Nui to match moon phases with calendar predictions. 


Type II Glyphs  

Guy (pp. 143-4) and Krupa (pp. 8-9) hypothesize an adjective format for Type II glyphs. Guy matches these signs to the traditional Pasquan night names (some nights of the lunar month had specific names; others did not).  He proposes glyph readings, which are alternatively semiotic, phonetic aid and mnemonic.  We perceive his night sequence Ohua, Atua,  Maure (Maturity, Lordship/Backbone, Penis/Flame) to be a semiotic match with the equivalent night modifiers of the indiginous Pasquan calendar. Yet, several ‘named’ Pasquan moons such as ‘Maharu’ and ‘Ina-ira’ are unadorned by Type II glyphs when they appear in the Rongorongo calendar so there is no imperative to match every special night name to a glyph.  We, therefore, propose the Type II adjectives to be astronomical or metaphorical. Whereas Krupa (p. 8-9) compared the endowment of the moon to the provision by the god ‘Tane’ for the tribe Marama, we see a possible metaphor in which the luminous phases of the moon represent the life cycle of a human.  Table 2 compares our Type II glyph interpretations to the ones advanced by Krupa and Guy.  Excepting the ‘Rongo’ and ‘Rongorongo’ descriptors we note that a completely semiotic interpretation of the glyphs is sufficient to elicit a plausible translation.


Type III Glyph Types   

Type III glyphs (Figure 3) have been shown to be amenable to semiotic interpretation.  Both Krupa and Guy offer good interpretations of these anthropoid pairs.  Krupa (p. 8) proposes the translation “feast of the deity of the moon” for the ‘snowman’ type anthropoid (Barthel 390) that holds the “horns right” moon (Barthel 41). Possession of the moon is associated with the concept of ‘having’ or ‘being’ the moon. Guy (p. 143) matches various verb definitions to the postures of the anthropoid companion of the ‘snowman’.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 92


Plausible translation easily follows the work of Krupa and Guy. We may generalize Krupa’s interpretation from ‘deity’ to ‘being’ (Rapa Nui ‘he’) and accept Guy’s proposals prima facia.  The glyph morphologies then afford suitable guidance for interpretation. We decompose these anthropoid glyphs into limbs, present a face value description of the action of each member and finally generate a high level translation for the whole anthropoid. Figure 3, illustrates this process and shows a typical Type III glyph group interpretation: “Speak of the being of the moon?!  Reply (seated):  Observe division of the moon.”

There is a single zoomorph within the Type III grouping that immediately follows the full moon. A ‘frigate bird head’ replaces the ‘talking head’ on the ‘snowman’ glyph (Barthel 690 versus 390). Guy (p. 143) says little of this anomaly; Krupa terms it “precious” (Krupa, p.9). Yet, by fixing into the ‘snowman’ glyph the accepted value ‘Taha’ (Guy, p. 144) (aged, great) of the frigate bird glyph (Barthel 600) we modify the interpretation from “Speak of the being of the moon.” to “Great/Aging is the moon”. The modification is appropriate, following as it does, the fullness of the moon. It affirms the efficacy of semiotic interpretation of the anthropoids.  Moreover it supports the general conclusions principally advanced by Barthel (Fischer Rongorongo p. 234) and previously noted, that Rongorongo is divisible into, perhaps, 120 (or fewer) logographic/semiotic subcomponents, which can then be re-assembled into thousands of combinations having corresponding numbers of unique meanings.

Let us re-state the observation and conclusions of Guy  (pp. 144-145).  The Type III glyph groups incorporate moons having horns which face left (Barthel 41).  This form of the moon glyph apparently means, “satellite of the earth” rather than the Type I interpretation of “count one lunar night”. We conclude, therefore, that glyph orientation is significant in Rongorongo. A change in orientation may denote a change in grammatical function, or meaning, or both.

Corollary to our last point, we note that the Type III anthropoids face each other—open mouthed as if conversing. One appears to make a statement; the other responds. The context of these anthropoids is consistent with a role of prefacing each of the eight verses of the calendar—offering notes to the cantor.  Because these glyphs are morphologically repetitious there is not much opportunity for subject development.

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Type IV Glyphs

Astronomical in apparent function; Type IV glyphs are most difficult to interpret.  Guy (p. 141) remarks that the concluding glyph within this group (the fish) points ‘head upward’ when the moon is waxing and ‘head down’ when the moon is waning. He proposes the glyph to signify waxing and waning. Per Table 1, the Rapa Nui word ‘ika’ means ‘fish’, ‘wounded’ or ‘destined to die’—a rebus yet credible translation.

Guy and Krupa assign just one value to the sun glyph (second position Type IV) wherever it occurs in the calendar.  Guy interprets the sun to represent the intensity of moonlight. If the next fish glyph is ‘head up’ then the light increases; if ‘head down’ (ika) then light decreases. (Guy, p. 147-8). Krupa everywhere translates: “The rays of the fair sun are asleep (or dead)” (Krupa, p. 8-9).  Within the calendar we note three forms of the sun glyph. In its first two occurrences the sun stands proud—contacting the adjacent ‘cord’ glyph (Figure 4). Next it leans and then it ‘falls’ from the cord glyph. Finally, (last 3 occurrences) the cord glyph bends and re-connects to the fallen sun along one of the solar ‘rays’. In a critique of Krupa, Guy (p. 146) notes the phases of moon.  The moon and sun enter conjunction when the moon is new, and the two bodies go into opposition (opposite sides of the earth) when the moon is full. This explanation affords a possible interpretation of the three forms of the sun glyph. The initial and final postures of the sun represent ‘near conjunction positions with the moon’. The falling away of the sun in the middle of the calendar represents the ‘out of phase’ situation associated with the full moon. The sun is down when the moon is up and vice versa. The reconnection of the sun to the cord represents the returning to conjunction.

We conclude with review of the initial Type IV glyph—the ‘lanky bird’ (Barthel    v631B). Krupa (pp. 8-9) proposes this glyph to be a representation of Tane—the Polynesian god of light and forests. According to lore, the heavens and earth were originally embraced together. Tane was squeezed between heaven and earth and finally pushed them apart with his strong legs. Later he threw lights into the sky (sun, moon and stars) for the benefit of ‘Rangi’ (sky)—god of the heavens (Grey 1956:2-3). In this context it is possible to translate the Type IV bird as a logographic glyph. Type IV glyphs present a description of the state of the sky—the handiwork of Tane. Using this paradigm we may interpret the reverse orientation of the Tane glyph that immediately follows the full moon. In this instance the turn of Tane, presumably denotes the one time change in lunar illumination.  Progressing past full moon in the lunar cycle, in the southern hemisphere, the horns of the night moon shift from left facing to right facing.


Type V Glyphs  

The Type V glyph set is represented by Krupa as the analogy of an aged woman entering the “waters of matrimony.” Guy, proposes Type V glyphs to represent names for intercalary moons (p. 145). As Type V lacks the multiple occurrences that are characteristic of the other glyph groups, the hypothesis of Guy (that the last two calendar moons are to be regarded differently from the others) is plausible.  Yet, data collected by Guy do not support his interpretation. Guy proposes that the intercalary moons are to be added immediately following the two calendar occurrences of small (gibbous?) moons (Barthel 41h), which approximately ‘bracket’ the full moon. In association with the historic Pasquan lunar calendar, Guy (p. 139-40) cites Thompson and Metraux and demonstrates the addition ‘Hotu’ (the first intercalary moon) at its predicted place—following Atua Moon and Barthel 41h glyph. Regarding the second intercalary moon (Hiro), Guy’s data sources (Englert and Metraux) place the crescent at the conclusion of the calendar—not by the second Barthel 41h moon. To be functional, the calendar must properly specify the locations of the intercalary moons. We propose that such instruction is the function of the Type V glyphs and suggest an interpretation as follows.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 94

The concluding, mostly Type V glyphs, shown in Figure 4, are:

*        (Barthel 280) a turtle ‘Honu’ (Guy, 1990, p. 145), (Rjabchikov, 1997, p. 363)

*        two seated, speaking anthropoids—mirror images of each other (Barthel 385 )

*        two Type I moons

*        Krupa’s “old woman” (Barthel 520)

*        a stylized circle (Barthel 70)

Reviewing Rapa Nui lore, Kjellgern ( notes that the finding of a turtle represented a great prize, as both meat and shell were valued.



Kaulins (p.22) recounts a practice whereby maritime explorers of old would tie a rope to a sea turtle—knowing that it would swim to the nearest land. Considering that the turtle is associated with finding something of value we propose for the Honu glyph the definition of ‘find or windfall’ as opposed to the semiotic value of ‘turtle.’

As with the other anthropoids, we may translate the ‘twins’ prima facia. We know the translation of the two Type I style moons—two lunar night counts. The descriptive noun ‘old woman’ may be a satisfactory semiotic interpretation of the second last Type V glyph and we note the apparent hair braid on the right side of the head.  However, we also note that the left side of the head is characteristic of what is identified as the glyph for ‘man’ or ‘son’ in the Jaussen List ( /~trance/jaussen.html).  The glyph may combine both male and female qualities. On that account, the terms ’parent’, or ‘keeper’ would afford a more general definition.

The final glyph, circular as it is, could certainly stand as a semiotic representation of a completed cycle—in this case the lunar month. The gist of the Type V translation becomes, therefore, “find two moons; ‘parent’ them into the cycle.”

We may put our full interpretation to paper (Figure 5) and render a full translation of the Rongorongo Lunar Calendar. Subscripted Barthel numbers facilitate glyph matching.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 95


Figure 5: Marami Lunar Calendar and Proposed Translation

|Speak of  the being|390 [of the] |moon| 41.
|Reply: Enter. Observe dividing|315y [the] |moon.| 41
|Tane ordains:| v631B |Full sunshine|8—
|on the silver cord.|78
|Engorging  (increasing)| 711 | dawn shadowa| 10
|Moon| 40A (Ata).  |Moon.| 40A (Ari).
|Recite the forming [of the] lunar calendar |v30A
(Maramataka Rongorongo).
|Speak [of the] being|390 [of the] |moon.|41
|Seated, tell [of the] dividings, the feeding|378y
[of the] |moon|41:
|Moon| 40A (Kokoreb Tahi), |Moon| 40A
(Kokore Rua), |Moon| 40A (Kokore Toru),
|Moon| 40A (Kokore Haa), Moon| 40A (Kokore
 Rima), |Moon| 40A (Kokore Ono).
|Speak [of the ] being|390 [of the ] moon.|41
|Reply, seated, while dividing|378y |the moon.|41
|See Tane’s progress.|v671 |Full sunshine on|8
|the silver cord.|78 |Increasing|711 |Moon|40A (Maharu). |Maturing|74D (Hua) |Moon|40A.
|Backboned/ruler|59A (Atua) [of the] |Pregnant Moon|40B.  {A possible allusion to the authority to deploy the Hotu interalary moon (Guy, p.139).}
|Tell [of] seeing [the] being|390 [of the] |moon.|41
|Reply seated.  Observe dividings |378y
[of the] |gibbous moon|41h.
|Tane ordains|v631B |sunshine low.|8
|Bending silver cord:|78 |Engorging,|711
|Male virility|76 |Moon|40A (Maure).  |Moon| 40A (Ina Ire). |Almost full Moon|143 (Rakau), |Full
Moon|152 (Omotohi). {Semiotic Polynesian oven ‘Umu’ and cook (Guy, p. 136 )—a feast sign!}.
|Great/Aging—the being|690 [of the] |moon?!|41
|Seated, Speak it:  Observe dividings|378y
[of the] |five lined/unfinished moon(s) c|41
[by] |Tane turned.| v631By |Fallen sunshine.| 8
|The Silver Cord: |78  |Waning/wounded.|711x (Ika)
{|Moon| 40A  (Kokore Tahi), |Moon| 40A (Kokore
Rua), |Moon| 40A  (Kokore Toru), |Moon| 40A (Kokore Haa), |Moon| 40A (Kokore Rima).
|Speak [of the] being|390 [of the] |moon.|41 Reply seated. Observe dividings|378y [of the] |gibbous moon.|41h |Tane ordains|v631B |sun below;|8 |bending silver cord;|78, |wounded/waning.|711x  |Moon|40A (Tapume).  |Moon|40A (Matua). |Harbinger|3 (Rongo) |Moon|40A.
|Speak [of the] being|390 [of the] |moon.|41 |Reply seated. Observe dividings|378y [of the] |moon.|41h |Tane ordains|v631B |sun below;|8 |bending silver cord;|78, |wounded/waning.|711x   |Aged/leaning:|600 (Taha) |Moon| 40A (Rongo Tane), |Moon| 40A, (Mauri Nui), |Moon| 40A, (Mutu),  |Moon| 40A (Tireo).

|Speak [of the] being|390 [of the] |moon.|41
|Reply seated.  Observe dividings|378y [of the] |moon.|41h
|Tane ordains|v631B |more sun below;|8 |bending silver cord.e|78 |Wounded/waning.|711x
|A find!|280  (honu:  turtle)
|Speak [of] it:  Observe.|385y
|Elderly man, speak seated: Observe.|385
|Moon| 40A  ( Hotu ), |Moon| 40A (Hiro).
|Enter:  The parent|520 (keeper) [of the] |cycle.| 70

AS/SA nº 18, p. 96

a. Semiotic depiction of embryo = ‘ata’.  But its very poetic rebus ‘shadow’ is âta.

b. Unnamed moons. ‘Kokore’ = void. Tahi Kokore, Rua Kokore imply first and second voids and so on. (Guy, p. 145).

c. The lines through this moon are only apparent on high quality photographs of the tablet. We propose them to indicate that the moon is diminished from full luminosity.

d. Again, poetic license. The glyph has the form of an older gentleman. 

e. The silver cord probably represents ‘rangi’ (sky) in the astronomical sense.


This model of the Rongorongo Lunar Calendar builds upon the work of Guy.  We relate variations in morphology of the ‘sun glyph’ to the relative positions of the sun and moon during the lunar month. Also, we attain conformity between the calendar and the documented practice of adding intercalary moons slightly prior to the full moon and then again, if necessary, at the conclusion of the lunar month. Finally we unearth the possibility that the three calendar strings of ‘void count’ moons may, of old, have borne group titles. These labels are to the effect of ‘ingesting calendar builders’ for the ‘new moon-kokore’ group, ‘unfinished moons’ for the post-full-moon group, and ‘long-in-the tooth moons’ for the concluding group.

Those of literary bent may find a splendid work of Polynesian verse, matching Krupa’s interpretation in meter and eight-stanza regularity yet thematically diverse from his poetry. The moon is initially a baby (‘Ata’ – tiny, dawn shadow).  The years (days) are accounted and it eats and grows. Maturity (Ohua), strength and power (Atua) then sexual activity (pregnant moon and Maure moon) occur in rapid order. Yet the feasting (full moon-Umu) of the prime of life is accompanied by loss of the blessings of innocence—(falling of the sun glyph or opposition of the sun and moon). Waning strength (Ika) and aging (Taha) are the lot of the remaining years (days) and the quest for meaning in life (bent silver cord tugging at a fallen sun) is never quite realized.  On occasion there is the endowment of long life (finding extra moons) but the appointment with the ‘time keeper’ is the ultimate fate of all.  

We affirm semiotic interpretation of Rongorongo glyphs to be a useful tool for translation. Indeed, a beautiful yet enigmatic feature of the script is, apparently, the modification of morphology to adjust meaning’. Witness the three sun variants and the ‘old man’ glyph form that immediately precedes the final two Type I moon glyphs.   At the other extreme, the anthropoid glyphs appear to be constrained by fairly rigid rules of conjugation.  As such, these particular glyph types should afford a key to further translation.

 We find no evidence for phonetic or syllaballic component of the script. Banes to semiotic translation, we do find rebuses (Krupa, p. 2) and logographs—Rongorongo is chock full of them. Four examples of rebuses are Ikafish, wound, dying; Tahafrigate bird, great, aging; AtuaBack, behind, lord, god; and Rongo Rongo double harbinger, recite. Logographs manifest themselves in the form of Tane (bird god) as a proxy for ‘position of sun and moon’, Honu (turtle) as a proxy for ‘finds or endowments’ and Rongo (rope with knots) to represent ‘related future events’. Concerning translation of such glyphs the advantage is to epigraphers knowledgeable of Pasquan language and lore. Yet, any competent scholar can master such pre-requisites. Moreover, as we have demonstrated, each successive translation realizes the benefit of the efforts of scholars who have gone before. Therefore, those Rongorongo glyph sequences, which are primarily semiotic, ought to be amenable to interpretation. To that end we are currently perusing the corpus in search of passages that display a pictorial match with Pasquan folk narratives. For the present time, however, the Lunar Calendar remains an isolate in translation – a beautiful, solitary specimen of indigenous Polynesian literary achievement.

AS/SA nº 18, p. 97


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