IALA Heritage Lighthouse of the Year 2020 Nominee

Location: Eastern Island (Rapa Nui). Valparaíso region.

Lighthouse Operator: Chilean Navy. Directorate of Maritime Safety, Security and Operations. Chilean Aids to Navigation Service.

Source: Photos as submitted to accompany nomination form by Chilean Navy in 2020

Lighthouse Description and History

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Chilean Navy in 2020)
This lighthouse was inaugurated on November 8, 1985 with the name of “Hanga Oua” with the purpose of guiding safely the ships from mainland Chile to Easter Island, which arrive for logistic resupply and/or development of tourist activities. This island is known worldwide for its Moais, which according to ancestral culture, protect the inhabitants and their culture of this
wonderful island.The original structure of the lighthouse was a four meters high skeleton iron tower, which housed in its upper part a 13-meter directional beacon and at its base, a fiberglass container with the energy source. While it is true that, the signal fulfilled its function of aid to navigation, it contrasted with the harmony of nature and the sculptures that are distributed throughout the island.On November 23, 2017, in the context of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Chilean Navy and the 180th anniversary of the personnel specialized on Aids to Navigation, the lighthouse was rebuilt and reopened as “Navigation Signal of the Chilean Navy Bicentennial”, “MATAROA” (Long Eyes).The new structure differs totally from the one that was installed in 1985 and the typical silhouette of a lighthouse since it complies with a design harmonious with the Easter Island culture, which was approved by the Council of Elders of the Island and built by an island craftsman based on 3 alternatives proposed by the National Maritime Aids to Navigation Service.The remodeling of the “Hanga Oua” lighthouse has a design based on a reinforced concrete structure lined with local volcanic stone, capable of housing a luminous device in a circular opening arranged in its upper part and a solar panel structure to install a photovoltaic panel in its upper right vertex.

It was built in a rectangular shape measuring 5 m high and 2.9 m wide at the front and curved in plan view.

On the front and facing the sea, one of the most important mythological symbols on the island was carved representing the “Tangata Manu” or Birdman, which represents the winner of an extreme traditional competition on Easter Island, which honored the creator god Make-Make.

On the back of the structure towards the center of the island, the figures of the Island and a wind rose are carved in relief.

Reason For Nomination

(Text extracted from nomination form submitted by Chilean Navy in 2020)
Intrinsic Heritage Interest of the Lighthouse

The “Mataroa” lighthouse is on Easter Island which is the westernmost of the oceanic islands off the coast of Chile. It is located 2030 NM west of the Chilean coast with a 163.6 km² area. It has a Polynesian origin population and its languages are Spanish and Pascuense (dialect of Tahitian which has a lot in common with Maori).

The population is concentrated in Hanga Roa, a bay located to the west of the island where the best anchorage can be found and it is in that place where the lighthouse “Mataroa” is located to guide the ships that arrive at the bay and the fishermen who carry out their fishing activities in the area which represents the cornerstone of the population diets.

The island is one of the main tourist destinations of the country due to its beauty and ancestral culture of the “Rapa Nui” ethnic group whose most notable vestige corresponds to huge archaeological monuments known as “Moais”, made of volcanic stone or gray compacted lava, some of which reach 12 meters high arousing interest of the scientific world for centuries.

The construction of this lighthouse is a clear example of the importance of the aids to navigation for the livelihood of the island inhabitants, and also as a cultural element designed in such a way that it would allowed the identification and value of the Rapa Nui culture.

This lighthouse was inaugurated in 1985 with the purpose of guiding safely the ships navigating from continental Chile to Easter Island. However, the old structure was a 4 meters high skeletal tower, which although it met the technical needs of guiding the navigators safely, it turned into “visual pollution” for the island’s surroundings. The national technical administration in charge of the construction of the aid to navigation at the time did not consider an adequate social and cultural approach allowing for years to maintain this skeletal structure, which was transformed into “visual pollution” over the time, not very respectful of the Rapa Nui ethnic group.

Due to the above and because this signal was far from the concept and harmony of the cultural environment typical of the Rapa Nui culture, it was decided to replace its structure. Thus, on November 23, 2017, the signal was reopened, on the occasion of the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Chilean Navy and the 180th anniversary of the Aids to Navigation specialization.

The new structure raised does not look like a lighthouse since it does not consider the colors established in the traditional International Beacon System (only the color of its light and characteristic do). It obeys a design in accordance with the ancestral culture of Easter Island and built with the same type of volcanic rock with which the Moais of the island were built many years ago. So this lighthouse like Moais protects its inhabitants and their culture.

On the other hand, archaeological studies had to be considered in the execution of the works in order to exclude losses of historical vestiges at the site, including: study of soil mechanics and calculation memories in order to know the properties and characteristics of the soil to provide the appropriate structural and constructive solutions and avoid future damages or losses that could affect people or the heritage environment. Finally, and as a way of respecting the cultural activities of the population, a highly- experienced native artisan was hired to build the structure.

The structure has three symbols carved in relief on the volcanic stone, described as follows:

1. The first symbol represents the “Tangata Manu” or Birdman and a hole above the head represents a bird egg, both of which represent one of the main emblems of the Rapa Nui culture and constitute a hallmark of power and honor of its people.

Since ancient times, birds in the Rapa Nui culture are considered as a link between the world of the living and the world of spirits, they are messengers of the spirits, ancestors and gods. Because of that, in ancient times the “Tangata Manu” was held, which consisted of a contest of difficult and extreme physical and valuable evidence, in which the natives competed once a year for their tribe to obtain the military and political power of the island, in addition to the right that its clan had exclusivity in the collection of eggs and chicks from the season seabirds.

The ritual was an annual competition with a representative for each clan, which involved jumps from cliffs, swimming and climbing to obtain the first spring egg laid by the “Manu Tara” in order to honor the creator god “Make Make ” and it culminated in the triumphant investiture of the“ tangata manu ”, the sacred bird-man of Easter Island. The joust was very dangerous and many “hopu manu” or chosen competitors died because of sharks, drowning or falls. Although today the ritual is not performed, the archaeological remains and their legend still persist and feed the exquisite culture of the Island.

Once the winning competitor or “hopu manu” presented the egg, a fire was lit inside the volcano “Rano Kau” whose location announced the whole island if the new “tangata manu” belonged to the western or eastern clans and the winner It became something similar to a divinity.

The “Tangata Manu” carving in the Mataroa lighthouse represents the symbol of the spirit of power and the value of the ancestors and the competitors of yesteryear. At the same time, the hole where the lighthouse’s directional beacon is installed represents the egg and the fires that announced the winner of the competition, as a way to keep alive the ancestral light of the splendid culture of Easter Island.

2. The second is an image of the island oriented towards the interior of the island, in which the three volcanoes in each vertex of the island can be easily visualized. In its native language, the island was known as “Te pito o te henua” or Navel of the World.

The inclusion of this image symbolizes the community’s roots with its culture, the love for its land and a great respect for nature and its monuments that represent the spirit of its ancestors.

3. The third sculpted symbol is a wind rose, which represents the circumference of the always empty horizon that surrounds the island, the remoteness with the continent and the connection of the Island with the rest of the world.

Similarly, consistent with the shield and identification pin of the Organization, it points out the north that the national lighthouse authority (DIRECTEMAR) must always follow as a whole in the exercise and fulfillment of its tasks.


The lighthouse is maintained in a high standard of conservation due to the care provided by the craftsman who built it, its recent construction (structure built at the end of 2017), the care of the Maritime Authority based on the island and periodic maintenance of the National Lighthouse Authority of the Chilean Navy.

Electrically it is a self-sustaining signal using a solar panel to charge an alkaline battery bank, which feeds through a control board, a directional fan that marks the entrance to Hanga Roa Bay.

To preserve their inheritance, the Rapa Nui people administer their culture with zeal and unwavering will through the “Mau Henua” Polynesian Indigenous Community, in charge of enforcing strict respect for their monuments and traditions, both of the visitors and the local community so that according to their customs each member of the community becomes a busy guardian of their culture.

It should be noted that since 1935 Easter Island has been officially proclaimed as a National Historic Monument in all its extension and it is under the tuition and protection of the State of Chile through the Council of National Monuments due to its historical, scientific, commemorative and cultural interest.

In the same way, it is important to indicate that from 1985, the structures of Easter Island and a large part of the Island have been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site thus it has mandatory cultural protection.

Public Access and Education

The lighthouse is on the public highway, very close to the commercial area of the island with high confluence of both foreign tourists and local population and a walk for this area is a must for anyone visiting the island.

Given that most of the island’s activities are related to the maritime field, the local Maritime Authority reporting to the Chilean Navy is responsible for disseminating the importance of the lighthouses in the safety of the navigation in the island’s as well as for the economic and social development of Easter Island.

Not less important is the circumstance that the construction and remodeling of the Lighthouse during 2017 had to have the approval of the Council of Elders of the Island, the Municipality of Easter Island and the Council of National Monuments authorization. This makes clear, the importance of maritime aids to navigation for the community, since any structure affecting the island is rigorously evaluated beforehand and this is part of the socio-cultural formation of the Rapa Nui community.

Finally, it should be noted that during the reopening ceremony of the lighthouse, the anthem of the Rapa Nui culture and the flag of this ethnic group was sung, which was highly valued since it represented a recognition from a Chilean State Institution (national Navy) of their culture.