On June 27th, Easter Island dressed up to celebrate one of the most important religious celebrations of the Rapanui culture.
The celebration of Saints Peter and Paul who are considered the patron saints of the sea and fishermen in Chile, brought together tourists, Chilean residents and the Rapanui community around one of the most representative traditional culinary preparations in Easter Island. In a fraternal and thaksgiving atmosphere around three thousand people attended Hanga Piko small cove to eat and enjoy the curanto also called “Umu” in the local language, without having to pay for food.
The umu is a Rapanui dish cooked in something similar to an earth oven. In the past this way of cooking was the only way in which the islanders would cook all their food. This delicious typical island dish which is very similar to the Chilean curanto is prepared in a hole in the the ground. The main difference between the two is that in southern Chile people add seafood as an extra ingredient. On the contrary, in Polynesia people add fruits. The most typical of all manifestations of the Rapanui cuisine is prepared by digging a hole in the ground and cooking food with the heat of hot stones in order to celebrate different events during life. That’s why there are different types of umu either to celebrate a marriage, to honor a deceased person or to a newborn baby, housewarming or to ask for protection and well augurs before a trip. All this is done as a compromise and a way to show respect as the local food is considered a language that allows us to see from an anthropological perspective the history of Rapa Nui.
The previously dug hole is filled with firewood and stones of volcanic origin. Fire is set in order to warm the stones red hot in the same way as it was done for hundreds of years in ancient times. Once the stones are hot they are covered with banana leaves and on these leaves different types of meat such as beef, pork, chicken and fish are put in layers separated by banana leaves and a new layer of hot stones. On the latter the process is repeated, but this time the upper layers are covered by vegetables, mainly root vegetables such as sweet potato, taro and cassava. Finally everything is covered with banana leaves again and soil.
The cooking process of this dish takes about 6 hours and it is usually accompanied by other traditions such as getting dressed in the old style and singing songs. The curanto is a community meal as the main reason to eat and share this dish is to celebrate a fraternal meeting.
Due to the great resemblance between the curanto from Chiloe and curanto from Rapanui some anthropologists have postulated that the first colonization of southern Chile was done by Polynesian natives who brought the recipe to new territory and adapted it adding new ingredients and seafood they found there.