Rapanui/Olmec Fowl

A Rapanui rooster
Photo courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

Text by K. Blackwood

The Rapanui is named after the island that is also known as Easter Island. They are also found feral in Pitcairn and Marquesis. Rapanui fowl may be divided into two distinct races introduced and perpetuated by respective ethnic migrations. The Tapu race of Rapanui fowl are melenotic with blue-black skin and a long crow. Moa Tu' A Ivi Raa' (ember yellow-backed) and Moa Tea (grey ashe-hued) are considered to be endemic to Oceania, especially those large islands mentioned above. But these semidomestic fowl were to be introduced to the western coast of South America by Melenesian populations thousands of years before the birth of Polynesian culture. It is believed that the Olmec (earliest known culture of South America) generated the South American stocks and further refined them, a practice taken up by the their succesors, including the Incas.

There are several distinct subraces of this genotype, discussed below. They have been developed for many tens of thousands of years by the Melenesian culture that once inhabited what is now Indonesia, who first migrated to Micronesia and beyond bringing with them their domestic animals. The Tapu race of Rapanui fowl are descended from archaic fighting ruff breeds endemic to Indonesia and Melenesia. These game fowl are the female ancestors of the Tapu race of Rapanui fowl. Many of the original male founders of the Tapu Rapanui fowl were evidentally Ayam Bekisar, a strange Indonesian hybrid between Malay females and Green Junglefowl (Gallus varius) roosters.

The Olmec races are, as their name suggests, endemic to South American highland regions. Rapanui Fowl are endemic to Oceania. Both Peruvian and Chilean Indians were kept as slaves in recent history on Rapanui (Easter Island) and are believed to have reintroduced some of their native stocks of fowl to the islands. Ironic that the original ancestral home of the fowl would end up being a new home for these clearly Olmec refined stocks.

The main races of the Rapanui/Olmec fowl are described below:

1. The Quechua, which may be tailed or rumpless, is a bantam-sized equivalent of the Tapu Rapanui Fowl. Quechua have an abrupt, high pitched multiple syllable crow. This fowl may have a long fifth toe and yellow legs. They may be tufted in stocks mixed with Quetro. Many exhibit a diminutive crest and most will have conservative muffs and/or beards. Greenish-gray eggs are the norm, but some lay spotted pinkish eggs and others a yellowish-tinted egg. They are found on various islands, including Pitcairn, Marquesis, and Easter, and on the mainland in Bolivia and Argentina.

2. Black Quechua Olmec are similar to the typical Quechua but have blue-black skin and bones and black or blue legs (they are the only South American member of this group with characteristic black skin), and produce glossy green eggs or blue eggs. The Black Quechua Olmec is generally rumpless and never has tufts. It is found in Costa Rica, Ecuador and Mexico.

3. Quetro are tiny to moderate-sized bantams with very small wattles and comb. They are remarkable fliers and generally silent. The crow is described as a "laughing crow." These fowl have ear tufts, though the ear tufts of the females are often very small, and very little or no bare facial skin shows. These birds are always tailed. Females tend to be strikingly beautiful, some with dark mahogany breasts and others with pale salmon breasts or wheaten. All female Quetro will exhibit unusual and highly concealing patterns in the wings and hackles. In pattern, the breast of the male is similar to the hackle. The hackle itself is often hair-like and it is not unusual to produce birds with "cowlicks" in the hackles or slightly frizzled individuals. Egg color is highly variable. Some strains usually produce lilac or an intense grey lilac blue. Other strains lay a vivid orange egg, others red ochre and still others lay spotted pink or clear green eggs. They are found only in the Peruvian Highlands and can still be observed on the reed islands of Lake Titicaca. The Quetro is believed to have been a highly sacred animal to the Olmec and some of the subsequent Andean cultures.

4. The last group consists of the Ayam Pelung derived rumpless games and basket fowl like the Wallikiki, Kainga, and Colloncas, several related rumpless or tailed quail bantams with greatly curtailed wattles, generally lacking combs, and often prominently spotted. Females will often closely resemble the females of the Quetro but lack their tufts and tails. Bare facial skin is generally not evident and the legs are willow or dark but never yellow. Muffs and beards are not present nor are crests or tufts though a few will have the irregular sprig of a tuft. These birds are very quiet when compared to Rapanui breeds. Males may be hen feathered. They lay white, off white, tinted, yellowish or dark aqua or grayish tinted round eggs. This group is found in Sri Lanka, Bali, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Pitcairn, Peru and Chile.

Colloncas (Chilean highlands) and Quetro (Peruvian highlands) are descended from the Rapanui race Pakeke (Seafarer stocks) including the Moa Garahuraju (multiple coloured spots) and Moa Totara (frizzled rumpless bantam).

Colloncas De Artes is the composite breed generated by the crossing of Quetro and Colloncas stocks. In North America, the Colloncas De Artes were refined into heirloom varieties of what we call Araucana. In the U.K., Quechua De Artes, the composite breed generated by the crossing of Quechua bantams with Quetros were exported to Europe during the Falklands dispute period. As a consequence, much of the western and northern European countries' tinted egg breeds are derived from Chilean Indian stock and as such are probably more correctly defined as Chilean Araucanas.

The so-called Americauna appears to be in large part a refined Quechua de Artes without tufts but carrying the brown breasted demes of the Quetro.

Genetically, the Rapanui/Olmec are related closely to Indonesia's archaic game fowl the Ayam Cemani, Ayam Pelung, Ayam Bekisar and Ayam Katai and, tellingly, also to Japan's Koeyoshi Long Crowers. The genetic foundation of these Oceanic breeds appears to be the Indonesian Red Junglefowl, Gallus g. bankiva, which was the ancestor of bankivoid game fowl like the Malay. Melenesian and Indonesian cultures domesticated the Indonesian Red Junglefowl at least twelve hundred years before the cultures of mainland Asia domesticated the Burmese Red Junglefowl, G. g. gallus. In short, two divergent cultures domesticated two different wild subspecies, generating two different lineages of domestic fowl. The Burmese Red Junglefowl arrived as the dominant founder probably due in large part to their promiscuous reproductive strategy which contrasts with that of the monogamous Indonesian Red Junglefowl which is also not as disease resistant as its mainland cousin.

Peruvian ethnozoologists of Japanese extraction are responsible for the conservation and breeding of these ancient fowl. Genetics and morphology suggest that the South American fowl (most commonly known as Araucanas) are descended from these two ancient races of Oceanic fowl.

Rapanui Links:

Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile

Rapanui Races

A Rapanui male from above
Photo courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

Rapanui: A pair and a male
Photos courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

A Rapanui male from Pitcairn Island
Photo courtesy of Thomas Moore, Conservation Poultier

Two Rapanui males, a juvenile on the right
Photos courtesy of Laurie Brook Adams

This bird is a cross between a Rapanui and the Indonesian Red Junglefowl, Gallus g. bankiva
Photo courtesy of Laurie Brook Adams

Rapanui chicks
Photo courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

Kiri Kiri

A Kiri Kiri hen and pullet
Photos courtesy of Michelle Kiser Tullis

Kiri Kiri chicks
Photo courtesy of Michelle Kiser Tullis

Olmec Races


Some Olmec hens
Photos courtesy of Laurie Brook Adams


My late Quechua cockerel, "Kermit"

The head of a Quechua hen
Photo courtesy of Laurie Brook Adams


"Betty" is a Quetro hen
Photo courtesy of Kermit Blackwood

You can see a tiny sprig of ear tuft on this Quetro hen
Photo courtesy of Laurie Brook Adams


A Colloncas cockerel, on the left, and two shots of a hen
Photos © Alan Stanford

Various Colloncas female phenotypes
Photos courtesy of Thomas Moore, Conservation Poultier

Colloncas De Artes

A typical Colloncas De Artes rooster
Photo © Laurie Brook Adams

Two more Colloncas De Artes roosters
Photos © Alan Stanford

And here's a Colloncas De Artes hen
Photo © Alan Stanford

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