The first European, who visited the island, was the captain George Vancouver. He visited the island in 1791. The island had an estimated population of about 2000 inhabitants. Four tribes inhabited the island. There were many tribal wars on the island.
The Rapan people were converted to Christianity in 1826, when six embassadors were sent from Tahiti. Soon after that some slaves were brought to Rapa. It caused an epidemy and in 1867 the island's population had declined to about 120. Since late 1800s, the island's population has steadily grown.
The main village of Rapa is Haurei. Nearly all inhabitants of Rapa are living in Haurei. The Bay of Haurei, which is on the western end of the island, is named after the village. The bay's original name was, however, "Oparo" or "Paro". Smaller villages include 'Area.
To the southeast is the uninhabited islet Motu Tauturu.
Rapa is 1240 kilometers away from Tahiti, the main island of French Polynesia.
Most inhabitants of Rapa are Polynesians. Polynesians are believed to inhabit the island in about 1000 BC.