My second day on Easter island I headed up and around the Rano Kau volcano to visit the clifftop village of Orongo, the site of the Birdman Ritual on the Southwestern edge of the crater. Sometime between the 18th and 19th centuries and after all the Moai had been toppled Orongo became the center of a Birdman cult (Tangata Manu). Once a year prestigious islanders came here and entered one or two men (hopu) of lesser status into a race to scale down the very dangerous southwestern edge of the volcano, swim out and retrieve a manutara (sooty tern) egg back from the nearby islet of Motu Nui. The entrant who got the egg back up the side of the volcano undamaged would ensure the dignitary they were risking their lives for would become an important member of the island for the following year.
Orongo has numerous petroglyphs, mainly of Tangata Manu which look to have been carved to commemorate races and winners of past events. This cult, which was the islands religion ever since the Moai era was to be short lived, in the 1860’s a vast number of the islanders died of disease or were taken as slaves, supposedly by Peruvian slave traders. The remaining survivors were converted to Christianity by missionaries and Orongo fell into disuse. In 1868, the crew of HMS Topaze removed the huge basalt moai known as Hoa Hakananai’a from Orongo. It is now housed in the British Museum.
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After spending the morning in Orongo I moved onto Ahu Akivi after lunch. This is the only Ahu on the island that faces out towards the ocean. It was constructed sometime in the 16th century and is also known as a celestial observatory. The seven Moai are all equal in size and shape and face exactly towards sunset during the spring equinox and face away from the sunrise during the autumn equinox. This is the only site on the Island that aligns with anything celestial or faces out to sea, all other Ahu faced their respective villages as a protective mana. I planned to spend more time here later in the week but as we’ll find out later, weather had foiled my plans.
After visiting the museum in Hanga Roa and other points of interest in town I headed back over to Ahu Tahai again for the sunset, once again it did not disappoint. Here’s a couple from Ahu Ko Te Riku, if you look closely just to the right in the first shot you can see a photographer standing close to the statue, gives you an idea of its size which 16ft tall without the Pukao (hat).
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