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Easter Island Rapa Nui

Birdmen and those moai


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11th Feb Easter Island and Tapati Festival
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We arrived as expected at half past 10, but didn't expect to take over an hour to unload the cases! We were collected at the airport (very basic, car park was a field) and driven the 10 minutes to our hotel, Manavai, in the centre of Hanga Roa. www.hotelmanavai.cl. The hotel was very pretty and really well located, its only issue being their lack of English or even attendance. As it turned out it was the last day of the Tapati festival (not the penultimate as we'd been informed), so I whizzed out to Hanga Vare Vare field where it was being held, to enjoy the parade, music and fireworks. I watched the Tapati Queen being crowned, followed by traditional music (the Rui and Koro Hakka Opo competitions). Each year, two female candidates compete to become Queen of the Tapati. All the competitions carry points, and the candidate with the most points at the end is crowned Queen. Although the festival is actually not a traditional one, having been invented in the 1970s, during the week we were here we saw a variety of the Polynesian crafts it showcases. These included the Takona (body painting/tattoo competition), the Vaka Tuai and Ama (canoe making and racing), and Pora (swimming competition on a reed float (pora) dressed in only body paint). These are collectively called Tau’a Rapa Nui, along with Tingi Tingi Mahute (competition to make traditional costumes from Mahute, a plant introduced by the Polynesians). We didn't see the Haka Pei (Competition to slide 120m on plantain trunks on 45° slope of Pu’i hill at 80 km/h) or the Aka Venga (Running with bananas), but did see them practising, which was fine.
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Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land (50 residents) is Pitcairn Island, 2,075 km away; the nearest town with a population of over 500 is Rikitea, on the island of Mangareva, 2,606 km away; and the nearest continental point is in Chile, 3,512 km away.

12th Feb Easter Island Birdman Cult and giant moai

We had a wake up of cockerels crowing! It was too early for breakfast, so we strolled the 3 minutes down to the bay at Caleta. There are two ports in Hanga Roa for small boats. We were at the larger, “Caleta” or Cove is where most of the fishing boats dock. There is a plaster statue of St. Peter, patron saint of fishermen, 2 moai (Hotake is on the next page) from the interior, scuba shops, restaurant/ cafes. We watched as the moon set over the sea behind the moais and the sun rose behind the volcanic interior. The Pacific rollers were surprisingly strong, with quite a few black jagged rocks in the bay. As it was time for breakfast we walked back to eat outside. Shortly after our minibus arrived to collect us for our trip. This was going to be split into two, a morning trip of Rano Kau Volcano, the Ceremonial village of Orongo and its birdman contest to Moto Nui, with various petroglyphs and Ahu Vinapu/Tahiri; then our own lunch; followed by an afternoon trip to Ana Te Pahu cave, Ahu Akivi, and finishing with a walk up Puna Pau quarry.
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Having collected everyone the minibus set off up the hills towards Rano Kao (passing quite a number of road signs telling us this was the tsunami escape route). We soon arrived at the extinct volcano, about 15 minutes out of Hanga Roa. Rano Kau volcano with its crater lake is one of the three volcanoes (Terevaka and Poike being the others) whose eruption caused Rapa Nui to emerge from the sea. Rano Kau has the largest volcanic crater on the island, created in a spectacular eruption, 2! million years ago. The island has now detached from its original location, so the volcanoes are extinct. The crater is more than 1 km in diameter and forms a spectacular natural amphitheatre 200 m deep with a large freshwater lake, once one of the main sources of fresh water for the Rapa Nui people. Natives would climb down the 150 m high ridge, collect water and climb back up. Floating isles of grass covers the lake at the bottom of the volcano. Legend has it that this lake doesn't have a bottom and reaches the very core of the Earth. This volcano cauldron is a mini-ecosystem with a warmer climate than the rest of the island, so exotic fruits such as oranges and pineapples grow easily. Kari Kari or “crater’s bitten”. The top of the crater overlooking the sea is a fracture or “bite” called Kari Kari, produced by the ocean crashing against the base of the cliffs, destabilising them and causing landslides. It’s on this side that the birdman participants climbed down the cliffs to swim to Motu Nui.
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Cattail plants in the lake inside of the crater
The lake’s surface is covered by cattail plants, interestingly the same species as found in the floating islands of Lake Titicaca in Peru. The lake’s more or less stable levels, with a depth of about 10 ft below the reeds, has enabled sedimentary analysis to determine how the flora that once covered the island was like and when the deforestation by man started.
Rano Kau’s shape protects the plants from strong winds in the area (five times stronger than in Hanga Roa) and prevents access by grazing animals. Thanks to this, in 1950, the last Toromiro tree specimen was rescued from here and used to save the species from extinction. In the narrowest part of the western edge of the volcano, the Rapa Nui built the ceremonial village of Orongo, where the tribes and their priests would gather to celebrate one of the most important rituals of their culture, the Birdman Competition. From Rano Kau there’s a fantastic view of the coast and the whole crater. If you take the path to the left, you can walk around the volcano approximately 1.5 kms, allowing you to see this natural wonder from different angles, as well as the cliffs the Rapa Nui would climb down in the search for the first manutara egg. Through the Kari Kari, you can see the motus at a perfect angle. The most suitable time to visit is in the morning, when the sun reflects on the lagoon.
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View of the motus and crater cliff
A little to the right of the crater’s viewpoint, we saw a fenced-in rock containing several petroglyphs of Birdmen. After admiring the view we got back on the minibus to drive the 5 minutes round to the entrance of Orongo. By car, from Hanga Roa, take the road to the airport and turn right. Pass the only gas station on the island and continue up. There were various petroglyphs as we drove through the entrance and a very informative Cultural centre showing the various sites throughout the island along with its history, geography and cultural activities. Our guide handed us our CONAF Rapa Nui National Park entrance ticket (CLP 30,000 for 5 days), which we had to keep safe, as we needed to show it at every site we were going to visit.
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Orongo ('Oro"o in Rapa Nui) is the ceremonial village used by the Rapa Nui during the Birdman period, which succeeded the Moai period. It is located on the brink of Rano Kau volcano, looking out to sea. The houses are not the common wood/grass/reed hare vaka (boat houses), but instead made of kehu stone; a flat, solid stone (as opposed to the usual light volcanic stone), giving the houses the ability to survive the strong winds at the top of the volcano. In 1974 they were restored by American archaeologist Mulloy. Orongo, Rapa Nui for “The Call”, is majestically nestled on a narrow strip of about 250 m, between the edge of Rano Kau crater and a 300-m cliff that plunges steeply into the Pacific Ocean. Orongo enjoys the most spectacular environment in Easter Island and during the period of the moais ancestor cult, was a ceremonial centre where initiation rites and entry into adulthood were practiced. Orongo had no permanent residents, due to a difficult ingress and lack of direct access to the sea, so there are no moais, as there was no permanent village to protect, although a small platform (ahu) suggests there was at least 1 smaller moai at some time. Orongo increased in importance with the Tangata Manu (birdman) cult and the Make-Make god, in the late 17th century. The crisis due to lack of resources caused a decline in belief in the moais and their chiefs/ priests, and the warrior class (Matato’a) developed a new religion based on the Birdman Competition in which power was determined by physical prowess and not rank or status.
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One of the first images on walking across the cliff top to the village is of the three motus or islets, just off the coast. These are Motu Kao Kao (Narrow islet), shaped like a needle; Motu Iti (Small islet); and Motu Nui (Big islet), which is the most important as it was here that hopu manu or competitors would wait for the first manutara egg. Going up the trail, we got a complete view of Orongo with its 53 houses of basalt stone slab in the typical houseboat design found to throughout the island. Inside the houses, the walls are adorned with paintings and symbols of leadership, poultry and dance oars, primarily in red and white. To the left, behind the gazebo, were 2 unrestored 2 houses. The original structures were damaged by wind and early visitors, who took painted tablets as trophies.
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Structure of rebuilt house.
Below we saw a partially restored house, with completed walls but a half ceiling, to appreciate the original structure. Built with basalt slabs (known as Keho) taken from inside the crater, they were made with double walls with mud between. The inside area consists of a single elliptical space used exclusively for sleeping; all other daily activities were performed in the open areas of the village. Finally, the structure is roofed with slabs that progressively lean forward and a large central stone, which held the weight of the roof. The top was covered with soil and grass to protect the
inside from rain and to strengthen the whole structure.
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Houses with doorways looking to the sea
Almost all of entrances look towards Motu Nui and are really small, forcing people to enter on their knees. This ensured protection against inclement weather and as only one person could enter at a time, they were easy to defend. Some houses have multiple entrances and others are connected to each other, like warrens. On the left, before the descent, is a big house with four separate entrances, known as Taura Renga. In this house, in 1868, the crew of the English ship Topaze took the famous moai, which the natives now call Hoa Hakananai’a (stolen/ hidden friend), currently on display in the British Museum (see below). This 2.5-m high sculpture, unlike the majority, was carved of basalt and is a unique piece with important historical value. It has figures carved on its back representing the Birdman ritual and symbols of fertility, so it embodies the syncretism between the moai period and the period of the Tangata Manu cult. It is believed to have had an important role in the coronation ceremony of the winners of the competition.
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Location of Orongo over Rano Kau

Tangata Manu
Orongo houses are spread over several levels up the area formed by the crater and the cliff, where the space gets so narrow that only one row of houses fits on the edge of the cliff. The last house of the village has a stirring location on the edge between the cliff and the crater rim. It is known as Mata Ngara’u, and was meant for the priests who ran the ceremonies and recited the Rongo Rongo tablets during the month-long Tangata Manu celebration. Unlike the other houses, it has several entrances arranged in a semicircle. On each rock in front of this house are petroglyphs representing Birdmen, Make-Make (creator god) and Komaris (female fertility symbols). It the most important petroglyph site on Easter Island, but access is forbidden as you would have to walk on the house roof.
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Petroglyph of Make Make Notice the design of the eyes and nose of Make-Make has phallic connotations, natural for a god who represents fertility, reproduction and abundance. He became more important as the island’s resources became scarcer.

From here we could distinguish the route the competitors followed to reach Motu Nui. They came down the inside of the crater, following a narrow road up to Kari Kari, the crater’s “bitten” wall; from where they climbed down the cliff to the sea and swam 2km to the motu. The greatest dangers were the risk of falling, and the possibility of sharks. View from the crater to the motu. From Mata Ngara’u, we followed the path along the crater (where Steve got a slap on the wrist for going too close to the edge). There are a few steps, so we climbed these to the top, where there were several more rows of houses. No one knows for sure, but it is possible that the status of the tribe determined who had the right to occupy the houses with the best views of the sea and Motu Nui. On the journey back, right at the intersection of the two trails, we saw the remains of a small ahu, the only one in Orongo. Because of its size and simple design, it is a very old structure. The depressions in the rock in front of the platform had an unknown purpose- maybe astronomical reference points as the ahu aligns with Poike Peninsula, at the eastern end of the island. Due to the fragility of this site, weather, and irresponsible visitors, in the 1990s Orongo was one of the 100 most threatened sites in the world; but now there is a well defined trail and limited access to the most vulnerable areas.
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Hoa Hakananai’a
Tangata manu competition- The annual "birdman" competitions took place here with a representative from each tribe, who would climb 200m+ down the cliff wall, swim out to Motu Nui islet, retrieve a newly laid egg of the manutara bird, swim back and climb back up the cliff. The first to return with an intact egg won and earned royal privileges for 12 months, including choosing a wife from the virgin girls of Ana O Keke (Virgin Cave) where the girls lived to obtain a white skin, considered a sign of beauty.
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Petroglyph of Birdmen, Make-make and fish (Orongo entrance)
There were a lot of birds around Orongo, particularly seabirds. These were mainly native Frigate birds or Makohe (Fregata minor) far left, Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra) far right, and Red-tailed Tropicbird or Tavake (Phaeton rubricauda) centre left, which can be seen in large groups emitting a characteristic squeal. There are two types of seagulls (Sterna lunata) and (Sterna fuscata) centre right, known locally as Manutara, which tend to nest in the nearby motus or islets and about which the ancient Tangata Manu or “Bird Man” cult and ceremony used to be based. Terrestrial birds were small-medium sized and pretty singers, such as the Common Diuca Finch below.
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The site took a good hour or so to fully explore before we gathered together to drive back past the airport (most of our trips involved passing the airport as there aren't many roads) to the site of Ahus Vinapu and Tahiri. These two ahu on the wild coast, are known as the Inca ahu, due to an erroneous suggestion, by Thor Heyerdahl.
Vaihu was the tribal area in which this village was located. The remains of 3 platforms can be found, Ahu Tahiri to the left, Ahu Vinapu to the right, and a third one with almost no remains (located in the island’s fuel tank area).
We took the road from Mataveri airport to the end of the runway, passed the fuel tanks, and turned left to Ahu Tahira and Ahu Vinapu. Ahu Vinapu (the first one we arrived at) is a magnificent example of the building and carving techniques developed in the construction of ahu/platforms, and the better preserved. This way of working stone doesn’t exist elsewhere in Polynesia and gave rise to theories about Incan origins of the island’s population. 100m further is Ahu Tahira, the oldest ahu in the Vinapu ceremonial complex. There are remains of at least 5 moai and several head-dresses were scattered around the platform. The most prominent landmark is the great red stone monolithic column built in front of the ahu, reminiscent of pre-Inca statues/columns found in the Andes. A sketch by Linton Palmer in 1868 sketch showed it once had two heads arranged in a Y shape, so it may have been a funeral column above which rested a wooden platform where they put the bodies of the dead out to dry before their burial. It was unearthed in 1956 by Mulloy, who concluded it was a female moai based on the thin arms/ hands, small breasts and pronounced navel. Unfortunately, the sculpture is quite deteriorated. Ahu Tahira has 6 moai lying face down with 3 headdresses in front of them. The torsos of some statues were later used for shelter, which shows how respect had been lost for the once sacred sculptures.
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However, what’s special about Ahu Vinapu is the platform’s back wall. It consists of large stones held together without mortar and finely carved,
similar to Inca ruins at Sacsayhuaman, a similarity that convinced the scientific community of contacts between Polynesia and South America. Possibly the Polynesians’ exploring voyages didn’t stop at Easter Island, but went further east until they made contact with the mainland. Sweet potatoes and squash, native to South America, existed in Polynesia c1000 AD, long before Europeans arrived, and are further evidence of possible cultural exchanges. It was discovered that some chicken bones from southern Chile had the same DNA sequence as samples from Tonga and Samoa, suggesting that chickens came to South America from Polynesia in approx 14th century. However, no Polynesian settlements have been found in South America, so it is assumed that these meetings were sporadic and brief. Peruvian historian del Busto suggests that Vinapu was built by the Inca Tupac Yupanqui during his expedition to the Pacific, based on 16th C chronicles by Spaniards Pedro Sarmiento Gamboa, Murua, and Balboa. According to them Tupac Yupanqui had noted the existence of distant islands and decided to conquer them. He prepared a large number of sailboats and with 20,000 warriors, arrived on the islands Ninachumbi and Auachumbi. Busto thought these two islands could be Mangareva (French Polynesia) and Easter Island, ‘proven’ by the fact that in Mangareva there is a legend about a king Tupa arriving from the east on a boat carrying gold, ceramics and textiles. A similar story exists in the Marquesas Islands. French historian Daude argues that the Vinapu platforms are made in the same way as the Sillustani chullpas near Lake Titicaca, built in the Tupac Yupanqui period. Gamboa’s chronicle comments that Tupac Yupanqui took black people back to Peru, where they were kept in Sacsayhuaman fortress. However, it is highly unlikely that Incans were involved with Vinapu in any way (or even influenced its building). It is more probable that it was both improving techniques and the local response to the lack of timber at that period. After the moais were toppled the resulting ruin was used by locals as a cave-like shelter. Archaeological work has ascertained that there was at least one large village behind Vinapu, and probably a second smaller one behind Tahira, although they may have been the same population moving over time. Unfortunately, the wall that forms Ahu Tahira’s platform was damaged by the USS Mohican crew in 1886, which blew up its foundations in an effort to discover how far they down they went and what was buried underneath. They failed to find anything and caused great damage to the structure. The half-buried moai behind the platform never stood on it, because it doesn’t have its eye sockets carved out. Possibly it belongs to an earlier period or was damaged during transportation and discarded. Island tradition states that the giant 21-m moai, still at Rano Raraku, was intended for this platform.
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The minibus dropped us back in the town centre and we went opposite to have a Club Sandwich at Atamu Tekena bar with Easter Island rainwater to drink. We were lucky to get the last free table, as everyone after us had to wait.

Music and dance Most of the Easter Island music and dances are of Polynesian origin. Rapa Nui ancestral dances have been lost or merged, though it’s still possible to find indigenous music rooted in the legends with songs and dances dedicated to the gods, spirit warriors, rain or love. Among the most characteristic dances are:

  1. Sau Sau- a dance of Samoan origin that came to the island in the 1940s, modified with Rapa Nui music and lyrics. It's a love story on a boat rocked by waves, represented by undulating movements of hips and hands, especially by women with colourful feathers on their clothes. This has become one of the main Rapa Nui dances.
  2. Ula Ula- a dance of Tahitian origin, where couples dance separately to a vivid rhythm. It features soft undulating hip movements. Feet rest on the heel and toe tip, accompanied by gentle undulations by the arms.
  3. Tamuré-apredominantlymaledancefromTahiti,withspectacularstuntsandquickpelvicmovements,similar to the Haka, a spirited dance representing warlike activity.
  4. Kai Kai- a dance, song and game. Through the use of a thread or cord, in various shapes, women tell of legends and traditions, accompanied by slow and undulating body movement.
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The Rapa Nui have ancestral instruments such as the Hio, a type of bamboo flute; or the Kauaha which is a horse jaw that is hit against the floor to make characteristic sounds. Also, other instruments have been incorporated, like the Ukulele or the Hawaiian guitar, the classic guitar or the Upa-Upa, a type of accordion.
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Long ears and short ears
A Rapa Nui legend says that after the Polynesians, a different people arrived on the island. The newcomers were stout and sturdy and known as Hanau E’epe or “wide race”, differing to Hanau Momoko or “thin race”. Some versions say the Hanau E’epe had long earlobes (like the Inca), unlike the Hanau Momoko. Some suggest the difference was in physique and that the Hanau E’epe were the working class while the Hanau Momoco were the elite. The stretching of the earlobe (a characteristic trait of moai) is a common practice in many cultures and maybe the word E’epe mixed with the Rapanui ‘Epe or earlobe, birthing a legend of “long ears” and “short ears”.
Make-Make, the creation god
Make-Make, after creating the Earth, felt lonely and thought something was missing. He took a pot full of water and looked at his reflection. At that moment a bird came to rest on his shoulder and Make-Make was amazed by the their fused reflections, and thus decided to create us by making his firstborn son. But Make-Make wasn’t satisfied and wanted to make a being just like him, who could think and talk. His first attempt was to fertilise some stones, but he wasn’t successful. Then, he fertilised the water and the sea filled with fish. Finally, he fertilised the red clay earth and from it made a man. But the man was lonely, so he made him fall asleep and from his rib created the woman. Make-Make, with the god Haua, took the birds (manutaras) to the islets (motus) in front of Rano Kau volcano.
Moai Kava Kava
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Legend states that on one fateful day, the ariki Tu’u Koihu, Hotu Matu’a’s oldest son, was on a midnight walk in Puna Pau when he found two spirits, or aku aku, asleep in front of him. He noticed their skeletal bodies and decided to leave them. However, as he began to run he woke them, so the aku aku chased him in fear he’d tell someone what he’d seen. Tu’u Koihu denied having seen them but the spirits didn’t believe him and kept watch on him for 2 days and 2 nights. Seeing that he wasn’t telling anyone, they left. Once free from the spirits, he returned to Tore Ta’hana, went into a hut, and carved a piece of toromiro wood into the figures he’d seen. Thus he could tell the world what he’d seen. This was, according to tradition, the origin of the Kava Kava moais (“statues with ribs”) that the islanders carved out of wood and hang on the inside of their front doors to keep away evil spirits.
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After lunch we were collected again for our afternoon trip. Driving along the north coast we saw the important site of Ahu Te Peu, originally a large village nestled in the cliffs. On the side closest to the road are several manavais (stone circles within which food was cultivated), the remains of some elliptical houseboats (hare paengas), and a hare moa (chicken coop) to the left. A small path to the right leads to one of the biggest houseboats ever discovered, 40 m long. It is thought that, unlike the others that served only to sleep, this was used as a hare nui (big house) where meetings were held. From the front of the platform, once 70 m long and 3 m wide, several fragments of destroyed moai torsos and heads can be seen, as well as fragments of red headdresses. Unfortunately, the left side of the platform collapsed during excavation work by Heyerdahl in 1955.
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Platform Ahu Te Peu; Manavais at Te Peu
The Ahu Te Peu ruins have remained virtually intact, which offers a great opportunity to study the old Rapanui way of life. The ruins of what was
once a large village stretch from the present coastal path to the edge of the cliff. In the strip of 200m, appear several typical constructions. Manavai are circular stone structures used to grow different plants sheltered from the winds and thus maintain humidity. It is believed that this method of cultivation was inspired by observing the ecosystem created in the craters of volcanoes like Rano Kau and Rano Raraku. Near the manavai is a
rectangular block of stones with a small opening, a hare moa (chicken coop), an important construction that served to enclose at night the precious birds, introducing them through its single hole. This avoided the theft of one of the main diet ingredients and supply of feathers used in the attire.
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Remains of an old hare paenga.
Going right towards the sea, are the foundations of several hare paenga or boat houses, named because their long elliptical shape resembles that of a boat. Here is the largest boat house on the island, 43m long, which some relate to the Tore Tahuna, home of the famous Ariki (King) Tu’u Ko Ihu. Tu’u Ko Ihu is an important character in the oral tradition of the island, since besides being married to Ava Rei Pua, the sister of the first king Hotu Matu’a, he features in several legends. The most famous tells that after he observed strange spirits around the island, he returned to his house and carved their bodies in wood giving rise to one of the most famous and representative figures of Rapa Nui, the moai Kava Kava. In front of the cliff are the remains of two ahu with several moai, quite deteriorated and broken with half-buried heads.
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Great megalithic wall; Half-buried moai head
The back of the platform on the right presents an imposing wall with enormous blocks of stone reminiscent of the technique used on the famous
wall of Vinapu, but without the same perfection. As part of the platforms, there are several stones with holes that belonged to the foundations of old boat-houses, reused as building material. There also are several demolished face down moai bodies. Tradition tells that shortly after his death, King Hotu Matu’a was buried in Akahanga. His sister Ava Rei Pua, wife of Ariki Tu’u Ko Ihu, was buried in Te Peu. Recent research has established an astronomical and geometric relationship between these two sites. These sites where the two royal siblings were buried are located at the ends of an axis between the dawn of the summer solstice and the dusk of the winter solstice, symbolically relating their resting places to the annual solar cycle. When watching the sunset of the winter solstice from Akahanga, the last ray of sun is in the direction of Te Peu. In the same way, from Te Peu, it is possible to see the sun rising in the direction of Akahanga at the dawn of the summer solstice. Perhaps this is only geographical coincidence, although it may show how the ancient Rapanui used their knowledge of geometry and astronomy.
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Ahu Te Peu is the gateway to the island’s untamed northern coast, a solitary area, which remains almost untouched since it is hardly visited by tourists. Running along the lower slopes of Terevaka volcano, through Hanga Oteo to Anakena beach are many remains of ahu, moai, caves and petroglyphs, mostly ignored. Ahu Te Peu is 1km north of Ana Te Pora, and 1km northwest of Ana Te Pahu, the bananas cave.

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Terevaka volcano dominated this part of the island. The volcano is the highest point in Easter Island at 511m above sea level. Located at the north end, Terevaka volcano is with Poike and Rano Kau, one of the three volcanoes whose eruptions gave rise and shape to what is now Easter Island. It has an irregular shape, occupies most of the surface of the island, and is the youngest of the three. It’s estimated that the last time one of its cones erupted was 10,000 years ago. This big volcano consists of several craters, the most important being Rano Aroi (southern end). There are several secondary cones such as Maunga Hiva Hiva, which was the last to erupt. Terevaka’s foothills hold about 800 caves formed by volcanic lava. The best known and accessible are Ana Te Pora and Ana Kakenga. Although we didn’t go into Ana Kakenga, we saw it from the sea later, a beautiful cave. Like the rest of Easter Island’s caves, it is a lava tube that upon cooling formed a crust that gave way to what today are the walls and ceiling of the cave. It has a length of approx 50 m and in ancient times served as a kionga or place of refuge. In Ana Kakenga’s case, lava flowed into the sea by two mouths or “windows” in the cliff, so it is also known as the Cave of the two windows. The entrance to the cave, opposite Motu Taurtara islet, is quite small and looks like a pile of stones, with steps best descended backwards, entering a rather narrow tunnel with a very low ceiling. After 4 m, the cave enlarges and you can walk upright. The path becomes brighter from the light of two “windows.”
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View of the ocean and sun set.

Just beyond was Ana Te Pora (Cave of Reed Canoe), again used as an ana kionga (refuge cave) in times of war. A unique stone altar and grave is inside. Our stop was at the entrance to the trail that led to Ana Te Pahu. It was an interesting walk to the cave over what was essentially an ancient lava field, with the 216m ‘mountain’ of Vaka Kipo as the backdrop, and further away the highest point of the island, the extinct volcano Terevaka, 507m. The volcanic eruptions that led to Easter Island created lava channels extending throughout the island. Ana Te Pahu is a 7 km channel on the west coast in the foothills of Maunga Terevaka, halfway between Ahu Akivi and Ahu Te Peu. The size of this cave (the largest on the island) made it ideal housing in primitive times, but it was also used as a refuge during tribal war and to escape the slavers of the mid-19th century, as shown by the remains of umu pae (stone ovens). The ceiling openings caused by collapses of material prevented smoke from accumulating inside. The cave solidified thousands of years ago during the eruption of Maunga Hiva Hiva, a small crater that caused the last lava spill. The latest explorations have discovered that it is formed by several underground chambers whose total route exceeds 7 km.
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Plantains near the entrance of Ana Te Pahu
The cave is known as “plantain cave”, because many of these trees were planted at the entrance. The warm moist air trapped in the entrance allowed a microclimate, where bananas, vines, avocados and taro could be cultivated. As we descended into the entrance Steve spotted a small lizard, the only type on the island. There are only two species of reptiles: a Gecko (Lepidodactylus lugubris) known as moko uru-uru kau and a lizard (Cryptoblepharus poecilopleurus paschalis) known as moko uri uri. Going down the steps to the cave, go left, cross the plantains and taro trees, and forward a few hundred meters. The right path leads to the main cave where, slightly inside is a Polynesian style oven. Thanks to various natural openings, inhabitants could cook inside without smoke accumulating. You may continue within the inside of the cave, but bring a flashlight and good footwear. The path is not too rough, but it can be slippery when it rains. Ana Te Pahu could also be translated “ cave of the drum“, since pahu in Rapanui is a type of drum. This name comes from the thin layer of hardened lava that covers the cavity forming a gigantic natural drum of 1 ! km in diameter. If you hit the lava bark, a vibration resonates inside.
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Having climbed down and walked through the cave, we climbed back up and walked back to the bus, ready to drive the short way to Ahu Akivi, a particularly interesting ahu as it is inland, which is unusual.

Ahu Akivi- The 1st excavation/ restoration of a ceremonial platform in Easter Island was performed at Ahu Akivi by William Mulloy and Gonzalo Figueroa 1960/1.
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This platform, unlike the vast majority, is located inland 10km from Hanga Roa. It has a total length of 90m, with a central platform of 38m, in which stand 7 moais with an approx height of 4m and a fairly homogenous design, suggesting they were carved and erected at a similar time. There has been much speculation about the direction in which they face. They currently look toward the sea, rather than facing away as is the norm. However, the remains of a fairly large village lies behind the square (in very poor condition and covered by weeds, although we could see a boat house and pit) so the moai actually face, as customary, towards the village. Ahu Akivi is aligned to the equinox sunrises (22 Sept and 20 Mar), essential knowledge for an inland farming village. Bordering the platform on the left is a Rapa Nui dirt mound raised to divert the creek that appears in during heavy rains. Two cremation pits can also be seen. In one, large quantities of human ashes and mortuary offerings were found, such as small figurines, while the other is empty (unused). Since there are 7 moai statues on this platform, archaeologists originally thought they represented King Hotu Matu’a seven explorers who came to the island in oral traditions. However, these moais belong to a much later sculptural period, 1442-1600, leading in its turn to a theory they represent 8 kings. The best lighting pictures is in the afternoon. Just before entering Ahu Akivi, is the start of the trek to the highest point of the island, Maunga Terevaka volcano.
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We spent a while exploring Ahu Akivi, before we went back to the minibus to drive to the last stop of the day, Puna Pau quarry. Two horses were in the field nearby, perhaps not surprising, as there are more horses than people on the island, in various degrees of wildness. We walked up, following the path right towards the top of the hill, passing some of the red headdresses en route. This group of huge completed headdresses, possibly waiting to be transferred, are cylindrical, but don’t yet have the carving of the impeller (smaller top bun) or the slot in the bottom to fit into the moai’s head. This was probably done once the pukao was at its final location. The pukaos vary according to the size of the moai for which they were intended, but many are 2m x 2m. We ended looking down into the crater quarry (with more headdress) one side and Hanga Roa on the other side. Some headdresses in the quarry measure up to 3m in diameter and were likely destined for the huge sculptures at Rano Raraku. We could see squares of forest and asked the guide, who explained that the Chilean government was financing the re-foresting in defined areas. Originally it was thought that the island was covered in the Chilean palm (although mixed woodlands were being replanted), but recently it has been discovered that it was actually the now extinct Easter Island palm, a close relative.
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Puna Pau is the red scoria quarry for moai statue topknots or pukao. In the later Rapa Nui sculptural period of moai statue carving, a final decoration was build for the statues, a huge red block of stone for their heads. This red stone is called pukao and is probably the hair of the person the statue represents. Mana, magical power, was preserved in hair, so more hair meant more mana. All the moai topknots come from Puna Pau quarry because it has the most intense red colour. Puna Pau itself is a small extinct volcano whose name means dry spring, so it’s assumed at some point it did contain water or that there was water in its surroundings. Puna Pau has a red volcanic rock (scoria) characterised by being soft and easy to carve, with a high iron content, which gives its characteristic reddish colour.
The pukaos were a very late addition to the sculptures, possibly from the 15th or 16th centuries. In fact, approximately 100 headdresses have been found on the island, compared to almost 1,000 moai. Pukao were possibly added during the time of tribal warfare as a way of making the most impressive and elaborate ceremonial platforms. The prevailing idea is that these aren’t hats, but the representation of the hairstyles of that time, long hair curled and tied on top of the head. In ancient Rapa Nui culture, it was considered tapu (taboo/ prohibited) for high- ranking men to cut their hair, so they wore it long and tied in a bun. The stone was carved out almost entirely, once done it was detached from the bedrock and lowered to the base of the volcano where it was polished. In theory, the pukao were rolled to their final destinations and placed on the sculptures using dirt and stone ramps. The moai was placed on the ahu on once it had its headdress.http://imaginaisladepascua.com/en/

The bus drove us back to our hotel and after a brief rest we walked down to Bar Pea at Pea Beach. We sat on the terrace enjoying an amazingly beautiful sunset over the island and admiring the tenacity of the surfers who continued to the last drop of sunlight. Surprisingly the waves here are named; Papa (Rock in Rapa Nui) is the 3m wave that breaks at the rock 250m from Pea Beach (best for beginners) and Hava is the 5m wave 150m further out that goes right to the sharp rocks we could see (obviously for experts!).
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Prehistory of Rapa Nui
The legendary first paramount chief of Easter Island is said to have been Hotu Matu‘a, who supposedly arrived c700 AD. Radio-carbon dating gives a range of 700-1100, with the later date more likely. Oral tradition puts the first landing at Anakena, but archaeological evidence suggests Tahai is older by a century or so. The island was most likely populated by Polynesians in canoes from the Gambier Islands (Mangareva, 2,600 km) or, less likely, the Marquesas Islands (3,200 km). Legend insists Hotu Matu’a (Son of Matu’a) was the chief of a tribe that lived on Marae Renga in "Hiva region", possibly the Marquesas Islands, but more probably the Pitcairn Mangareva zone, whose language is the closest match (90%) to Rapanui. A 1999 expedition made a crossing by canoe in 19 days from Mangareva to Rapanui. Some stories claim internal conflicts drove him to sail with his tribe for new land, while others blame a tidal wave. All the stories agree that a seer named Haumaka appeared to Ariki (King) Hotu Matu‘a in his dream. He claimed that Hiva was sinking and he had flown out to sea and discovered an island called Te Pito ‘o te K!inga, or "centre of the earth". Sending seven scouts, Hotu Matu‘a awaited their return. After many days of sailing, the explorers arrived on a small uninhabited island that seemed fertile. Besides yams, the explorers took a moai with them and a mother of pearl necklace, which was left when they returned to Hiva, leaving on the island a single explorer. Hotu Matu‘a took a large crew (his tribe), his family and everything needed to survive in the new land. They rowed a huge double-hulled canoe and landed at Anakena. Hotu Matu’a arrived on the island in two great ships with his entourage, which consisted of his wife, his sister and 100 people. Another individual named Tu‘u ko Iho (possibly his brother-in-law) may have co-founded the settlement on the island. A legend says Tu‘u ko Iho brought the statues to the island and made them walk. He was later Hotu Matu’a’s rival. Statue related to the mythology of Tu‘u ko Iho. Since then, the island has been called Te pito o te henua, “the world’s navel”. This legend is the reason why some say that when Hotu Matu’a arrived on Easter Island, it was already inhabited (the yams and standing moai statues). Alternatively, the 7 explorers represent 7 tribes that previously inhabited the island, of which only one survived and mixed with the people of Hotu Matu’a.
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Children of Hotu Matu‘a
Shortly before his death, Hotu Matu‘a gave the island to his children, who formed 8 main and 4 smaller clans.

  • Tu‘u Maheke: firstborn son, received lands between Anakena and Maunga Tea-Tea.
  • Miru: received the lands between Anakena and Hanga Roa.
  • Marama: received lands between Anakena and Rano Raraku. Control of Rano Raraku quarry proved useful for those in Marama's lands. The quarry became the island’s main source of Tuff used to construct the Moai; 95% of moai were made in Rano Raraku.
  • Raa settled to the northwest of Maunga Tea-Tea.
  • Koro Orongo made a settlement between Akahanga and Rano Raraku.
  • Hotu Iti was given the whole eastern part of the island.
  • Tupahotu and Ngaure were left with the remaining parts of the island.

Over the years, the clans grouped into two territories. The Ko Tu‘u Aro were composed of clans in the northwest, while the Hotu Iti mainly lived in the southeast part. The Miru, who ruled the Ko Tu‘u Aro clans, are commonly regarded as the true royal family. Since then, leaders of Easter Island have been hereditary rulers who claimed divine origin and separated themselves from the rest of the islanders with taboos. These ariki controlled religious functions, and ran everything else, from managing food supplies to waging war. Since Easter Island was divided into two super-clans, the rulers followed a predictable pattern. The people of Rapa Nui competed to build bigger moai than their neighbours, but when this failed to resolve their conflicts the tribes turned to war and throwing down each other’s statues. According to oral traditions recorded by missionaries in the 1860s, the island had a strong class system, with an ariki (king/high chief) wielding power over nine other clans and their respective chiefs. The high chief was the eldest descendant through first-born lines of the island’s legendary founder, Hotu Matu'a.
Lists of paramount chiefs and historical kings
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Posted by PetersF 17:31 Archived in Chile Tagged chile easter_island moai anakena birdman rapa_nui hanga_roa orongo akivi vaihu vinapu Comments (0)

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