Another fascinating part of Rapa Nui culture is the Tangata Manu ritual. An annual competition was based at the village of Orongo, adjacent to Rano Kau. Hieroglyphics at the site illustrate the patron god Make Make and other mythological creatures.
Every September, contestants vied to collect the first sooty tern (manu tara) egg of the season from the islet of Motu Nui, swim back to Rapa Nui and climb the sea cliff of Rano Kau to the clifftop village of Orongo.
The contest was exceedingly dangerous, with many eaten by sharks, drowning, or falling from cliff faces. The winning contestant’s patron became the Tangata Manu and ruled the island until the next year with his tribe gaining access to and control over resources during that time. After approximately 90 years (there are 86 documented Tangata Manus), missionaries abolished the contest in the 1860s.
We did not see any sooty terns, and there are very few birds on Rapa Nui due to deforestation and, perhaps, its isolation. We did see numerous finches, though, and enjoyed their song.
These posts have barely scratched the proverbial surface of Rapa Nui’s wonders. Recently, there have been numerous articles about the risks the island faces from rising sea levels.
I encourage everyone to watch this interactive presentation (be sure to click through to maximize the experience). The footage is amazing and the facts are as sobering as they are astonishing.