Easter Island Story
5. A New Cult Rises
Easter Islanders were more cut off from the world then ever before. Any
dreams of escaping the destroyed island were dashed by the lack of wood.
The only boats they could build were small rafts and canoes made of tortoro
reeds. Even fishing must have become extremely difficult at this point.
The island was a wasteland, the eroded soil just barely producing enough
food for the meager population to survive. It was under these conditions
that the Birdman Cult arose.
Above: The rim of Rano Kau became the center of
the Easter Island Birdman Cult
possible that the Birdman practices had been going on during the reign
of the statue cult; however, it eventually took over as the predominate
religion on the island and was still in practice up untill 1866-67.
on the rim of the crater known as Rano Kau was the ceremonial village
of Orongo. Built to worship the god of fertility, Makemake, it became
the site of a grueling competition.
year leadership of the island was determined by the individual who could
scale down the vertical slopes, swim out to one of three small islets
in shark-infested waters, and bring back the egg of the nesting sooty
tern unbroken. The one who did this successfully was considered the Birdman
of the year and was bestowed with special honors and privileges.
of the most fascinating sights at Orongo are the hundreds of petroglyphs
carved with birdman and Makemake images. Carved into solid basalt, they
have resisted ages of harsh weather. It has been suggested that the images
represent birdman competition winners. Over 480 Birdman petroglyphs have
been found on the island, mostly around Orongo.
Birdman images transformed the rocks, so too were the islanders transformed.
It seemed that the culture was beginning to rebuild itself. We will never
know whether the Rapa Nui would have survived and prospered, because in
1862 wave after wave of slave traders landed on Easter Island and took
away all healthy individuals. In the space of one year, a level of injury,
death and disease was inflicted on the population leaving a broken people,
bereft of leadership. As their culture lay in disarray a new force entered
the scene whose actions would forever deny the world of a true understanding
of the Rapa Nui culture.
missionaries arrived on Easter when the people were at their most vulnerable.
With their society in ruins it did not take long to convert the population
to Christianity. First to go was the islanders style of dress, or lack
thereof. Tattooing and use of body paint were banned. Destruction of Rapa
Nui artworks, buildings, and sacred objects, including most of the Rongo-rongo
tablets - the key to understanding their history - was swift and complete.
Islanders were forced off their ancestral lands and required to live in
one small section of the island while the rest of the land was used for
all pure Rapa Nui blood died out. Annexation with Chile brought new
influences, and today there are only a few individuals left with ties
to the original population.
6. A Lesson from the Past
1. Arrival - 2. Statue Construction - 3. Erecting the Moai - 4.Conflict - 5. A New Cult - 6. Lesson from the Past
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