Easter Island Stories and Tips

Orongo - where topknots and heroes were made

Rano Kau (Rano=volcano/Kau=wide or vast) is a 350m-high mound of red stone from which moai "topknots", symbolising hair (and not hats as was once thought), were carved. (For me, one of the most extraordinary achievements was not erecting the moai in the first place but then placing the topknot on his head - no one, despite years of experiments and speculation, has yet explained how this was done.)

From the volcano summit, you have a magnificent view across not just the island but also out to sea and in particular over Motu Nui, a rocky island of 300 squared metres off shore, which hosts 3 or 4 bird species when they nest every August. Traditionally, this was the island to which a nominated champion for each tribal chief swam in a competition to collect and return with the first fragata (frigate bird) egg - the successful entrant would win for his chief the right to rule for one year as the birdman (O=place/rongo=message or messenger so this was the place where the message came as to who would be king). The summit was also the spot from which the inhabitants used to watch the competition and cheer on their candidate for his speed and bravery - having looked at the rocky slope to the water and read about sharks in the surrounding waters, it didn't seem such a great idea to me.

Orongo also gives its name to the old and well-preserved ceremonial village of 2 rows of underground houses with doorways facing the sea, the stones of some of which also bear some remarkable petroglyphs of Make-Make and the birdman, presumably signifying the incarnation of the victorious tribesman as king and birdman on earth. Technically there is nothing to stop you going into one of the houses but the doorways are so small as to admit a child or very short, slim adult so...

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