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Bird man cult

Islanders have their own unique religion called the Bird Man cult of Orongo or Tangata Manu, which was practiced until the 1860s. The three principle deities are as follows: Make-Make is the overlord, the creator and the god of fertility; Hawa-Tuu-Take is the deity of eggs; and the third deity is his wife, Via Ho. The cult is thought by some to have led to feuding in the 1800s during which many Moai where toppled.

 

According to ancient tradition, each year a competition was held in honor of Hawa-Tuu-Take. Legend says that candidates for leadership were revealed in dreams by Ivi-Attuas—individuals with the gift of prophecy. Candidates then chose a representative called a Hopu to represent them in the perilous competition. The Hopu had to climb down and dive off a cliff face on the Rano Kau volcano, before swimming to a rocky island through shark-infested waters to find a Sooty Tern egg. The competition was extremely dangerous and many Hopu died from falling, drowning or shark attack.

The first Hopu to return with an intact Sooty Tern’s egg and present it to their candidate would be the winner. Once a winner was declared a fire would be lit on the landward rim of the volcano Rano Krau, its position denoting whether the new Tangata Manu was from the West or East of the island. The Tangata Manu became leader for that year and his clan had exclusive rights to collect that season’s wild bird’s eggs and fledglings.

 

Of course the source of the real power came from the Ivi-Attuas—effectively the shamans (priests)—who chose the leadership candidates according to their dreams. The cult worship on the island along with its practices was suppressed by Christian missionaries during the 1860s. Today Orongo village ceremonies are only practiced at the annual games held in the summer.










By Zenan Delaney

Screenwriter, producer, actor, director, radio host, travel journalist and writer, Zen's a permanent tourist with years of social...

24 Jun 2009




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