Orongo is the Birdman village, and one of the most spectacular sights on the island.
It was here that the famous Birdman ceremony took place. Every spring, the population of the island would come up here for a month to take part in the ceremonials. After the ecological disaster somewhere around 1500 when the last trees on the island were cut down, so the islanders no longer had any wood, or any ropes with which to erect the statues, the society changed and instead of the various tribes competing in erecting statues, a much more war-like society evolved where the various tribes/villages were constantly fighting each other for the ever-scarcer resources. To some extent, the tension was alleviated by the evolution of the ‘Birdman’ ceremony, which took place every spring, here at Orongo.
The crater of the volcano.
Orongo is situated in the south east corner of the island (click here for map) on the rim of an extinct volcano, and the photo above is a stitched together image looking down into the volcano, which is filled with water. On the far side is a gap where the sea is gradually eroding the rim, and soon — and soon in geological terms means perhaps 1000 years or more – the sea will erode further and the water will crash out down into the sea.
Click on this photo to enlarge it, and then click on the photo a second time to see it even bigger, and then use the mouse to move backwards and forwards to see it in its full splendour. It is stitched together from a number of different photos
The three islands
Having admired the crater, you then turn 180 degrees, walk 100 yards, you will have crossed the peninsula, and then see the scene above.
Here you are looking east over the Pacific, and it is 2,000 miles to Tahiti. First however there are three small islands. The first one is just a jagged rock, then a small island, then a larger one. And this larger one was crucial in the birdman ceremony.
Every year, when tribes assembled, they chose a champion who had to climb down the cliffs, (a very perilous undertaking), swim out to the larger island and then wait until the Sooty tern seabirds nested and produced an egg. The first person to find an egg and swim back with it to the main island and climb the cliffs with the egg still intact was proclaimed the champion, and his tribe became the leaders for the next year, and the chief became the headman of the island.
Above is a view of the tip of the peninsula. The crater of the volcano is on the left, the sea is on the right, and in the middle distance are some of the round houses, restored with their roofs grassed over.
This is a view in the reverse direction, looking up to the approach, showing the village of round houses, and the crater on the right.
The largest houses were these long boat-shaped buildings and here is the finest restored example
This shows the entrance to the boat-shaped house and the construction of the roof. Because all the trees on the island had been cut down, there was no longer any timber to provide rafters for the roof, so the roofs had to be made of stone, in a corbelled construction.
Many of the rocks in the village had carvings on them: click here to see the rock art.
The Birdman ceremony was re-enacted in the film Rapa Nui, said to be the worst film that Hollywood ever produced. But it was made on the island, and the re-enactment of this ceremony is spectacular. The disk is obtainable from Amazon in a French version, but with the original English (American?) soundtrack still available.
Actually, it is nowhere near as bad as the critics made out, and for devotees of Easter Island, it is a ‘must’. If you expect the worst, you will be pleasantly surprised.