Saturday, February 6, 2010

Easter Island Day 3: Orongo and Anakena

Despite a bit of a delay in posting, due partly to my own laziness, here is our post from Day 3 on Easter Island. After the "little hike" from Day 2, we decided that to see more of the island efficiently it would be best to rent a jeep to drive around. Our first stop with the jeep was a huge volcanic crater (by huge I mean about a mile across) called Orongo.
As you can see from the pictures, the crater was stunningly beautiful and located right on the edge of the island. This crater held special meaning to the Rapa Nui people because of the ceremonies that took place here near the end of the island's independent existence. When resources on the island ran out, namely the trees that were all chopped down, and moai could no longer be moved and erected because of this the people of the island changed their entire religious system. The moai represented a form of ancestor worship and those ancestors clearly weren't protecting the islanders from environmental disaster anymore so the islanders changed to something new sometimes referred to as the "Birdman cult". This consisted of all the tribes of the island sending their chief and one strong representative to the Orongo crater at a designated time of year for a competition. Here is a petroglyph from the site showing the birdman.
The chief and representative would stay in the houses pictured below and on a designated day the representatives from each tribe would start the competition to decide which tribe would rule the island for the coming year.
The competition involved each representative climbing down the thousand foot cliffs, swimming the mile across shark-infested waters to the far island you see below, climbing up the cliffs of the island, grabbing an egg of the nesting migratory seabirds, swimming back across the mile of ocean, and climbing back up the cliffs to the waiting chiefs with their egg. Now that's a pretty crazy physical competition if you ask me!
After this we drove across the island to the place where they make those red hats for the moai called pukao. The different volcanoes that make up the island each had different types of lava and this one was valued for its red color.
To wrap up the day we went to the only real beach on the island, and purported landing place of the first island settlers, called Anakena.
The beach also features 2 ahu with some nice moai.
The smaller ahu with the single moai has a different design and this one was actually re-erected by Thor Heyerdahl who wrote the book Con Tiki, which some of you might be familiar with, and was experimenting with techniques for putting the moai up using only materials that were actually available to the Rapa Nui people themselves.

We swam for a while and enjoyed our time at the beach. The water was a bit chilly but it was pretty cool to swim in essentially the middle of the Pacific Ocean with what was probably the cleanest water we've ever swam in.
The last stop for the day was a couple of ahu near town with the only moai on the island that has eyes. A few years ago an archaeologist from the island discovered some pieces of white coral broken among the stones of an ahu. After some confusion as to how they got there, they were pieced together to form eyes for the moai. To date, this moai is the only one that has had eyes restored to it... kinda eerie looking isn't it!

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