The Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture

The Birdman Motif of Easter Island



easter island birdman motif
Birdman Motif
One of the most famous motifs on Easter Island is that of the Birdman, a therianthropic figure, half man and half bird, connected to cult events at the sacred site of Orongo.

A paramount chief - 'ariki mau' - held the original power in the society, as was typical throughout Polynesia. Over time, the chief's omnipotence declined (possibly as a result of ecological stresses), and the secular power on the island was seized by a warrior class, called 'matatoa', whose emblem was the Birdman. The result was a decline in the old religion of ancestor worship and an increase in acts of warfare. At this time, statue making appears to have ceased, and the birdman cult came into being.

easter island birdman motif orongo
Bas relief Birdman Motif from Orongo
The birdman cult festivities were held at one of the most dramatic locations on Easter Island, Orongo, on a narrow ridge between a 1,000 foot drop into the ocean on one side and a deep crater on the other.

The most sacred area at Orongo is called Mata Ngarau, where priests chanted and prayed for success in the annual egg hunt.

The purpose of the birdman contest was to obtain the first egg of the season from the offshore islet Motu Nui. Contestants descended the sheer cliffs of Orongo and swam to Motu Nui where they awaited the coming of the birds. Having procured an egg, the contestant swam back and presented it to his sponsor, who then was declared birdman for that year, an important status position.

Birdman Motif Photographs from Easter Island


easter island orongo islet motu nui easter island orongo easter island mata ngarau orongo
Orongo - Islet Motu Nui Painted Slab from Orongo Mata Ngarau, Orongo

easter island birdman orongo easter island birdman orongo easter island orongo
Birdman Motifs at Orongo Mata Ngarau, Orongo Painted Slab from Orongo


Easter Island Introduction
Sentinels in Stone - Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture | Page | 1 | 2 | 3 |
The Rock Art of Easter Island
The Birdman Cult / Motif of Easter Island
Sea & Marine Creatures in Easter Island Rock Art
Designs & Motifs of Easter Island's Rock Petroglyph Carvings
Dr Georgia Lee - Publications on Easter Island
Moai Location Map & Islanders
Contemporary Easter Island Art
Easter Island Glossary
Easter Island Conclusion

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