BIRDMAN FROM RAPA NUI
Early in spring all tribes from Rapa Nui gathered in Orongo village to begin an annual competition of Tangata-Manu. The aim of the ceremony was to chose the birdman for the coming year. It begun when a rare migratory seabird arrived from oversees to nest on the island.
And who was birdman? It was a title given to the chief of the tribe who won the competition. It came together with religious and political powers that were held by the winner for one full year. For this time birdman was tapu (sacred) and had the most powerful position on the whole Rapa Nui.
In order to win the competition representatives of all tribes had to go down the cliffs of Rano Kau volcano, swim across the rough waters and climb the small island where the birds nested. Next, they needed to find the first egg nested by the manutara bird and return to the village through the same way with an unbroken egg. It was a winner-takes-it-all ceremony and it was celebrated until around 1867.
The Rapa Nui movie (1994) directed by Kevin Costner gives you an idea how the birdman ceremony was carried out. Of course, as it is not a documentary, it should be treated as a fiction story but as we’ve learnt from our guide the depiction of birdman ceremony is showed quite accurately.