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Religion — Position of the Miru Clan — The Script — The Bird Cult — Wooden Carvings.

The religion of the Islanders, employing the word in our sense, seems always to have been somewhat hazy,1 and the difficulty in grasping it now is increased by the fact that since becoming Roman Catholics they dislike giving the name of "atua," or god, to their old deities; it only drops out occasionally. They term them "aku-aku," which means spirits, or more frequently "tatane," a word of which the derivation is obvious. The confusion of ideas was crystallised by a native, who gravely remarked that they were uncertain whether one of these beings was God or the Devil, so they "wrote to Tahiti, and Tahiti wrote to Rome, and Rome said he was not the Devil, he was God"; a modern view being apparently taken at headquarters of the evolution of religious ideas. Both these words, tatane and aku-aku, will be employed for supernatural beings, without prejudice to their original character, or claims to divinity; some of them were certainly the spirits of the dead, but had probably become deified; the ancestors of Hotu-matua were reported to have come with him to the island. They existed in large numbers, being both male and female, and were connected with different parts of the island; a list of about ninety was given, with their places of residence. No worship was paid, and the only notice taken of these supernatural persons was to mention before meals the names of those to whom a man owed special duty, and invite them to partake; it was etiquette to mention with your own the patron of any guest who was present. There was no sacrifice; the invitation to the supernatural power was purely formal, or restricted to the essence of the food only. Nevertheless, the aku-aku, in this at least being human, were amiable or the reverse according to whether or not they were well fed. If they were hungry, they ate women and children, and one was reported as having a proclivity for stealing potatoes; if, on the contrary, they were well-disposed to a man, they would do work for him, and he would wake in the morning to find his potato field dug, which, as our informant truly remarked, was "no like Kanaka."

The aku-aku appeared in human form, in which they were indistinguishable from ordinary persons. One known as Ukao-hoheru looked like a very beautiful woman, and was the wife of a young Tupahotu who had no idea she was really a tatane. She lived with him at Mahatua on the north coast, and bore him a child. One very wet day she was obliged to leave the house to take fresh fire to the cooking-place where it had gone out. When she returned, her husband was angry that she had no red paint on her face, and, not heeding her explanation that the rain had washed it off, took a stick to beat her. She ran away, and he followed, till at last she sat down on the edge of the eastern headland, where there is now an ahu known by her name. When by and by he came up, she told him to go back and look after the child, and fled away like a rushing whirlwind over the sea and was no more seen.

Two other female tatane are reported to have lived together in a cave on the cliff-side of Paréhé,2 whose names were Kava-ara and Kava-tua. They heard all men tell of the beauty of a certain Uré-a-hohove, a young man who lived near Hanga Roa; so they went down to see him, put him to sleep, and carried him on his mat up to their cave, where they left him. Before going away they told an old woman, also an aku-aku, that she was not to go and look into the cave. This she naturally proceeded to do, and, finding Uré, warned him to eat nothing the two tatane might give to him, supplying him herself with some chicken. When therefore his captors came back and offered him food, he only pretended to take it, and ate the chicken instead. They then went away again. The old woman came back, and said, “If cockroaches come, kill them; if flies come, kill them; but if a crab comes, do not kill it." Uré did as he was told, and killed the cockroaches and flies, which were other tatane; but the crab he did not kill, it was the old woman. Meanwhile for many days the father of Uré wept for him, till some men sailing under the cliff while fishing, heard a song, and looking up saw the missing man; but they would not go and fetch him, though the father gave them much food, for the cliff was steep and the cave difficult to reach. At last a woman volunteered for the task, and was lowered over the cliff in a net, and by this means succeeded in fetching Uré safely to the top. The history ends with his return to his home, and does not mention if, in correct fashion, he married his fair deliverer.

Aku-aku were not immortal. A man called Raraku, after whom the mountain is said to have been named, caught a big "heke," which seems to have been an octopus, in the sea near Tongariki and ate it, with the result that he went mad, and all people gave chase to him. He caught up a wooden lizard (fig. 117), and, using it as a club, ran amok among tatane across the north shore and down the west coast, killing them right and left; the names of twenty-three were given who thus met their fate.

Human beings, on the other hand, were liable to be attacked by tatane, more particularly at night, when there was risk, not only to their bodies, but also to their own spirits,3 which were at large while they slept. It is still firmly believed that in dreams the soul visits any locality present to the thought. On one of the ahu is a rough erection of slabs, said to be the house of the aku-aku Mata-wara-wara, or "Strong-Rain." He had as a partner another aku-aku called Papai-a-taki-vera, and they arranged between them that Mata should bring on rain, while Papai constructed a house of reeds which was only there at night; then when the spirits of sleeping people, which were wandering abroad, became cold with the rain, they went into the house and the tatane killed them. The unfortunate sleeper waked in the morning feeling distinctly unwell, he lingered on for two or three days, and then died. It was not essential to life to have a soul, but you could not really get on comfortably without it. No knowledge survives of any belief or ideas with regard to a future state. The spirit, it was said, appeared occasionally for five or ten years after a man's death and then vanished.

Pan in the shape of tatane is by no means dead. Not only do such beings haunt the crater of Rano Raraku, but tales are told of weird apparitions at dusk which vanish mysteriously into space.

There were no priests, but certain men, known as "koromaké," practised spells which would secure the death of an enemy, and there was also the class known as "ivi-atua," which included both men and women. The most important of these ivi-atua, of whom it was said there might be perhaps ten in the island, held commune with the aku-aku, others were able to prophesy, and could foresee the whereabouts of fish or turtle, while some had the gift of seeing hidden things, and would demand contributions from a secreted store of bananas or potatoes, in a way which was very disconcerting to the owner.

There was practically only one religious function of a general nature; it was very popular and had a surprising origin. Attention was attracted on the south coast by a particularly long stoep of rounded pebbles measuring 139 feet, and obviously connected with a thatched house now disappeared. That, our guides said in answer to a question, “is a haré-a-té-atua, where they praised the gods." "What gods?” "The men who came from far away in ships. They saw they had pink cheeks, and they said they were gods." The early voyagers, for the cult went back at least three generations, were therefore taken for deities in the same way as Cook was at Hawaii. The simplest form of this celebration took place on long mounds of earth known as "miro-o-orne," or earth-ships, of which there are several in the island, one of them with a small mound near it to represent a boat. Here the natives used to gather together and act the part of a European crew, one taking the lead and giving orders to the others. A more formal ceremony was held in a large house. This had three doors on each side by which the singers entered, who were up to a hundred in number, and ranged themselves in lines within; in one house, of which a diagram was drawn, a deep hole was dug in the middle, at the bottom of which was a gourd covered with a stone to act as a drum. On the top of this a man danced, being hidden out of sight in the hole.

In other cases, two, or perhaps three, boats were constructed inside the house, the masts of which went through the roof; these boats were manned with crews clad in the garments of European sailors, the gifts from passing vessels being kept as stage properties. Fresh music was composed for every occasion, and in one song, which was quoted, much reference is made to the "red face of the captain from over the seas." The position of chief performer was one of great honour, being analogous, on a glorified scale, to the leader of a cotillon of our own day. It was stated by an old man that his great-grandfather had so acted, and even the words sung were still remembered. Te Haha, a Miru (fig. 83), gave us to understand that he had been a great social success in his youth, and counted up three koro, and seven hare-ate-atua at which he had been present. As he was a handsome old man, and was connected with the court of the chief Ngaara, his pride of recollection was very probably justified. Juan, mixing up, no doubt, recollections of a later date, gave a vivid representation on one of these spots of the pseudo-captain striding about and using very strong language, while he called upon the engineer to "make more smoke so that the ship should go fast."



On the border-line, between religion and magic, wherever, if anywhere, that line exists, was the position of the clan known as the Miru. Members of this group had, in the opinion of the islanders, the supernatural and valuable gift of being able to increase all food supplies, especially that of chickens, and this power was particularly in evidence after death. It has been known that certain skulls from Easter are marked with designs, such as the outline of a fish; these are crania of the Miru, and called "puoko-moa," or fowl-heads, because they had, in particular, the quality of making hens lay eggs (fig. 96). Hotu, the Miru, whose mother, it may be remembered, was the victim of a cannibal feast, made his own skull an heirloom, as "it was so extremely good for chickens," that he did not wish it to go out of the family. His son gave it to a relative, who was the father of an old man from whom we managed to obtain it. When the time came to hand it over to us, the late owner began to cling to it affectionately, and say that he "wept much at the thought of its going to England"; as, however, the bargain had already been completed, we remained obdurate, and at the time of writing Hotu resides with Ko Tori at the Royal College of Surgeons.

The Miru were unique in other ways; they were the only group which had a headman or chief, who was known as the "ariki," or sometimes as the "ariki-mau," the great chief, to distinguish him from the "ariki-paka," a term which seems to have been given to all other members of the clan. The office of ariki-mau was hereditary, and he was the only man who was obliged to marry into his own clan.4 It was customary when he was old and feeble that he should resign in favour of his son. There are various lists of the succession of chiefs, counted from the first immigrant, Hotu-matua . The oldest lists are those given by Bishop Jaussen5 and by Admiral Lapelin,6 which contain some thirty names. Thomson gives one with fifty-seven. In our day there was admittedly much uncertainty about the sequence, but the number was said to be thirty,7 and two independent lists were obtained. All these categories differ, though they contain many of the same names, particularly at the beginning and end.



The last man to fill the post of ariki with its original dignity was Ngaara; he died shortly before the Peruvian raid, and becomes a very real personage to anyone inquiring into the history of the island. He was short, and very stout, with white skin, as had all his family, but so heavily tattooed as to look black. He wore feather hats of various descriptions, and was hung round both back and front with little wooden ornaments, which jingled as he walked. When our authorities can remember him his wife was dead and he lived with his son Kaimokoi. It was not permitted to see them eat, and no one but the servants was allowed to enter the house. His headquarters were at Anakena, the cove on the island where, according to tradition, the first canoe landed. It is unique in having a sandy shore, and is surrounded by an amphitheatre of low hills. Behind it to the west rises the high central ground of the island, beyond it, on the other side, is the eastern plain; it thus approximately terminates the strip of land held by the Miru (fig. 97). There are now at Anakena the remains of six ahu, a few statues, and the foundations of various houses. Ngaara held official position for the whole island, but he was neither a leader in war, nor the fount of justice, nor even a priest; he can best be described as the custodian of certain customs and traditions. The act most nearly approaching a religious ceremony was conducted under his auspices, though not by him personally. In time of drought he sent up a younger son and other ariki-paka to a hill-top to pray for rain: they were painted on one side red, on the other black with a stripe down the centre. These prayers were addressed to Hiro, said to be the god of the sky, a supernatural being in whom we seem getting nearer the idea of a divinity, as distinct from a spirit of the dead, and of whom we would gladly have learnt more than could be discovered.


Hill on left terraced summit.  

The ariki-paka had other duties besides praying for rain; they made "mam," or strings of white feathers tied on to sticks, which they placed among the yams to make them grow. They buried a certain small fish among the sugar-canes to bring up the plants, and when a koro was being held, and it was consequently particularly desirable that the fowls should thrive, an ariki-paka painted a design in red, known as the “rei-miro," below the door of the chicken-house (fig. 115).

Te Haha, the "social success," who was an ariki-paka in the entourage of Ngaara, gave graphic descriptions of life at Anakena when he was a boy. If, he said, people wanted chickens, they applied to the Ariki-mau, who sent him with maru, and his visits were always attended with satisfactory results.

Ngaara never consumed rats, and one day, coming across the boy watching rats being cooked, he was extremely angry, for it transpired that, if Te Haha ha(i eaten them, his power for producing chickens would have diminished; presumably because he would have imbibed ratty nature, which was disastrous to eggs and young chickens. The Ariki, however, made himself useful to him on occasion. The younger Miru had long hair reaching to his heels, and one day, when he was asleep in a cave, some one cut it off. So he went to Ngaara, who told him to bring ten coconuts, which he broke and put in pieces of the sacred tree, “ngau-ngau"; the spell blasted the offender, who promptly died. Ngaara himself attended the inauguration of any house of importance. The wooden lizards were put formally on each side of the entrance to the porch, and the Ariki and an ivi-atua, who "went with him like a tatane," were the first to eat in the new dwelling: only the houses with stone foundations were thus honoured. The Ariki was visited one month in the year by "all people," who brought him the plant known as pua on the end of sticks, put the pua into his house, and retired backwards.

He also held receptions on other occasions, seated on the broken-off head of an old image, which was pointed out on a grassy declivity among the hills behind Anakena; these were special occasions for criticising the tattoo. Those who were well tattooed were sent to stand on one hill slope, whilst those who were badly done were sent to another; the Ariki and men behind him laughed contemptuously at the latter, which, as the process was permanent and could not be altered, seems slightly unkind. These receptions were also attended by men who had made boats, and by twins, to whom the Ariki gave a "royal name." Such children were not, as in so many countries, considered unlucky, but it was necessary that at birth they should live in a house apart, otherwise they would not survive. This superstition still exists. Shortly before our arrival a woman in the village had given birth to twins, for whom a little grass house was put up; another woman went in and brought them out to the mother to nurse.



Closely connected with the subject of the Miru clan is that of the method of writing. While we can only catch glimpses of the. image cult through the mists of antiquity, the tablets, known as "kohau-rongo-rongo,"8 were an integral part of life on the island within the memory of men not much past middle age (fig. 98). The highest authority on them was the ariki Ngaara. It was tantalising to feel how near we were to their translation and yet how far. Te Haha had begun to learn to write, but found that his hand shook too much, besides, as he explained, Ngaara used "to send him to the chickens." Juan had had the offer of learning one form of such script, but, not unnaturally, had looked upon it with some contempt, preferring European accomplishments. The information which could be gathered was, therefore, with one exception, which will be noted later, simply that of the layman, or man in the street, who had been aware of the existence of the art and seen it going on around him, but had no personal knowledge.

The tablets were of all sizes up to 6 feet. It was a picturesque sight to see an old man pick up a piece of banana-stem, larger than himself, from among the grove in which we were talking, and stagger along with it to show what it meant to carry a tablet, though, as he explained, the sides of the tablet were flat, not round like the stem. It is said that the original symbols were brought to the island by the first-comers, and that they were on "paper," that when the paper was done, their ancestors made them from the banana plant, and when it was found that withered they resorted to wood. Every clan had professors in the art who were known as rongo-rongo men ("tangata-rongo-rongo"). They had houses apart, the sites of which are shown in various localities. Here they practised their calling, often sitting and working with their pupils in the shade of the bananas; their wives had separate establishments. In writing, the incision was made with a shark's tooth: the beginners worked on the outer sheaths of banana-stems, and later were promoted to use the wood known as "toro-miro."9


[Brit. Mus.]

The glyphs are, as will be seen, so arranged that when the figures of one row are right way up, those of the one immediately below it are on their heads; thus only alternate rows can, at the same time, be seen in correct position (fig. 98). The method of reading was, according to Te Haha, to read one row from left to right, then come back reading the next from right to left, the method known as boustrophedon, from the manner in which an ox ploughs a furrow. The finished ones were wrapped in reeds and hung up in the houses. According to two independent authorities they could only be touched by the professors or their servants, and were taboo to the uninitiated, which, however, does not quite agree with other statements, nor with that of the missionaries that they were to be found in "every house." They were looked upon as prizes to be carried off in war, but they were often burnt with the houses in tribal conflict.

Ngaara is said to have had "hundreds of kohau" in his house, and instructed in the art, which he had learnt from his grandfather. He is described, with a vivid personal touch, as teaching the words, holding a tablet in one hand and swaying from side to side as he recited. Besides giving instruction, he inspected the candidates prepared by other professors, who were generally their own sons; he looked at their kohau and made them read, on which he either passed them, clapping if they did well, or turned them back. Their sponsors were made personally responsible. If the pupils acquitted themselves creditably, presents of kohau were made to the teachers; if the youth failed, the tablets of the instructor were taken away.

Every year there was a great gathering of rongo-rongo men at Anakena, according to Te Haha, as many as several hundreds of them came together. The younger and more energetic of the population assembled from all districts in the island to look on. They brought "heu-heu" (feathers on the top of sticks), tied pua on to them, and stuck the sticks in the ground all round the place. The inhabitants of the neighbouring districts brought offerings of food to Ngaara, that he should be able to supply the multitude, and the oven was "five yards along." The gathering was near the principal ahu, midway between the sandy shore and the background of hills. The Ariki and his son Kaimokoi sat on seats made of tablets, and each had a tablet in his hand; they wore feather hats, as did all the professors. The rongo-rongo men were arranged in rows, with an alley-way down the centre to the Ariki. Some of them had brought with them one tablet only; others as many as four. The old ones read in turn, or sometimes two together, from the places where they stood, but their tablets were not inspected. Te Haha and his comrades stood on the outskirts, and he and one other lad held maru in their hands. If a young man failed, he was called up and his errors pointed out; but if an old man did not read well, Ngaara would beckon to Te Haha, who would go up to the man and take him out by the ear. Our informant repeated this part of the story identically months later, and added that the Ariki would say to the culprit, “Are you not ashamed to be taken out by a child?"; the offender's hat was taken away, but the tablet was not inspected.

The entire morning was spent in hearing one half of the men read; there was an interval at midday for a meal, after which the remainder recited, the whole performance lasting till evening. Fights occasionally ensued from people scoffing at those who failed. Ngaara would then call Te Haha's attention to it, and the boy would go up to the offenders with the maru in his hand and look at them, when they would stop and there would be no more noise. "When the function was over, the Ariki stood on a platform borne by eight men and addressed the rongo-rongo men on their duties, and doing well, and gave them each a chicken. Another old man, Jotefa, gave a different account of the great assembly, by which the Ariki sat on his stoep and the old men stood before him and "prayed"; according to this version they either did not bring their tablets or their doing so was voluntary. In addition to the great day, there were minor assemblies at new moon, or the last quarter of the moon, when the rongo-rongo men came to Anakena. The Ariki walked up and down reading the tablets, while the old men stood in a body and looked on.

Ngaara used also to travel round the island, staying for a week or two in different localities with the resident experts. Another savant on the south coast was said to be "too big a man to have a school," and also went about visiting and inspecting learned establishments in the same manner.

Ngaara, before the end, fell on evil days. The Ngaure clan was in the ascendancy, and carried off the Miru as slaves; the Ariki was taken to Akahanga on the south coast with his son, Kaimokoi, and grandson, Maurata. They were there five years in captivity, and the "Miru cried much"; at the end of that time the clan united with the Tupahotu and rescued the old man. He was then ill, and died not long afterwards at Tahai, on the west coast, near Hanga Roa, while living with his daughter, who had married a Marama. For six days after his death everyone worked at making the sticks with feathers on the top (heu-heu), and they were put all round the place. He was buried in the ruined image ahu at Tahai, his body being carried on three of the tablets, and followed through a lane of spectators by the rongo-rongo men; the tablets were buried with him. His head paid the penalty of its greatness, and was subsequently stolen; its whereabouts was unknown. Ten or fifteen of his tablets were given to old men; the rest went to a servant, Pito, and on his death to Maura ta. When Maurata went to Peru, Také, a relative of Te Haha, obtained them, and Salmon asked Te Haha to get hold of them for him. Také, however, unfortunately owed Te Haha a grudge, because when Te Haha was in Salmon's service, and consequently well off, he did not give him as many presents as his relative thought should have been forthcoming, and he consequently refused to surrender them. They were hidden in a cave whose general locality was surmised, but Také died without making known the exact site, and they could never be found. Kaimokoi's tablets were burnt in war.

The question remains what were the subjects with which the tablets dealt, and in what manner did they record them? Various attempts have been made to deal with a problem which will probably never be wholly solved. Twice before our own day native assistance has been sought to decipher them. It will be remembered that the existence of these glyphs was first reported by the missionaries; but even at that time, when volunteers were asked for who could translate them, none came forward. Bishop Jaussen, Vicaire Apostolique of Tahiti, managed to find in that island a native of Easter among those brought there to work on the Brander plantations, who was supposed to understand them, and who read them after the boustrophedon method. From the information given by him, the Bishop was satisfied that the signs represented different things, such as sun, stars, the ariki, and so forth, and has given a list of the figures and their equivalent. At the same time he held that each one was only a peg on which to hang much longer matter which was committed to memory. The other attempt to obtain a translation was that of Paymaster Thomson, of U.S.S. Mohican, in 1886. There was then living an old man, Ure-vae-iko by name, who was said to be the last to understand the form of writing; he declined to assist in deciphering them on the ground that his religious teachers had said it would imperil his soul. Photographs, however, were shown, and, by the aid of stimulants, he was induced to give a version of their meaning, the words of which were taken down by Salmon. It was, however, remarked that when the photographs were changed, the words proceeded just the same.

Inquiries were made by the Expedition about this old man, and it was agreed by the islanders that he had never possessed any tablets nor could he make them, but that he had been a servant of Ngaara and had learnt to repeat them. Before leaving the island we went with the old men through the five translations given by Thomson. Of three nothing was known; one which describes the process of creation was recognised as that of a kohau, but looked at a little askance, as there were Tahitian words in it. The last was laughed out of court as being merely a love-song which everyone knew.

Our own early experiences had resembled those of the Americans. Photographs of tablets, which were produced merely to elicit general information, were to our surprise promptly read, certain words being assigned to each figure; but after a great deal of trouble had been taken, in drawing the signs and writing down the particular matter, it was found that any figure did equally well. The natives were like children pretending to read and only reciting. It was noted, however, with interest, that in perhaps half a dozen cases different persons recited words approximately the same, beginning, “He timo te ako-ako, he ako-ako tena," and on inquiry it was said that they were derived from one of the earliest tablets and were generally known. It was "like the alphabet learned first"; Uré-vai-iko had stated that they were the "great old words," all others being only "little ones." To get any sort of translation was a difficult matter, to ask for it was much the same as for a stranger solemnly to inquire the meaning of some of our own old nursery rhymes, such as "Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle" — some words could be explained, others could not, the whole meaning was unknown. It seems safe, however, to assume that at least we have here the contents of one of the old tablets.

With regard to other kohau, a list was obtained of the subjects with which they were believed to deal. These amounted to thirteen in all, most of the names being given by several different persons. We have seen that there was a kohau of the "Ika," the murdered men; this was known to only one professor, who taught it to a pupil, and the two divided the island between them, the master taking the west and north coast to Anakena and the pupil the remainder. A connected, or possibly the same, tablet was made at the instance of the relatives of the victim and helped to secure vengeance. Certain kohau were said to be lists of wars: some dealt with ceremonies, and others formed part of ceremonies themselves. They were in evidence at koro, where Ngaara and the professors used to come and "pray for the father," and a woman went on to the roof of the house holding the "Kohau-o-te-pure" (prayer tablet). In another case, a woman who wished to honour her father-in-law, and at the same time secure fertility, set up a pole round which she walked holding a child and a tablet, given her by Ngaara, while he and other rongo-rongo men who brought their kohau at his order stood by and sang.

Perhaps the most interesting tablet was one known as the "Kohauo-te-ranga." The story was told to us sitting on the foundation of a house on the east side of Raraku, the aspect which is not quarried. This house, it was said, had been the abode of two men, who were old when the informant was a boy, and who taught the rongo-rongo; some days ten students would come, other days fifteen. The wives and children of the old men lived in another house lower down the mountain. One of the experts, Arohio by name, was a Tupahotu, and had as a friend another member of the same clan called Kaara. Kaara was servant to the Ariki, and had been taught rongo-rongo by him, and Ngaara, trusting him entirely, gave into his care this most valuable kohau known as "ranga." It was the only one of the kind in existence, and was reported to have been brought by the first immigrants; it had the notable property of securing victory to its holders, in such a manner that they were able to get hold of the enemy for the "ranga" — that is, as captives or slaves for manual labour. Kaara, anxious to obtain the talisman for his own clan, stole the kohau and gave it to Arohio, who kept it in this house. When Ngaara asked for it, the man said that it was at Raraku, but before the Ariki could get hold of it, Arohio sent it back to Kaara, and these two thus sent it backwards and forwards to one another, lying to Ngaara when needful. The Ariki seems to have taken a somewhat feeble line, and, instead of punishing his servant, merely tried to bribe him, with the result that he never again saw his kohau. The son of Arohio sold it to one of the missionaries, and it is presumably one of those which went to Tahiti. The matters with which it would naturally have been supposed that the rongo-rongo would deal, such as genealogies, lists of ariki, or the wanderings of the people, were never mentioned.

We were fortunately just in time to come across a man who had been able to make one species of glyphs, though he was no longer, alas! in the hey-day of his powers. We were shown one day in the village a piece of paper taken from a Chilean manuscript book, on which were somewhat roughly drawn a number of signs, some of them similar to those already known, others different from any we had seen (fig. 99). They were found to have been derived from an old man known as Tomenika. He was, by report, the last man acquainted with an inferior kind of rongo-rongo known as the "tau," but was now ill and confined to the leper colony. We paid a visit to him armed with a copy of the signs, but found him inside his doorway, which it was obviously undesirable to enter, and disinclined to give help; he acknowledged the figures as his work, recited "He timo te ako-ako," and explained some of the signs as having to do with "Jesus Christ." The outlook was not promising.

Another visit, however, was paid, this time with Juan's assistance, and though the old man appeared childish, and the natives frankly said that "he had lost his memory," things went better.

He was seated on a blanket outside his grass-hut, bare-legged, wearing a long coat and felt hat; he had piercing brown eyes, and in younger days must have been both good-looking and intelligent. He asked if we wanted the tau, and requested a paper and pencil. The former he put on the ground in front of him between his legs, and took hold of the pencil with his thumb above and first finger below; he made three vertical lines, first of noughts then of ticks, gave a name to each line, and proceeded to recite. There was no doubt about the genuineness of the recitation, but he gabbled fast, and when asked to go slowly so that it could be taken down, was put out and had to begin again; he obviously used the marks simply to keep count of the different phrases. At the end of the visit he offered to write something for next time. We left some paper with him, and on our return two or three days later he had drawn five lines horizontally, of which four were in the form of the glyphs, but the same figure was constantly repeated, and there were not more than a dozen different symbols in all. It was said by the escort to be "lazy writing." Tomenika complained that the paper was not "big enough," so another sheet was given, which was put by the side of the first and the lines continued in turn horizontally. He drew from left to right rapidly and easily. Unfortunately, it did not seem wise to touch the paper, but the writing was copied, by looking over it as he went on, with the sincere hope that his blanket did not contain too many inhabitants of some infectious variety. The recitation was partly the same as on the previous occasion, the signs taking the place of ticks; anything from three or four to ten words were said to each sign. If he made a variation when asked to repeat, it was in transposing the order of two phrases; evidently the signs themselves were not to him, now at any rate, connected with particular words.

When we subsequently went with our escort into the meaning of the words, it was found that the latter half of each phrase generally consisted of one of the lower numericals preceded by the word “tau," or year — thus, “the year four," "the year five," etc.; the numbers, roughly speaking, ran in order of sequence up to ten, recommencing with each line. The first part of the phrase was generally said to be the name of a man, but of this it was difficult to judge, as children were called after any object or place; thus "flowering grass" might be the name of a thing, or of a place, or of a man called after either the object or the locality.

Happily, one of the most reliable old men, Kapiera by name, had at one time lived with Tomenika, who was said to have been in those days always busy writing; and he was able to explain the general bearing of the tau. When a koro was made in honour of a father, an expert was called in to commemorate the old man's deeds, “how many men he had killed, how many chickens he had stolen," and a tablet was made accordingly. There was, in addition, a larger tablet containing a list of these lesser ones, and giving merely the name of each hero and the year of his koro. It would read somewhat thus, “James the year four, Charles the year five," and so forth, going up to the year ten, when the numbers began again. If there were two koro in a year, they came under the same numeral. It was this general summary which had been recited by Tomenika, and, though there was a certain amount of confusion, each line seems to have represented a decade. In addition, as will be seen, “James" and "Charles " each had a kohau of their own.

Kapiera was able to give a specimen of the lesser tau; it illustrates interestingly the general method of condensation in which, even in the recitations, a few words assume or implicate extended knowledge. It ran thus, “Of Kao the year nine," "Ngakurariha the eldest"; then come five men's names followed by the name of a fish; then a doubtful word; then "that side island my place." "I see Ngakurariha at the koro." The story, as explained, was that Kao, a man of Vinapu on the south coast, and Ngakurariha, his eldest son, went to Mahatua on the north side and stayed with the five men whose names are given, who were brothers, and learnt from them the tau. Having done this, they proceeded to murder them, and went and took a fish, then returned to Rano Kao, made a koro and the tau.

The tau was, it was said, originally made by an ancestor of the first immigrant chief, Hotu-matua; it was not taboo in the same way as the other rongo-rongo, and was not known to Ngaara. There were, about the beginning of last century, only three personages acquainted with it. One was Omatohi, a Tupahotu, whose son, Tea-a-tea, was Tomenika's foster-father and instructor in the art. It was said by Tomenika himself and by others that he "only knew part," and there were other signs with which he was not acquainted, for his foster-father had died before he knew all.

A great effort was subsequently made to get further information from Tomenika, more particularly as to the exact method of writing, but he was back in his hut very ill, and all conversation had once more to be done through the doorway. Every way that could be thought of was tried to elicit information, but without real success. He did draw two fresh symbols, saying first they were "new" and then "old," and stating they represented the man who gave the koro, but "there was no sign meaning a man." "He did not know that for ariki, the old men did," "the words were new, but the letters were old," "each line represented a koro." An attempt to get him to reproduce any tau made by himself was a failure. The answers, on the whole, were so wandering and contradictory, that after a second visit under those conditions, making five in all, the prospect of getting anything further of material value did not seem sufficient to justify the risks toothers, however slight. As the last interview drew to a close, I left the hut for a moment, and leant against the wall outside, racking my brains to see if there was any question left unasked, any possible way of getting at the information; but most of what the old man knew he had forgotten, and what he dimly remembered he was incapable of explaining. I made one more futile effort, then bade him good-bye and turned away. It was late afternoon on a day of unusual calm, everything in the lonely spot was perfectly still, the sea lay below like a sheet of glass, the sun as a globe of fire was nearing the horizon, while close at hand lay the old man gradually sinking, and carrying in his tired brain the last remnants of a once-prized knowledge. In a fortnight he was dead.



No detailed systematic study of the tablets has as yet been possible from the point of view of the Expedition, but it seems at present probable that the system was one of memory, and that the signs were simply aids to recollection, or for keeping count like the beads of a rosary. To what extent the figures were used at will, or how far each was associated with a definite idea it is impossible to say. Possibly there was no unvarying method; certain ones may conveniently have been kept for an ever-recurrent factor, as the host in the tau, and in well-known documents, such as "he timo te ako-ako," they would doubtless be reproduced in orthodox succession. But in the tablets which we possess the same figures are continually repeated, and the fact that equivalents were always having to be found for new names, as in that of the fish-man, or ika, suggest that they may have been largely selected by the expert haphazard from a known number. As Tomenika said, “the words were new, but the letters were old," or to quote Kapiera to the same effect, they were "the same picture, but other words." It will be noted how few men are reported to have known each variety of rongo-rongo, and that while Ngaara looked at the tablets of the boys, apparently to see if they were properly cut, it was in the recitation only of the older men that accuracy was insisted on. The names which Bishop Jaussen's informant assigned to some five hundred figures may or may not be accurate, but whether the native or anyone else could have stated what the signs conveyed is another matter. It is easy to give the term for a knot in a pocket-handkerchief, but no one save the owner can say whether he wishes to remember to pay his life insurance or the date of a tea-party.

In trying to enter into the state of society and of mind which evolved the tablets there are two points worth noticing. Firstly, the Islanders are distinctly clever with their hands and fond of representing forms. Setting aside the large images, the carving of the small wooden ones is very good, and the accuracy of the tablet designs is wonderful. Then they have real enjoyment in reciting categories of words; for example, in recounting folktales, opportunity was always gleefully taken of any mention of feasting to go through the whole of the food products of the island. In the same way, if a hero went from one locality to another, the name of every place en route would be rolled out without any further object than the mere pleasure of giving a string of names. This form of recitation appears to affect them aesthetically, and the mere continuation of sound to be a pleasure. Given, therefore, that it was desired to remember lists of words, whether categories of names or correct forms of prayer, the repetition would be a labour of love, and to draw figures as aids to recollection would be very natural.

Nevertheless, the signs themselves have no doubt a history, which as such, even apart from interpretation, may prove to be signposts in our search for the origin of this mysterious people.



Knowledge of the tablets was confined to a few, and formed a comparatively small element of life in the island; the whole of social existence revolved round the bird cult, and it was the last of the old order to pass away. The main object of the cult was to obtain the first egg of a certain migratory sea-bird, and the rites were connected with the western headland, Rano Kao. Little has yet been said of this volcano, but, from the scenic point of view, it is the most striking portion of the island. Its height is 1,300 feet, and it possesses a crater two-thirds of a mile across, at the bottom of which is a lake largely covered with weeds and plant-life. On the eastward, or landward face, the mountain, as already explained, slopes downward with a smooth and grassy incline, and the other three sides have been worn by the waves into cliffs over 1,000 feet in height. On the outermost side the sea has nearly forced its way into the crater itself; and the ocean is now divided from the lake at this point by only a narrow edge, along which it would be possible but not easy to walk with safety. At some near date, as geological ages reckon, the island will have a magnificent harbour (figs. loo and io8) . Off this part of the coast are three little islets, outlying portions of the original mountain, which have as yet withstood the unceasing blows of the ocean. Their names are Motu Nui, Motu Iti, and Motu Kao-kao, and on them nest the sea-birds which have for unknown centuries played so important a part in the history of the island. On the mainland, immediately opposite these islets, there is on the top of the cliff a deserted stone village; it is known as Orongo, and in it the Islanders awaited the coming of the birds. It consists of nearly fifty dwellings arranged in two rows, both facing the sea, and partly overlapping; the lower row terminates just before the narrowest part of the crater wall is reached. The final houses are built among an outcrop of rocks; they are betwixt two groups of stones, and have in front of them a small natural pavement. The stones nearest the cliff look as if at any moment they might join their brethren in headlong descent to the shore below (fig. 103) . Both the upstanding rocks and pavement are covered with carvings; some of them are partly obliterated by time, and can only be seen in a good light, but the ever-recurrent theme is a figure with the body of a man and the head of a bird; portions of the carvings are covered by the houses, and they therefore antedate them.


Top, a bird superimposed on a European ship.

The whole position is marvellous, surpassing the wildest scenes depicted in romance. Immediately at hand are these strange relics of a mysterious past; on one side far beneath is the dark crater lake; on the other, a thousand feet below, swells and breaks the Pacific Ocean, it girdles the islets with a white belt of foam, and extends, in blue unbroken sweep, till it meets the ice-fields of the Antarctic. The all-pervading stillness of the island culminates here in a silence which may be felt, broken only by the cry of the sea-birds as they circle round their lonely habitations.



The stone village formed the scene of some of our earliest work during our first residence at the manager's house; for some weeks, weather permitting, we rode daily up the mountain, an ascent which took about fifty minutes, and spent the day on the top studying the remains, and picking the brains of our native companions. Some of the houses have been destroyed in order to obtain the painted slabs within, but most are in fair, and some in perfect, preservation. The form of construction suitable to the low ground has perhaps been tried here and abandoned, for some of the foundation-stones, pierced with the holes to support the superstructure of stick and grass, are built into the existing dwellings. The present buildings (fig. 104) are well adapted to such a wind-swept spot; they are made of stone laminć, with walls about 6 feet thick; the inside walls are generally lined with vertical slabs, and horizontal slabs form the roof. The greater number are built at the back into rising ground, and their sides and top are covered with earth; the natives call them not "hare," or houses, but "ana," or caves. Where space permits it, the form is boat-shaped, but some have been adapted to natural contours.10

The dwellings vary in shape and size, from 52 feet by 6 feet to 8 feet by 4 feet; the height within varies from 4 feet to over 6 feet, but it is the exception to be able to stand upright. In some cases they open out of one another, and not unfrequently there is a hatch between two through which food could be passed. The doorway, with its six foot of passage, is just large enough to admit a man. Into each of them, armed with ends of candles, we either crawled on hands and knees, or wriggled like serpents, according to our respective heights. The slabs lining the wall, which are just opposite the doorway, and thus obtain a little light, are frequently painted; some of them have bird and others native designs, but perhaps the most popular is a European ship, sometimes in full sail, and once with a sailor aloft in a red shirt (fig. 105). Inside the houses we found the fiat, sea-worn boulders which are used as pillows and often incised with rough designs; there were also a few obsidian spear heads, or mataa, and once or twice sphagnum from the crater, which was used for caulking boats, and also as a sponge to retain fresh water when at sea. Outside many of the doors are small stone-lined holes, which we cleared out and examined. They measure roughly rather under 2 feet across by some 15 inches in depth. Our guides first told us that they were "ovens," but, as no ash was found, it seems probable that their second thoughts were right, and they were used to contain stores.

The groups of dwellings have various names, and are associated with the particular clans, who, it is said, built them. One house, which stands near the centre of the village, Taurarenga by name, is particularly interesting as having been the dwelling of the statue Hoa-haka-nanaia, roughly to be translated as "Breaking wave," now resident under the portico of the British Museum (fig. 31). Lying about near by were two large stones, which had originally served as foundations for the thatched type of dwelling, but had apparently been converted into doorposts for the house of the image; on one of them a face had been roughly carved (fig. 107). The statue is not of Raraku stone, and it will be realised how entirely exceptional it is to find a statue under cover and in such a position. The back and face were painted white, with the "tracings" in red. The bottom contracts, and was embedded in the earth, though a stone suspiciously like a pedestal is built into a near wall. The house had to be broken down in order to get the figure out. According to the account of the missionaries, three hundred sailors and two hundred Kanakas were required to convey it down the mountain to H.M.S. Topaze in Cook's Bay. The memory of the incident is fast fading, but our friend Viriamo repeated in a quavering treble the song of the sailors as they hauled down their load.11 The figure is some eight feet high and weighs about four tons.


Left, house which contained image; centre, three houses opening on small quadrangle; right, canoe-shaped house with double entrance.  

Day by day, as we worked, we gazed down on the islets. The outermost, which, as its name Motu Nui signifies, is also the largest, is more particularly connected with the bird story, which we were gradually beginning to grasp, and at last the call to visit it could no longer be resisted (fig. 109). It was not an easy matter, for Mana was away; the boats of the natives left a good deal to be desired in the way of seaworthiness, and it was only possible to make the attempt on a fine day. Finally, on arrival at the island, it required not a little agility to jump on to a ledge of rocks at the second the boat rose on the crest of the waves, before it again sank on a boiling and surging sea till the heads of the crew were many feet below the landing-place. We managed, however, between us to get there three times in all. Once, when I was there without S., there was an anxious moment on re-embarking. No one quite knew what happened. Some of the crew said that the gunwale of the boat, as she rose on a wave, caught under an overhanging shelf of rock, others were of the opinion that the sudden weight of the last man, who at that moment leapt into the boat, upset her balance; anyway, this tale was very nearly never written. Once landed on the island, the surface is comparatively level and presents no difficulties; it is about five acres in extent, the greater part is covered with grass, and in every niche and cranny of the rock are seabirds' nests. By a large bribe of tobacco one of the most active old men was induced to accompany us, and to point out the sites of interest. Later, we followed up the story at Raraku, and so little by little at many times, in divers places, and from various people was gathered the story of the bird cult which follows.

The fortunate clan, or clans, for sometimes several combined, left nothing to chance; in fact, as soon as one year's egg had been found, the incoming party made sure of their right of way by taking up their abode at the foot of Rano Kao — namely, at Mataveri. Here there were a number of the large huts with stone foundations; in these they resided, with their wives and families. One of our old gentlemen friends first saw the light in a Mataveri dwelling, when his people were in residence, or, to use the proper phraseology, when his clan were "the Ao."13 This name "ao" is also given to a large paddle, as much as 6 feet in length, used principally, if not exclusively, in connection with bird rites and dancing at Mataveri. In some specimens a face is fully depicted on the handle; in others the features have degenerated to a raised line merely indicating the eyebrows and nose. There are pictures of it on slabs in the Orongo houses, in which the face is adorned with vertical stripes of red and white after the native manner, as described by the early voyagers (figs. 105 and 118).

Not many sea-birds frequent this part of the Pacific, but on Motu Nui some seven species find an abiding-place. Some stay for the whole year, some come for the winter, and yet others for the summer. Among the last is a kind known to the natives as manu-tara12; it arrives in September, the spring of the southern hemisphere. The great object of life in Easter was to be the first to obtain one of the newly laid eggs of this bird. It was too solemn a matter for there to be any general scramble. Only those who belonged to the clan in the ascendancy for the time being could enter on the quest. Sometimes one group would



I. Two pictorial representations of ao. II. A face adorned with paint. A European ship. [Height of slabs, 3 ft. to 3 ft. 6 in.]

keep it in their hands for years, or they might pass it on to a friendly clan. This selection gave rise, as might be expected, to burnings of hearts; the matter might be, and probably often was, settled by war. One year the Marama were inspired with jealousy because the Miru had chosen the Ngaure as their successors, and burnt down the house of Ngaara. This was, perhaps, the beginning of the fray when the old Ariki was carried off captive.


[W. A. M.& Co.]                                                 [Brit. Mus.]
Showing raised ring and girdle, also incised figures of bird-man, ao, and Ko-Mari. (For front of statue, see fig. 31.)


Naturally the months passed at Mataveri were occupied by the residents in feasting as well as in dancing, and equally naturally the victims were human. It was to grace one of these gatherings, when the Ureohei were the Ao, that the mother of Hotu, the Miru, was slain in a way which he considered outraged the decencies of life, and it was in revenge for another Mataveri victim that the last statues were thrown down. It is told that the destined provender for one meal evaded that fate by hiding in the extreme end of a hut, which was so long and dark that she was never found. Some of these repasts took place in a cave in the sea-cliff near at hand. Here the ocean has made great caverns in a wall of lava, into which the waves surge and break with booming noise and dashing spray. The recess which formed the banqueting-hall is just above high-water mark, and is known as "Ana Kai-tangata," or Eat-man Cave (fig. 102). The roof is adorned with pictures of birds in red and white; one of these birds is drawn over a sketch of a European ship, showing that they are not of very ancient date (fig. 103).

When July approached, the company, or some of them, wound their way up the western side of the hill, along the ever-narrowing summit to the village of Orongo; the path can just be traced in certain lights, and is known as the "Road of the Ao." They spent their time while awaiting the birds in dancing each day in front of the houses; food was brought up by the women, of whom Viriamo was one. The group of houses at the end among the carved rocks was taboo during the festival, for they were inhabited by the rongo-rongo men, the western half being apportioned to the experts from Hotu Iti, the eastern to those from Kotuu. "They chanted all day; they stopped an hour to eat, that was all." They came at the command of Ngaara, but it is noteworthy that he himself .never appeared at Orongo, though he sometimes paid a friendly call at Mataveri.

A short way down the cliff immediately below Orongo is a cave known as "Haka-rongo-manu," or "listening for the birds"; here men kept watch day and night for news from the islet below.

The privilege of obtaining the first egg was a matter of competition between members of the Ao, but the right to be one of the competitors was secured only by supernatural means. An "ivi-atua," a divinely gifted individual, of the kind who had the gift of prophecy, dreamed that a certain man was favoured by the gods, so that if he entered for the race he would be a winner, or, in technical parlance, become a bird-man, or "tangata-manu." The victor, on being successful, was ordered to take a new name, which formed part of the revelation, and this bird-name was given to the year in which victory was achieved, thus forming an easily remembered system of chronology. The nomination might be taken up at once or not for many years; if not used by the original nominee, it might descend to his son or grandson. If a man did not win, he might try again, or say that "theivi-atua was a liar," and retire from the contest. Women were never nominated, but the ivi-atua might be male or female, and, needless to say, was rewarded with presents of food. There were four "gods" connected with the eggs — Hawa-tuu-take-take, who was "chief of the eggs," and Make-make, both of whom were males; there were also two females. Vie Hoa, the wife of Hawa, and Vie Kenatea. Each of these four had a servant, whose names were given, and who were also supernatural beings. Those going to take the eggs recited the names of the gods before meat, inviting them to partake.




The actual competitors were men of importance, and spent their time with the remainder of the Ao in the stone houses of the village of Orongo; they selected servants to represent them and await the coming of the birds in less comfortable quarters in the islet below. These men, who were known as "hopu," went to the islet when the Ao went up to Orongo, or possibly rather later. Each made up his provisions into a "pora," or securely bound bundle of reeds; he then swam on the top of the packet, holding it with one arm and propelling himself with the remaining arm and both legs. An incantation, which was recited to us, was said by him before starting. In one instance, the ivi-atua, at the same time that he gave the nomination, prophesied that the year that it was taken up a man should be eaten by a large fish. The original recipient never availed himself of it, but on his death-bed told his son of the prophecy. The son, Kilimuti, undeterred by it, entered for the race and sent two men to the islet; one of them started to swim there with his pora, but was never heard of again, and it was naturally said that the prophecy had been fulfilled. Kilimuti wasted no regret over the misfortune, obtained another servant, and secured the egg; he died while the Expedition was on the island.

The hopu lived together in a large cave of which the entrance is nearly concealed by grass. The inside, however, is light and airy; it measures 19 feet by 13, with a height of over 5 feet, and conspicuous among other carvings in the centre of the wall is a large ao more than 7 feet in length. A line dividing the islet between Kotuu and Hotu Iti passed through the centre of the cave, and also through another cave nearer the edge of the islet; in this latter there was at one time a statue about 2 feet high known as Titahanga-o-te-henua, or The Boundary of the Land.14 As bad weather might prevent fresh consignments of food during the weeks of waiting, the men carefully dried on the rocks the skins of the bananas and potatoes which they had brought with them, to be consumed in case of necessity. It was added with a touch appreciated by those acquainted with Easter Island, that, if the man who thus practised foresight was not careful, others who had no food would steal it when he was not looking.

The approach of the manu-tara can be heard for miles, for their cry is their marked peculiarity, and the noise during nesting is said to be deafening; one incised drawing of the bird shows it with open beak, from which a series of lines spreads out fanwise, obviously representing the volume of sound; names in imitation of these sounds were given to children, such as "Piruru," "Wero-wero," "Ka-ara-ara." It is worth noting that the coming of the tara inaugurates the deep-sea fishing season; till their arrival all fish living in twenty or thirty fathoms were considered poisonous. The birds on first alighting tarried only a short time; immediately on their departure the hopu rushed out to find the egg, or, according to another account, the rushing out of the hopu frightened away the birds. The gods intervened in the hunt, so that the man who was not destined to win went past the egg even when it lay right in his path. The first finder rushed up to the highest point of the islet, calling to his employer by his new name, “Shave your head, you have got the egg." The cry was taken up by the watchers in the cave on the mainland, and the fortunate victor, beside himself with joy, proceeded to shave his head and paint it red, while the losers showed their grief by cutting themselves with mataa.

The defeated hopu started at once to swim from the island to the shore, while the winner, who was obliged to fast while the egg was in his possession, put it in a little basket, and, going down to the landing-rock, dipped it into the sea. One meaning of the word hopu is "wash." He then tied the basket round his forehead and was able to swim quickly, as the gods were with him. At this stage sometimes accidents occurred, for if the sea was rough, an unlucky swimmer might be dashed on the rocks and killed. In one instance, it was said, only one man escaped with his life, owing, as he reported, to his having been warned by Maké-maké not to make the attempt. When the hopu arrived on the mainland, he handed over the egg to his employer, and a tangata-rongo-rongo tied round the arm which had taken it a fragment of red tapa and also a piece of the tree known as "ngau-ngau," reciting meanwhile the appropriate words. The finding was announced by a fire being lit on the landward side of the summit of Rano Kao on one of two sites, according to whether the Ao came from the west or east side of the island.

It will be remembered that on the rocks which terminate the settlement of Orongo the most numerous of the carvings is the figure of a man with the head of a bird: it is in a crouching attitude with the hands held up, and is carved at every size and angle according to the surface of the rock (fig. 110). It can still be counted one hundred and eleven times, and many specimens must have disappeared: all knowledge of its meaning is lost. The figure may have represented one of the egg gods, but it seems more probable that each one was a memorial to a birdman; and this presumption is strengthened by the fact that in at least three of the carvings the hand is holding an egg (fig. 112). The history of another figure, a small design which is also very frequent, still survives and corroborates this by analogy; within living memory it was the custom for women of the island to come up here and be immortalised by having one of these small figures ("Ko Mari") cut on the rock by a professional expert. We know, therefore, that conventional forms were used as memorials of certain definite persons.15


[Pitt Rivers Mus.]
[Measure shown = 1 ft.]

[Brit. Mus.]
Bird-man in low relief with egg in hand. length of carving, 36.5 cm.

The bird-man, having obtained the egg, took it in his hand palm upwards, resting it on a piece of tapa, and danced with a rejoicing company down the slope of Rano Kao and along the south coast, a procedure which is known as "haka epa," or "make shelf," from the position of the hand with regard to the egg. If, however, the winner belonged to the western clans, he generally went to Anakena for the next stage, very possibly because, as was explained, he was afraid to go to Hotu Iti; some victors also went to special houses in their own district, otherwise the company went along the southern shore till they reached Rano Raraku.

Amongst the statues standing on its exterior slope, there is shown at the south-west comer the foundations of a house (no. 7, fig. 60). This is the point which would first be approached from the southern coast, and here the bird-man remained for a year, five months of which were spent in strict taboo. The egg, which was still kept on tapa, was hung up inside the house and blown on the third day, a morsel of tapa being put inside.

The victor did not wash, and spent his time in "sleeping all day, only coming out to sit in the shade." His correct head-dress was a crown made of human hair; it was known as "hau oho," and if it was not worn the aku-aku would be angry. The house was divided into two, the other half being occupied by a man who was called an ivi-atua, but was of an inferior type to the one gifted with prophecy, and apparently merely a poor relation of the hero; there were two cooking-places, as even he might not share that of the bird-man. Food was brought as gifts, especially the first sugar-cane, and these offerings seem to have been the sole practical advantage of victory; those who did not contribute were apt to have their houses burnt. The birdman's wife came to Raraku, but dwelt apart, as for the first five months she could not enter her husband's house, nor he hers, on pain of death. A few yards below the bird-man's house is the ahu alluded to on p. 191 (fig. 60); it consists merely of a low rough wall built into the mountain, the ground above it being levelled and paved. It was reserved for the burial of bird-men; they were the uncanny persons whose ghosts might do unpleasant things — they were safer hidden under stones. The name Orohie is given to the whole of this comer of the mountain, with its houses, its ahu, and its statues. To this point the figures led which were round the base of the hill. If they were re-erected, they would stand with their backs not to the mountain, but to Orohie.16 As the bird-man gazed lazily forth from the shade of his house, above him were the quarries with their unfinished work, below him were the bones of his dead predecessors, while on every hand giant images stood for ever in stolid calm. It is difficult to escape from the question. Were the statues on the mountain those of bird-men?

The ho pu also retired into private life; if he were of the Ao, he could come to Orohie, but he might, if he wished, reside in his own house, which was in that case divided by a partition through which food was passed; it might not be eaten with his right hand, as that had taken the egg. His wife and children were also kept in seclusion and forbidden to associate with others.

The new Ao had meanwhile taken up their abode at Mataveri. From here a few weeks after their arrival they went formally to Motu Nui to obtain the young manu-tara, known from their cry as "piu." After the brief visit of the birds when the first egg was laid, they absented themselves from the islet for a period varyingly reported as from three days to a month. On their return they laid plentifully, and, as soon as the nestlings were hatched, the men of the celebrating clan carried them to the mainland, swimming with them in baskets bound round the forehead after the manner of the first egg. They were then taken in procession round the island, or, according to another account, only as far as Orohie. It was not until the piu had been obtained that it was permissible to eat the eggs, and they were then consumed by the subservient clans only, not by the Ao. The first two or three eggs, it was explained, were "given to God"; to eat them would prove fatal. Some of the young manu tara were kept in confinement till they were full grown, when a piece of red tapa was tied round the wing and leg, and they were told, “Kaho ki te hiva," "Go to the world outside." There was no objection to eating the young birds. The tara departed from Motu Nui about March, but a few stragglers remained; we saw one bird and obtained eggs at the beginning of July, but the natives failed to get any for us in August. When in the following spring the new bird-man had achieved his egg, he brought it to Orohie and was given the old one, which he buried in a gourd in a cranny of Rano Raraku; sometimes, however, it was thrown into the sea, or kept and buried with its original owner. The new man then took the place of his predecessor, who returned to ordinary life.

The last year that the Ao went to Orongo, which is known as "Rokunga," appears to have been 1866 or 1867. The names of twelve subsequent years are given, during which the competition for the egg continued, and it was still taken to be interred at Raraku. The cult thus survived in a mutilated form the conversion of the island to Christianity, which was completed in 1868; it is said that once the missionaries saw the Ao dancing with the egg outside their door in Hanga Roa and "told the people it was the Devil." It must have been celebrated even after the assembly of the remains of the clans into one place, which occurred about the same time, but it was finally crushed by the secular exploiters of the island, whose house at Mataveri, that of the present manager, rests on the foundation-stones of the cannibal habitation (fig. 25). The cult admittedly degenerated in later years. A new practice arose of having more than one bird-man, with other innovations. The request to be given the names of as many bird-years as could be remembered met with an almost embarrassing response, eighty-six being quoted straight away; some of these may be the official names of bird-men and not represent a year, but they probably do so in most cases; chronological sequence was achieved with fair certainty for eleven years prior to the final celebration at Orongo. In addition to the bird-name, the names of both winner and hopu were ascertained, with those of their respective clans.


FIG. 113.
  Porotu acted as a hopu. He refused to be photographed, and the sketch was surreptitiously made whilst obtaining the account of his official experiences. He also assisted in carrying the remains of Ko Tori (p. 225).


Two other ceremonies were mentioned in connection with Orongo and Motu Nui, but to obtain detailed information was very difficult. It finally transpired that of "také" no firsthand knowledge existed, as the rites had been abandoned thirty years before the coming of the missionaries. All that can be safely said is that those concerned went into retreat on Motu Nui, living, it was stated, in the cave where the hopu awaited the birds; the period was generally given as] three months. A vigorous discussion took place on the subject between Viriamo and Jotefa, the oldest man in the village, seated on a log in the garden of the old lady. She was positive, in agreement with other authorities, that take was for children — "the boys and girls went in a canoe to the island"; he firmly adhered to the statement that his father went for take, after he, the son, was bom. Tomenika stated that také formed the subject of one of the tablets, and drew one of its figures, which bears no resemblance to any other known symbol.

The details of manu were more satisfactory. It was known as "te manu mo te poki," or, “the bird for the child," and the child so initiated became a "poki-manu," or "bird-child." It could not be found that any special benefit resulted from it, but a child whose parents had not performed the ceremony, and whose love affairs, for instance, went wrong, might even kill his father in revenge for the omission. An expert, known as "tangata-tapa-manu," the man who, as Dr. Marett would tell us, “knew the right things to say," was called in and given a hen's egg — on this last point much stress was laid; he was at the same time told the child's name, which was subsequently inserted in the ritual. The child was shaved, decorated with white bands, and hung round with coconuts, or, as these were not readily obtainable in Easter Island, with pieces of wood carved to represent them called "tahonga." A number of children, each with an expert, then went up to Orongo; the correct month was December, and the Ao were therefore below at Mataveri. Jotefa, on whose final account I principally rely, stated that he and nine other children, with their parents, and ten tangata-tapamanu, went to Orongo from his home on the north coast, a distance of some eleven miles; they took with them ten chickens. The party danced in front of all the houses, went to the carved rocks at the end, and, coming back, stood in a semicircle in front of the door of Taura-renga, the house of the statue, the experts being behind and all singing; no offering was made to the image. Another authority stated that the parents and children went on the roof of the house, the experts being below, and the parents gave chickens to the men. Jotefa 's party returned to their home, had a feast, and gave more food to the professionals. The tangata-tapa-manu subsequently repeated the ritual at any koro which were being held in the island, the object apparently being to make public the child's initiation.


Ceremonial ornamentation, from a drawing made by natives.

If, by reason of the state of the island, it was not possible to go to Orongo, the ceremony could take place at any of the big ahu with images. Viriamo, whose home, as will be remembered,, was near Raraku, said with much pride that she was a "poki-manu"; she and her three younger sisters had been taken at the same time to the ahu of Orohie. Both parents went, and the mother took two chickens, one in each hand, and the mother and children stood upright and the "maori sang"; they did not go to Orongo because there was war. A drawing was made for us by Juan and the old men of the poki-manu in ceremonial attire (fig. 114); it was particularly interesting to find, when it was handed in, that circles of white pigment were made on the child's back, and also on each buttock, in a way which recalls the adornment of the Anakena image (fig. 65).



The stone sculpture of Easter Island belongs to an era which is now forgotten; there are a number of wooden carvings which, whatever their original age, are connected with a recent past, and even in a limited sense with the present.

The most important of these works, the tablets, have already been dealt with, and mention has been made of the lizard figures, they have the head of that animal on a human body (fig. 117). The "ao," the large dancing-paddle, and the smaller one, the "rapa," are of much the same character, though used on different occasions (figs. 116 (a), 118). The "ua" is a club, on the handle of which are two heads back to back; these clubs were dignified with individual names. The "paoa" was a wooden sword. There were also bird ornaments carved in wood which were worn on the last day of the koro and by Ngaara. The "rei-miro" is a breast ornament of a crescent shape, with a face at one or both ends; it is found depicted on the Orongo rocks and frequently on the tablets. It was especially a woman's decoration, but a number of small ones were said to have been worn by Ngaara. The specimen in the British Museum is embellished with glyphs, of which no account was forthcoming (fig. 115).

Wooden objects which are peculiarly interesting are the small male and female figures some twenty to thirty inches in height; the natives term them "moai," adding the word "miro," or wood (fig. 119). In a certain number of these the ribs are very prominent, giving the effect of emaciation; they are called “moai kava-kava," or the statues with ribs. It has been suggested that this represents the condition in which the first inhabitants reached the island, but such an explanation is strenuously denied by the present people, who assert that their ancestors arrived with plenty of food. The figures have long ears, like the statues in stone, and a marked feature is their little goatee beards. These beards are found in three or four statues at Raraku,  in a head in relief on Motu Nui,  and  one is  indicated in fig. 31. But the most striking link with the stone figures is the back, where there is a ring similar to that found on the larger statues: the girdle and M-like design below it also appear in varying degree (fig. 120). A comparative study of the backs of the wooden images has suggested the idea17 that this M-like marking in stone may be simply the last stage of an evolution in design, which originally showed the lines of the lower portion of the back and thigh.18  It would be satisfactory if, in the same way, the triple belt could be connected with the ribs and the ring with the vertebrae, but for this the evidence is less conclusive, although the ribs of the body with the lizard head closely approach the conventional. It must be remembered that the figures are nude, and that therefore these designs can scarcely represent any form of dress. There is a pronounced excrescence on the buttocks in the wooden figures, which is also a mystery, but which recalls the way in which the rings on the image found at Anakena (fig. 65) and those on the poki-manu (fig. 114) emphasise the same part of the anatomy. The heads are embellished with ornaments, some of which are bird designs (Fig. 121). These figures were worn by men only, and hung round the neck on important occasions; they were parts of the festival dress at Mataveri and at the koro.


[Brit. Mus.]
16 inch.


[Brit. Mus.] [Univ. of California.]
FIG. 116. —
(a) RAPA.
38 in.  
(b) UA.
Club with
two faces.
60 in.
FIG. 117. —
Lizard's head on human body. 15 in.
FIG. 118. —
Usual length
about 6 ft.
Female Image.
(Moai Papa)
Male Image
(Moai Tangata.)
Male Image showing Ribs.
(Moai Kava-hava.)
    Front View. Profile.

The tradition of the origin of the wooden images is one of the best known and uniformly narrated, but obviously bears the marks of endeavouring to explain facts whose genesis has been forgotten. It runs thus: Tuukoihu, an ariki, and one of the first immigrants, was a clever man or "tangata-maori"; he had two houses, one at Ahu Tepeu on the west side and one at Hanga Hahave on the south coast — the foundations of both are shown. One night, when he was sleeping at the latter dwelling, two female aku-aku appeared to him, by name Papa Ahiro and Papa Akirani.19 When he awoke he took the wood called toro-miro, and carved two figures with faces, arms, and legs, just as he had seen the aku-aku. When he had finished the work, he went over to Hanga Roa to fish. He slept there, and returned at daybreak, going back by the quarry of the stone hats. Two male aku-aku, by name Ko Hitirau and Ko Nuku-te-mangoa, were sleeping by the way, but were aroused on his approach by two more aku-aku, whose names are given, who told them that there was a man coming who would notice that their ribs were exceedingly "bad." The two sleepers awoke, saw Tuukoihu, and asked him, “Have you seen anything?” He discreetly replied "nothing," and they disappeared. They again met him on the road and put the same question, to which he gave the same answer. When he got to his house, he made two statues with ribs to represent the apparitions. After dark they prowled round the house, listening, with their hands up to their ears, to hear if he gossiped about what he had seen, intending if he did so to kill him. The Ariki, however, held his tongue. Later he went to his other home; there he took the wooden moai, both male and female, and made them walk. The house bears the lengthy name of "The House of the Walking Moai of Tuukoihu, the Ariki," and is the large one whose measurements were given on p. 216. Tuukoihu once lent a moai-miro to a man, whose house took fire while it was in his possession. The Ariki, on hearing of the disaster, told the image to fly away, which it promptly did, and was subsequently found in the neighbourhood unharmed.

Wooden figures are said to have been made in a considerable variety of forms, some of them being in a sitting position, others with hands crossed, etc.; names were bestowed on them — twenty-one such were repeated to us. It was not found possible to ascertain exactly what they are all intended to portray, the information being somewhat confused and contradictory, but on the whole the female figures and those with ribs seem to have been considered to be supernatural beings; they are generally called aku-aku, and sometimes atua, while the others represent men. It appears probable that they are portraits, or memorial figures, of which the older may have attained to deification: this is confirmed by the fact that there is one such figure at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford, with short ears, which is said to have been made to represent Captain Cook.

 1    2 3       4 
Showing the resemblance to stone figures and possible evolution of conventional design from natural lines of figure.

When our friend Kapiera was a boy, there were about ten experts in the island, who made wooden articles of various descriptions, including the images, of whom three at least were alive in our time. Te Haha, who was one of the old workmen, could still be seen sitting in his garden engaged in carving moai miro. We have, therefore, a craft existing in modern days which can be traced back to pre-Christian culture, and which has strong affinities with the prehistoric stone figures. There is, of course, no sentiment connected with the figures of to-day; they are roughly done, and merely for sale. The trade is extended to copies of stone images which are bought by unsuspecting visitors, with circumstantial tales as to their history or discovery which would deceive the very elect. The statues on the ahu near the village, which are made of stone from Raraku, have had pieces cut off them to manufacture into these articles. One Kanaka had in our day a still more brilliant idea which saved him all trouble, he sold a fragment of this rock at a high price to a passing vessel as the "last morsel of image stone to be found in the island." Local opinion regarding the intelligence of the visitors is not high. One man brought to us a wooden figure for sale which he said was "very old." "Indeed," remarked my husband, "it has grown up quickly; it was a new-born infant when I saw it being carved in the village a few weeks ago." "Ah," said the proud possessor, slightly disappointed, but nursing his creation like a child and stroking it affectionately, “he very fine, muy antiqua, I keep him for ships; capitano man-o-wari, all same damn fool."


(Brit. Mus.)

1 Our impressions on this head are confirmed by a remark of Brother Eyraud. “Though I have lived in the greatest of intimacy and familiarity with them, I have never been able to discover them in any act of actual religious worship." — Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, Jan. 1866.

2 The outermost of the three hillocks on the eastern volcano on which the Spaniards set up the crosses in 1770. Half of it has been worn away by coastal erosion (fig. 78).

3 The same word aku-aku was used for the spirit both of the living and the dead, or else the Tahitian "varua"; they were said to be equivalent.

4 Evidence on this head was rather contradictory, but no Miru could be found, male or female, to whom the title was not given.

5 "L'lle de Paques," M. Tepano Jaussen, Bulletin Geographique, 1893, p. 241.

6  Revue Maritime et Colonial, vol. xxxv, p. 109.

7 Thirty is, however, a very favourite number: cf. the folk-tales.

8 Sometimes called koho-rongo-rongo.

9 Sophora Toromiro.

10 An accurate large scale plan of the village was made by Lieutenant D. R. Ritchie, R.N., and every house was measured and described by the Expedition.

11 Recollection is naturally clearer of the removal of the statue now at Washington, and particularly of the excellent food given to the natives who assisted. The figure is reported to have been taken from Ahu Apépé, an inland terrace not far from Rano Raraku, and been dragged down to the ship as she lay in La Pérouse Bay.

12 Sooty Tern.

13 The men of the ascendant clan are also often spoken of as the Mata-toa, or warriors, the other clans being the Mata-kio, or servants.

14 This statue was removed to the mainland shortly before our arrival, and we were able to procure it in exchange for one of the yacht blankets. It is now at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford (fig. iii).

15 The figures of the bird-man, also of the ao and Ko Mari, are all roughly carved on the back of the Orongo statue (fig. io6). They appear, like those on the Raraku image, to be later workmanship than the raised ring and girdle. Permission to inspect can be obtained in the hall ol the British Museum; unfortunately the light in the portico is bad.

16 Nos. 1, 2, and 3, fig. 60, form part of this series. See also fig. 74.

17 We owe this suggestion to Captain T. A. Joyce.

18 Those unacquainted with the manner in which the drawing of a natural object can, through constant repetition, lose all resemblance to it and / become purely conventional are referred to Evolution in Art, by Dr. A. C. Haddon.

19 The term "papa" is also applied to any flat, horizontal surface of fused igneous rock. The double use seems to be explained by connecting it with the facts that in Hawaii, Papa is the name of the female progenitor of the race (or at least of a line of chiefs), while in the Marquesas and Harvey Islands Papa is the earth personified, the Great Mother. — See A Brief History of the Hawaiian People, Alexander, p. 20.

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