Easter Island religion and beliefs

Rapa Nui Religion

The type of religion that has characterized Easter Island from the beginning states a series of prohibitions and precepts, all of them related to what they consider sacred, and which receives the name of Tapu. The religious practice that persists in the island up to this day is called Ivi Atua, and it is based on the immortality of the soul. Basically, it states that the spirit of the ancestors comes to help their heirs or closest relatives if they need it. Their beliefs evolve mainly around Make-Make, the creator god, supreme god and he who is omnipotent. The Mana is the mental, supernatural and sacred power shared by the chiefs of the tribes, their priests and sorcerers. In general, this power could be used for their benefit or it could be directed against an enemy in order to harm them. In fact, it is said that the ancient islanders resorted to this psychic and supernatural power in order to transport the moai, and that the statues walked to their destination because of it. As for death, the islanders believed that, once detached from the body, the spirit would stay close to their family before leaving for the spirit world, located far away to the west. For one or two years, the deceased’s body would remain wrapped in vegetal bits. Some time later, when the decomposition was done, the skull would be detached and engraved. Finally, the bones were washed and placed in a stone chamber, where the spirit could meet with their ancestors.

However, the most important religious demonstration is the worship to the birdman, also known as the bird of luck. In the language of the islanders, it is called Manutara. The date of establishment of this event is uncertain, whether at the end of the 17th century or the beginning of the 18th century. Anyways, it is a ritual competition that was celebrated in the month of September in Orongo, a ceremonial village in front of the three islets of the island. In the biggest and most distanced of them, called Motu-Nui, the competitors concentrated in the caves with much anticipation, waiting for the birds. Whoever took the first egg of a Manutara (sooty tern) was the winner. Once they found it, the fortunate competitor swam with the egg on his head in order to give it to his chief, who was consecrated as the birdman. Three days later, the Manutara egg was emptied, filled with vegetable fibers and placed on the birdman’s head, where it would remain for a year.