February 7, 2004
After trekking up to the cliffside ruins of Orongo, China took us on a tour of caves that had been used by the ancient Rapa Nui for ceremonial purposes. One was down a steep, slippery path by the sea, and featured some amazing cave paintings.
The paintings were of some kind of bird, and were rust, white, pink and black. The lighting inside the cave was not great, but you can see some of the outlines of the drawings in the picture above.
Inside the cave, it was cool and damp, with smooth rock walls that were carved out by the tides. It was amazing to me that these drawings survived over the ages. China told us that they were representative of the Birdman era on the island, and that you could see the same designs all over the island, carved in rocks and painted on cave walls. Even the earliest people had a flair for art and for leaving their marks on the world, as though they knew this was the way to reach through time, to people they would never know or see.
China told us that the early Rapa Nui people practiced ritual cannibalism, and that the cave was used for cooking and munching on their enemies. Lore had it that the fingers and toes were the most delicate, prized parts, often given to the chief. According to our guide, humans allegedly tasted much like pork.
I'm sure she had an explanation for why they were cannibals (gaining strength from eating the enemy, food shortage, or whatever), but I stopped listening at that point, because I couldn't get past the idea of fingers and toes as snacks. There are some parts of guided tours that fall into the realm of Too Much Information. This was one of them.
Right after this excursion, China dropped us off in town for lunch, saying she had some errands to run and would pick us up to take us out to see the famous Seven Explorers in an hour or so. I'm pretty sure I had a salad, because the idea of finger fries just made me queasy. After lunch, we visited the Banana Cave near Ahu Ariki, another ceremonial cave used for cooking up such delights.
After lunch, China picked us u to take us to the site of the famous Seven Explorers moai, or Ahu Akivi. These seven represent the first seven explorers who set out from Polynesia to find a new place to settle. It is likely that they sailed east from the Marquesas Islands, not from South America as Thor Heyerdahl postulated. One of them is King Hotu Matua. I'm not sure which one, but I'd guess the tall one in the middle.