Category: Our Legacy

The Birdman Competition – “The Hunger Games” of Rapa Nui

The Birdman Competition – “The Hunger Games” of Rapa Nui

Many of us are familiar with “The Hunger Games” – we’ve either read the books or watched the movies, or both, or maybe just heard of them from our friends. The idea of “The Huger Games” is that in order to maintain peace in a futuristic society, they would host an annual competition where each district would chose a competitor (a tribute) to fight in the games. The winner, the only survivor of the games, would then become the victor and would become famous and highly praised.

You would think that’s a cruel way to keep peace and might think that’s just a book or a movie, but what if I told you that reality is closer to it than you might have imagined? I traveled to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to see the moai and to learn more about them – why did the Rapa Nui people build the moai and how did they transport them all over the island. I did get to learn all about the moai, and thanks to an enthusiastic local guide who loves her island and her culture I learned so much more! She introduced me to a whole new aspect of Rapa Nui history that was not familiar to me: the birdman cult.

After a period of wars and constant fighting between clans there was a substantial decrease in population. This was due to the killings between clans in combat or cannibalism, where captured people from one clan served as food for the capturing clan. To save the population from extinction, the chiefs of clans found a way to stop the killings and make peace on the island – the birdman competition.

So what is the birdman cult and the birdman competition?

The birdman cult revolves, not surprisingly, as the name suggests, around a bird. More specifically, the bird was the manutara bird, or the sooty tern. In the Rapa Nui culture the manutara bird was often associated with the gods. So a connection to the bird would mean a connection to the gods and the one who would have this connection would become the ruler of the island for a whole year. But how did they establish this connection?

View of the Motu Nui, Motu Iti and Motu Kao Kao islands from Rapa Nui.
View of the Motu Nui, Motu Iti and Motu Kao Kao islands from Rapa Nui.

Every Spring the manutara bird came and lay its egg on the Motu Nui island, the largest of the three small islands off the south-west coast of Rapa Nui (picture above). The birdman competition took place every year around the arrival of the manutara bird. What the competitors had to do sounds pretty simple – get the egg of the bird and bring it back to the chief of his clan. Once the clan chief received the egg he became the ruler of the island for one year, until the next competition.

Things are never as easy as we hope they would be. Each clan chief had his designated competitor. He would choose a competitor who was well fit with great strength and courage. Oftentimes the competitors trained from a very young age to be able to compete in the birdman competition.

Rano Kau volcano where the birdman competition started.
Rano Kau volcano where the birdman competition started.

Before the manutara bird arrived, the competitors gathered at the Orongo village, close to the Rano Kau volcano (picture above). There, when the competition started the competitors had to climb down the volcano cliff to reach the water. They started their descent from the lower edge of the volcano cliff, noticeable in above picture. They had to climb down an almost vertical cliff of about 300 meters. Then, they had to swim for almost two km from Rapa Nui to Motu Nui in waters with strong currents and sharks. And, as if mother nature didn’t offer enough obstacles, they also had to be constantly on the lookout for the other competitors who might try to kill them at any moment to get rid of their competition.

Once they reached Motu Nui they still had quite a few challenges awaiting. Whoever survived the trip had to hide and live in tiny caves on Motu Nui until the manutara bird arrived. And, of course, they also had to find a way to avoid being killed by their competitors during this long wait for the bird.

When the bird arrived and laid its egg ,the first to get the egg let the people waiting on Rapa Nui know by shouting “Ka varu te puoko!”, which means “Shave your head!”. This signaled that someone had the egg and was returning to Rapa Nui. This might signal success, but the competition didn’t end here. He still had to get back to Rapa Nui and present the egg to his clan chief. This means he had to swim again for about two km and climb the 300 m cliff, now carrying an egg with him. To ensure the safety of the egg, the competitor placed the egg safely in a headband and then started his return adventure carrying the egg on his head.

The Tangata Manu or the Birdman

Once the competitor achieved his task of safely handing the manutara bird egg to his chief, he became the winner of the competition. He thus became the Tangata Manu or the birdman and became highly revered in society. For everyone to remember his courage and achievement, each Tangata Manu had his mark, a symbol of a being with human body and bird head, carved in the rocks at Orongo by the head of his clan. These petroglyphs are still visible today on the rocks surrounding the Rano Kau volcano. Moreover, the symbols of the Tangata Manu can be observed carved in rocks and caves (top picture) all over the island to forever preserve the bravery of the birdman.

The clan chief who received the manutara egg became the ruler of the island, thus ensuring peace among the different clans for another year.

Now think about it – would you chose to participate in such a competition if it meant creating peace and stopping an entire culture from going extinct? And if you did, would you be able to complete the tasks of this competition? If you think of all the challenges they had to overcome you can see why they were so highly regarded in their society. You would really have possess extraordinary strength and courage to participate and win the birdman competition.

The Protectors of Easter Island

The Protectors of Easter Island

You’ve probably heard many stories about Rapa Nui (a.k.a. Easter Island) and about the moai, theories on how they were made, why they were made and how they were transported around the island. But how much of that is really true? This summer I spent ten days on Easter Island and I’ve learned so much about its fascinating history, and I’m happy to share it all with you.

What are the moai?

Moai at Ahu Tongariki

The moai are monolithic stone statues that are very specific to Rapa Nui. These majestic statues are found all around Rapa Nui, and, opposite to what some might say, they do not face the ocean. The moai are always facing inland, looking over the land of the different tribes of the island. They’re there to protect the people of the tribe they’re guarding. But how do they do that, you might wonder. Each moai is carved in the memory of a certain ancestor of that tribe, and that’s not just any ancestor, but very high-ranking ancestor, someone whose spiritual energy, called the mana, would be strong enough to protect the tribe. To do that, the moai were erected on platforms called ahu and there they were placed on top of the bones of that ancestor. This was done so that the mana of that person would move through the body of the moai upwards towards the head and then the mana was transmitted through their eyes, once these were in place, to their tribe. This way the Rapa Nui ancestors could always watch over their people and protect them.

Building the moai

The moai were built at the quarry at Rano Raraku, one of the volcanos on Easter Island. Walking around this site gives you the feeling that you’re walking through history. This is the home of many moai who never made it to their platforms, who were left there, either still in the process of carving, or carved and ready for transportation and even some who had attempts of transportation. You can see some of these moai at Rano Raraku in the image below, where you can see that parts of their bodies are in the ground, for some, that’s several meters underground. That was not intentional, and it happened because when the Rapa Nui stopped building and moving the moai, these moai that you see below were left there and constant rain on the island led to material from the mountain sliding down the slope covering large parts of their bodies. This is why sometimes people assume that the moai are just head statues, but, in fact, all moai had bodies.

The moai from the quarry at Rano Raraku

Going back to the building of the moai, at Rano Raraku the carvers had plenty of material to work with, as their material of choice for building the moai was the volcanic tuff. About 95% of the moai on Easter Island are made of volcanic tuff, while the other 5% are made of other materials, such as basalt, trachyte, or red scoria. Once the moai reached the ahu, they became alive when they were placed on the platform and the eyes were added in the eye sockets.

Another detail that you see in pictures of moai is a red top added on top of the moai heads. They are called pukao and are made of red scoria. Often people assume, wrongly, that the pukao are hats. In fact they are their hair, being representative of the topknots. The Rapa Nui people grew their hair long, their hair length being associated with the mana, so the pukao is placed on the top of the moai to help pass on the mana.

Transporting the moai

If you’re thinking of the size of these moai, which could reach 18 m, you can’t help but wonder how did the Rapa Nui people move them around the island without any modern means of transportation? There are pretty much just as many hypotheses of how this was done as they are about how and why they were built. While some of these theories are more worldly, saying that they were transported with the tree logs, which lead to the deforestation of the island, others are a bit more other-worldly, involving the help of ancient aliens, as if humans don’t have enough ingenuity to figure out by themselves how to transport the moai.

While all the theories sound interesting – some more realistic than others – recent studies have shed some light on this mystery. In fact, the way the moai got the the platforms is pretty simple – they walked. Obviously, they didn’t walk on their own, that would get us back to the ancient aliens stories, they walked with a bit of help from the Rapa Nui people.

With the majority of the moai being built at the Rano Raraku quarry, the walking of the moai from the quarry is easier to understand when you think of the fact that Rano Raraku is a volcano, and the moai were carved up on the mountain slope. This helped in getting the moai into their walking position – after carving, the moai were slid down the slope of the mountain until they reached flat ground. There, ropes were tied around the heads of the moai, eye level, and people on either side of the moai pulled the ropes, moving it slowly to their final resting place.

To learn more about the history of Rapa Nui, have a look at the birdman competition and see how the Rapa Nui people managed to maintain peace on the island.

If you’re interested in learning even more about the moai and Rapa Nui/Easter Island please subscribe to my newsletter using the form below because more posts on the fascinating history of Rapa Nui will follow.

Changing the World with Pencils of Promise

Changing the World with Pencils of Promise

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”

~Nelson Mandela~

I strongly believe this affirmation to be very true and that we can indeed change the world through education. The more people have access to education, the more informed we are about the world and the more we can use that knowledge to improve the world we live in.

Currently 250 million children worldwide can’t read. For someone who loves books, reading and learning, this number seems mind-boggling. Fortunately there are plenty of things we can do to change this situation. There are several organizations who deal with building schools, providing quality education to children and increasing the number of children who get access to education. One of these organizations is Pencils of Promise.

Ever since I first heard of Pencils of Promise I’ve been a very big supporter of this organization and their efforts to bring education to children who live in areas where access to education is limited or non-existent. Pencils of Promise is a “for-purpose” organization that took on the mission to build schools, train teachers and provide the necessary materials to educate children in various communities in Ghana, Guatemala, Laos and Nicaragua. So far, with all the funds they have raised, they managed to build 504 where almost 100,000 are attending.

We were lucky enough to go to school and learn how to read and write, and it’s now our turn to help other children gain access to similar privileges. For this purpose I’m donating my birthday to Pencils of Promise and I’m fundraising to help Pencils of Promise in their mission to educate children around the world. If you’d like to join me, please visit my fundraising page and remember that every bit helps. If you’d like to do even more, you can join the Pencils of Promise PASSPORT program, where your monthly donation can have an even higher impact to children’s future.

You can learn more about the story of Pencils of Promise, by reading its founder Adam Braun’s book The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change.

Together we can help educate more children and change the world. Thank you for your support in improving the lives of children and creating a better future for everyone!

Photo credit: Pencils of Promise

Palmyra – The Rebirth of an Ancient City

Palmyra – The Rebirth of an Ancient City

The ancient city of Palmyra is an excellent representation of human desire to preserve history and culture. You might be wondering why I take this optimistic view of the Palmyra ruins and all the destruction caused to this site throughout the millennia… The answer is that, after all the destruction it suffered, people always worked together to reconstruct it, to bring Palmyra back to life. And this gives me hope that, while some people (extremists) don’t value culture, there are many more people out there who care about our past and who are willing to work together to safeguard our World Heritage sites.

The site of Palmyra

Palmyra, ‘Pearl of the Desert’, a site located 210 km northeast of Damascus, was a very important city in antiquity. Historic accounts date its establishment date back to the 2nd millennium BC, followed by mentions in the Bible during the time of King Solomon. However, it was only during the 3rd century BC that Palmyra started flourishing. During this time it acted as a major hub on the Silk Road, a trade route connecting Persia, India, China and the Roman Empire. The many civilizations passing through this trading post heavily influenced its art and architecture. Owing to this, the site of Palmyra has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 as a key cultural center from ancient history.

Nowadays, this vast ancient site includes many ruins, mentioning below few of them:

The destruction of Palmyra

We’re familiar with the news from the past years on the destruction inflicted by ISIS at Palmyra. Less familiar for many people is Palmyra’s troubled history. Being a significant establishment at the crossroads between the East and the West, Palmyra has suffered several conquers and destructions in the past. The major city downfalls occurred in 273 by the Roman Emperor Aurelian, the early 1400s by the Timurid Empire, each followed by its reconstruction. Its ruins were discovered in the 17th century, developing into a major touristic attraction of Syria due to its important historical and cultural contribution.

Al-Lat lion statue Palmyra

More recently, the chain of destruction at Palmyra continued with the capture of the site by the Islamic State or ISIS, first in May 2015 and then again in December 2016. During their occupation, ISIS caused damage to the Temple of Baalshamin, parts of the Temple of Bel, the facade of the theatre, the Tetrapylon, and several other tombs and statues, including a 2000 year old limestone statue of a lion, the Lion of Al-lāt.

The rebirth of Palmyra

Following the recapture of the site by the Syrian army in March 2017, the site was subjected to extensive renovations. UNESCO created an emergency safeguarding for the Portico of the Temple of Bel with a proposed budget of $150,000 for its restoration. Moreover, specialists at the National Museum of Damascus successfully reconstructed the statue of the Al-lāt lion. UNESCO and several countries offered to join efforts with Syria to help restore this historical site and its artifacts, thus revealing the global value of heritage. It’s only through joined efforts and working together that we can succeed in creating global change and protect our planet with its beauties, history and culture.

Let’s start the New Year with hope – hope that we’ve learned from our past mistakes and hope that we can create a better world by working together as a one entity – the humankind, and not as people separated by borders, religion, or race.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

African Proverb

Happy New Year to everyone!!

What can we do to protect our oceans?

What can we do to protect our oceans?

Sunsets on the beach in Bali are stunning, so many beautiful shades of red, orange, yellow and purple covering the sky and merging into the ocean. This is what you see if you look at the sky and water, and it’s amazing. However, if you take a look instead at the beach, the view is no longer as magnificent. What you see instead is lots and lots of plastic and trash brought to shore by the waves. This is a picture I took on one of my sunset walks on the beach in Kuta, Bali:

Marine debris on the Kuta beach in Bali
Marine debris on the Kuta beach in Bali

This is what I’ve seen in Bali, however the problem is so much bigger. While watching an episode of the Blue Planet, I learned of the disastrous impact our plastic waste can have on the marine life. How sad is it when someone close to you dies? Similarly, this documentary shows a mother whale carry its dead calf with her through the water for days after it had died. How did it die? We did it! It’s likely that the whale’s milk became contaminated from the micro-plastics-polluted environment and, thus, toxic for the calf. This is just one of the many examples of how our actions have a much bigger impact than we realize.

Here are few details I gathered from 4Ocean that you should know about ocean plastic pollution:

  • Since the invention of plastic we managed to produce about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic marine debris creating a huge problem to the marine life.
  • A plastic water bottle takes about 450 years to decompose. And decomposing here doesn’t mean full decomposition, they turn into micro-plastics, which are very harmful and toxic to the marine life. Eventually this also affects the human health by eating the toxic-filled fish that ingested the micro-plastics. Do we really need all those plastic water bottles? How about trying a reusable bottle to avoid bringing more plastic in the environment than we already have?
  • 160,000 plastic bags are produced and used every second! What happens to them afterwards? Millions of them end up in the ocean polluting the water, making it a toxic environment for the marine life! Here’s where you can find a large quantity of plastics: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other similar places in the oceans.

All this plastic isn’t going to go away on its own, we created this mess and we’re the ones who have to deal with it. What can we do about it? Luckily there are several things we can do to improve the state of our oceans, and one of them is to help 4Ocean remove the marine debris from the oceans and the beaches. 4Ocean is an organization whose work I admire very much. They collect the thrash from the oceans and coastlines to make the oceans safer for the large variety of aquatic life forms populating them. By buying a bracelet from 4Ocean, made from recyclable material (featured on the top image), you pay for the removal of one pound of thrash from the ocean.

I hope you will join me in helping 4Ocean in creating a cleaner ocean and a cleaner and safer planet. We need to take action, otherwise our grandchildren will not be able to enjoy the beauties of the world we grew up in. We have to think of what kind of legacy do we want to leave for them. What do we want the home-planet of our future generations to look like?

I chose to spend my birthday writing this post because I love our planet and there’s nothing I’d like more for my birthday than to know that we are doing something to keep our planet safe. As a birthday present for me, can you please help with this cause and help remove some of the trash from the water? Or at least, please think twice before buying all those items made of plastics and please try to reduce the plastic waste.

Thank you for your help in protecting our oceans, the marine life and our planet!

Follow by Email
Facebook
Facebook
Twitter
PINTEREST
LinkedIn
INSTAGRAM