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The Bird Cult of Easter Island

Nature volume 101, pages 175176 (02 May 1918) | Download Citation



IN the issue of Folk-lore for December last Mrs. Scoresby Routledge gives a singularly interesting account of the bird cult of Easter Island. The sacred bird is the sooty tern (Sterna fuliginosa), and the valued privilege of securing the first egg is a matter of competition between members of the Mata-toa group, the right to become a competitor being acquired only by supernatural agency. The selection is made through a dream vouchsafed to a divinely gifted individual, the Iviatua. The candidate on selection takes a new name, and the bird-name thus conferred was given to the year in which victory was achieved, thus forming an easily remembered system of chronology. It is also significant that this bird cult is connected with the statues for which the island is famous. The bird-man used to spend his official year on the mountain in which the monoliths were quarried; the bird initiation of children was also performed in connection iwith the statues, and the ring design on the back of the images was reproduced at the ceremony on the children's backs. There seems reason to believe, says the writer, that the people who originally celebrated the bird cult included in it reverence for the statues. The ancestors of the present inhabitants were, therefore, either the makers of the monoliths of Easter Island, or, if the bird worshippers represent a more recent migration, the old religion of the images was blended into, and perpetuated by, the more recent culture.

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