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Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island, by William J. Thompson, [1891], at


From the most reliable information that could be obtained, the stone houses at Orongo were built for the accommodation of the natives while celebrating the festival of the "sea-birds eggs," from a remote period until the advent of the most important ceremonies.

During the winter months, sea-birds in great numbers visit the Island to lay their eggs and to bring forth their young. The nests are made among the ledges and cliffs of the inaccessible rocks, but a favorite spot for these birds has always been the tiny islands Mutu Rau Kau and Muto Nui, lying a few hundred yards from the southwest point of the island (Plate XXIV). Here the first eggs of the season are laid, and therefore Orongo was selected as a convenient point to watch for the coming of the birds. According to the ancient custom, the fortunate individual who obtained possession of the first egg and returned with it unbroken to the expectant crowd, became entitled to certain privileges and rights during the following year. No especial authority was

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vested in him, but it was supposed that he had won the approval of the great spirit "Meke Meke" and was entitled to receive contributions of food and other considerations from his fellows. The race for the distinguished honor of bearing off the first egg was an occasion of intense excitement. The contestants were held in check at Orongo until the auspicious moment arrived, and the scramble commenced at the word "go", pronounced by the king, who was about the only able-bodied man on the island who did not participate. It was decidedly a go as you please race, every man selecting his route to the sea by the circuitous paths or directly over the face of the cliff, and many fatal falls are recorded as the result.

The swim to Mutu Rau Kau was a trifling matter, the chief difficulty being to return with an egg unbroken through the general scramble.

The houses at Orongo were probably unoccupied except for a short period in July of each year while awaiting the coming of the sea-birds. The peculiarity of their construction might be accounted for by the fact that the thatched hut, common to the plains, could not be used to advantage on this exposed bluff. The low, contracted entrances, were used here as well as elsewhere for defense. Factional fights were common, and it was necessary that every house should be guarded against surprise and easily defended. Another reason might be found for making the openings as small as possible, in the absence of doors to shut out the storms. The sculptured rocks in the vicinity of Orongo bear record of the grateful contestants in the egg-races to the great spirit "Meke Meke" for his benign influence and protection, much after the manner in which boats, pictures, and other objects are dedicated to certain patron saints in more civilized portions of the earth.

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