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The Tangata manu (bird-man), was the winner of a traditional competition on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The ritual was an annual competition to collect the first Sooty Tern (manu tara) egg of the season from the islet of Motu Nui, swim back to Rapa Nui and climb the sea cliff of Rano Kau to the clifftop village of Orongo.

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Contestants were revealed in dreams by ivi-attuas (individuals with the gift of prophecy). The contestants would each appoint a Hopu who would swim to Motu Nui and fetch them the Egg; whilst the contestants waited at Orongo. The race was very dangerous and many Hopu were killed by sharks, drowning or by falling.

Once the hopu had presented the egg to the contestant a fire would be lit on the landward side of the rim of Rano Kau, the location of the fire would announce to the whole island whether the new Tangata manu was from the western or eastern clans.

The winner was given a new name and the title Tangata manu, and great power on the island. Including their clan having sole rights to collect that seasons harvest of wild bird eggs and fledglings from Motu Nui.

The Tangata manu would then lead a dance down the slope of Rano Kau and on either to Anakena if he was from the western clans or Rano Raraku if he was from the eastern clans.

Make-make was the chief god of the birdman cult, the other three Gods associated with it were Hawa-tuu-take-take (the Chief of the eggs) his wife Vie Hoa and Vie Kanatea.

The Birdman cult was suppressed by Christian missionaries in the 1860s. The start point is uncertain as it is unknown whether the cult replaced the preceding Moai based religion or had co-existed with it, but Katherine Routledge was able to collect the names of 86 Tangata manu.


  • The band Rasputina's song Oh Bring Back the Egg Unbroken on their 2007 album, Oh Perilous World, is about these traditions.
  • The Hollywood film Rapa Nui has a version of the race, though in the wrong historic context.


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