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Orongo is a stone village and ceremonial centre at the southwestern tip of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The first half of the ceremonial village's 53 stone masonry houses were investigated and restored in 1974 by American archaeologist William Mulloy. In 1976 Mulloy assisted by Chilean archaeologists Claudio Cristino and Patricia Vargas completed the restoration of the whole complex which was subsequently investigated by Cristino in 1985 and 1995. ‘Orongo enjoys a dramatic location on the crater lip of Rano Kau at the point where a 250 meter sea cliff converges with the inner wall of the crater of Rano Kau. ‘Orongo now has World Heritage status as part of the Rapa Nui National Park.


Hoa Hakananai'a in the British Museum

Until the mid-nineteenth century, ‘Orongo was the centre of the birdman cult, which hosted an annual race to bring the first manutara (Sooty Tern) egg from the islet of Motu Nui to ‘Orongo. The site has numerous petroglyphs, mainly of tangata manu (birdmen).

In the 1860s, most of the Rapa Nui islanders died of disease or were enslaved, and when the survivors were converted to Christianity, ‘Orongo fell into disuse. In 1868, the crew of HMS Topaze removed Hoa Hakananai'a from ‘Orongo. This unusual rare basalt moai is now in the British Museum.

The site of ‘Orongo was included in the 1996 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund, and listed again four years later, in 2000. The threat was soil erosion, caused by rainfall and exacerbated by foot traffic.[1] After 2000, the organization helped devise a site management plan with support from American Express, and in December 2009 more funding was announced for the construction of a sustainable visitor center.[2]

Houses and location of Orongo
several windowless stone houses with grass roofs
Restored stone houses at Orongo 
A sea view form high on a cliff, three islands are visible, two low and the third a spire of rock
View from Orongo out to sea. Motu Nui, with the smaller Motu Iti in front and the isolated sea stack of Motu Kau Kau between them and the viewer. Picture taken during January 2004, from ‘Orongo at the Rano Kau volcano, around 250 meters (820 feet) above sea level. 
A triangular island, at one point a mountain with a large crater pokes out of the sea. Most of the mountain has been eroded back to a sea cliff surrounding a crater, only a fifth of the mountain slopes gently to the corner of the island.
Easter Island map showing Rano Kau, Motu Nui, ‘Orongo, and Mataveri 

See also[edit]



  • Mulloy, William. Investigation and Restoration of the Ceremonial Center of Orongo. International Fund for Monuments Bulletin No. 4. New York (1975).
  • Mulloy, W.T., and S.R. Fischer. 1993. Easter Island Studies: Contributions to the History of Rapanui in Memory of William T. Mulloy. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Routledge, Katherine Pease (Scouresby). 1919. The Mystery of Easter Island; the Story of an Expedition. London, Aylesbury, Printed for the author by Hazell, Watson and Viney. ISBN 0-932813-48-8 (1998 US reprint)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 27°11′22″S 109°26′33″W / 27.18944°S 109.44250°W / -27.18944; -109.44250