Active Project

Easter Island (Rapa Nui)—Orongo

Easter Island, Chile

The Ceremonial Village of Orongo

Easter Island, a special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888, is most famous for the hundreds moai statues scattered throughout its coastline. Located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, the entire island is protected within the World Heritage site of the Rapa Nui National Park. The ceremonial village of Orongo, in the south of the park, is considered to be among the most spectacular archaeological sites in the world. It is perched on a narrow ridge, with the crater of the Rano Kau volcano on one side and cliffs that fall 300 meters to the sea on the other. Orongo contains dozens of petroglyphs and stone houses dating from the Huri-Moai period of Easter Island’s history (c. 1680–1867). The self-contained, dry-laid houses featuring sod roofs were built into the topography of the site. The ceremonial center of Mata Ngarau in Orongo, center of the Tangata Manu (Birdman) cult that succeeded the moai culture, was the site for the annual games that represented the transfer of power between competing clans. By the end of the nineteenth century, most of the Rapa Nui culture had perished or had converted to Christianity; the Tangata Manu cult collapsed and Orongo was abandoned.

1996 and 2000 World Monuments Watch

World Monuments Fund began working on Easter Island in the late 1960s. Together with the Corporación Nacional Forestal de Chile (CONAF), WMF has organized training courses for park rangers, conducted climate studies, collected meteorological data, carried out site protection and interpretation studies, installed monitoring systems, and developed a conservation database of the Orongo petroglyphs, among other things. Planning for conservation and site-management at the Orongo Ceremonial Village began in 2001 in close consultation with community leaders, organizations, and local stakeholders. Over the years WMF has held a series of workshops focused on redevelopment, interpretation, conservation, and management plans for the site. The design of the visitor reception center at Orongo, completed in 2011, integrated the existing facilities; the core of the new building is the old warden station, much of the original structure was retained, and construction materials were recycled and incorporated into the new building. Because electric power is not available, alternate sources of energy, including solar and wind, are used. New restrooms include state-of-the-art composting toilets and a rainwater recycling system.

The visitor center, the Centro de Recepción de Visitantes de la Aldea Ceremonial de Orongo, is located at the entrance to the Orongo Ceremonial Village, one of the most significant archaeological sites in Rapa Nui National Park and the most visited place on Easter Island. Severely impacted by increasing numbers of tourists each year, Orongo was been the focus of an intensive conservation and interpretive program supported by WMF and American Express from 2001 to 2011. The construction of the visitor center was the last component of this program, and serves as an introduction to the national park. It provides a heritage interpretation and information program for visitors, will regulate and manage visitation to enhance visitors’ experience at the site, and, given its sustainable design, minimizes negative impacts on the site’s fragile archeological resources. Local craftsmen played a major role on the construction of the visitor reception facility.

2020 World Monuments Watch

In spite of significant steps forward in the management and conservation of the Orongo Ceremonial Village, the preservation of the unique rock carvings of Orongo remains far from assured, posing a vexing challenge to the indigenous community. The site’s exposure, as well as the inherent weakness of basalt rock, have led to considerable structural instability and the loss of irreplaceable petroglyphs, which retain their communal and spiritual significance today. Solutions are urgently being sought by the Ma’u Henua Indigenous Community, who are now responsible for the administration of Rapa Nui National Park, thanks to a sustained campaign demanding greater rights and decision-making power. The 2020 World Monuments Watch seeks to continue our engagement with this remarkable site by partnering with the site’s true stakeholders to address critical insecurities created by the environment.

One of Seven Sites Awarded Funding by American Express

In September 2020, American Express announced $1 million in funding to support preservation efforts at seven 2020 Watch sites. Included among these was Rapa Nui National Park, Easter Island in Chile. Support from American Express is allowing WMF to pursue its engagement at Rapa Nui with a project to document and preserve the Mata Ngarahu petroglyph site in collaboration with the Ma’u Henua community.

Last updated: March 2021. 

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