Ana Kai Tangata

Useful Information

Location: Take Atamu Tekena Avenue to the end, turn right towards the sector of Mataveri. Follow the Policarpo Toro street to the small parking 100 m after the entrance of the Hotel Iorana. There is a trail down the cliff to the cave entrance.
Open: no restrictions. [2019]
Fee: free. [2019]
Classification: Speleologylava tube
Guided tours:
Bibliography: Georgia Lee, Paul Horley (2013): The paintings of Ana Kai Tangata cave, Easter Island (Rapa Nui), Rapa Nui Journal, Vol. 27 (2) October 2013.
Address: Ana Kai Tangata.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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Ana Kai Tangata is a cave with a view, the lower end opens in the ciff face above the sea, offering a few on breaking waves. This opening was widened by the erosion of the sea water and is 10 m wide, 5 m hig and 15 m deep. But it is located above the high tide line and is thus never flooded by sea water.

This is the most popular and probably the most impressive cave on the island. It shows cave paintings in the inside chamber which is 4 m high. Most pictures show seagulls (Sterna fuscata) which is called Manutara in the Rapa Nui language. The natives considered this bird sacred and it was the symbol of Tangata Manu or bird-man cult. The seagulls are a migratory bird, and they are nesting once a year in spring on the motu, islets in front of Orongo. The colours were vegetable essences and mineral pigments collected from the Vinapu area mixed with shark fat. Among the birds panted in red, there are black boats, both canoes and European ships with masts. The cave painting are in the process of being destroyed by the weathering of the rock and the salty sea water in the air, sometimes even tsunamis reach the cave. Written descriptions from the 1930s tell about a quite good state of conservation, but today only a few pictures remain and the colours have lost much of their intensity. So it might be only a short time until the paintings will be gone completely.

The cave was part of an important ritual, the competition for the first egg. With this competition the tangata manu (birdman) was chosen, who became the representative of god Make Make for the next year. Every year in July the participants met in the village Mataveri where they had celebrations with feasts and dances. Several victims of the rival clans were sacrificed and then eaten, a sort of ritualistic cannibalism. There are theories that Ana Kai Tangata was the location of the cannibalism. The reason is simply the name of the cave, which is a traditional name. Ana means cave, Kai means to eat, but also to gather or to tell, and Tangata means man. So the possible translations include the "cave where men are eaten" or "cave of cannibals", but also “the cave where men eat” or even “the cave that eats men” would be possible translations. And actually no physical evidence has been found in the excavations on the island, which prove cannibalism at all. So this could simply be fictitious legends. And finally the name could also be translated as meeting place (the cave where men meet) or classroom (cave where men tell stories).

Actual evidence found in the cave tell about the construction of vaka ama boats. So it was used as a boat yard, protected from the waves and the weather, but still only a few meters from the sea. The boats were small canoes made with boards sewn together, a result of the scarcity of wood on the island. This use even made it into the movie Rapa Nui, the father of Ramana is building a canoe in this cave which the protagonists use for escape.