A scene from the short-length film Rokunga.
 
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July 2002

First Chilean historical short-length film on 3-D:
Rokunga: the last Birdman

The animated short-length film Rokunga: the last Tangata Manu, by Erwin Gómez, tells the story of Rokunga, the last Birdman, the title formerly given to Easter Island's political and military chief. The film, eight minutes long, is made on 3-D computer animation combined with traditional animation.

Rokunga is the name of the last man that, in the middle of the 19th Century, held the highest political and military position on Easter Island: the one of the Birdman. It is the character that stars in the most recent work by designer and animator Erwin Gómez, who had previously made another fiction animated short-length film called Lords of Sipán, based on the stories inscribed on the drawings on clay vases from the Mochica culture (that lived on the Moche valley, north of Peru, between the First and Eighth Centuries).

With the short-length film Rokunga, the last Tangata Manu, Gómez uses once again the plasticity and validity of animation's newest techniques, giving life to past's static testimonies. The shape of the story's characters is inspired on mythical figures carved on wood, known as Kava Kai and Moai Tangata Manu.

The most ancient information about the use of these images, particularly the anthropomorphic, relates them with ancient or tutelary spirits, that their owners carried hanging from their bodies during parties and that they then kept, carefully wrapped, at their homes. Each piece was used in a certain context, something that was completely altered by foreign contacts, when the islanders started making copies to offer them to European sailors, in exchange of highly valued goods such as knives, fishhooks, scissors, etc.

The animated characters, besides entertaining, familiarize us with historical pasts from another latitudes. "Using this language we want to universalize our past", Gómez explains.

To deepen the scarce knowledge that we have about Easter Island and generate a link with the past, are this creator's main motivations. "Our knowledge of Easter Island is generally limited to the few monuments that can be found. They tell us about a culture, their material existence, forming a network among objects that liberates our minds and involve us on a search of ideas lost in time".

The Tangata Manu investiture
The film shows the annual spring ceremony in the honor of Make Make, Creator God, at the time of the finding of the first bird egg at the Motu Nui Island. It culminated with the investiture of Tangata Manu, the sacred Birdman. Each year, the representatives of different tribes would climb the Kau volcano to celebrate at the ceremonial center of Orongo the new election of Tangata Manu, who would be for a whole year the political and military head of the island.

On a long carnival-like procession, the different communities carried their aspiring candidates, each accompanied by a Hopu Manu, a man trained for the difficult task of traveling to the Monu Nui island, where he would wait for the nesting of birds and find the first egg to give his master the triumph. With the egg tied around his forehead, the winning Hopu Manu would cross back to the island swimming, to give it to a jury of priests who had the faculty of confirming the authenticity of the egg, allowing the investiture ceremony of the new Tangata Manu.


Rokunga, last of the Birdmen
"Sickness brought by white men, slavery, war among brothers, forever threatened our tradition. Nothing will ever be the same at the world's center".

With these sad words, spoken by a skinny wooden Kava Kava, looking melancholically to the sea, begins "Rokunga, the last Birdman", the second short-length animated film by Chilean director Erwin Gómez Viñales. After two years of work this meticulous project was finished, financed by the FONDART (State Funding for the Arts) and sponsored by the Chilean Cultural Heritage Corporation. It will be shown for free during all august by the Chilean Cultural Heritage website, www.nuestro.cl.

Rokunga, the last Tangata Manu, is a short film animated for 35-mm. cinema, using mixed techniques where three-dimensional and traditional animation is combined. Its script is inspired on mythical Easter Island's narrations, and the characters' aesthetic, on its wooden craft.


The story
This is the story of Rokunga, the last man that held a sacred position of Birdman and gave his name to the year 1866 in Easter Island. It is the adaptation of a ceremony that used to be held every year during spring's first months, in honor of Make Make, Creator God, at the time of the finding of the first bird-egg at the Motu Nui Island. It culminated with the triumphal investiture of the Tangata Manu, the sacred Birdman.

Each year, representatives of different tribes, would climb the Kau volcano to celebrate at the ceremonial center of Orongo, the new election of Tangata Manu, who would be for a whole year the political and military head of the island.

On a long carnival-like procession, the different communities carried their aspiring candidates, each accompanied by a Hopu Manu, a man trained for the difficult task of going down the cliff and from there cross swimming to one of the Motu Nui islands, for there to wait the nesting of the frigate bird.

Once the birds flock arrived and nested, the first Hopu Manu that found an egg would scream from Motu Nui to Orongo the name of the chief who he represented. From that moment on, that person had the good fortune of representing the power of Tangata Manu for a whole year.

Then, the Hopu Manu with the egg tied around his forehead would cross back to the island swimming, giving it to a jury of priests who had the faculty of confirming the authenticity of the egg. Once approved, there took place the important ceremony of giving power to the new Tangata Manu.

The characters
The main characters of the story were inspired by the mythical figures carved on wood, known as Kava Kava and Moai Tangata Manu.

Even though it is difficult to be precise about the origin of this images, the tradition gives an important place to the legendary king Tuu Ko Ihu, sort of civilizing hero who would have captured one of the island's most characteristic icons: the Moai Kava Kava, with the kava (see-through) ribs. According to the legend, the king would have discovered, while they where sleeping at the side of the road, two spirits, whose shapes he carved back at his house, in order to domain them.

The most ancient information about the use of these images, particularly the anthropomorphic, relates them with ancient or tutelary spirits, that their owners carried hanging from their bodies during parties, and that they then kept, carefully wrapped, at their homes. Each piece was used on a certain context, something that was completely altered by foreign contacts, when the islanders started making copies to offer them to European sailors, in exchange of highly valued goods such as knives, fishhooks, scissors, etc.


Synopsis
The story that begins on the year 1866, tells about the last ceremony of the Birdman at Easter Island. Among Pacific Ocean's immensity, and thousands of miles away from the continent, at the top of the Orongo (border of the volcano), a skinny old man, with his body carved on wood, tells us about the intricate and millenary race by which Rokunga, the last Birdman, won at the task of bringing safe the year's first egg from the swallow that lived on a small island.

The race starts at the top of the cliff with the jump to the sea of the contestants. During the race a series of things happen, adding emotion to the contest.

At the island, the first to find the egg shows it as a sign of triumph and prepares himself for taking it to the island. But an unexpected outcome faces the contestants with death.

When the owner of the egg arrives to the land, he shouts "Rokunga!", shaking the place so much, the heaven opens and the shape of Creator God Make Make shows.

We suggest: www.spondylus.cl




Technical File

Title: The last Birdman (El último hombre-pájaro)
Length: 7 min. 50 sec.
Format: Cinema, 35 mm wide screen
Animation technique: 3D Animation
Sound: Stereo
Director: Erwin Gómez Viñales
Production: Spondylus Producciones
General Producer: Margarita Cid Lizondo
Animators: Erwin Gómez, Mauricio Pérez, Marcelo Flores
Narrator: Luis Dubo
Script: Erwin Gómez, Gonzalo Oyarzún,Ignacio Iriarte
Art concept: Abel Elizondo
Sound and music: Miguel Lara.

 

 
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