Caverna de los Partos

Pregnancy and childbirth were considered sacred to the ancient Rapanui.  During pregancy, some rituals were held in special places to venerate the child to be born.  When the moment arrived, the mother would kneel down while her husband would crouch down to hold her and giver her massages to help her to breathe and to give birth.  Once the baby was born, he would cut the umbilical cord with his teeth and respectfully tie it up, since it was thought that the body of the child held the “Mana” (power) transmitted from his ancestors.  A medicine man or priest would observe the rituals and analyse the dreams that the mother had in the night before the birth to be able to orient the life of the newborn.  The umbilical cord and the placenta were carefully buried or thrown into the waves with the words, “Go, return to Hiva”.  Then warm rocks were placed on the mother’s stomach to force out the last fluids, to avoid stretch marks on her skin and to help recover muscle tone.  Shortly thereafter, the mother would receive her first food from husband with all the required ceremonies, while the newborn was given his first name.

The Cave of Childbirth was located in front of today’s Museum and it is said that around 70 children were born there between 1912 and 1960.   There Timoteo Pakarati and his wife Victoria Atan lived.  She used to act as a midwife for the women of her family.  Her great-granddaughter María Hey-Hotu tells us that “…my mother Celestina Hotu lived in a cave with her grandmother and told us that, at the moment of birth, they would put a basin or whatever they had at hand beneath the mother.  My great-grandmother, who was given the nickname “Matanza” by her husband Julio Tepano, would help to remove the baby and would place it on some cattle horns alongside the mother.  I never saw my great-grandmother assisting at a birth because, by my day, we already had a hospital.  My great-grandfather later built a house above the cave where we lived with them for a while.  She would be waiting for us after school with milk and squash or with sweet potatoes or taro.  This was the meal that was served in tin cans from Caritas, the ones that cheese came in, which we would wash and save since we didn’t have plates like today.  We were really well off. “

Marcelo Pont-Hotu , cousin of Maria Hey, confides that he was born in that cave.  “…We are twelve siblings and I’m number 3.  We lived there in a small house up on the hill with my mother Miguelina and she had me with the assistance of my great-grandmother, in the middle of summer in that cave.  It was accidental.  My father and some uncles had gone fishing and the women were preparing the fire for their return.  Late at night, with the bonfire and a full moon, my mother didn’t feel well, so went to sleep in the cave.  I was born by surprise in the morning.  I was the only one chosen to have been born there.  “Matanza” died when I was 10.  We then lived with my family in another part of the Island, but I used to come to visit her every day.  I remember that it was in the winter and getting cold.  My great-grandmother sent me and my brother to our house to get her a blanket, but it was late in the day and my parents wouldn’t let us go back.  She got sick from worrying about us because we didn’t return.  I’m sure that she thought that something had happened to us.  I was very close to her and couldn’t sleep that night.  A short while later she died.  I still feel angry at my parents. “