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I came across this interesting article on LATimes.com this morning regarding Easter Island. I inserted the articles text below for those who are registered.
*Keeping a Culture Afloat
EASTER ISLAND — Evelyn Hucke wants her son to speak in the language of the king who settled this remote island more than a millennium ago, the same Polynesian tongue spoken by the people who carved the totemic statues that rise above the powder-blue waters of the South Pacific.
Hucke, 30, grew up speaking that language, known as Rapa Nui. But as she walks the streets of Hanga Roa, Easter Island's only town, she hears the Polynesian-faced children chattering and arguing in Spanish, the language of the island's current rulers, the Chileans.
Every day is a linguistic battle for Hucke as she fights the cartoons beamed in from South America, and the Spanish repartee at the grocery store and in the island's only schoolyard.
"Ko ai a Hotu Matu'a?" she asks her 7-year-old. Obediently, he answers in the same language: "He was the first king who came here."
Often called the loneliest place on Earth, Easter Island is now caught up in the swirling changes of globalization and is on the front line of a broader effort to preserve the world's endangered languages.
Every year, more languages pass into extinction. In the Chilean archipelago north of the Strait of Magellan, the last dozen or so speakers of the Kawesqar Indian language are aged. Inevitably, Kawesqar will join Kunza and Selknam on the list of Chile's dead languages.
Only an end to "Chileanization," local leaders here say, can rescue Rapa Nui — the term applies to the language, the 2,000 people who speak it and the island itself. Rapa Nui leaders want political autonomy from Chile or independence so they can control the migration of Spanish-speaking "Continentals" to the island.
Saving Rapa Nui has become an obsession for a handful of people here, including a pair of California linguists who've spent nearly three decades helping create a Rapa Nui literature and a former medical worker who became a schoolteacher and launched the island's first Rapa Nui "immersion" program.
"You realize something of your people is being lost, the spirit of our people," says Virginia Haoa, who runs the immersion classes for students from kindergarten through fourth grade.
For Haoa and others, saving Rapa Nui means saving Easter Island's uniqueness — "our culture, our cosmology, our way of being," Haoa says. If Rapa Nui dies, so will a living connection to ancestors who built an exotic, mysterious civilization on an island just a few miles wide in a vast, otherwise empty stretch of the Pacific, 2,300 miles from the South American mainland.
For now, there are still Easter Islanders who can tell you, in Rapa Nui, stories that have been passed down for generations about Hotu Matu'a, who, around AD 400, arrived with seven explorers from the land called Hiva to settle this place. You can still talk to people whose grandfathers were part of the Birdman cult that raised one of the last of the island's 800 famed, imposing moai statues. It was later shipped off to the British Museum in London.
"What we've kept alive [of our culture] has been entirely on our own initiative," says Alfonso Rapu, 61, who, in the 1960s, led one of the most important protests against Chilean rule, escaping an arrest warrant by hiding in the island's caves.
Intermarriage with Chilean Continentals, he says, might soon do away with many of the 39 surnames associated with the island's tribes.
Chile has ruled the island since one of its admirals arrived here in 1888, signing a treaty with its last king, who residents believe was later poisoned in the Chilean city of Valparaiso.
Until recently, geographic isolation kept alive the Rapa Nui language — a rhythmic tongue with few hard consonants — despite the small number of people speaking it.
But these days, the peak of tourist season brings four daily flights from Santiago, Chile's capital. Taxi drivers who've relocated from Santiago cruise up and down Atamu Tekena Avenue in Hanga Roa, in search of fares.
"Word has gotten out in Chile that you can make dollars easy on Easter Island," explains Hucke, a member of the self-appointed "Rapa Nui parliament," which is pushing to have the island's status placed on the agenda of a United Nations committee on colonization. "They come to try their luck. They aren't interested when we tell them our culture is being destroyed."
Of the 3,000 or so residents here, about a third are transplants from the Chilean mainland. Last year, Easter Island had its first armed robbery — committed by a youth from the mainland.
"It's not that we are against the people coming from the continent," says Enrique Pakarati Ika, the island's Chilean-appointed governor. "The people of Rapa Nui are very hospitable, and many times they invite Continental people to come."
In the process, however, Hanga Roa risks becoming just another Chilean town.
Chileans are currently as free to come to Easter Island as Americans are to move to Hawaii.
"The Constitution of Chile is killing my culture and my identity," says Petero Edmunds, the mayor of Hanga Roa and the island's only popularly elected official. "We are a millenarian culture that existed long before Chile did. And the only way to protect that culture is by regulating migration."
Edmunds and other leaders head to Santiago several times a year to negotiate autonomy with the authorities. Islanders hope to eventually achieve a status similar to their oceanic neighbors in French Polynesia, which was granted self-rule in 1984.
"We are Polynesians," says activist Mario Tuki Hey, expressing an opinion shared by most anthropologists. "It's only an accident that makes us part of Chile."
There is a growing consensus on the mainland that Easter Island deserves a different status than other isolated corners of the Chilean state.
"There is unanimity in the idea that certain places, like an island located in the middle of the Pacific, should receive special treatment," said Sen. Jaime Orpis, a member of the conservative Independent Democratic Union who was part of a Chilean Senate commission that visited the island in September. "They should have autonomy."
Sen. Carlos Ominami of the Socialist Party said such a status would probably be based on that of the Galapagos Islands, which are allowed to control migration from Ecuador and charge a visitor's fee to raise money for development.
The Easter Island negotiations have dragged on for at least a year. For the time being, the island remains simply another administrative subdivision of the city of Valparaiso, Chile's main Pacific port.
"We are as far from Valparaiso as Los Angeles is from Miami," Edmunds says. "It does not make sense that I have to call Valparaiso to get the money to fill a pothole or to have a Chilean bureaucrat tell me in what language I should educate my children."
In fact, the island's school established its Rapa Nui immersion program four years ago in defiance of Chile's education laws, which mandate instruction primarily in Spanish. The educators and linguists behind the program say Rapa Nui was in such desperate straits, they couldn't afford to wait any longer.
"For anyone under 25, Rapa Nui is not their primary language," says Nancy Weber, a linguist who has worked on the island with her husband, Robert, since the mid-1970s.
Back then, things were different. "When we came, probably the greatest percentage of Rapa Nui children spoke Rapa Nui as their primary language," she says.
Television arrived on Easter Island about the same time the Webers did. In those days, the linguists had great fun listening to the island's schoolchildren talk — in Rapa Nui — about the strange and exotic happenings on shows such as "Daniel Boone." The beaver-capped explorers and tomahawk-wielding Indians on the series were speaking dubbed Spanish, and the children weren't entirely sure what they were saying or doing.
"None of them agreed with each other about what they had seen on TV the night before," Robert says. "And none of their stories seemed to match the 'Daniel Boone' I had seen."
At the same time, the Webers set out to create Rapa Nui texts, inviting local residents to writing workshops and publishing mimeographed anthologies of poetry and family narratives. If Rapa Nui was to be taught in school, they felt, it needed a literature — writing that reflected its cultural reality.
"People were moved to tears when they produced their first books," Nancy recalls.
Rapa Nui, it seemed, was on the rebound.
But as time passed, Rapa Nui began to slip behind Spanish, especially after Chilean TV expanded to a daylong schedule. By 1997, a sociolinguistic survey of the school found that no exclusive Rapa Nui speakers were left and that only a handful of students were "coordinate bilingual," or equally fluent in Spanish and Rapa Nui.
In public places, Rapa Nui is being replaced by Chilean-accented Spanish laced with Rapa Nui structure, the Webers say. For example, Rapa Nui uses frequent "reduplication" of sounds. So you might hear an Easter Islander greet someone with "Hola, hola" in Spanish.
"Eventually, Rapa Nui will be lost," Robert says. "If Rapa Nui were on the mainland, it would have disappeared long ago. If we're really honest, all we're doing is delaying the inevitable."
If true, it will happen despite the long history of resistance and perseverance of the Rapa Nui people. Against long odds, Easter Islanders have kept their language alive through their tragic encounters with the outside world.
The Chileans are only the most recent in a long line of Europeans and South Americans to control the island. For centuries, colonialists and slavers decimated the population.
The small group of elders who could read Easter Island's rongo rongo writing system — preserved in 28 carved wooden tablets — all died as slaves in 19th century Peru. By the time the Chileans arrived, the Rapa Nui people numbered fewer than 200.
In the 20th century, Chile ruled the island with a mixture of paternalism and benign neglect. Older residents remember an island without electricity or running water, run by Chilean naval officers "as if the island were a ship and we were all sailors."
Chilean educators encouraged the parents of Easter Island's "best and brightest" to send their children to mainland boarding schools.
Haoa, the Rapa Nui teacher, was sent off to Chile when she was 9. She suffered an unbearable loneliness for months on end, rarely hearing a word of her native language. "The nuns told my parents I was too smart, that it would be a waste to let me stay on the island," she says.
As an adult with a Chilean university degree, she returned to the island to work at the local clinic — until the day her oldest daughter started kindergarten at Easter Island's elementary school.
"I had always spoken to her in Rapa Nui because I knew when she grew up there would be pressure to speak in Spanish," Haoa remembers. After that first day of kindergarten, Haoa discovered that Rapa Nui was being treated "like an alien language" in her daughter's class, which was conducted entirely in Spanish.
Soon Haoa was volunteering to organize Rapa Nui workshops at the school. Eventually, she became a full-time teacher there. "It was urgent that we have our children speaking our language," she says.
Because Rapa Nui has no equivalents for modern words like "computer," Haoa and other teachers have coined new terms. A computer, for example, is a makimi roro uira, which literally means "brilliant mind machine."
Creating new words helps encourage invention and creativity in a language, an essential part of keeping it alive.
"We've proved that it's possible to teach science in Rapa Nui," Haoa says. But more important, she adds, "we're preparing our children for the outside world by giving them a stronger sense of who they are and where they come from."
Mauricio Valdebenito, a Chilean and a cabdriver, is among the parents whose children will start the Rapa Nui immersion program soon, when the next kindergarten class begins. His wife is Rapa Nui, but she and their 5-year-old daughter speak mostly Spanish at home.
"To me, all learning is a good thing. The more the better," Valdebenito says. "I wouldn't mind hearing her speak it more. It's part of her culture."
Haoa tries to spread the same message outside the classroom. On her kitchen door there is a sign asking visitors to speak in Rapa Nui. "Hare vanaga i te reio henua," it says. "In this house we speak the voice of the people."
Haoa believes she's making progress. The other day, she was walking across the playground when she heard something she hadn't heard for many years, a sound that transported her to her own childhood.
A group of small children were arguing in Rapa Nui.
"They were starting to scream, but they weren't hurting each other," she says.
So for a moment or two, all she did was listen. *
He who dies with the most broken mugs WINS!
[ Edited by: PolynesianPop on 2004-01-28 09:09 ]
thank you for putting this article up. veri interesting and said. my fiancee is a linguist; i will show her this thread when she gets home.
An excellent article. How sad.
[ Edited by: BaronV 2005-07-19 16:57 ]
Excellent article, which raises numerous issues, not the least of which is the herioc efforts to maintain the fragile integrity of the Rapa Nui culture through its language in the midst of Chile embracing\smoothering it.
A shame that intermarraige would eliminate the Rapa Nui surnames - those with the name have got to start hyphenating the last name, lest they be lost forever, like the written language, rongo rongo (except - hopefully - until some linguist can dechiper the Rapa Nui rosetta stone equivalent).
I hope the negotitions are successful, but usually nations are interested in acquiring lands, not relinquishing them.
Migaration issues are sticky, but appear necessary. Taxis from the mainland?
Ironic, the more attractive place Easter Island becomes the more it attracts mainlanders.
Of course, how would not want a shot living on a tropical island?
[ Edited by: filslash 2008-09-10 13:48 ]
This book did wonders for me when I was on Rapa Nui in 2000. The locals are triple friendly to you if you attempt to speak Rapa Nui instead of Spanish.
Another comment (not directed at Baron specifically):
This article is excellent, but inherently flawed:
Hoto Matua did not speak the language we know as Rapa Nui.
His language died after slave raids, smallpox, and intertribal warfare wiped out most of the island's population.
Missionaries introduced a bastardization of Tahitian - which is the current language - in the 19th century. It was also at that point that the island was named Rapa Nui - before that it the island had two names, both poetic descriptions: Te Pito o te Henua (the navel of the world) or Matekiteranga (sp? - eyes looking up at heaven).
Anyway, I 100% suppost the Rapa Nui people preserving their heritage... and their continuing efforts to free themselves from Chile... but just to clarify: their current heritage is not the heritage of Hotu Matua and the Moai builders. That heritage was completely wiped out by the joint 'efforts' of Europeans and the islanders themselves in the 18th/19th century, mostly between 1770 and 1864.
I guess I should be telling the author of the article all of this!
Excellent points, Tikibars.
What do you think of the Taxidriver issue? I think that supports your idea of tourism bringing unnecessary people overruning the island and not necessarily improving the lot of the indigenous Rapa Nui.
Filslash: Thanks for clarifying - the Santiago Stone. And yes, the Rosetta Stone is not an accurate description as there is no other languages to be used for translation.
[ Edited by: filslash 2008-09-10 13:48 ]
I don't know a lot about the Taxi thing. What's the story?
Easter Island apparently is undergoing the issues associated with balancing increased tourism and the wealth it can bring with the loss of homogenousness of the culture (acknowledging it already has changed dramatically, no longer connects from the Moai building cultures and has borrowed from Tahiti).
Possibly nationhood will resolve this issue because it will allow for a ban on those relocating [Bali &/or Indonesia has one for the same reason], although I do not know what governmental dollars for public improvement projects or the ability to attend Chilean schools & univiersities [for free], etc. will be lost as a result.
However, that may be a small price to pay over the long run to maintain your culture, although I wonder if 21st century issues including the lack of isolation, and the related tv, tourism, development etc. has already sealed its fate.
[ Edited by: christiki295 on 2004-01-30 18:50 ]
Thor Heyerdahl wrote in 1955 that he did an expirment where he moved a moai with those who were, in fact, direct descendants at of the moai carvers, referenced at museumsnett.no/kon-tiki.
He doesn't mention how they are direct descendants, but he does affirmatively assert it.
(forgotten how to make that link light-up)
...and as much as it truly pains me to say this, most of Heyerdahl's findings regarding Te Pito o te Henua have been completely disreputed by the scientific community at large.
No matter, I love the guy anyway.
He's the one who blurred the line between science and Polynesian Pop... even if that wasn't his goal!
"...and as much as it truly pains me to say this, most of Heyerdahl's findings regarding Te Pito o te Henua have been completely disreputed by the scientific community at large."
JT, can you give the names of some books or sources of the repudiations? I'd like to read up.
[ Edited by: Formikahini on 2004-02-19 10:26 ]
Formikahini, here are a couple websites that support JT's post.
I've read a lot about this elsewhere as well and DNA evidence has shown/proven that Easter Island was most likely founded by Polynesians.
Good point, Tiki Bars, and thank you for using the original name of Easter Island, Te Pito o Te.
There seems to be a general consensus of approximately just over 100 native Rapa Nui by approximately 1990, which raises ineresting geneology questions. [111 is the number in the site referenced by Polypop].
However, the LA Times article suggests that the original traditional last names of the 39 original clans remain, albeit threatened by intermarriage, etc., which suggests that possibly one can still draw a link to the original descendants of Hotu Matu'a.
True, Jo Anne van Tilburg, her husband and others have discredited Thor Heyerdahl's (RIP) theory that Easter Island was settled from South America [and I suppose it makes a better story to do moving the moai tests using descendants of the original moai carvers].
You, again, raise a most interesting footnote that the Kon-Tiki cruise may have provided the inspiration for Polynesean Pop trend.
I suppose I just like to think that the lineage has not been entirely estiguished, sort of like the question of what is a true Hawaiian.
In the late 18th century, the island was lambasted with the moai-toppling tribal wars, slave raids, and smallpox all back-to-back. It was said by a missionary at the time that the total population of the island at the time was 110. He included himself in the census for a total of 111. According to Heyerdahl in his 1985 tome Easter Island The Mystery Solved (his final word on the subject and an amazing book that states his case very very convincingly), in the 1980s there was only one living original "long ear" descendant left alive.
According to moast theories, the long ears, who built the moai and arrived on the island first, were defeated by the short-ears, who arrived later and toppled the moai, and from whom just about all of the native Rapa Nui living today are escended.
To digress further... 'long ears' and 'short ears' may have been a mistranslation of the word 'eepe' vs 'epe', which would make 'long ears' translate as 'slender people' in reality, and 'short ears' into 'stocky people'. That one is in debate too.
Anyway, if (according to Heyerdahl) there was only one 'long ear' alive in the 1980s, then when he goes, that's the end of Hotu Matua's lineage (supposedly on the island for 57 generations).
Tikibars, excellent breakdown.
Were all of the short ears (or long ears) burned in a fire during the calamity that befell Te Pito o te Henua where one of the warring groups was trapped between a fire ravine and was killed in battle (as a result of a girlfriend who betrayed her lineage for love?)
If so, does that mean that Heyerdahl chronicled the last long-ear descendent and all of the short ears perished?
What do you make of the 39 similar last names still remaining?
The so-called Batlle of Poike Ditch has been completely debunked - no battle occurred and no one was roasted alive.
In spite of what I posted above or elsewhere, the most up-to-the-minute theories actually say there weren't two tribes at all: there were two CLASSES, same genetics and lineage (all from Hotu Matua) and that the thin people overthrew the corpulent people, but they were all of the same race and, if one were to go back 30-40 generations, all realted.
Tune in again in six more months when the anthropologists and archaeologists have ANOTHER reversal on this issue...
NPR posted a new theory that Rapa Nui ate rats to survive:
As Jared Diamond tells it in his best-selling book, Collapse, Easter Island is the "clearest example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources." Once tree clearing started, it didn't stop until the whole forest was gone. Diamond called this self-destructive behavior "ecocide" and warned that Easter Island's fate could one day be our own.
When Captain James Cook visited there in 1774, his crew counted roughly 700 islanders (from an earlier population of thousands), living marginal lives, their canoes reduced to patched fragments of driftwood.
And that has become the lesson of Easter Island — that we don't dare abuse the plants and animals around us, because if we do, we will, all of us, go down together.
Easter Island Statues
OK, that's the story we all know, the Collapse story. The new one is very different.
A Story Of Success?
It comes from two anthropologists, Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo, from the University of Hawaii. They say, "Rather than a case of abject failure," what happened to the people on Easter Island "is an unlikely story of success."
Success? How could anyone call what happened on Easter Island a "success?"
Well, I've taken a look at their book, The Statues That Walked, and oddly enough they've got a case, although I'll say in advance what they call "success" strikes me as just as scary — maybe scarier.
Here's their argument: Professors Hunt and Lipo say fossil hunters and paleobotanists have found no hard evidence that the first Polynesian settlers set fire to the forest to clear land — what's called "large scale prehistoric farming." The trees did die, no question. But instead of fire, Hunt and Lipo blame rats.
Rat next to fallen trees
In laboratory settings, Polynesian rat populations can double in 47 days. Throw a breeding pair into an island with no predators and abundant food and arithmetic suggests the result ... If the animals multiplied as they did in Hawaii, the authors calculate, [Easter Island] would quickly have housed between two and three million. Among the favorite food sources of R. exulans are tree seeds and tree sprouts. Humans surely cleared some of the forest, but the real damage would have come from the rats that prevented new growth.
Rat Meat, Anybody?
For one thing, they could eat rats. As J.B. MacKinnon reports in his new book, The Once and Future World, archeologists examined ancient garbage heaps on Easter Island looking for discarded bones and found "that 60 percent of the bones came from introduced rats."
So they'd found a meat substitute.
Man with rat on a plate
According to MacKinnon, scientists say that Easter Island skeletons from that time show "less malnutrition than people in Europe." When a Dutch explorer, Jacob Roggevin, happened by in 1722, he wrote that islanders didn't ask for food. They wanted European hats instead. And, of course, starving folks typically don't have the time or energy to carve and shove 70-ton statues around their island.
A 'Success' Story?
Why is this a success story?
Because, say the Hawaiian anthropologists, clans and families on Easter Island didn't fall apart. It's true, the island became desolate, emptier. The ecosystem was severely compromised. And yet, say the anthropologists, Easter Islanders didn't disappear. They adjusted. They had no lumber to build canoes to go deep-sea fishing. They had fewer birds to hunt. They didn't have coconuts. But they kept going on rat meat and small helpings of vegetables. They made do.
One niggling question: If everybody was eating enough, why did the population decline? Probably, the professors say, from sexually transmitted diseases after Europeans came visiting.
OK, maybe there was no "ecocide." But is this good news? Should we celebrate?
I wonder. What we have here are two scenarios ostensibly about Easter Island's past, but really about what might be our planet's future. The first scenario — an ecological collapse — nobody wants that. But let's think about this new alternative — where humans degrade their environment but somehow "muddle through." Is that better? In some ways, I think this "success" story is just as scary.
The Danger Of 'Success'
What if the planet's ecosystem, as J.B. MacKinnon puts it, "is reduced to a ruin, yet its people endure, worshipping their gods and coveting status objects while surviving on some futuristic equivalent of the Easter Islanders' rat meat and rock gardens?"
"One niggling question: If everybody was eating enough, why did the population decline? Probably, the professors say, from sexually transmitted diseases after Europeans came visiting."
Nope it was FACEBOOK! They all went to facebook.
This questions leads to the Pulitzer prize winning book Prof. Jared Diamond, "Guns, Germs & Steel."
[ Edited by: christiki295 2013-12-10 13:36 ]
This documentary, by Horizon, affirms the Poike Dith theory.
In his book "Collapse," Dr. Jared Diamond describes deforestation as resulting from the following causes:
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