Easter Island, Chile

  • Date
  • 30 June 2001

Easter Island is a mystery. Our Rapanui guide Juan told us many stories, legends and ‘history’, but no one knows for certain the origin of the Easter Island people or the rationale for their tremendous stone carvings called moais.

Juan told us a little about the Rapanui people, who do not like to own things outright, instead preferring the communal type system. Foreigners cannot buy land and this includes mainland Chileans. I pointed out that the supermarket and our hotel are the two most successful businesses in town and ‘foreigners’ run them. He agreed, adding that the couple at the supermercado rent the building and own what is inside, and the hotel owner is married to a Rapanui, so he ‘officially’ owns the land and hotel. Juan also told us that if a foreigner and Rapanui produce a child, the offspring can be part of the communal ownership of island.

By the end of several hours, Juan made it clear that Rapanui people are complacent and content with their ‘poor-ness’, as Jim terms it. The Rapanuis have a real contempt for mainland Chile and after all, they did take over the island in 1888. Yet, the mainland heavily supports the tiny island with paved roads, a school, army, police, airport and airline, which shuttles in tourists that are the livelihood of 80 percent of the 3000 people living on Easter Island.