Sunday, October 06, 2013

The Fight for Rapanui

Al Jazeera
101 East
March 1, 2013.

Can the Easter Island's indigenous Rapanui win the battle for independence from Chile to protect their land and culture?

The famed monolithic Moai statues in Easter Island are symbols of the land’s mysterious past.

Centuries ago, the Rapanui, a people of Polynesian descent, faced the threat of extinction as the island was on the brink of ecological collapse. In 1888, Chile annexed the South Pacific Island but until 1953 it allowed a Scottish company to manage the island as a giant sheep ranch. While the sheep roamed freely, the Rapanui were confined to the town. They revolted in 1964, obtaining Chilean citizenship and the right to elect their own mayor.

Now, Chilean colonisers are threatening to wipe the indigenous culture out of existence. A wave of recent immigration to the South Pacific Island means that two out of every three inhabitants are from mainland Chile.

The government of Chile says it is committed to a four-year, $60million-development plan for the island.  New luxury hotels are wooing rich Chileans into town, a glimpse of what critics say will foster an income gap.Chilean migrants come to the island in part because of tax exemption. Tourists and mainland Chileans flock to Easter Island to enjoy the beaches on one of the world’s most remote islands.

But among the Rapanui people, calls for independence are growing louder and protests in the past year have turned bitter and violent.

Inspired by a wave of Polynesian islands obtaining certain degrees of political autonomy, the Rapanui are demanding rights to govern their land. Leviante Araki, president of the self-styled Rapa Nui Parliament, a pro-independence organisation, has challenged Chilean rule and is taking the fight to the mainland courts to seek independence. 
Read the rest here.
Comment: I watched this program yesterday and highly recommend that you do too if you have an interest in justice for indigenous peoples.

The plight of the Rapanui is a relatively hidden one in global issues but it is a longstanding struggle; this hidden or obscured plight may be changing as more attention is rightly given to the treatment of the Rapanui by Chile.

For background information this journal article by Gregory Delaune entitled "Rapa Nui on the Verge: Easter Island’s Struggles with Integration and Globalization in the Information Age" (posted September 19, 2012 in The Urban Fringe which is a blog of the Berkeley Planning Journal).

The Guardian (UK) also had a recent article describing the rising tensions entitled "Easter Island issues Chile with independence threat" (January 15, 2013).

easter island independence
The Moai (statues) are part of Rapanui heritage. (Photograph: Bob Krist/Corbis)
The plight of the Rapanui is not unique among colonized indigenous peoples. 

101 East does an excellent job of investigating the reasons behind the call for independence from Chile.  The scenes of brutal crackdowns by the Chilean government who shipped in armed police to quell demonstrations is shocking and reminiscent of apartheid era police-state tactics.

The Rapanui are fighting for their dignity and way of life.  This struggle cannot fail if their language, culture and indigenous practices are to survive.

Chile should do the noble thing and cede independence.  The arguments that the Rapanui cannot survive in isolation is simply not convincing.  But Chile will not just hand over independence of course.

Some of the bourgeoisie among the Rapanui are against independence.  These few are the beneficiaries of Chilean colonialism and their consent is bought.

From my distant reading the vast majority of Rapanui want their land back and want their indigenous way of life to be preserved.


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