On Easter Island, we no longer want the tourism of the world before

On Easter Island, we no longer want the tourism of the world before

The inhabitants of Easter Island have survived two years without the financial windfall of mass tourism due to the pandemic. If visitors are always welcome, the Rapa Nui natives now want to preserve a rediscovered ancestral way of life, protect their island and resist the temptation to return to the world before.

“The moment that the elders had predicted has finally arrived,” Julio Hotus, a member of the Council of Elders of Easter Island, isolated in the middle of the Pacific, 3,500 km from the Chilean coast, and world famous for its hundreds of monumental statues, the moai, told AFP.

The elders of the Rapa Nui people had, according to him, insisted on the importance of ensuring the island’s food autonomy.

A warning that the last generations have pretended to listen to.

And overnight in March 2020, the 7,000 permanent inhabitants of the 24 km long and 12 wide island cut off all air links with the outside world to protect themselves from SARS CoV-2.

– Back to earth –

Olga Ickapakarati used to sell small stone moai figurines to tourists but had to resolve to find the gestures of her ancestors and cultivate the land.

“We were left with nothing so we started gardening” around the wooden house and its tin roof, she tells AFP.

In order for the population to meet its needs, the municipality of Easter Island had urgently set up a seed distribution program and Olga planted tomatoes, spinach, beets, chard and celery but also herbs: basil, oregano, coriander.

What she did not consume, she gave to other families, who in turn shared their harvest with others, thus forming a vast network of mutual assistance.

“All the islanders are like that, they have their hearts on their hands. If I see that I have enough (vegetables), I give it to another family,” adds this “Nua” or grandmother in the Rapa Nui language, who lives with her children and grandchildren.

Two years freed from the frenzy of mass tourism, the inhabitants of the island have experienced a new life and today do not want to go back to the pre-pandemic period which saw 11 weekly planes landing 160,000 tourists each year.

“We are going to continue tourism, but I hope that the pandemic has been a lesson that we will remember for the future,” says Julio Hotus.

On Thursday, after 28 months of isolation, a plane landed for the first time, generating excitement among residents who were longing to see new faces.

The reopening to tourism will be gradual with two flights a week, but the frequency will gradually increase. For the time being, large hotels remain closed doors.

– The moai –

Forced isolation has also led the Rapa Nui people to reflect on the urgent need to take care of natural resources: access to water and green energy production.

Priority will also be given to the inhabitants of the island in terms of jobs, in application of “cultural codes” such as Tapu, an ancestral rule that promotes solidarity, explains the mayor of Easter Island, Pedro Edmunds Paoa.

“The tourist, from today on, becomes a friend of the place, whereas previously he was a stranger who visited us,” he adds.

The carved moai, which can reach 20 meters high and weigh 80 tons, emblems of Easter Island with the mysteries that surround them, are also at the center of new reflections.

“Climate change, with these extreme events, is endangering our archaeological heritage,” warns Vairoa Ika, the municipality’s environment director.

“The stone is deteriorating, so the parks will take their measures and protect them,” she explains without elaborating.

“The problem with moai is that they are very fragile (…) We must leave aside the tourist and landscape vision and take great care of these pieces and protect them”because “they have incalculable value”, adds Julio Hotus, hoping that his advice of elders will be listened to.

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