Felipe Pakarati

Felipe Pakarati Tuki, blind since 1968, has left an important legacy for future generations in Rapa Nui. In the book “Papa Tu’u ‘i Hanga Kao Kao”, dedicated to his grandfather Timothy Pakarati, has been narrating the social and cultural changes of his time.

In 1947 I was seven years old and, at that age, you know what’s happening.  Life was hard but it was lovely.  It was hard because we were lacking resources.  We didn’t have light or running wáter.  We lived in Tekarera (in front of the present-day museum) in the house of my grandfather, Timoteo Pakarati.  We had to get our water in a container from underground springs.  Those containers were scarce and had to be shared with the neighbors who lived a good distance away.  At night there was no light, so to be able to eat we made Haka Pura with Mori, that means, for lighting we used fat from cattle, sheep or sharks in which we put a wick made of a piece of cloth.  At that time my father began to work with Mateo Hereveri, Andrés Haoa, José Fati and Pedro Laharoa planting corn in some plots on the hill with the three crosses.  He also maintained some windmills that were used to pump water located in different parts of the Island to supply the 80 thousand sheep and cattle of the Williamson Balfour company.   The windmills didn’t always serve because sometimes there was no wind.


In those days, they began to set aside land in Vaitea to give to the islanders to reforest and to cultívate.  Corn was the base of the economy because it was used to fatten pigs for lard which the company exported.  The ears of corn were huge and could get to be 30 centimeters  (12 inches).

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The  left-over cobs were used as firewood and as scrubbers for hands and clothes.  We burnt sugar in ashes to make coffee, which we called “café quema” or “café Tutu”. When we poured the burnt sugar into hot water, it took on a coffee color.  At harvest time, the smallholders shared sacks and carts to transport their products.  To get a plow also wasn’t an easy task.  The lack of materials for building fences meant that the posts were often too far apart and with too few wires.  The bulls could easily get in and led the other animals into the fields.  The smallholders had to watch the fences day and night from the time that they planted until the harvest.



As children we entertained ourselves with everything in nature.  We swam at the beach.  We ran naked in the rain.  After the rains, the Hatatiri mushrooms and the flowers would come out. We ate figs which were delicious.  We all had calves, pigs, chickens and horses.  We’d watch the newborn animals for hours.  We also had to help our families with the work.  After 4th grade, a group of us boys went to a seminary on the continent.  I went to the seminary in San José de la Mariquina until the last years of secondary school.  I remember that I didn’t have the proper clothes and it used to shame me.  The family didn’t have much and we were a lot of children.  I liked learning with the priests and driving the tractors, making cider and toasted wheat, repairing shoes and working with a lathe.  But I did miss my people.  When I returned  to the Island, I had a problema.  Everyone was examined once a year for leprosy.  In those days many of us had marks on our bodies called Kino Ariki , a type of very contagious fungus which appeared in the royal descendants.  Due to that I wasn’t able to return to Santiago to finish my studies, but the priests had prepared me well.

Felipe con sus ojos, su nieta with his eyes, his granddaughter Hinewa Pakarati

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In 1953 the Williamson Balfour company left Rapa Nui and the Navy took charge of the Island, bringing in their families.  They really weren’t very capable with the economy or with the administration of Vaitea (the farm).  The rendering plant was shut down and they only kept some cattle and pigs to feed the locals.  They began to bring in their ships all sorts of construction materials, fuels, groceries, medicine and cloth to meet some of the island needs.  The islanders organized themselves to distribute the material since there wasn’t enough for everyone.  They created the “People’s Representatives” who were in charge of representing the locals with the Navy delegates and officers.  There were four of them and they were elected by a vote every year.  I was one of them from 1957 to 1965.  At that time we had community labor, called Anga Umanga.  Plowing, cleaning the pine forests and banana plantations, harvesting, making fences and thatching houses, helping at the school and at the leper colony; these were all jobs that were done with the help of the whole community without being paid.  In those times, people were more united and we all helped each other.  I remember that tobacco used to be planted in Manavai (rock walled gardens).  It was dried and wrapped in dried corn leaves or banana leaves.  We used to go out fishing, too.  There were no nets or hooks or material to build boats. We used to use bamboo poles to fish and building a boat was a real challenge.  Sometimes the mast was loaned from one fisherman to another.  We went fishing in rowboats that were fitted with a sail.  With a favorable wind we could get to the Motu (islets facing Rano Kau) or to Anakena to do Tuku Tuku (diving). It was hard work but we were happy.
On October 15th, it happened.  After working all day on my boats with my father and my uncle,  Petero Paté-Avaka, he invited me and my wife to dinner.  He had a bottle of liquor that we mixed with lemon juice.  We all drank.  I went to bed that night and in the morning, when I wanted to get up to go to work at City Hall, everything was dark.  I heard the birds, the chickens, the people talking… but I didn’t see anything.  I told Maria and she started to cry.  At that time the American soldiers were here and one of their doctors looked at me.  When he didn’t say anything, I knew immediately that I had gone blind.  The doctors on the continent confirmed it.  So it was a choice … shoot myself or go on.  Thanks to the help of my friend, Ruperto Vargas, and a psychologist who is also blind, I learned Braille in the Rehabilitation Institute of Santiago College.  These days I go fishing with the fishermen.  Many of them once thought that I would be a problema for them, but it turned out differently.  I work more and better in the night while the others sleep.  I keep myself entertained.  The important thing is the effort that one is willing to put into it, to accept reality and continue onward.  Culturally, I keep up to date with the books that the Braille Foundation sends me every three months.  I’ve learned how to be blind.

Su Esposa / His wife María Cristina Paoa Avaka

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