Graciela Paté Tuki

Graciela Paté-Tuki, 67 years old, the daughter of Pedro Pablo Paté-Pakomio and Carmela Tuki-Tuki, is a hard-working woman who has become famous for her cooking.  For many years, she ran her own restaurant, but now she’s decided to lease it and set up her own small place in her house at Puku Rangi Uka. The story of her life is like that of many Rapanui women.

“I remember that when I was seven years old, my life was happy. With my 14 brothers and sisters and 12 cousins, we all shared the chores that our parents assigned us. I began to milk the cows at Elías Rapu’s farm near the “Seven Moai” and all together we harvested taro for our dinner. It was fun. They sent us to wash the clothes in the caves at Roiho where there are pools of water. We had to use pails made of cans which were used for bringing the lard from the continent, because we didn’t have anything else. My father didn’t send us to school because he said that he never went and still learned to read and write. However, when Jorge Tepano-Kaituoe was elected mayor, he went from house to house and arrested all the parents who didn’t send their children to school. So I started to study when I was about 11 years old. I had a good time there, too. My brother taught me to write on a piece of slate that he used to polish the Moai (statues) that he carved. I managed to get to fifth grade. On Sunday, we all went to Mass and, when that was over, there was a special rock on the left side of the church that was used as a platform for making speeches to the public.

The nuns taught us Spanish and prepared us for the Mondays when, together with our parents, we had to go to paint the fences along the street and pick up the rubbish. Every Monday we helped. It was like the old Umanga (communal work). Much later we realized that these were the infamous ‘Lunes Fiscales’ (Government Mondays).”

Although the locals weren’t really forced to work, the “Lunes Fiscal” was a type of obligatory and unpaid public service that was decreed by the Navy. All the men between 18 and 45 were supposed to do community service on every Monday of the year. Some say that it was started in the decade of the 20s, but others confirm that it began when the Navy took over the administration of the Island in 1953 and continued until 1965. Graciela feels… “Although on one hand it was good because it kept the Island clean, I would define it as a punishment, because if you didn’t go, they could arrest you. I also recall that all the families had to raise the Chilean flag in front of their houses. This was bothersome because the Navy men had become friends with the Rapanui people, but at that moment friendship was worth nothing. You had to obey or you were punished.  For example, our grandfathers wore a Hami (a loincloth made of tree bark). That was how they lived, their customs, because in those days there weren’t many things. The Navy tried to make them change, but ended up by beating them.  It probably wasn’t done maliciously. My parents told us of the mistreatment that they suffered in the time of the Navy ( (1953 – 1965) and in the earlier times when Williamson & Balfour ran a sheep ranch (1905 – 1952). In both periods, people were punished with whips made of leather. I saw the punishment of some who had been disloyal. They had boards placed like a V around their neck to hold them immobile and were wrapped in enormous chains. A Rapanui person grows up free. He may be brusque, but he is free and proud of his people.

“In those days the parents married off their daughters between 12 and 14 years old, sometimes even before they began menstruating. Our mothers didn’t have much knowledge and they thought that, if we began our periods, it meant that we had been with a man and they beat us.  If they married the girls off young, they would start their period afterward and nobody thought anything of it. Since all authority was with the father and the older brothers, the custom was that the father of the groom-to-be would visit the father of the wanted bride to show him that his son was able to take care of the girl. Here, people didn’t marry for love. It’s an agreement, a committment to live and work together in good times and bad, even if that means beatings and not much affection.  It was ‘You belong to me and I belong to you and that’s that.’ One of my sisters was obliged to marry an old man, more than 50 years old and with 6 kids, when she was only 14. That old man was mean and beat her at night.  She was an innocent girl and began to cry. We told our father but he thought we were telling lies. Well, he beat our mother, too.  When a man would go out fishing, he would shut his wife up in house under lock and key so that no one could come to visit.  When I was 16, I got pregnant. It was because of a rape and my father wanted to marry me to the man responsible, but, luckily for me, his father wouldn’t accept. Then my father presented me to an ugly, old crippled man, so I ran away and went to live with my aunt. I finally had 4 children as a single mother – Mike, Jorge who was adopted by Alberto Hereveri-Pakarati and my cousin Victoria, Mou and a second Jorge who died about 10 years ago.”

In 1966, a base of the United States Air Force (USAF) with 120 men under the command of Colonel John Ashley was istalled on Rapa Nui under the name of Ionospheric Observation Center ITT.  From one day to the next, the tranquility and passivity of the Island was transformed into happiness and a lot of dollars. More than one hundred Islanders, both men and women, were hired by the Marite (Americans) as drivers, construction workers and kitchen staff, all at very good salaries. There was an economic development as never before seen on the Island.  Graciela remembers her experiences. “My son Mou is the son of Carl Moulton of the USAF who arrived in 1964 and left in 1970.  I worked at the base dining hall for 4 years and learned to cook like the  Americans.  We Islanders had a good time with the Americans.  We all respected each other and became good friends.  That was very different from the relation that we had with the Chileans.  I don’t know how to explain it; it was another form of getting along together.  Every Saturday, every holiday, on Christmas and New Years’, there were parties with dacing in the houses of friends or at the Open House on the base.  We learned how to behave, to get along and to care about each other, with more respect.  It was as if we were re-born.  When the Air Force left, they took several women from the Island, but they would have taken more if Father Sebastian Englert hadn’t gotten in the way.  He went from house to house telling the families that they shouldn’t let their daughters marry foreigners.  With my son Mou’s father, I learned what love and affection is and what it is like to receive a hug or a stroke.  He wanted me to go with him, so I went to Santiago to the house of one of my brother’s in-laws, but then he decided that I shouldn’t travel.  In Santiago, I met my future husband, René Herrera, who worked at the big fish market.  I thought that, since he was continental, my life would change for the better, but I was wrong.  It was worse.  I had three more children – Rosa, Patricia and Oscar – and when my oldest son Mike went to Cuba to train in free apnea diving, I separated.  Now I’m tranquil, happy and content with what I do.  I serve my clients well-prepared food and more economical than in a restaurant.”