The Rapanui Families Organize

2016 was the 50th anniversary of the government of Chile establishing civil administration on Rapa Nui, after leasing it for 47 years to a British multi-national livestock firm, followed by 13 years under the administration and jurisdiction of the Chilean Navy. This decision was taken in 1966 by the then President Eduardo Frei-Montalva, after the Islanders had risen up in a resistance movement led by the young schoolteacher, Alfonso Rapu. Their demands were to end the naval administration and be considered Chilean citizens with full civil and political rights with the same possibilities for development as people in continental Chile.
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Today, all of the 34 public services on the Island, with the exceptions of the military and the police, have directors and employees of Rapanui origin. However, the strategic decisions are still made on the continent, 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) away. This centralism delays decisions, many of which are not shared by local authorities. For years, and particularly in the last consultations among the Rapanui people, the Islanders have been promoting a growing need and will for self-administration. Last October, following a visit by President Bachelet, they began an initiative to organize themselves in Honui (tribal or familial) groups, one for each of the 36 Rapanui family names, with democratically elected representatives, to be able to keep themselves informed and come to agreement on projects of local interest for the future.
Edith and Rubelinda Pakarati-Araki, the latter serving as the representative of the Pakarati family, explain that, in the past, the Tangata Honui were the councilors of the king, selected among the elders and the respected leaders of each family. “Since today the existing Council of Elders is no longer representative of the Rapanui families, we have formed a new structure of Honui which is composed of a representative of each family name, either paternal or maternal, but not both. The foreign family names, like Edmunds, Pont and Cardinali, athough accepted as Rapanui families, are not permitted to become Honui, and can only be represented by their maternal Rapanui family name. Mixed blood doesn’t matter; the important thing is the Rapanui name. Each family group meets to select their Tangata Honui and an alternate. For example, we have 6 branches of the Pakaratis, each one choosing their representative and then holding a vote to define which of the six will be the Tangata Honui and which the alternate for all of the Pakaratis. We don’t have a board of directors. For the moment, all 35 representatives vote.
“In 1888, it was the representatives of the twelve families then existing who voted for the Agreement of Wills for the annexation of the Island to Chile, signed with Policarpo Toro.“

The Honui have created a technical working group to determine the representation of the families that still haven’t been defined and to establish internal regulations to settle conflictive or delicate situations and to propose topics for development. The basic requirements are: be a minimum of 18 years of age, speak both Spanish and Rapanui, have a clean personal reputation and never have sold nor bought land. Once finalized, they will work of the three most important topics : 1.-Administration of Rapa Nui National Park; 2.- Law of Residence; and 3.- Special Statute for Rapa Nui.

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Ema Tuki, a member of the technical working group made up of 4 people, reports: “To date we have organized 35 of the 36 existing families and have set up two regular weekly assemblies at the Tongariki Cultural Center: 1) Regular Meetings on Tuesday to inform and explain various topics of local interest; and 2) Technical Meetings on Thursday to explain technical topics among the institutions or public organizations and among the Honui themselves. This allows the Honui representatives to get the needed information to their families in order to make decisions on the important topics for the community.

“Not all Rapanui families have a Honui, since there are some which only have 6 members left. Others have 6 or more branches, like the Pakaratis, the Tukis, the Tepanos. Some have already organized their own technical teams, thanks to the participation of young professionals. That way we were able to call a vote and create the corporation, Ma’u Henua, to co-administer the National Park with CONAF (Chilean National Forestry Service). Now we are working on the Special Statue which would give us greater autonomy to take decisions here on the Island, which, to date, has not be accepted by the Chilean government.”

“We want to change this colonial mentality with which the Chilean government has administered our lives through all these years. Instead of the history of Chile, we want to learn our own history and strengthen our culture. Instead of making us dependent on a system of government assistance, we want autonomy in administering our resources, our territory and our heritage. We need to develop in a productive and communal manner, as it was in the past and, as I think, could be rescued for the future. What Chile doesn’t give us politically, that is to say, autonomy, they replace with money and benefits, but administered by them. Many decisions are made on the continent. This takes us away from our roots. Historically, we have had a communal social system, not individualistic as in the European system. But selfishness is now permeating the Rapanui character.”

President Bachelet visited the Island a year ago to sign the initial project for a law that will limit the residence of continentals and foreigners on the Island and, in addition, promised that, before the end of her term, the administration of the Rapa Nui National Park would be placed in the hands of a representative ethnic organization. The Honui expect those promises to be kept.

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