Kuini Analola

Rescuing ancestral navigation in Rapa Nui

Myths and legends tell us of the heroic migration of the Polynesians throughout the length and breadth of today’s Polynesia. However, the knowledge of the traditional methods of navigation has been almost lost following the European colonization. Researchers, such as Heyerdahl and others, have made spectacular voyages during the 20th Century to test their theories on the migrations. Several Polynesians followed in their footsteps, with the first to revive this type of trip being the catamaran “Hōkūle’a” from Hawai’i in 1970, which, in turn, inspired several more and sparked the creation of the Polynesian Voyaging Society.

Lynn Rapu (49 years old), is the leader of the historic odyssey of the “Kuini Analola”, the first recreation of an ancestral Rapanui ship, which was built in the shipyards in Quellón (Chiloé, continental Chile) and which set off on a voyage without modern instrumentation toward Rapa Nui last February.  He relates: “In 1985, when I was 16, together with Kio Teao, David Teao and Alberto Ika, we had the idea to build an ancestral ship, which is known as Vaka taurua, after my Teao cousins saw one of them on a trip to Tahiti. In those days, the Island didn’t have the material or the trees to do that and bringing the material from continental Chile was, and continues to be, prohibitively expensive.”

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After many years in waiting, the project resurged in 2012 when Lynn Rapu was serving as the cultural ambassador of Rapa Nui in Tahiti, where he was able to meet with the sailing brotherhoods from Tonga and Samoa and make formal contact with Hawaii and its University, obtaining scholarships for future seamen and women. It was Charles Nainoa Thompson, the captain of the “Hōkūle’a” and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, who opened the doors for Rapa Nui by including two young Islanders in the crew of the vaka taurua “Fa’afaite” on a traditional voyage to the Solomon Islands.

In 2016, two ships arrived at Easter Island from Auckland (New Zealand), the “Te Aurere” and its sister ship, lead by the Maori engineer, Hekenukumai Puhipi (Hector Busby).  Lynn got his help to include another two local youngsters on the return voyage to New Zealand and for the construction of the first Rapanui catamaran, or vaka taurua. “Our good friend died recently and I want to render great honors to him. He offered to help in the construction of our vaka, but that would have meant cutting down one of those ancient trees of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and we didn’t accept, adds Lynn.

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The next stage for Lynn Rapu and his Tahitian wife, Maima de Rapu, was to establish the Ao Tupuna Foundation for the construction of a double-hulled catamaran and set up an Academy of Navigation to rescue, preserve and disperse the knowledge among the young people of Rapa Nui.  In the meantime, they knocked on many doors on the Island, in Santiago and in Tahiti, attempting to fund the project, but, according to Lynn, the response was  always the same : “We’ll see!”  “With the efforts by myself and my wife, and the prayers of my mother, Analola Tuki-Teave, we began the project with our own resources and the support of our tupuna (ancestors). We went to Quellón where we found my friend, Nelson Henriquez, who asked about our dream of recovering the art of ancestral navigation and insisted in taking us to see the traditional Chilote shipyards, which they call ‘masters of the shore’, who build ships entirely of wood. Among all the materials available, we selected Guaitecas cypress, which can withstand long periods in the water. We decided to build the catamaran with the Quiliente Shipyards, in order to fulfill a dream of the Rapanui people : to return to the sea.”

Esqueleto del Kuini en el astillero / Skeleton of the Kuini in the shipyard

Encuentro con la etnia mapuche en Valdivia / Meeting with the Mapuche ethnic group in Valdivia

Obsequio a la Armada de Chile en Valparaíso /Gift to the Chilean Navy in Valparaíso

After one year and three months of construction and training of the crew, the vaka taurua, of 16 meters (52.5 feet) length, 5 meters (16.5 feet) width and 1.45 meters (4.8 feet) height from keel, was christened on the 30th of November, 2018 at Hito Cero in Quellón. The ship is powered exclusively by oars and sails, which were donated by the German Martin Schulze, although it does have an auxiliary motor for entering and leaving port. “From this moment, we began to receive funding from CONADI (National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples) and logistical support from the Municipality, the Ma’u Henua Community and from several individuals”, comments Rapu.  On the 14th of February, 2019, the “Kuini Analola” was launched with Rapanui rituals and finally sailed on the 16th of that month. The ship navigated along the coast of Quellón, Calbuco, Ancud, Queule, Valdivia, Lebu, Talcahuano and Valparaíso, before setting out on the crossing to Rapa Nui.  From Calbuco, the Chilean Navy kept vigil on the route.

¡Exquisito / Exquisite!

Vai Miti Peña Teao

Herbert Hulse Paté & Serafina Moulton

“We were seven crew, six Rapanui and one continental Chilean, a private pilot named Claudio Ramirez. The first captain was Hoko Ika Melin and later Raul Zapata came aboard as captain. Thanks to God we had no accidents en route. Just once, we caught a severe storm in the Chacao Channel. That night, we were fighting against the elements for seven hours trying to sail through, but it was hopeless and I asked the captain to return to the nearest port which was Ancud.  Two days later we were able to get to Valdivia, where the Port Authority received us with a shellfish feast. We stayed for four days and were able to participate in the annual “Corso Fluvial” (River Parade) as part of their Valdivian Night festival. We sailed down the Calle Calle River, competing with other ships in several categories and sharing time with the Mapuche native people of the area.  We then continued along the coast until we were able to drop anchor at Valparaiso on March 6th.  There we were received with a massive ceremony at the Prat Pier (the heart of the city), accompanied by local and national dignitaries.”
Following a further 27 days of blue water navigation and 3,000 nautical miles, the “Kuini Analola” arrived at Rapa Nui on the early morning of Saturday, April 27, 2019. The entire community received the crew with ancestral ceremonies at the beach of Hanga Rau, also called Anakena, with music, dance and a feast open to all. Lynn Rapu shared his emotions: “With the celebration and feast, I saw that, independently of the disputes that we might have between ourselves as Rapanui, we do have unity when we celebrate our culture. We finally want to thank Father Bernardo and all the Rapanui families who prayed for the success of this historical navigation which we hope will be an inspiration for future generations.”

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