María Angata

……… y la Rebelión de & the Rebellion of 1914

Maria Angata Veri Tahi, daughter of Hare Kohou (of the Miru tribe) and Veri Tahi a Kau (of the Haumoana tribe) was born in 1854. During her childhood, when she was barely 8 years old, she witnessed the most tragic event that white men have inflicted on the island of Rapa Nui: the kidnapping of more than 1400 islanders, among them all the administrative nobility, the wise men and the guardians of Rongo-rongo, the hieroglyphic writing of the Islanders. During 10 months, between September of 1862 and June of 1863, slave-hunting incursions from Callao roamed the South Pacific looking for laborers for the guano islands and the sugar and cotton plantations. One of only 15 Islanders who eventually returned from that slavery was Ure Kino a Maori Pakomio, who later became Maria Angata’s second husband.
Although, traditionally, the Rapanui had a patriarchal society, they also counted with a number of women with strong, decisive characters. Historically, they have been massively involved in the struggles for the rights of their ethnic group. A notable example is Maria Angata Veri Tahi, who led an uprising against the abuses of the Williamson Balfour Company.

Maria Angata Veri Tahi, daughter of Hare Kohou (of the Miru tribe) and Veri Tahi a Kau (of the Haumoana tribe) was born in 1854. During her childhood, when she was barely 8 years old, she witnessed the most tragic event that white men have inflicted on the island of Rapa Nui: the kidnapping of more than 1400 islanders, among them all the administrative nobility, the wise men and the guardians of Rongo-rongo, the hieroglyphic writing of the Islanders. During 10 months, between September of 1862 and June of 1863, slave-hunting incursions from Callao roamed the South Pacific looking for laborers for the guano islands and the sugar and cotton plantations. One of only 15 Islanders who eventually returned from that slavery was Ure Kino a Maori Pakomio, who later became Maria Angata’s second husband.

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Maria Angata Veri Tahi, daughter of Hare Kohou (of the Miru tribe) and Veri Tahi a Kau (of the Haumoana tribe) was born in 1854. During her childhood, when she was barely 8 years old, she witnessed the most tragic event that white men have inflicted on the island of Rapa Nui: the kidnapping of more than 1400 islanders, among them all the administrative nobility, the wise men and the guardians of Rongo-rongo, the hieroglyphic writing of the Islanders. During 10 months, between September of 1862 and June of 1863, slave-hunting incursions from Callao roamed the South Pacific looking for laborers for the guano islands and the sugar and cotton plantations. One of only 15 Islanders who eventually returned from that slavery was Ure Kino a Maori Pakomio, who later became Maria Angata’s second husband.

This calamity and the subsequent epidemics of smallpox and tuberculosis which were brought by the few who returned from Peru struck the entire population and reduced it to only 111 persons, as was noted by A. Pinard in 1868. With the population devastated, the old traditions died as well. This can explain the reason that the Christian faith entered so easily with the arrival of the missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1864. María Angata was part of the group of children and youngsters who were educated by the missionaries in the Pukuranga, an asylum for orphaned children or those who were mistreated by their parents. From the report of Father Roussel in April of 1868: “The number of children baptized increased every day since in their homes there is no human respect.”

 

Unfortunately, the hesitant steps toward social peace were again shaken. A French adventurer, J.O. Dutrou-Bornier, 30 years old, the captain of the ship which had brought the missionaries from Tahiti, decided to settle on the Island with the idea of taking over the territory. Under subterfuge, he acquired land from the natives and then shipped off the most difficult ones to the plantations of his partner, John Brander, in Tahiti. He finally proclaimed himself king of the Island. After stirring up rivalries among the Islanders and interfering in the work of the missionaries to the point that they felt it was impossible to continue, the missionaries had to retreat to their home base in Mangareva in 1871. Many of the Islanders followed them in search of a better life, a movement that is now known as the Rapanui Exodus. Only 175 people remained at the mercy of the tyrannical womanizer Bornier, who ended up being assassinated by the Islanders 7 years later.

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Young Maria Angata, then 18 years old, was part of the group who resettled in Mangareva. From an unhappy marriage with Daniel Manuheuroroa, she was widowed with two children, Papiano and Maria Daniela. Due to multiple wounds to her spine from the mistreatment by her husband, she took refuge at the Catholic mission where she began to receive her biblical education. In June of 1874, on the recommendation of the Bishop Tepano Jaussen, she married the rescued slave Ure Kino a Ma’ori Pakomio and with their family they returned in 1878 to Easter Island, he as a catechist and she with the task of teaching religious hymns and prayers to the Islanders. From the departure of the missionaries in 1871 until 1914, it was exclusively the catechists who kept alive the Catholic church on Easter Island.

Angata and Pakomio had several children. Nicolas and his older sister, Maria Engracia, are the ones who continued the Pakomio family name on the Island. After the death of her second husband, the role of local catechist was taken by Nicolas Pakarati Ure Potahi, who returned from Tahiti in 1888 with his wife Elisabeth Rangitaki, originally from the Tuamotu Islands. On the same ship came Captain Policarpo Toro with the intention of signing an Act of Wills with the 12 chiefs of the native clans to annex the Island to Chile. In the name of the government of Chile, he had acquired the rights to the properties of the Catholic Church, but he was unable to obtain the rights to the Brander-Bornier holdings because these were tied up in law suits between heirs. The local population at the time was only 185 inhabitants.

Maria Angata, by this time 35 years old, continued to help at the church and also in the council of the king Atamu Tekena. She had a strong, magnetic personality, with a peculiar religiosity and a millenarial mysticism, which, combined with her frequent premonitory visions which often came to pass, converted her into a respected prophetess. Three years after the annexation of the Island to Chile, the Revolution of 1891 broke out on the continent. As a result of the ensuing political and economic chaos, the new Chilean government was unable to fulfill the terms of the signed agreement and accepted an offer from the Chilean-French cattle and sheep ranching firm of Enrique Merlet from Valparaiso to lease the Island. This company later became part of the British firm, Williamson & Balfour. Once the inheritance of John Brander was settled in Tahiti, Merlet acquired those rights on Easter Island and, as Bornier had previously, began to abuse the natives and attempt to take their lands. The company administrators – Sanchez-Manterola (1895-1901), Horace Cooper (1901-1904) and, finally, Percy Edmunds – restricted the Islanders movements and established a system of forced labor. Thus began another period of suffering for the Islanders, to which hunger was added. At one point, the Chilean ship “Baquedano” hadn’t made its usual annual visit for two years, causing serious problems of supply. The Company administrator, Percy Edmunds, under orders from Merlet, refused to sell food from the company store to the the Islanders and to permit them to leave the village of Hanga Roa to go fishing on their own. By July of 1914, discontent and anger within the small community erupted into a social uprising.

According to the English achaeologist, Katherine Routledge, who was visiting the Island with her expedition (1914-1915): “Maria Angata, a frail old woman with gray hair and expressive eyes, … through a dream in which God communicated to her that the livestock belonged to the people, was able to encourage the natives to rise up against the Company.” The message from God was categorical: a Tutia, a sacrifice of cattle and sheep, must be made for the salvation and well-being of the people. Angata sent two formal requests to Edmunds for animals for the rituals. He rejected the petitions and considered the prophetess’ apocalyptic arguments as being of little importance. Initially, the people kept their distance, but it was winter and a strong north wind, the Pakakina, which was considered to be a “premonition of disaster”, began to blow. The wind brought intense rain which lasted for several days, causing fear and uncertainty in the community. Angata took advantage of this occurrence to warn that the storm was the precursor of a great hurricane which God was preparing to send if the people disobeyed Him. The locals, trusting in the messages of Angata, set out to steal the animals needed for the four sacrificial rituals that she required.

Three days later, the ship “Baquedano” appeared in port, carrying Merlet himself. Captain Escobar, in the name of Commander Hernandez, held a hearing on the robbery of the animals. Following the accusations of the natives, he took the declarations of Merlet and Edmunds and ordered them to open the general store for sales. Finally, the Chilean Ministry took away from Percy Edmunds the position of Governmental Sub-delegate and named a Chilean, Ignacio Vives-Solar, who was also to serve as the officer of Civil Registry. The “Baquedano” returned to the continent with Merlet and Angata’s son-in-law and assistant, Daniel Teave, who died before the ship reached Valparaiso. As reported by Father Bienvenido de Estella in “Los Misterios de la Isla de Pascua (The Mysteries of Easter Island)”, tranquility returned to the Island and the treatment of the natives on the part of the Company and the Sub-delegate improved. Maria Angata died 6 months later and was buried in the old cemetery which was located between the village and the bay of Hanga Roa, where today a white cross stands alongside the post office.

The most important contribution of Maria Angata Veri Tahi was the maintenance and propagation of Catholicism among the inhabitants of Easter Island in the period of 1879 – 1888, when there was a absence of regular priests. In addition, her role in the uprising was heavily reported in the Chilean press (El Mercurio of Valparaiso, September 1914), which caused the governmental authorities to take note of the deplorable situation in which the Islanders were living. However, the erratic response by the government was to revoke the lease of the sheep ranch, only to then renew it for 20 years and, finally, pass the jurisdiction over the Island to the Chilean Navy which ran it like a regiment for more than another decade. The native Islanders had to wait many years and form another revolt in 1964 for the Chilean government to finally integrate the Island into the democratic political structure of the nation, giving the inhabitants Chilean nationality and full constitutional rights as citizens, and begin to fulfill the promises of development which had been made in the Act of Wills in 1888.

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