María Haoa

Ive had a very sad life. My mother, Estela Haoa, abandoned me when I was born. She was only 17 when she got pregnant. I was raised by grandparents, Adela Haoa and Isaias Fati, whom I always considered as my true parents. My biological father never recognized me as his child. I married Jorge Tepano. We have 7 children, 24 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren and this year have been married for 52 years.” Maria’s husband was blinded in an accident. He never told her what happened; his friends told her that he drank methyl alcohol. Maria Haoa, today 72 years old, learned to read, write, add and subtract when she was 23 and today continues with the traditional Rapanui crafts that were taught to her by her grandmother, Adela.

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“I remember when I was little and we lived at Maunga Tangaroa (the hill with the three crosses) in a little stone house with a thatched roof, very simple because in those days we had nothing, not even pots with which to cook. We just cooked in earthen pits. My grandparents had chickens, pigs and cows in their plot. We milked the cows at 4 o’clock every morning and I helped them. With the milk, we made butter and cheese. We had to take care of the animals, so we would take them to Tahai to drink and we would play on the beach until 8 at night, when we had to return home with the animals.”
“When I was 5, I started to go to school. Every day I would walk from my house to the school, which was very small. The classes were in Spanish which none of us spoke or even understood. We had a book, a notebook and a pencil for studying, which had to last the entire year. I remember that I asked my father to tie my pencil around my neck so that I wouldn’t lose it. My first teacher was Sister Margarita, who was very nice, but then came Sister Antonia and Sister Matilde, who were very mean nuns. One day, when I was 11 or 12, one of them beat me with a whip because I had run away to the beach. I cried and screamed with the pain and Petero Araki, who sat in front of me, in an act of desperation, pulled her habit off of her head and we all ran from the room. I never went back to school.”

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“In those days, we didn’t have clothes. We’d just put on any old thing to cover up and I remember that I felt good. I never complained of the cold, never got sick and we would even sleep in the same things. It was only when I was 12 that I began to use shoes and that was because my godfather worked at the general store of the Company, which was the only place where they sold things like sugar, coffee and materials.”

“After I left school, I went to work with my grandmother at Vaitea, cleaning up the wool lint during the shearing. We were three women per side and we had to work fast. Later I learned to remove the wool that was on the tables and the following year was ascended to work at the tables, where I earned a lot of money. We lived out there, where we had sheds in which to sleep and, if you wanted, you could stay over the weekend. I worked for 3 years.”

When Maria was 14, she was raped by the man who would later be her husband. She feels sorry that she never really loved him: “He and my father were friends and both worked as shearers at Vaitea. Later we began to talk and he begged for my forgiveness and told me that he was in love with me. At first I didn’t like him; I was afraid of him. But after 4 years, I accepted. I was already 17 when I got pregnant, so I told him: ‘Now I want to get married’, because I didn’t want my baby to grow up abandoned as I had. My wedding was very lovely; those were lovely times. The weddings used to be like a ‘Little Tapati’ (Island festival) where everyone participated and sang.”

“My first daughter was born in the hospital and everything was peti (fine). The second was also born in the hospital, but that one was traumatic and I almost died. After that bad experience, I had my other five at home because I was terrified of returning to the hospital. At home my husband and my mother helped me. We would place a mattress on the floor and I would sit on it. My mother held my legs and my husband would hold my shoulders from behind. I remember once that I pushed three times and the baby came out so quickly that it rolled under the bed. It was funny because we couldn’t find the baby until he screamed and my mother was able to cut the cord with her teeth.” Maria laughs when she tells that story. “Thanks to God all of my children grew up healthy.”

“For me, the old way of life was both good and bad. Bad in the sense that we had to go all the way to the Rano Kau crater to wash the few clothes that we had and to get drinking water. I remember that we would go on horseback or walking, mostly women. In spite of not having water on hand, we always were very clean with our white clothes and we took care of our appearance. But life was good because we always shared, we respected one another and we always helped each other.”

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