Paulina LLano Tepano

Paulina LLano Tepano
Paulina Llano -Tepano, the daughter of an Easter Islander, was born on Easter Island but was adopted and raised by the Chilean family of her father, Augusto Llano, and his wife, Iris Vercelli. Augusto Llano was a meteorologist with the Chilean Air Force who arrived to the Island in 1957 on the Chilean naval training ship “Esmeralda” with the mission to select a spot within the area of the Mataveri Aerodrome to build a Geomagnetic Observatory to measure the earth’s magnetic field and its variations over time. The site chosen was a knoll located some two hundred meters (650 feet) above sea level on a hill called Maunga Orito. Augusto Llano recalls that, this first time, he stayed only 5 days, but several years later he returned with the annual trip of the Naval Transport “Pinto” for a year in charge of the Observatory.

“I came back in January of 1962 with a lot of cargo, among which was a complete electrical plant. Finally the Islanders were going to have electricity. The Observatory, with its three sheds and a small house for the operator, was ready. It had a tank made of stone to collect up to ten thousand liters (2600 gallons) of rainwater which drained off of the roof into gutters and a shed with a gasoline motor which could be turned on when the Observatory was in operation. Household lighting was with candles. The only transport that the Islanders had were horses. The first Sunday, I went to Mass and afterward made some trades for wine and cigarettes and then returned home on my horse.”

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“A few months went by and one very hot day, around three in the afternoon, I saw a horse and rider coming toward the Observatory. It was a local woman who introduced herself as Uka. She was wearing an enormous sun hat and over her saddle she had two bags full of fresh pineapples. ‘Hi, tangata… Will you give me bit of water for me and my horse?’ Her voice was very pleasant. I opened the gate and filled the bucket that I used to water my nag. ‘Come on into the house and I’ll serve you some’ She came in and sat down. The table was a mess. ‘Do you live alone, tangata?’ When she took off that hat, a cascade of hair fell down her back almost to her waist. She was tall, slim, with long legs. She had a lovely smile which showed beautiful teeth. Her entire being radiated a vast interior tranquility. When she rose and left the glass on the table, she asked to see the bedroom and bathroom. ‘Tangata… what is your name and why do you live here in such a dirty, messy place? Who washes your clothes?’. She left me confused and embarrassed. I told her my name and she responded, ‘Your name is too long. I’ll call you Koe Llano, or better, just Koe.’ Before she left, she placed some pineapples on the table and went to the kitchen to wash the dishes, dust the furniture, straighten up the clothes. Then she disappeared down the trail from where she had come.

“As some days went by, I asked Emilio Paoa about her. ‘Ah! … that’s Margarita Tepano. She works at the hospital. She’s a nurse.’ After Mass the next Sunday, I looked for her. She had taken some of my clothes to wash and invited me to her house to return them. I met her brothers, her mother Emilia Kaituoe and her father Esteban Tepano. From them I learned many things based on oral traditions that had been passed from generation to generation. One Saturday, she came with two brothers with an invitation to go to Rano Raraku. We walked all over the place, but at dusk it began to rain. By the time we got back to my place, we were soaked. We ate in silence; there was something in the air that told us that this night was going to be very special.

“We continued to see each other. At the end of May, she told me that she was two months’ pregnant, which meant that she was going to have the baby in December, just when I had to return to Santiago. By September, she was finding it difficult to move about, so I suggested that I move to her place. She accepted. I became more integrated into her family. I got to know Daniel and his wife María, and Julio, Mario and Atiri. When the time came, a little girl was born. We decided to call her Aurora Emilia in memory of my paternal grandmother and of Uka’s mother. Three days after New Years’ Day, I went to the Naval Authority to recognize her legally as my daughter. Reinaldo Puentes and his wife, Lucia Tuki, who was a teacher at the local school, served as godparents for her baptism. ‘I baptize you Aurora Emilia Llano-Tepano’ were the words of Father Englert, at that time 75 years old. He was called Te Toroa, which referred to the white belt of his Capuchin habit.”
“A month later my tour was up and I returned to continental Chile to my other family. Margarita knew that I had to leave, perhaps forever. The pier was full of people. I carried Aurora Emilia in my arms. Everyone had come to wish me a good trip, even her mother who was filled with sorrow at our parting. The return trip was easy and I had no trouble reintegrating my previous life; but I would never be the same person. I spoke with Reinaldo by radio to get news of my daughter. Some months later, there was bad news. Aurora Emilia was sick and showing a worrying level of malnutrition, since there was a lack of food which wasa affecting the entire Island. I was anguished. I wanted to bring her to Santiago where we could see medical specialists. I finally decided to talk with my wife and tell her everything that had happened on the Island and the problem of Aurora Emilia’s health. Her reaction surprised me ‘Bring her and I’ll help you take care of her.’ I went and got her and my wife raised her. Margarita accepted the situation as many Rapanui women had to. The Island didn’t offer the conditions to raise and educate children as we had in the continent. She signed the papers that gave me full custody of the child. Her sister, Rosalía, was also traveling to the continent and helped me during the trip. In Santiago, we took the little girl to the doctor; she had rickets, but – thank God – not too serious. Aurora Emilia improved and adapted quickly. My other daughter, Irene, who was two years older, enjoyed every minute and wouldn’t stop playing with her. The girls began to to to school near our house in Providencia. The physical differences between the two were notable – Irene, blonde, light eyes, light skin – Aurora Emilia, coffee-colored skin, brown eyes, black hair. When she was five, she asked me, ‘Why are Irene and I so different?’ I told her that she had been born on Easter Island, that her mother lived there and that I had brought her here because she was sick. In the meanwhile, in 197, Uka had married Gerardo Velasco, a continental who was in charge of the CORFO office on the Island.
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“My wife didn’t like the names Aurora Emilia and after a few tweaks at Civil Registry, she became Paulina Isabel Llano-Vercelli. In May of 1978, while I was working in Antofagasta, Paulina wrote to me that she wanted to know her roots, her biological mother, her grandparents, her relatives, the land where she was born. Two years later I contacted Uka asking if she would receive her in her house during the summer school vacations. Within a month, I had an answer from her and her husband that they would meet her with open arms.”

Paulina was 18 years old when she traveled to the Island to meet her mother and her family. She still remembers, “When I arrived, I felt a warm, humid air… and a tall man who came toward me and introduced himself as the husband of Margarita Tepano…’your mother, let’s go find her’. We went out of the airport and there she was – very tall, leaning against a tree, looking at me very seriously. I went up to her to give her a kiss on the cheek as is normal on the continent, but she stopped me, putting her hand on my chest and said ‘It’s a pleasure’. I felt that they were drawing a line in the sand at a good distance. Then her husband showed up again and we went to their house in Tahai, near the Museum. In the afternoon, I went down to the stony beach to swim and placed my hands on the Moai (statues). The next day my mother made a ‘curanto’ and all the aunts and uncles arrived. Everyone hugged me and I noticed how much I looked like my cousins and my uncle Atiriano, who was the one with whom I spoke the most. After almost two months, I went back to Santiago.

“From the beginning, I had small disagreements with my mother. I hadn’t been raised as she would have liked. I didn’t go to Mass. She said, ‘If I had known that they weren’t going to give you Catholic instruction, I wouldn’t have sent you to the continent.’ ‘Well’, I answered, ‘you should have thought about that 18 years ago.’ It became common that I would answer her harshly and she would end up crying, depressed. Then her husband would come and say, ‘Why are you treating her like this. She suffered for so many years. Look in the closet. She still has your diapers and baby clothes.’ It was true. She had kept everything, even my umbilical cord. According to her – and I believed her, she told my father to take me until I was 7 years old, when I could read and write, and then he should bring me back. But by the time I was seven, my father was gone from the house. He returned to the Island when I was nine and told my mother that his marriage was broken and he wanted to returnThe to her and bring me to the Island. By then, my mother Uka said no, ‘she’s already nine and is used to another mother. It would be too difficult for both of us, so it’s better that she stays there. It’s too late.’ And my mother Uka was right. It would have been difficult. She died of cancer in October of 2004 and my mother Iris died a bit later. Then I decided to return to the Island to spend my life with my Easter Island family. Since then, I spend a lot of time with my sister María – known as Maruka – who is married to Dennis Lynch, a ‘gringo’ (North American) who came in 1965 when the Americans installed a base for ionospheric research. In Rapa Nui I have found my identity, my roots, and I’m proud to be an Easter Islander. However, I’ll never stop being a woman of two worlds, a continental and an islander, as are so many others here on the Island.”

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