Sebastián Englert

Sebastián Englert

ORO MATUA

Sebastián Englert

Priest of Rapa Nui

Sebastián Englert, a Capuchin priest and researcher of the Rapanui culture, lived on Easter Island from 1935 until 1969, shortly before his death. The fourth of 17 children in the Bavarian Englert family in the village of Dillingen in Germany, he was born on November 17, 1888 and given the name Anton Franz Englert. At 20 years of age, he entered the Capuchin Order and took the name of Sebastián. There he studied theology and philosophy and was ordained a priest four years later. From the time he was young, he studied languages – Latin, Ancient Greek, Hebrew, English, French and Italian; later, during his missionary work, Spanish, Rapa Nui and Mapuche.
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During the First World War he was sent to the battlefield as a chaplain. A few years later he decided to become a missionary in Araucanía, the native Indian territory of southern Chile, where the Capuchins had installed themselves in 1896. He joined the educational service of the diocese of Villarrica, directing seven schools with hundreds of students. The Pontifical Catholic University in Santiago de Chile requested that he study the Mapuche language and later, in 1935, sent him on a scientific mission to Easter Island.
On the Island, he was received by the administrator of the Williamson Balfour company, his wife who was the local school teacher together with a Chilean teacher, a paramedic who served as the “doctor” at the leper colony, four Chileans and nearly 450 islanders with their native catechist Timoteo Pakarati. Englert was fascinated by the mysteries of the Rapanui culture, but he felt overwhelmed by the islander’s needs for spiritual assistance. That same year he received the authorization to remain permanently on Rapa Nui as the parish priest, making the Island his home. The Rapanui named him Toroa ( the cord), alluding to the cordon of his Capuchin habit. He never returned to the land of his birth. This month of November he would have been 123 years old.
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Enrique Pakarati, who was raised from 4 years to 10 years of age by Father Sebastián, shares his memories: “I met him when I was four. I remember that he had many books and was a fanatic for the “National Geographic”. He wrote a lot but rarely used a typewriter. He was called “Oro Matua” which means priest. He was noted for his faith and his energy, he liked his work and liked his order. He went to bed early in the evening and rose very early in the morning. He always fixed my breakfast for me. In the evening, he would set aside the milk to separate, so that in the morning I could skim off the cream and put on sugar. It was delicious. He liked me to accompany him from the kitchen to the church where I was an altar boy, holding his hand because I was short-sighted. He never spoke to me in German, only in Spanish or Rapanui. But he would always respond “Heinrich” (German for Enrique) whenever someone asked him my name. He was very paternal with me. I felt that he was my protector. I was somewhat picky about eating and when Grandmother Erodia would scold me, he would say “leave the boy alone”, “don’t make the child cry”. I remember that once Domingo Paté was playing with a big knife and he was bullying me saying: He patehe koe e au (I’m going to castrate you). I told Father on him and he scolded him, so that he never again dared to say anything to me. I wasn’t a good student but I did get good grades. When I returned from school, he would check my notebooks, go over the studies with me and then help me with my homework. He always explained things very clearly; it seemed that he understood that it was hard for me to learn. As he was always very programmed and used to have a very restrictive schedule, sometimes he gave in to my wishes for greater freedom. “I saw him angry some times. Especially once in 1968. That year a young Italian priest was sent to the Island and it produced a big conflict. He brought loudspeakers and musical equipment which he played at maximum volume to attract the Rapa Nui people. Father Sebastián couldn’t take it anymore and decided to leave the parish house. We went to live with Grandmother Erodia in the house that was behind the present-day Omotohi. But that Italian priest was later expelled for pedophilia.
“Many people used to come to the church, between them the families of Santiago and Leonardo Pakarati, of José and Domingo Paté and of Napoleón Teao. Eulalia Tuki (Aunt Sampapa) was the one who cooked and Grandmother Erodia was the one who ran the parochial house. Everyone felt that they were part of the church, with their own children and with those whom they raised who were called Ma´anga Hangai (raised poultry). His personal barber, José Fati, and his friends, Mariana Atán, Santiago and Leonardo Pakarati, would also come. The church was a great meeting point. It was very active, not only in the religious sense, but there was also a rich family feeling and a lot of work done around the church, like agriculture. There were plantings of vegetables and tubers, peanuts, bananas, prickly pears, oranges, grapefruit, avocados, all cared for by Domingo Paté. Alongside the church there was a water tank which collected the rain water and served to supply for us months. The Mission had horses and chicken houses. “Every Sunday, Father Sebastián would go to the leper colony to say Mass. He would dedicate almost the entire day to the lepers. Actually, he would have liked to live at the leper colony “to alleviate the life of those poor people with my presence”. His friend Santiago Pakarati kept him informed; they always got together and rode around the Island, visiting different places. I heard Grandmother Erodia say that Father was concerned that outside people were going to visit the Island and it would loose its culture. Together with his pastoral labour, Father Sebastian wrote a Rapa Nui dictionary, books about the oral tradition of the islander and listed about 600 Moai. He died in New Orleans on January 08, 1969. His remains were returned to Easter Island and buried alongside his church.
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