Sonia Haoa Cardinali

Sonia Haoa Cardinali

Sonia Haoa Cardinali

Dr.(a) Honoris Causa

On January 25, the University of Uppsala in Sweden held a ceremony that has been traditional over centuries: declaration of Doctors Honoris Causa. From this oldest center of higher education in Europe, have come dozens of international personages, including Alfred Nobel, who received his doctorate there in 1893. Historically, the naming of the honorary doctorates has been the responsibility of the kings of Sweden. This year, with the patronage of Dr. E. Carlson and other academic authorities, the University recognized a woman from Oceania, Chile, Rapa Nui: Sonia Haoa-Cardinali.  Here is her testimony:
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Nicolás Haoa& Luz Cardinali
Padres de Sonia / sonia’s parents

Pequeña / Little Sonia

Sonia con / with George Will
Universidad de/University of Wyo

“At four in the morning, I got the telephone call and, amazed, asked for a week to think about it. I asked myself what I had learned over all these years and if I deserved to be recognized for it. I’ve just done what I was passionate about. Then I accepted with humility and respect. I feel that what they are honoring is the effort, not just mine, but of all those who have worked with me in all the places where I have developed professionally, both in Chile and overseas. Receiving this recognition carries the duty of even greater demands on oneself. I feel that it is just now, after living the ceremony, that I understand the commitment that I have taken on.  It is a great responsibility.”

Sonia Haoa is the daughter of Nicolás Haoa and Rosa Cardinali, the second of six siblings. “I was born here on Rapa Nui in 1953. In those days on the Island, we had many needs and there was no possibility of a quality education.  At 11 years of age, I set sail to the continent for a formal education in the south of Chile.  When I was on the deck of the ship, with my mother crying and my father giving me orders to study, I realized that this trip was a great privilege.  I had to fulfill what my parents wanted for me, to become an educated person beyond what was possible on this small, distant island.  In 1966 I entered the Liceo La Asunción of the Maryknoll Fathers in Talcahuano, where I stayed as a boarding student until I finished secondary school in 1972.  Then I started at the University of Arizona (USA) for two years, before studying archeology at the University of Chile.  In my geology classes, I met my future husband, Francisco Javier Urcelay-Vicente, who is now a forestry engineer.  We are about to celebrate 42 years of marriage, with two sons, Nicolás and Sebastián and their families.

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“In 1975 I began to work on the restoration of Orongo under the supervision of Doctor William Mulloy in a project sponsored by UNESCO. I remember my father telling me not to go work in the field, that it’s very hard and, in addition, it’s work for men. Of course, I didn’t pay him much attention. From then on, I began a voyage through several centers of learning, specializing in taxonomy of lithic elements and physical anthropology.  Later on, I worked in excavations with well-known specialists, such as Gonzalo Figueroa, Katherine and Michael Orliac, Chris Stevenson, Thor Heyerdahl, Sergio Rapu and others.”

Mata ki te Rangi (Eyes which look to the Sky) Foundation

“We Rapanui, as a people, have a very limited vision.  We think that we are a people with a great culture and we carry that with pride throughout the world … but we aren’t. We ourselves have done nothing and are living off of the monumental work that we inherited from our ancestors.  My goal is to situate Rapa Nui within the Asian-Pacific context, to redraw the migratory routes using archeology, botany, geology, navigation and other studies to reconnect the Rapanui with their ancient roots. We need to understand that we are not unique, that we are a part of something greater than us: Oceania. With this as our objective, in 2009, together with F. Olsen and others, we created the Mata ki te Rangi Foundation, to connect Rapa Nui, through science and culture, to all the peoples of the Pacific Basin.”

Sonia con / with Thor Heyerdahl

Sonia con / with Arne Skoctborg
Universidad de / University of Oslo

Center for Asia-Pasifika/Rapa Nui-Chile Studies and its Congresses

“With Kenneth Pugh, the Chilean senator for the Fifth Region – Coastal district, we are currently organizing the Center for Asia-Pasifika/Rapa Nui-Chile Studies, as a parallel institution with a research and educational focus. Our efforts have been concentrated in organization and convocation of the two versions of the International Congress on Navigation and Early Migration in the Pacific. The first one was held in Bali, Indonesia in 2016 and the second in Rapa Nui, Chile in 2018, with more than 140 relevant personages coming to Hanga Roa from centers for studies, universities and international institutions dedicated to studies on the Pacific Basin. At this time, with our close collaborators, we are preparing the third version of this International Congress.”

Culture, the great asset of Rapa Nui.

“We live from the culture of our ancestors and we will always live from that. All the moai which are exposed all over the Island fulfill a role. They are our ambassadors and lead a campaign for the promotion and validation of our culture.  They are the reason that thousands of people, tourists whose money maintains the Island economy, come to visit us.  To demand the return of a moai, such as Hoa Hakananai’a from London, is an erroneous focus.

“I believe that this should be viewed and analyzed in its historical context. There were reasons that our ancestors turned over these pieces, most of which have since gone on to be exhibited in dignified conditions with ideal technology, as in the case of the British Museum in London. We should respect those agreements from the past. As in any part of the world, during times of scarcity and war (Chile, at that time, was just coming out of a war with the Peruvian-Bolivian Confederation), barter was part of our social reality. We had nothing and anything could be useful.  How did we, then, repay the food, clothing or goods that the visitors gave us?  With the little that we had to give. If we want to talk about retribution, I would prefer that we chose education.  It would be important for the young Rapanui-Chileans to visit London and other countries to study museology, museography, conservation, restoration, botany and other sciences, then return and apply the knowledge acquired to local development, because the Island is a laboratory in survival.  Here we have more than a thousand moai about which we should concern ourselves urgently.  They have been inventoried by the University of Chile and the University of California, Los Angeles, with detailed descriptions that point out the problems of erosion and conservation.”

“Politicking” skews History

“It hurts me to see how some in our community have twisted history with new cultural imagery, full of resentment and hatred, which is gaining ground in our collective unconscious.  The terms ‘robbery, usurpation, slavery, genocide’ are words used to make victims of us. Even some writers have spread this throughout the world. But, is this the inheritance that we want to leave for our young people?  To feel that we are victims, demanding more and more benefits based on supposed historical debt? Until now, the Rapanui haven’t done anything new. We have accustomed ourselves to receive and not give. This brings back memories of my time when I studied in the south of Chile.  The poor working people of Lota with miserable salaries … those people pay their taxes so that we can live here in a paradise.  Our heritage goes far beyond the presence of the moai (statues); we should recognize our culture as part of the entire world. We shouldn’t forget that, by now, we are all of mixed blood and to thank God for that, because otherwise we would have disappeared from in-breeding. For our future we need to educate ourselves better to be able to work for the preservation of our culture.”

“Humility, respect and a good education should be the ethical parameters for any task that you take on.  I feel that, in this, as a people, we still have a long way to go.”

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