The true story of the palms of Anakena

The true story of the palms of Anakena

The true story of the palms of Anakena

Captain, Chilean Navy, IM Arnt Ernesto Arentsen Pettersen
Governor of Easter Island on three different occasions
(1960-1961, 1965-1966 y 1975-1978)

In the month of February of 1960, my family and I arrived on the Chilean naval transport AKA “Pinto” to take the position of Governor of Easter Island. During my excursions to get to know the Island, I arrived at the beach of Anakena, which I must recognize, at that time, was a sandy desert with a shepherd’s hut on the southeastern side surrounded by a bit of green and some bushes which made it look like an oasis.

“On the northern side there was the Ahu Ature Huke, restored in 1955 by Thor Heyerdahl and his team of archaeologists, a using a technique of the ancestral islanders under the direction of the mayor, Petero Atán, a true patriarch, who with Lázaro Hotus and other islanders dragged the sole Moai (statue) to the Ahu (platform) and raised it by a system of levers made of eucalyptus trunks and a pile of stones until it stood erect and with a bronze plaque. I stayed for a while, admiring the restored Ahu and thinking on a future of tourism for the Island. I imagined a tropical-style beach surrounded by a lovely park of palm trees.

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“Three months later (May 10, 1960) in front of Hanga Roa, appeared the Naval Training Ship “Esmeralda”, coming from Valparaiso under the command of Captain Patricio Carvajal-Prado. Due to the rough conditions of the sea, I proposed that the Commander move the ship to Hanga La Perouse where he dropped anchor at mid-morning. As we were chatting, I mentioned that in this district there was the only coconut palm on the Island, at a place called the Ahu of the Little Palm, adding my comment that it seemed incredible that on a sub-tropical island there were no palm trees neither in the town of Hanga Roa nor at the beaches, especially at Anakena. Taking advantage that the “Esmeralda” was heading to Tahiti, I ended up requesting that he bring me some coconut seeds to plant at Anakena in order to convert it into an attractive Polynesian park, vital for future international tourism, apart from the existing archaeological riches.

“At the end of June, the “Esmeralda” returned to Easter Island, where it had to anchor at Hanga Vinapu on the southeastern shore due to the very high seas from the northwest which made it impossible to use the anchorage at Hanga Roa or Hanga Piko. Commander Carvajal sent a boat for me to Vinapu where there was a very good landing for small craft and I embarked with Doctor Carlos Rojas, Commander Ernesto Galaz, Father Luna, Mayor Jorge Tepano-Ika and the veterinarian Luis Perez, a true representation of the Island.

“Commander Carvajal received us warmly and declared that he had come through for the Island. In Tahiti, they had embarked 2,000 coconut seeds, all with their respective certificates of health, to be planted on the Island. In addition, in the stern of the ship were more than forty trees of coffee, breadfruit, grapefruit and other species to enrich the variety of vegetation on our legendary Rapa Nui.

“We disembarked the coconuts and trees in the hope that they would be able to reproduce on the Island. We planted the first trees in the park at our house in Mataveri and a row of coconuts from the house to the gate. To decide the destination of the remainder, I met with the most notable representatives of the local population: the Mayor Jorge Tepano-Ika, Leonardo Pakarati-Languitopa, Ricardo Tuki, Sebastián Pakarati, Urbano Hey, Ricardo Tuki-Hereveri, the overseers of the Mataveri and Vaitea farms, José Fati-Aobiri, Juan Chavez-Haoa and others. It was a lengthy meeting. In the beginning, the Islanders wanted that the plants be distributed in equal parts among the 200 families in the Registry of Families to be planted on their own properties. I proposed that we give 50% of the coconuts to the families with the promise that they would plant them on their properties and that the other 50% should be used to create a Polynesian park at the beach of Anakena. I reminded them that their open-air museum was already known in many countries through the book of Thor Heyerdahl titled “Aku Aku”, which had been translated into many languages. Someday, Easter Island would be a world-class tourist attraction due to its archaeological wealth. We called on the opinions of Gonzalo Figueroa, archaeologist from the University of Chile, and William Mulloy, anthropologist from the Fullbright Foundation of the USA, both well-recognized scientists who had participated in the expedition led by Thor Heyerdahl, to determine which sector of the Anakena beach could be used to plant the coconuts without interfering in its valuable archaeological heritage.
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“We then were faced with the problem of the method of planting the coconut seeds. Happily, the Islander Leonardo Pakarati-Languitopa, son of the catechist Ure Potahe, who had lived for several years in Tahiti, knew how this was done. It consists in digging a square hole of thirty by thirty centimeters (12 by 12 inches) and forty-five centimeters (18 inches) deep, in which plant compost, guano and sand should be placed in layers until it makes a hill of twenty-five centimeters (10 inches) high. The the coconut should be laid on top and pushed into the hill until half covered, leaving the other half in the open air. This seed would then develop a palm shoot upward and two shoots downward through the layers which would feed it and project it below the sand in a search for water.

“The family of Macario Teao-Ika, with his wife María Auxiliadora Hereveri-Pakomio and their younger children Macario Segundo Tadeo, María Goretti, Jorge Simón, Germán, Claudio and Loren Pilar, were given the job of following the full procedure for planting the 650 coconut seeds.

“We decided to fence the area with stakes of cypress wood and barbed wire to keep the sheep from eating the young shoots and so that the new plants wouldn’t get trampled by the horses and cattle which were numerous on Easter Island. Once the area was ready, the coconuts were planted with great enthusiasm by the workers of the governmental Vaitea ranch and by the local population, all of whom swore to care for this little forest and assured us that under no condition would they accept that there be toke toke (robbery). Anakena would be a beach as lovely as any in Polynesia.

“At that time, who could have imagined that within eight years Mataveri would become an airport with a paved strip two kilometers (6,500 feet) long by 30 meters (100 feet) wide to receive modern airplanes? God was so great to have inspired me with this wonderful initiative that is today enjoyed by the residents of Rapa Nui and all the tourists who visit it.”

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