Ursula Rapu

My father was called Alejo Kana Kyoka.  He was the son of a Chinese, but my grandmother’s husband accepted him as his son and gave him the family name of Rapu.  He was white skinned and, when I was born and he saw me as dark as my mother, he thought that I was the child of a neighbor and threw me out of the house.  I was raised by Ernesto Pakomio and Papiano Ika until I was 8. Then they were taken away to the hospital and I was told that they had leprosy.   I think a lot of those in the leper colony were healthy people with some genetic markings.  I think that Ernesto and Papiano caught their leprosy there.  Ernesto Pakomio was the one who organized the first escape of lepers in 1957 with the idea of going to Tahiti to see a doctor or dying at sea, but the Navy brought them back.  Ten months later seven lepers were able to take off in a sailboat from Hanga Roa o Tai. Papiano Ika didn’t get on board because it was already too heavy and was almost sinking in the water.  They didn’t get very far.  The sea got rough and they all disappeared.  I still go to see Papi.  He’s the only one who still lives in what used to be the leper colony.  He doesn’t talk much because it is difficult for him, but I understand him.  Really, I have very sad memories of my childhood.  My father was a bodyguard for the Governor who was a Navy man.  And the Navy men used to tell him “bring me that girl” and he had to do it.  Some girls were sent to the leper colony just for refusing to do favors for them.  Today I can’t stand to see the Navy uniforms.

I returned to my father’s house and then felt that he did love me because he never mistreated me.  Harsh treatment and blows were the custom among the men; it was really serious in those days.  When I was twelve, I was sent to the continent with my step-brother Joaquín Rapu so that I could go to school.  But he chose to keep me at home as a servant.  I didn’t study anything there and only learned to read when I returned to the Island at 16.  For my father it was sacred to unite the whole family around a “curanto” every weekend to talk of the good and bad things of life.  Today it isn’t like that.  People don’t get together as before.  The young people are going after the money and there is a lot of selfishness.  They forget that we are born naked and will die naked.

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In Rapanui families, the father, or in his place the oldest brother, was the authority.  Everyone had to respect him.  My brother Martin forced my sister to get married and he wanted to do the same with me.  There was a “gringo”  working here and Martin wanted him as a brother-in-law.  He took me to the Civil Registry office, but when they asked me if I wanted to get married to this man, I said no and ran away.  Later on I got married without saying anything to anybody.  With Urbano Tepano we went one morning to the Civil Registry office and then in the afternoon to the church to get married in front of the priest.  It was just to get even with my husband’s family because his brother used to treat my sister very badly.  Nobody wanted me because I was so wild, especially my brothers-in-law – I’m not going to deny it.  One of them beat me once and I took a scissors and thrust it into his shoulder.  I used to be very tough.  Later on when I changed religion, I got better.  All that I know today I learned from my mother-in-law Emilia Kaituoe and I am grateful to her.“

 

That nobody wanted her isn’t true.  Napoleón Tepano, one of her nephews, tells us that “we loved her very much.  She always took care of us.  When I was building my house late at night, she would always appear with a plate of hot food.”   Today, many come by her house with their children so that the Nua (grandmother) can heals them or help with an indigestion or a cold or simply hug them and tell them stories.

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Ursula shows us a bottle filled with a dark, thick oil.  “It’s shark oil to help heal scars and remove burn marks.  When children get indigestion – that is, when they eat too much or something they shouldn’t and it gets stuck in their stomach – I make them take a mix of a big spoonful of grated potato with another big spoonful of oil and a bit of salt before breakfast for three days and I massage the skin of their back until it squeaks.  For a cold, I grind up “siete venas” herbs in a cloth to wring out the juice.  You take that in one spoonful three times a day.”   Another recommendation from Ursula is for the women.  The Rapanui women treat the vulva and vagina as “the most delicate area of the body”, as it is involved in procreation and sexual activity.  They do a daily genital hygiene through regular “vaginal baths” using hot steam with figs and oils.  According to Ursula, “the vagina gets tight and you come out like a virgin”.  Thank you, for your recomendations Ursula.

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