Vaitea A Historical Place

Vaitea A Historical Place


Vaitea is the name given to the area in the center of the Island where there is abundant water coming from the Rano Aroi volcano. Each trip by road to Anakena Beach crosses through the forests of Vaitea, mostly eucalyptus trees, where Islanders will stop to collect wood for their barbecues at the shore. Among the trees, the ruins of an old barn can be seen. This was the shearing shed from the 1920s and some of the houses from the days of the English sheep company, Williamson & Balfour, which leased the Island for half a century (1903–1953).
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the number of sheep increased, Williamson & Balfour built the main barns and other annex buildings at Vaitea where they installed the fenced yards for shearing. Felipe Pakarati tells that his grandfather, Timoteo Pakarati, supervised the construction of the main barn and that he himself began to work for Williamson & Balfour when he was very young : “I started doing very basic work, first rounding up animals and marking bales of wool. It was the first time that there were regular working hours on the Island. We worked 8 hours a day and were paid for overtime. I can definitely say that the abuse and injustice toward the workers that occurred under the Brander-Bornier Company (1868-1888) and Merlet & Co. (1895-1903) were ended.”

W & B’s installations were the barns at Vaitea and 15 large paddocks located around the Island. In each paddock there was a man who took care of the animals and maintained the windmills which pumped the water. There were also workers who maintained and cleared paddocks and took care of the barn at Vaitea. This area was set up with raceways, dips, and corrals, inside and out. The dips were concrete ditches which were filled with water mixed with disinfectants to wash the sheep once or twice a year. After the bath, someone would separate the animals and classify them according to whether they would be set aside, sheared or eaten. These last were the “Mamoefita”.

Then the accountant would show up for counting. Inside the barn, there was a large central corral for the lambs, surrounded by a dozen smaller corrals to keep the animals that had been shorn. 24 shearers could work on 150 to 250 animals per day. A veterinary medic was on hand to check the animals and take care of them in case of injury. The shorn wool would be picked up by women who spread it out on long tables, like a blanket. Others tied it up and classified it according to quality. There was one person who picked up all the bits of wool which fell during the process. Nothing was wasted. At the end, the balers and bale sewers would do their job so that the accountant could weigh them. It was a perfect organization of well defined jobs. We were paid half in money and half in merchandise (candles, matches, sugar, flour, etc.) and animals.
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I remember that it was a lamb per week for each worker. One of the obligations of the Company’s lease was the weekly delivery of those “Mamoefita” to the population, calculating one-quarter of a lamb for each person in the family. As there were no refrigerators or electricity to run them, we would organize ourselves among several families to not have everyone take their meat at the same time, but share one animal and the next day request another.

For shearing in the months of October to January, when the ship would arrive, almost the entire Island population was hired. The work week was from Monday through midday on Saturday. Each worker received a daily ration of ¼ of a lamb plus 5 big “sopaipillas” (fried bread). Since that was a lot of food, we took advantage of the carts which carried the bales of wool to Hanga Roa to sent a good amount of the food to our families. In the evening, there was dinner and good parties; it was a really nice atmosphere. We were very grateful to the Company, since we had good food, comfortable rest stations and, most importantly, we felt like one big family.

For me, as for many Islanders, the English company meant a great opportunity for work, for improvement and for development. In addition to the shearing, they hired for loading and unloading the ships. According to what my father, Jorge Pakarati, told me, from 1920 through the 50s, our family and others produced and sold to the Company the corn that we planted in our plots, some skins and some animals. With the money, we bought merchandise like sugar, flour and cloth at the “Store House” or Hare Toa — of course, at high prices set by them.

In spite of the bonanza during the shearing, for the rest of the year food was scarce for the Islanders and their large families (563 inhabitants). Felipe Pakarati explains: “The Rapanui are carnivores and became accustomed to eating lamb. When they didn’t have it, they stole animals from the Company.” The Company administrator of that time reported, “The Rapanui deal in fleece and wool… It’s a very simple economic process. They steal the sheep and sell us the fleece.” By their own reckoning, the Company employees were unable to stop this thievery; they could only punish the thief applying monetary fines. Unfortunately, the Naval Sub-delegates who were sent by the Chilean government didn’t act in the same form as the Company and would punish abusively for robbery and conduct that they considered immoral.

When the lease to Williamson & Balfour was abrogated, Easter Island passed to the administration of the Chilean Navy. The size of the Vaitea ranch was reduced and lands were set aside to be given to the natives to be able to supply themselves. Later CORFO (the Chilean government development corporation) and its subsidiary, SASIPA, converted the land of Vaitea, which today covers 4,597 hectares (11,369 acres), or 27.7% of the Island territory, into a ranch dedicated to livestock production, reforestation and plantation of eucalyptus. They also established an agricultural experimental station, primarily for citrus trees, which today has turned out to not be profitable. Regardless of the future of Vaitea Ranch, the houses and old shearing barn should be repaired. In their present state, they offer a sad, deteriorated spectacle. Once restored, with toilet facilities and gardens of native plants, they could offer a lovely spot to remember an important period of Rapa Nui history.

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