Who Owns Rapa Nui – Easter Island?

Officially, since 1888, Chile has owned the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui. For 300 years, the name Isla de Pascua or Easter Island has been its moniker. However, as of May this year, the Chilean Senate voted to amend the name to Rapa Nui – Isla de Pascua. Although that is progress, the Native population was disappointed at the hyphenated name.

if I had a vote on who controls Rapa Nui, I’d choose the Ma’u Henua people whose culture created the emblematic moai figures for which it is known. Enormous statues stand guard on Rapa Nui, named Easter Island by a Dutch explorer in 1722. Each weighs 10 to 86 tons. The island quarry called Rano Raraku is miles away from the nearest statue installation. How did people move these mammoth stone carvings without the use of modern equipment?

A NOVA program on public television explored how it might have been accomplished. The researchers based their approach on the folklore that the statues “walked” their way to where they now stand. A large group held a spider web of ropes to pull a replica from one side to another, walking the lumbering statue. See the video if you can, its quite fascinating. Here’s the preview.

The impressive moai statues of the Ma’u Henua ancestors.

Moai Statues of Rapa Nui, photos from Ma’u Henua website

The number of inhabitants of the island is fewer than 8,000. Yet, they received 100,000 tourists in 2015. According to scientific study by UNESCO, 20,000 should be the maximum number of travelers a year in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe. As a result, new limits cut the amount of time visitors can spend on Rapa Nui from three months down to 30 days. Immigration from Chile has also been a burden on the native population. Chileans slightly outnumber the Ma’u Henua. The traditional Ma’u Henua culture and language may be in danger of disappearing due to intermarrying and the influence of Spanish.

President Bachelet gave over administration of the park to the rightful heirs in 2016. This Parque Nacional generates millions of dollars in revenue yearly. In 2019, President Piñera is working to take its management back. I found no mention of this in English-speaking periodicals online, including the New York Times and the Guardian. Why isn’t this news?

We lived in Chile for a year, but we did not visit Rapa Nui. Now that I know the politics of the situation, I’ll stick to seeing other people’s photos. Every country deserves the right to self-determination. The Ma’u Henua can limit tourism or ban it altogether if they determine that it damages their sacred patrimony. It is not for Chile to give them this sovereignty, it is theirs as the first inhabitants of their land. Theirs is the right to weigh the delicate balance between ecology and economic independence. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue.

Hola amigos, let me know you’ve stopped by. Leave a note in the comment box below. All you need is an email address, which will be kept private.

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. Olé! –Rebecca

National Park Rapa Nui Website Photo




Rebecca Cuningham

12 thoughts on “Who Owns Rapa Nui – Easter Island?

  1. A question for the 21st century. Will we allow countries to be run by their indigenous peoples. Why does Chile think it owns Easter Island or America think it owns islands in the Pacific.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I love this post, and so many that you are sharing these days. I’m trying to feature more female writers who tackle bigger issues related to travel – like this one. Let me know if you’d be interested in guest blogging, I’d love to feature you!

    Liked by 1 person

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