Rapa Nui – people, dance and music

Since returning from Easter Island (Rapa Nui to the locals), I have had a serious dose of writers block. Which is strange for me considering that for once I have all the time in the world to write my blog since I am unemployed and writing a blog is a great distraction from the pressing need to find a new job. Yet for some reason, my half written post about the Moai (the large statues which remain a great world archeological mystery) is just not living up to my expectations. I am finding it extremely difficult to actually describe the experience and how I felt standing in front of these stone giants, looking at their pouting facial expressions and wondering how on earth the Rapa Nui managed to move them around the island and raise them on to the Ahu (stone platforms) and more importantly, why. My descriptions just seem to lack something.

So instead of writing something that could appear in a Lonely Planet guide, I have decided to rather write about the people and the cultural side of the island.

From the moment we were welcomed at the airport by Anna Maria (the owner of the cabin we rented), it felt like we were amongst family and friends. An interesting coincidence is that we soon discovered that Anna Maria works in the municipality and her focus is the environmental sustainability of the island. So the first hour or so of our holiday was spent chatting to her about the really complicated situation on the island with respect to energy, water and waste. Before long we were invited for an asado (braai) that evening with her family and some friends to continue the conversation. No surprise, that the first topic discussed that evening was the high cost of energy on the island and the potential for renewable energy projects. The potential is huge and Rodrigo along with Anna Maria and Rodolfo (her partner establishing an NGO on the island) will hopefully continue this conversation soon…

It turned out that this was not our only invitation for a meal. In fact, despite bringing enough food to “eat in” for the 6 days (since restaurants and food on the island is basically double the price of the continent), we ended up leaving the majority of the food with our hosts, thanks to various invitations to lunch or an asado. One very interesting invitation was to an asado with a royal twist. The “neighbours” to our cabin were a family from Hawaii and after chatting to them one day Rodrigo came in to tell me that we were staying next to the King of Hawaii. Besides not knowing that Hawaii even had a king, my first thought was that the man in jeans and flip flops didn`t exactly look like royalty. Having been to church with the Queen of England, my knowledge of royalty is rather skewed towards the British form.

We were invited to an asado on 18 September which is Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day in Chile) and I can honestly say I think we probably had the least Chilean deiciocho possible. The asado was basically a whose who of polynesian royalty with the Kings from Hawaii, Tahiti and Rapa Nui. All super casual and normal. No minding your p´s and q´s with this bunch, although since most of the conversation was in polynesian languages my p`s and q`s would not have been understood anyway. An extremely interesting evening in so many ways.

I sadly have no photos from the asado since I felt it would be inappropriate to whip out the camera and click away like a tourist. But I do have photos from a few other interesting cultural moments…

The first one was an invitation from our host Tony to witness the “marriage ceremony” of a couple from Valparaiso (a city in Chile). The guy decided to surprise his partner with a traditional marriage ceremony on the island, performed by Tony. It seems quite common that couples go to the island for a traditional commitment ceremony. Not sure if I would ever want to swop the white wedding dress for a skirt of white feathers, but each to their own. At least the event made for some interesting photo opportunities…

The Commitment Ceremony, with the couple decked out in full traditional Rapa Nui outfits and body painting. The ceremony took place in front of Ahu Tahai (the only Moai restored with white coral eyes).

After the ceremony we shared a delicious Curanto. This is a traditional Pacific meal of fish, meat and vegetables cooked in a hole in the ground, covered with rocks and leaves (banana leaves here). 

Tony sharing the curanto with the bride and groom. She looks a little uncertain in this photo, but the food was delicious. 

After the ceremony I got my photo shoot moment with the rather hot Rapa Nui men. I now understand why all my friends in Santiago where warning me about the island and that I just might not want to leave…

Our next cultural experience was an interesting mix of touristy and local flavours in the form of a night out at one of the local bars. After the marriage ceremony, Rodolfo recommended going to this bar since it was a Saturday night and that meant live bands, local music and much dancing. The best part is that although the bar attracts a certain number of tourists, the majority of people were locals. The night kicked off with a few dances by some Rapa Nui men and at one point they chose women to join them. Much to Rodrigo`s amusement, I was chosen.

Trying to keep up with the rather fast Rapa Nui moves.

Rodrigo learning some Rapa Nui moves from Rodolfo, who although he is from Santiago has been living on the the island for 4 years and has got the moves down! He even managed to teach me a move or two.

Our next cultural experience was a little more touristy, in the form of a traditional dance show. The interesting thing was that the music and the dancing was the same as in the pub a few nights earlier which proved that the music and dance of the island, although used for tourist entertainment is still very much a part of local life. The main difference I suppose is that in the show, the men are wearing next to nothing, which definitely isn`t the case on a normal saturday night out at the pub. I can honestly say that I have never seen so much bare skin shown by men during any dance performance. I`m definitely not complaining though…

The body painting and lighting made for some interesting photos

Feathers make up nearly all of some of the women`s outfits

Rodrigo was chosen to dance at the end of the show. He was chosen by the 2012 Queen of the annual Tapati Competition and when she told him at the end that he danced well, he was rather chuffed.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I found it very difficult to write about the history, legends and theories relating to the island. Yet, for me, our visit to the most remote island in the world will always be remembered for so much more than it`s archeaology. The people, as always are what make a place unique and  we were especially lucky with the people we encountered.

Rodrigo enjoying a beer and appreciating the amazing view of the ocean we had from our cabin. If anyone reading this blog is ever privileged enough to visit this tiny spec in the middle of Pacific Ocean, please look up Tony and Anna Maria and rent their wonderful cabin. You won`t regret it! (http://www.rapanuicabins.com)

To Anna Maria, Tony, Victoria and Rodolfo – Moruru!

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6 Responses to Rapa Nui – people, dance and music

  1. Rodrigo says:

    Nadie mejor que tu para describir la increible experiencia de este viaje…
    Hermoso relato,

  2. linda koch says:

    what an amazing holiday! your were meant to visit this island and meet these awesome people.
    what dancers!! from a wet, grey jozi. Love Mum.

  3. Esme Solomons says:

    As usual, I have enjoyed your blog on Rapa Nui, another place I will never see for myself. It is so good to see that you are not just looking for the formal places, as a tourist, but enjoying the company of the people around you, and making new friends all the time. Continue to enjoy, even if you are still looking for a new employment! Love, Esme

    • ingridckoch says:

      Hi Esme. Thanks for your wonderful words. It is true, I like to think that I am a traveller and not a tourist and that means the people are just as important, if not more so than the places themselves. I am truly privileged with the people I have met here in South America and Rapa Nui was no exception.

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