Friday, June 28, 2013

Vai Te Mihi and final thoughts about Easter Island.

The venue for the show is next to a restaurant by the cemetery on the north side of Hanga Roa and Juan (the restaurant owner) dropped us off with plenty of time before the 9pm show. On the way, he also clarified what we had been told by Belem, that the show is the best in town. The room was very basic with a stage, a bar set up in the corner and about 6 rows of chairs. Red plastic, the stackable kind that you can buy at most home stores and not the most comfortable. There was two men checking off reservations and as soon as we said our name, one went in search of Belem. We hardly recognized her. At the hotel, she is always very demure in skirt and blouse with her long hair either in a braid or cinched in a ponytail. Here, she wore a much tighter skimpier outfit and her gorgeous long black hair cascaded down to her waist. “Wow, we hardly recognized you” both Tom and I said as she came up. Laughing, she chatted with the two men at the front and then led us to the second row, showing us where to sit. Bless her, as the place filled up; she had made sure no-one was seated directly in front of us. Belem is tending bar and as I settled into the not-too-comfortable chairs, Tom went to get some wine and chat with her. Mark arrived not too long after having been up to the Tahai Complex to watch the sunset. He also leaves tomorrow and wanted to check it out one final time. Then the lights went out and to the sound of drums, the show started. It was mesmerizing and within minutes, I forgot about the chairs, Tom next to me and the world outside, as the dancers gave their interpretation of the island’s history through their movements, chanting and music. The muscular young male dancers who wore very little besides loin cloths and body paint, postured and danced, slapped themselves and shouted the tribal chants of a long ago people in the loud warrior-like ways similar to the Maori of New Zealand. The delightful ladies of the group dressed in the traditional grass and/or feathered skirts with matching halter or bra tops danced the islanders take on the hula, which was much slower and precise than the Hawaiian or any other we had seen. Over the space of one and a half hours they wove the story of the Rapa Nui from the time they arrived via boat, through the stone and carving and revering of ancestors and then onto the Birdman cult and finally the demise of a civilization due to war, famine and illness and the introduction of Christianity. Intensified by the subtle, judicious use of colored and flashing lights to create various effects and backed by an absolutely fantastic band playing updated versions of the traditional melodies of the Rapa Nui, the show was spectacular. Time seemed to be suspended and I was surprised when the show wrapped up and how quickly the hour and a half had gone by. We said a fond goodnight to Belem and thanked her for recommending the show to us and went in search of a taxi. The night was filled with stars and the taxi driver took us the coast road back to the hotel. The next morning we packed and went to the dining room for breakfast. Teddy will be here at noon to take us to the airport so there is time to walk the garden one last time and reminisce on the island’s past and future. The history of the Rapa Nui is tragic to say the least. Overpopulation on the island caused for bloody wars between clans just before the Europeans ‘discovered’ the island. Only a century later in the 1860’s, Peruvian slave traffickers captured more than half of the population and set them to work as slaves in Peruvian mines. Under international pressure they were allowed to return home but they returned with smallpox and other diseases. It is reckoned that the Rapa Nui population of over 15,000 in the 15th century had dropped to only 111 in 1877. One hundred and eleven! Needless to say much of the culture was lost. Fortunately, there is still some of the Rapa Nui culture left and among the young people there is resurgence in the desire to again educate and learn their native language and understand their cultural heritage. They also understand their island like their culture is a fragile commodity and are very cognizant to the dangers of environmental exploitation. That very fragile balance between tourism and native culture. At its widest point Easter Island is only 15 miles long and 8 miles wide and yet there is so much to see and appreciate it is extraordinary. It is an amazing place and is worthy of being one of the top 10, every year, of places to visit. Tom said it best of all as we were waiting to board the plane “It wasn’t long enough. Five days is not enough. This is a fantastic place.” Never were truer words spoken.

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