Reuben goes to Rapa nui (Pito o te henua)

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As part of the Kermadec exhibition at City Gallery Wellington 2012, Reuben Friend the Curator of Maori and Pacific Art went to Rapa Nui to tautoko the Pew Foundation and their work with Pacific artists and environmental concerns about the marine environment.

This blog is an insight into his experiences and reflections.

Day 1

Finally, after 26 hours, landed in Rapa Nui (via Santiago), the home of the descendants of Hotu Matua, the tuakana of my tupuna Hoturoa (so the locals tell me), kaihautu of the Tainui waka. Stepped out of the plane and hit straight away by the familiar smells and tropical climate of Polynesia, except, strangly, with a chilly South Pacific breeze blowing --- felt like half way between home and Hawaiki. Greeted at the airport with a waiata and lei ceremony (real flower lei too - means someone spent a couple hours collecting, cutting and lacing fragant flowers just for us). Nex minit they break into a massive tourist kapa haka bracket to whakamana us. Maori boy had to reply with a mihi and Ka Mate.

After formalities we were geeted by matua Hohepa (Jose) who is Rapa Nui Maoli but married to a Te Arawa girl from Rotorua. Hohepa is fluent in Maori, Spanish and Rapa Nui Maoli and has been helping me learn Rapanui. Hohepa tells me his home in Rapanui is called Tai Nui, the same name as the waka of Hoturoa. Beautiful connection!

Converging at the local pub, Tunu Ahi, a few of us stop in for a couple Mahinas (local beer named after the maiden of the moon -- same story as in Aotearoa) and meet Tamatoa, a Tahitian boy who I speak to in Maori with the help of John Pule who fills in the blanks I don't know with his knowledge of Niuean and other Pacific languages. Had thought I'd have to learn Spanish but no need because almost everyone we've meet so far is either from Hiva, Tuamotu, Tahiti or Rapa Nui and the langauges similar enough to converse.

Day 2

Went on tour of the motu this morning, looking at moai and moai excavation sites etc.

Thing that really struck me however was their whare waka. Conceptually I had always known that Maori whare were based on the upturned waka, but the ancient hare (locals here drop the 'w' like Ngapuhi do) here are actually porohema shaped like a waka.

Because the foundations were made in stone you can actually see the dimensions and shape of the hare. Rapa Nui can get cold so people who first landed here would have literally turned their waka upside down for shelter until they could construct a permanent residence. Can totally see how carved and painted waka art forms were translated onto whare whakairo and from their onto the body in the form of ta moko (takona in Rapa Nui). Havent seen any carved whare here, but lack of wood I guess means that they had to use stone. Locals tell me that stone carving IS the Rapa Nui art form and there are a whole series of stone houses at Oronga which we are going to later this week.

Be interesting to know if they were made before or after the forests where destroyed, and whether they have any similarity to whare back home. The moai and ahu were the tupuna figures so guess there may have been no need to include tupuna figures within the house... Sir Te Rangihiroa Peter Buck wrote about Rapa Nui having the most developed uhi of all of Polynesia because of their stone carving history, but all that technology with lack of forsight seems to be a scary premonition for where the world appears to be heading at the moment.

After tour we went to Karekare, a local kapa haka group, and recognised some of the crew who meet us at the airport. Bit touristy, but interesting to watch. Apparently their A team were sent to Solomon Islands for the Polynesian Arts Festival. Plastic performance smiles reminded me of Rotorua,nex minit they do the classic pull people out of the crowd to get up on stage to perform-- am seriously hoping the videos of me on stage never make it onto youtube as some of our crew are threatening. After the performance Karekare

crew take me out to the locals bar where a Rapa Nui reggae band are playing. After a few beers korero in Rapa Nui and Maori starts to flow quite easily. Heres a few words Ive picked up:

korero = wananga

ae/neha = e

pai = petipeti/hoe

whakawhetai = manuia

ta moko = takona

toku = to'oku

tou = to'ou

tona = to'ona

apopo = apo

Ngeru = kuri

Tamariki = poki

Kuri = paihenga

Learning enough to korero, wananga as they say, with the odd point of confusion, was told the history of Hotu Matua and his reasons for settling and naming the island Rapa Nui. Started with the ions of te kore and te po, haha, and ended up with the Chilean and Scottish influence on the island. Matua Hohepa, whose mita sounds very Maori, tells me the younger one have a stronger Chilean influence and their reo Rapa Nui has a strong Spanish accent.

Actually makes it very hard to understand the younger generation.

Day 3

Spent all day till 11pm installing the exhibition... tired. Definately deserving a beer today.

Went and had a few cold ones with some of the locals afterwards, was interesting to hear from some of the Chileans what they thought about Rapa Nui and the Maoli here.

Apparently the Chileans believe they have improved the island with their roads and airport over the last ten years, but the locals refuse to allow them to create a harbour because it will destroy wahi tapu. The hotel next to where we are staying had tangata whenua protesters take it over a few years back as a protest over the land and Chilean Police came in and used rubber bullets on them -- hard road being a protester in Chile...

Day 4

Exhibition opening today. Up at 7 to prepare my whaikorero. Makkng sure I got the whakapapa of Hotu Matua to Hotu Roa correct...