Articulating Rapa NuiPolynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State

Articulating Rapa NuiPolynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State

Riet Delsing

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780824851682

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


This ethnography examines the colonization of the Pacific island of Rapa Nui/Easter Island by the Latin American country of Chile. It also discusses the Rapanui people’s growing emphasis on cultural difference. The first part, entitled “Challenging the nation-state”, gives an historical account of Chile’s political relationship with the island, from the moment of annexation in 1888 up to the present day. In the second part, “Polynesian cultural politics and global imaginaries”, I describe various contemporary forms of cultural politics. To express their difference, the Rapanui are increasingly engaging in cultural performances such as sculpting, dancing, body painting and other cultural expressions, as well as a yearly festival. They are also revitalizing their Polynesian language and traditional concepts of land and territory, and strengthening contacts with other Polynesians and the international community. This emphasis on cultural politics creates tensions between the Rapanui--who increasingly claim their right to self-determination as a people--and the Chilean nation-state, which insists on its supposed rights to sovereignty over the island. Moreover, I discuss how the global fascination with Rapa Nui has resulted in a blooming tourist industry, which commodifies Rapanui difference and creates a possibility to loosen economic and, potentially, political ties with Chile. The realms of the cultural and the political have thus become entangled in subtle but important ways.