From the Ship
Rapa Nui through the eyes of Toki: Shaping a better future for the island
Peace Boat has a special relationship with Rapa Nui, the remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and 2,200 km from the closest inhabited place. Peace Boat first visited the island in 1996 and has since then returned 26 times. The participants of the 90th voyage had the opportunity to learn about the history and the local traditions thanks to the presence onboard of Rosa Paoa Tuki, a member of Toki, an NGO working to conserve the culture of Rapa Nui and to give a music education to the youth of the island. When Peace Boat arrived at the island, a group of participants visited the Music and Art School that the organization has founded and which after a great deal of work will open at the beginning of April this year.
27 year old Paoa Tuki, who joined the ship between Ushuaia and Rapa Nui is a tour guide and dancer. During her days onboard, she shared her knowledge and love for her native land with the participants through different lectures and workshops. In her lectures, Paoa Tuki spoke about the beginnings of Rapa Nuian society and Polynesian culture. It is believed that Tahitians visited the island and started to call it Rapa Nui (Large Rapa) because of its similiarity to the island of Rapa which is in present day French Polynesia and known as Rapa Iti (Small Rapa). The name "Easter Island" came into use because April 5, 1722, Easter Sunday was the day that Dutch explorer, Jakob Roggeveen arrived to Rapa Nui.
In another of her lectures, the tour guide spoke about the more recent history of the island and of the many problems the island is facing. There are only 6,000 inhabitants, but high levels of alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, youth pregnancy and unemployment. Another serious problem is waste. "Since 2008, the local authorities have been in charge of educating the local population about recycling. But the situation is very complicted. Three quarters of the island is protected land, so we only have one quarter to use to store the waste" explained Paoa Tuki.
It was an awareness of all these problems that led a group of youth from Rapa Nui to found the NGO Toki in 2011. Toki is the name in the language of Rapa Nui for the tools their ancestors used to shape the Moai, the large statues sculpted from the rock of the island which are so symbolic of the place. "Toki wants to be a tool to shape many girls and boys and offer them new opportunities, to give them a better future" explained Paoa Tuki. One of the founders of this organization is Mahani Teave, a professional pianist who had to leave the island in order to make a career in the world of music. Now she leads a project through which children and youth on the island can develop their talent and learn music without having to leave their homes and their families.
Since its foundation,Toki has organized classes for dozens of children and youth between 5 and 15 years old. Now they have more than 70 students, 5% of all those living on the island. But they never had their own space, so decided to start a campaign to build their own music school that will very soon become a reality. They contacted Michael Reynolds, an architect from the United States known for the design and construction of buildings from recycled materials. His organization, Earthship Biotecturem uses a system which combines basic building materials such as cement with reclaimed materials such as aluminium cans, glass bottles and tires. Buildings are constructed which are self-sufficient and ecologically sound that harness electricity from the sun and the wind; water from the rain; heating and cooling systems from the sun and the ground.
Once on the island, a group of participants visited Toki's Music and Art School on the outskirts of Hanga Roa, the capital and only town on the island. There they were met by Enrique Icka, an engineer, musician, another of the NGO's founders and someone who knows Peace Boat well having also travelled onboard as a guest educator. "After more than a year of work and with the help of dozens of volunteers, the school with eight classrooms is about to become a reality", he explained to the participants who were able to see with their own eyes the building almost completed. The building was constructed with waste such as tires, plastic and glass bottles, cans and boxes and is also fitted with solar panels, rain water collectors and its own sewage system based on Reynold's model. "With this building, here at Toki, we have made a very small contribution to solving the problem of waste. But there must be much greater efforts and they have to include all of us, residents, tourists, the public sector and the private sector. The waste is destroying our fragile environment and putting the health of the community at risk", explained Icka.
Toki's new school can take 225 children and youth, 15% of those who live on the island But the idea is to continue to grow and develop the building into a Center for Holistic Development that will contribute to empowering the society on the island with a focus on sustainability and community. "The music classes are just the beginning. We want to inspire and transmit in an acitve and participatory way the Rapa Nui world view in all the different areas of development" he said. In the future, the students who go to the school will be able to learn about the art, music and culture of the island, all the cultural heritiage which is in danger of disappearing. "There will be workshops for ancestral songs and stories, together with other areas such as herbal medicine, which will bring the children closer to the elders who are the carriers of knowledge and wisdom" he said.
Peace Boat was on the island for a total of three days. On the first night, a group of seventeen members of Toki came onboard to give a live performance of tradtional music and dance. The music and dance of Rapa Nui was already familiar to many participants who had in the previous days taken part in a series of workshops to learn some of the dances led by Paoa Tuki. One, called Ori is similar to the Hula of Hawai'i and another more energetic which tells a story through the gestures. Some of the members of the group stayed onboard to lead a workshop the following day for participants to learn more about Toki and about local traditions. They were taught songs, hokos (dances traditionallly performed before going into battle) and customs such as kaikai, an ancient way of storytelling using string to make shapes with your hands at the same time as singing songs about the ancestors, or daily life on Rapa Nui. There was also time to talk and for participants to try the traditional paint that Rapa Nuians use to decorate their bodies on special occasions called takona. One of those leading the workshop was Mario Tuki, another member of Toki and multiple time guest educator onboard Peace Boat. "Music teaches children skills such as discipline, perserverence, cooperationand respect. We are very happy to finally have our own center. The school will give youth new opportunities. At the same time, we are protecting and preserving the environment and the cultural legacy of our ancestors" he said.
To bid farewell to the island before starting the voyage to Tahiti, Peace Boat's ship sailed once around Rapa Nui. Participants could appreciate once more the beauty of the place and see again, this time from the sea, points of interest like Tongariki, an impressive archeological site with 15 tall Moai. This circle around the island was a fitting end to two weeks of immersion into the culture and traditions of this symbolic place that so many travelers dream of visiting and which the participants onboard the 90th Global Voyage were able to experience first-hand.