Michelle Bachelet Easter Island Ahu Tongariki

Ancestral lands returned to the rapa nui people after 129 years of Chilean control

History was made today when the ancestral lands of Easter Island were returned to the native people of this remote South Pacific island.

Up until the end of the 19th century, the inhabitants of Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island) used to live all over the island, where the mighty moai statues are that this island is famous for. In 1888, the island was annexed to Chile, that rented out the island to a sheep shearing business. As a consequence, the rapa nui people were forced away from their homes and moved into what became the island’s only town – Hanga Roa.

Dancers performed in honor of the occasion.
Dancers performed in honor of the occasion.

Tourism started on a bigger scale in 1986, when NASA extended and improved the airport, thus allowing big passenger planes to visit. To minimize impact on the archaeology, the Chilean national forest corporation CONAF has been controlling the archaeological sites for the last decades. Today, the chilean president Michelle Bachelet has officially given back the control of these archaeolgical sites back to the locals, by passing it on to a local entity called Ma’u Henua.


So what’s next?

Camilo Rapu, director Ma'u Henua anakena interview
Camilo Rapu, director of Ma’u Henua.

“The first change that will happen from today and onwards is that all decisions that will be taken here on the island, will be taken by the rapa nui people”, Camilo Rapu, director of Ma’u Henua says. He expresses great hope and enthusiasm about reforesting the island with endemic plants, as the island was a thousand years ago. At the same time, he is careful about taking decisions about guide certification and restoration of ancient monuments, as he wants not only Ma’u Henua, but the whole rapa nui population to partake in these decisions.

A lot has happened the latest two years after the 2015 roadblock conflict by the Rapa Nui Parliament. Ma’u Henua was born, and started to co-administer the national park together with CONAF. Immigration laws have been approved by the Chilean senate and are soon to be applied. Now, control of the archaeological sites have been given to this local entity Ma’u Henua. Has this all been caused by this roadblock conflict in 2015? Is all of this for the better? Please share your opinions below!

Native dancers performed a "haka" (war dance) for the president.
Native dancers performed a “hoko” (war dance) for the president.


Rapa Nui native gives food umu tahu ceremony
Food was cooked in a ceremonial ritual called umu tahu.


The chilean president Michelle Bachelet was first to eat from the ceremonial food "umu tahu".
The chilean president Michelle Bachelet was first to eat from the ceremonial food umu tahu.

Marcus Edensky

Marcus is owner of local Rapa Nui travel agency Easter Island Travel. He is one of the few foreigners that has learnt to speak Rapa Nui fluently. He is founder of local Easter Island newspaper Tāpura Re'o - the only newspaper written entirely in Rapa Nui language.

59 thoughts on “Ancestral lands returned to the rapa nui people after 129 years of Chilean control

  1. We visited Rapa Nui in 2010. And we met the people who lost their home stolen from them by big corporation to built hotel restaurant etc… as a tourist you feel helpless but we signed their petitions and tried to inform everybody on our travels ! Good luck to them and there is so much more to do and respect all these indigenous population and their land !

    1. I am so happy for the people of Rapa Nui. My Taino ancestors were the first people to fall at the hands of the European colonizers. I understand their pain.

  2. I visited their last year and first learned about all the money Chile was making off the archaeological sites. I hope the Rapanui can now use that income to improve their own land.

  3. Congratulations from all our Maori People from..AOTEAROA..NEW ZEALAND! This is one place I will one day visit soon..Proud of you all!

  4. I first visited Rapanui in 1992 and was awe struck by the Moai. I was equally saddened by the fate that the local Rapanui Maori had suffered under Chilean colonisation so it is with a glad heart that i receive the news that these taonga whenua (treasured ancestral sites) have been returned to the control of their rightful owners. Having been involved for the past 35 years in the struggle to revive my own Moriori culture and identity on Rekohu (Chatham Islands – not unlike Rapanui in many ways except much colder! – we even have a place on the Island called Rapanui), I understand and can empathise with the long struggle for justice and identity. My Island is about 8,000 kms west of Rapanui but we are connected by the Great Ocean of Kiwa! Kia kaha my Rapanui brothers and sisters! Me rongo (in peace). Maui Solomon, Chairman, Hokotehi Moriori Trust, Rekohu.

  5. Yeees ! Another win for our Indigenous brother’s and sister’s. Well done Chile for recognising what is best for the greater good. This gives me hope.

    1. I am skeptical as to the motives which led Chile to do this …did they also repay all the money which they stole from the native people? And, with the rising of the oceans waters…are their effects to the island and precious artifacts which they did not want to be responsible for, and are the people themselves safe along with their island?

  6. Maikaʻi nō kēia nū hou kūwaho! Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono! I te pito o te henua. E ola hou i ka ʻōlelo Rapa!

  7. One day l will visit this island don’t know why but would love to see their island and learn their culture this is very good news l like Chilean people l have friends from there that l help when living in Australia KIA MONUINA FROM NIUE IS

  8. Next all the Rapanui taonga must be returned. It really saddened me to find out when I was there a few weeks ago that all the best carvings and every piece of rongorongo is in overseas museums and only replicas can be seen on Rapanui. Today it should be the other way around as these taonga can only be alive and meaningful within their own culture.

  9. Historical moment for all of Us, Rapa nui people, so I would like to remember all the readers that this is just one step of this long way to handle and take care of this wonderfull place. The administration of Rapa nui national park, is a big responsibility and more than the passion for the for this culture we need a profesional preparation to handle and care Te Pito o te Henua, so this our chance to prepare for a big future.

  10. Maybe now, the Chilean navy won’t have to have their periodic shows of dominance by marching down the streets in pomp to attempt intimidation of the natives and visitors. And the natives won’t have to continue declaring ownership of their stolen lands!

  11. 1. Praise the Lord, God of Heaven and Earth and everything thereof.
    2. Congratulations Rapanui, and thankyou Chile.
    3. Rapanuians. Please celebrate, take ownership of all your assets and God should be your foundation.
    God Bless.

  12. Best news I have heard in my entire life! Congrats Kau Rapa Nui, so happy and proud of you all! Hope is in me now more than ever for Hawai’i, Tahiti and our other oppressed pacifican cousins ❤️

  13. Noho ora mai😭🙏🏽✈️🙏🏽 Had the priviledge of supporting my tamehine in going to Rapanui n 2007 under the guidance of Tutu Judy Akurangi c/- He Kainga mo Te Reo… Waiariki Ataarangi. Kia Kaha, Kia maia, Kia manawanui… Tau maha nga mahi o tera Kawanatanga… engari whaia te iti kahurangi me he maunga teitei

  14. Ka mau te wehi! Stay strong together, let peace guide your way…awesome news…Ma te atua koutou e manaaki hei tiaki…Mo ake tonu atu

  15. Had a lovely time back there in 2010. What a lovely culture and people! Shared food and stories at the camp in the park downtown, not sure if it was the Rapa Nui Parliament. There was lots of discussion and around no longer teaching the Rapa Nui language in school.

    I support the directors thoughts around having the community get involved and participating… no doubt after many years of being a protecterate, there is lots of energy to move forward, in many directions all at once.

    I hope for a new Prosperity for the Rapa Nui people.

    No better time than now to be able to have access to abundant modern technology, and knowledge… wind power, wave power.. maybe there is now a Port. To reforest and renew / and replenish the lands.


  16. Malo tau, malie toa!
    Ua a’e ma le manuia le faiva a Tigilau.
    Ua tau lau ole upu, o mau malie le lagi fou ma le lalolagi fou.
    Ua mau malo le Atua!

  17. I am a proud Polynesian and am reading about this now and our histories are somewhat similar like your in house warring we had the Maori wars and if my ancestors didn’t have the pakeha introduced their might not have shifted their focus and we might not be very big at all, because we might have wiped each other out. But we learned to live with the pakeha and have you learned to patient with Chile and that is something so great about all of Polynesia we don’t give we strive to move forward. Good on you my brothers and sisters

  18. Congratulations Rapa Nui! Well done Chile in restoring the rights of the traditional peoples of the land. Proud of my Rapa Nui friends…beautiful people, wonderful culture x

  19. im glad the mother earth was given back to the rightful natives of that land.my way we dont owe,n the land it belongs to no one

  20. Justice has been served. Sending much love and wishing you wisdom, harmony and inspired action for the future. Superhug with arms embracing the WHOLE island.

  21. Happy for the people of Rapa Nui. My Taino ancestors in the Caribbean were the first to fall to the European colonizers and I feel the pain of the Rapa Nui people. Congratulations!

  22. A lot has changed from 1986. Rapanui you have done well. Congratulations to you all from the roopu Ngati Kotiti. We visited there in 1986 with the Minister of Trade NZ. Was such a honour to be hosted by our beautiful cousins. Ma te Atua koutou e manaaki e tiaki arohanui xxx

  23. Ι wished the besr for Rapa Nui population, a population that most of them are artists. I visited them, I loved them and my second wish is to visit island one more time from my country Greece..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *