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Fighting for Survival on Easter Island

By Marisol Hitorangi

I am Marisol Hitorangi, spokeswoman of the Hitorangi Clan of Easter Island, Chile. As a Polynesian Clan we are struggling to get our ancestral land back, illegally expropriated by the Chilean State. We have been tortured for decades, as individuals and as a culture.

This is how this story begins. In 1888, after having been prey of various western empires, Easter Island was annexed to Chile, under an “Annexation Treaty.” Chile got sovereignty over the Rapa Nui people and territory, committing to respect the native’s territorial property. But in a short time the inhabitants were banished from their ancestral lands and imprisoned in a ghetto called Hanga Roa, in order to rent the island to an English sheep farming company, Williamson Balfour. At the same time, the Chilean Navy assumed the administration of the Island. For the next 70 years under an agreement between Navy Captains and company administrators my people were tortured. From being forbidden to freely circulate, grow crops, have animals, to being forced to work - threatened with leper injection if they did not follow the orders. At the ghetto there was no drinking water and no food, so people lived of eating rats.

The only silver lining experienced by the prisoners was that in 1926, the ground within this ghetto was officially inscribed under the names of these Clans by the Chilean Treasury. But ironically in 1933 the whole Island got inscribed into the Ministry of National Assets, formally becoming part of the Chilean territory. In 1953, the contract with the Company ended and Easter Island was left to the hands of the Navy, which did not change a thing.

In the 60’s, it became known internationally that the Rapa Nui were tortured, and the State was forced to take reparation measures. First allowing the Rapa Nui to freely circulate, and second, enacting the “Easter Act” that forbid the state from having any ownership over the registered land of the clans (within the ghetto). But despite this, the State built urban infrastructure such as the school, the bank, on top of the terrains of the Clans within Hanga Roa, contravening it’s own law.

In 2010 almost all Rapa Nui clans begun occupying their territories, pressing the State to solve our lack of land ownership. My clan was one of the organizers. The repression became even worse. Let me tell you about it.

Our case starts in 1970, when our deceased grandmother Veronica Atamu exchanged 7 hectares of our land to the State Corporation CORFO for 20 years, in return for a solid house. The state entity registered the land under its ownership. Promptly a tourist lodge was built and sold to a Chilean businessman, who later sold it to a German family. Finally, they built there the five star Hanga Roa Hotel.

By these acts, they did not only violate the “Easter Treaty”, but as well a Decree, which forbids any foreigner from having land property on the Island. From where you look at it, it is illegal. Even more, considering that my grandmother was illiterate. Therefore, the document that CORFO made her sign has no value from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, also ratified by Chile.

More than forty years have passed. Regardless the multiple complaints, still the land has not been returned to us. Hence, my aunt Magdalena and I as leaders of the Hitorangi Clan guided our entire family into occupying the Hanga Roa Hotel. With the help of various human rights entities, we were able to let the world know what my family and many Rapa Nui clans were going through. Not surprisingly, the Chilean State’s reaction was to militarize the island, criminalize us for land usurpation, prosecuting us, psychologically and physically mistreating us.

Furthermore, the Chilean Minister of Internal Affairs, together with the Hotel owners, decided to give the land and the hotel to a “foundation”, within a period of 30 years. Why did they not consider us in this resolution? Who is going to be in charge of this foundation?

Now, we are waiting for the next trial. As a family we’ve decided not to sign any document and are willing to face jail if necessary. As for a majority of the Clans, an independency will is starting to grow fast. A and Indigenous rights law firm from Washington D.C. - the Indian Law Resource Center - has come to teach us about our Indigenous international rights. Because of this, we are studying possibility of bringing our case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Despite death lurking, we still have the power to live and to strive, because we are conscious of the eternal bond with our land. The land to us is our Kainga, the womb of a mother that needs to be nourished, so that it can remain fertile to support us. That is why my grandmother and mother buried all the their placentas and the bones of their ancestors in the same spot – now under the five star hotel!

We communicate to our deceased on a daily basis and receive mana from them. Mana is the force of intuition that keeps our ancestral culture alive. Being able to get our land back, is to stay in contact with our ancestors. If we as Rapa Nui people allow this illegal land theft to continue, we’ll be soon allowing the total loss of our heritage. Do you follow me?


Throughout our struggle we’ve been involved with the filmmaker Isabel Burr Raty. We have been able to record our struggle in order to make the documentary film,“Nua Rapa Nui”, which means "Rapa Nui grandmother."  This film is the search of justice of my people, the Rapa Nui people, which we know reflects a sad universal reality for most indigenous people in the world. With the
documentary we want to let everybody know about the reason of our revolutionary struggle, including the ancestral and historical point of view, so people worldwide can understand the factors that force us to risk our lives for this cause. By telling our story we hope to get the international help we need to keep our Polynesian culture alive.

You can learn more about the project at it’s pages: and on
See our Crowdfunding Campagin: