- Articulating Rapa Nui: Polynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State by Riet Delsing
Like Franz Kafka's novel The Castle, there are different entrances to the "house" of the indigenous people, language, and culture of Rapa Nui: how one enters will assemble the affective significance of the island differently, creating distinct lines of connections and disconnections among the Rapa Nui people, colonial Chilean social forms, and global processes. Prior to reflecting on the actual content of Articulating Rapa Nui: Polynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State, it is important to note the entrance framed by the book's title and its dedication, "to the people of Rapa Nui." Riet Delsing assumes foreign nomenclature that contrasts the island name "Rapa Nui" with the term "Rapanui," which she uses for the indigenous language and people, rather than use "Rapa Nui" for all three as is current in the Rapa Nui newspaper Te Pura Re'o and immersion-school curricula to highlight their fundamental interconnections. Thus, technically Delsing's book title (the same title given to her dissertation, and thus not one imposed by the publisher) is officially about articulating the island as a territory within Chile—a Chilean geopolitical frame that erases the necessary presence of Rapa Nui people and language on the island. Names, Plato teaches in the ancient dialogue The Sophist, are terms of enclosure; they give meaning to things by foreclosing alternatives. In light of the indigenous politics explored throughout the book, it is notable that this title and dedication are present and that a number of alternatives are absent. In a context of settler colonialism marked by state violence against the Rapa Nui people in 2010 (which Delsing only faintly outlines in two pages in chapter 7 and in one paragraph in the epilogue) and resistance to increasing Chilean migration to the island rendering Rapa Nui people a minority, one can imagine, for instance, a book titled Chilean Colonialism in a Polynesian Nation that would foreground the place of the Rapa Nui people as primary and situate Chilean politics within a contested colonial frame. And rather than a book dedicated to "the people of Rapa Nui," one can imagine one dedicated to "the Rapa Nui people" to underline political solidarity in this time of crisis. A book titled Articulating Mauna Kea: Polynesian Cultural Politics in the United States that was dedicated to "the people of Hawai'i" rather than "the Hawaiian people" would enter the politics of Mauna a Wākea in obvious ways; it would foreclose alternative paths of understanding, as does Delsing's entrance to the Rapa Nui people, language, island, and culture.
Articulating Rapa Nui is broadly divided into historical analysis in the first half and ethnography in the second half. While the book does discuss island events from 2002 through 2013, a five-page epilogue that summarizes issues covered during this period highlights the fact that most of the ethnographic research grounding [End Page 376] the text is centered in island experiences in the late 1990s and the first years of the new millennium. Delsing, an anthropologist based in Chile since the 1990s, begins the book with an interesting story of her first arrival on the island in 1996 from her home in Santiago, in which she notes that her claim to knowledge of the island is contested as "culturally ignorant" by a Rapa Nui friend who meets her at the airport. According to the book's bibliography, this trip led to the publication of a Chilean government report coauthored by Delsing and Chilean researchers and inspired her to conduct doctoral research on Rapa Nui in anthropology.
Following a travelogue-style introduction based on archival "knowledge" of the island inscribed by foreign scholars, an approximately one-page subsection called "the plot" briefly reviews three key theoretical frameworks informing Delsing's analysis: the notion of cultural politics as formulated by anthropologist of Latin America Charles...