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  • Rapa Nui. El colonialismo republicano chileno cuestionado (1902-1905) ed. by Rolf Foerster
  • Cristián Moreno Pakarati
Foerster, Rolf (Ed.). Rapa Nui. El colonialismo republicano chileno cuestionado (1902-1905) Santiago de Chile: Catalonia, 2015. 208 pp. ISBN 978-956-324-353-6. US $25 (softcover). Available at

Chilean anthropologist and professor of the University of Chile, Rolf Foerster, has been very prolific lately, publishing large amounts of historic documents about Easter Island that he found buried in the National Archives, newspaper and periodical archives, as well as quite a lot of valuable unpublished material from many different sources. In this book in particular, Foerster deals with a very obscure period of Rapa Nui's history: the era under the despotic rule – and whip – of the colonial foreman of the Compañia Explotadora de la Isla de Pascua (Easter Island Exploitation Company), Horacio Cooper.

The backbone of the book is the 140+ pages of previously unknown newspaper and magazine articles published in El Chileno from Santiago, and La Union, El Heraldo, and Lo Nuevo from Valparaíso, all of which contain very descriptive accounts of colonial brutality exercised by Cooper and his henchmen. The accounts are all based on first-hand reports and denouncements made by a young officer of the Chilean Navy, Luis Ross Mujica, who went on the Baquedano training ship to Easter Island in 1903, and the former employee of the Exploitation Company, Manuel Antonio Vega, who worked on the island for about five years. Foerster also added, as a last chapter, an unabridged version of Julián Ruiz' booklet Los crímenes de la Isla de Pascua [The crimes of Easter Island], originally published in 1904. This booklet is based mostly on Vega's account, but includes the testimonies of Chilean maid Paulina Vásquez, Chilean shepherd Rómulo Arancibia (who left descendants on the island), and the Rapanui deportee Nicolás Teao (appearing as Nicolás Timona).

In the first part of the book, Foerster gives his introduction to these sources with an analysis of the people involved in the elaboration of the accounts, the context of Chile and Easter Island at the time, and the effects of these narratives in Chilean society. Despite the fact that this is a forgotten episode of Chilean politics in the early years of the 20th century, the consequences were quite remarkable. Not only did the testimonies of the victims and witnesses of the Company's abuses have significant coverage in the Valparaíso media, but it even went to the Chilean legislative power. Firstly, in the Parliament (Cámara de Diputados), legislators Guillermo Rivera (in 1903) and Daniel Rioseco (in 1904) gave long speeches complaining against the abusive behavior of the Company on Easter Island. This is one of the few occasions in history when Easter Island was part of a legislative discussion in the Chilean Republic (an old transcript of Rioseco's speech appears in the last part of the book). More importantly, two senators (Ballesteros and Varela) did the same in November 1904 in the Congress. The noble (?) intentions of these politicians cannot hide the amount of ignorance at the time about the situation of the distant Chilean colony.

Foerster's main thesis is interesting. He suggests that the accounts included in the book are a most vivid early example of the failure of the Chilean project to colonize Easter Island. In other words, it is when the disastrous colonial attempt blew up in Chile's face. Earlier criticism in official circles to the annexation of the island started immediately in 1888 with the Toro brothers' failure in forcing the impoverished country to try something else. After the Chilean civil war, authorities set up a scheme through which a company of foreign investors would be the young republic's official enclave on the island (starting in 1895). When the accounts that now appear in this book proved how disastrous the "solution" was, turmoil was unleashed. For the Chileans who cared, the problem was not their government's absurd colonial policy, but the individuals involved. So, Horacio Cooper became a scapegoat on which to put all the blame of the Chilean failures and...


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