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  • Articulating Rapa Nui. Polynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State by Riet Delsing
  • Diego Muñoz
Delsing, Riet. Articulating Rapa Nui. Polynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2015. 312 pages. ISBN 978-0824851682. US $59 (hardcover).

Riet Delsing, a Dutch anthropologist who is a resident of Chile, offers us Articulating Rapa Nui. Polynesian Cultural Politics in a Latin American Nation-State, which is a published version of her doctoral dissertation research. The work is lauded by Steven Roger Fischer (2010).

Thanks to her extensive fieldwork (since 1996), Delsing is a privileged witness of social changes on Rapa Nui. In her analyses, Rapanui history is analyzed with concepts of cultural studies (Appadurai, Dussel, Hall) and post-structuralism theory (Foucault). Her argument is that Rapanui society has employed cultural difference as a political tool to construct spheres of self-determination and resistance to Chilean colonialism.

The book is divided into two parts. The first is defined by Delsing as a diachronic analysis. There, she describes the colonial procedures within which Rapa Nui was gradually incorporated into the Chilean State. The second part is a synchronic analysis of some phenomena that express cultural difference as the Rapanui people defend (and create) their tradition.

Articulating Rapa Nui begins with an ethnographic introduction about the contemporary insular present and continues with the known history of first contacts, the blackbirding or labor trade, evangelization, and ranching projects on Rapa Nui. Chapter 1, entitled Chilean Colonization and Rapanui Resilience is a good synthesis of known history: annexation (1888), rental of the territory to a private company (1895), Angata's uprising (1914) and the State registry of lands (1933). Included are the most relevant events as Rapa Nui becomes a "national territory".

Chapter 2, Integration into the Nation State and the Beginning of a Rapanui Identity Discourse, commences with the well-known revolt of young teacher Alfonso Rapu in 1964. With support from the works of other authors (Reid 1965; Porteous 1981) and her own interviews, Delsing describes the context in which the Ley Pascua (1966) was created. The merit of this chapter is Delsing's evaluation of the effects of this law in the political and daily life on the island. What is interesting at this point is the discourse mobilized by Rapu: the Rapanui people must have Chilean citizenship and have the same rights. Delsing suggests to us that the cultural differences were covered over in a project of integration.

The last sections of this chapter and Chapter 3 are, in my opinion, the substantial contributions of this book. For the first time, the reader knows in detail the local events during the military dictatorship of Pinochet (1973-1989) and the return to democracy (1990). The creation of an Elders' Council and the defense of the collective property of lands characterize this period.

In Chapter 3, The Road to Self-determination, the author presents us with a paradigm shift for the State and the Rapanui people themselves. During the 1990s, the Ley Indigena (1993) was promulgated. The islanders became an ethnic group (not recognized as indigenous people!) of the country. The Rapanui peoples' reaction was the defense of a Polynesian cultural identity facing assimilation as a Chilean ethnic group. The chapter finishes with a description of Chilean indigenous politics on the island, national politics of decentralization, and the consequences of [End Page 57] the creation of a "Commission of Historic Truth and New Treatment" (2002-2003). In this context, Delsing suggests that a political discourse about autonomy was created and also that new actors went into action on the island.

The second part is an analysis of the political cultural strategies that Rapanui society activated in opposition to the State institutions and the deprived interests on the island. The concept of culture is central in her analysis.

Chapter 4 – Rapanui Appropriations and Resistance – is dedicated to the genesis of the association known as the Parlamento Rapanui [the Rapanui Parliament]. Delsing persuades us that the Parlamento appropriated the international indigenous law's vocabulary. On one hand, it has managed to install the problem of land ownership rights and the decolonization of the island in...


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