- Getting to Know You
Q. How did you get into anthropology, and specifically Rapa Nui anthropology? What triggered your interest?
A. My interest in anthropology comes from the time when I was in high school, when I was 15 or 16 years old. It was then that I had concern and discomfort against various phenomena I observed in Chile. Not long before the country returned to democracy after 17 years of dictatorship, social actors began to appear, particularly in the context of the Mapuche protests against the construction of hydroelectric plants on their lands. This "re-emergence of the ethnic question" posed a malaise toward history. In the version of Chilean history that was taught in school, we did not speak of other peoples who were part of Chile. I've always had an interest in history, but I was not convinced by the story that appeared in the books. That is how I arrived at anthropology, as it allowed me to see that other Chile, see this other America and beyond.
Later, when I was in the third year of my degree in anthropology, I got my hands on an article by Grant McCall, written in Spanish. In this, McCall recounted the history of Rapa Nui, which I considered exciting and which I barely knew. I then read the Spanish version of "l'île de Pâques" by Métraux, I got McCall's doctoral thesis, and several other articles. That year, "la Comisión de Verdad Histórica y Nuevo Trato para Pueblos Indígenas" [the Commission for Historical Truth and New Agreement for Indigenous Peoples] was organized, and several of my teachers took part. It was a very rich period for knowledge-building about the relationship between the Chilean State and indigenous peoples. In that context, I decided to continue my studies more systematically, and I was interested in the contemporary situation of the islanders of Rapa Nui, particularly concerning migration to the mainland. At that time, I received the support of two of my professors at the university, Dr. Andrea Seelenfreund and Dr. Luis Campos, who motivated me to pursue doctoral studies.
Researching Rapanui migration to the mainland had the first hints of migration to French Polynesia. I met people from the island in Santiago, I participated in organized curantos, I understood the importance of family relationships, and the relationships that were established between continental people and Rapanui people, on the mainland of Chile. Rapa Nui has always been written about as an isolated place, but when I started studying migration flows, that idea became more complex.
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Q. Who or what do you consider as your most significant influence (scientific or otherwise) either as a person or a particular work (or series of works)?
A. Apart from the work of McCall, I have always found answers in the works of Marshall Sahlins and Maurice Godelier, which have allowed me to position my own observations through time and assess changes in Rapanui society. When I read "Islands of History" by Sahlins, I found that the anthropological-historical analysis was innovative. His theoretical proposal regarding culture, myths, social change, and social structure somehow allowed me to familiarize myself with the history and culture of Rapanui in a distinctive way. Godelier has allowed me to understand the most primordial aspects of being and living in society. His book "L'Enigme du Don" [The Enigma of the Gift], where he discusses the old Maussian hypothesis, has been key in my reflection about contemporary Rapanui society. Moreover, his work "Métamorphoses de la Parenté" [The Metamorphoses of Kinship] provided a way for me to interpret changes in kinship and their influence on the entire social fabric.
Q. What theory or project of yours turned out differently from what you had expected as, for example, a complete surprise?
A. One of the first "surprises" was of an ethnographic order, when I had to confront migratory memories. For example, in 2006, I met Lazaro Hotus Ika in Santiago, and he was the first to show me that there were still material links with Tahiti. Later on, another amazing moment was when I met...