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Rapa Nui: uniting economy and ecology

This is the story of a small island, Rapa Nui, that must strike the right balance between economic development and protecting its environment. This issue is represented by four people: Mama Piru who fights against waste, Mahani and Piru who are striving to live according to their ideals and Sergio, the film director’s father, who is building a shopping centre.

Sergio Mata’u Rapu was born in Rapa Nui (Easter Island). He wanted to show a modern image of his island, far from clichés and stereotypes, weary of preconceived notions. His son was born when he was directing his film, giving a new dimension to the documentary. The aim was now to think about the impact of contemporary life on the island. He uses the example of food where everything, or nearly everything, is imported. Only 2% of what is consumed is produced locally. This food that comes from elsewhere leaves behind waste. Sergio and his son symbolically eat a yogurt. Reflection is triggered: should we forgo this yogurt that we like but which isn’t good for the island because it doesn’t come from Rapa Nui? How do you maintain economic development, the growth of Rapa Nui, without having an impact on the environment?

Four characters will share their views. Mama Piru opposes these new lifestyles consisting of consuming and throwing. Nothing is reused anymore like in the old days. She works in the recycling plant and shows the aftermath of a weekend in Rapa Nui: water bottles, beer cans, etc. She goes onto the beaches, picks up pieces of plastic and all kinds of rubbish that she sees lying around. Sergio Rapu, the father of the film director with the same name, sees the future in economic growth. A large shopping centre needs to be built: ‘When something new is introduced, there is a degree of uncertainty. Culture changes, nothing is static, Rapa Nui is no longer isolated like before’, he insists. Mahani and Piru have a clear idea of their future: to build a music school with recycled materials, based on the concept of umanga where everyone participates, and offer free music lessons. Pupils would learn all styles incorporating classical and traditional styles.

Two contradictory views.

Mahani is a renowned Chilean pianist who won several international competitions and Piru is an engineer and artist. It is their views that clash in the documentary. Mama Piru and Sergio’s father are from the same generation. Both have travelled and returned to Rapa Nui to act within their community. Both wish well for their community, but they are pitted against each other. One picks up rubbish and constantly denounces consumer society, the other is opening a shopping centre. Mama Piru has no hesitation in asking the film director how his rubbish is recycled in the United States where he lives? Sergio realises his ignorance and considers the impact of his family which reflects how we live today. He also questions his father: is this shopping centre really a good idea? ‘Money is not the aim, but money enables you to improve your life in certain ways.’ He wants his people to have a better life. The shopping centre is opened as the construction of Mahani and Piru’s music school from recycled materials is coming to an end. For them too, the future remains unclear. How can they make a success of their school without money, in a modern society where money makes the world go round? They have now abandoned their ideal and parents have to pay to register their children. ‘The film describes a story about adaptation and eventually they adapted and had to make compromises’, reveals Sergio.

Sergio Mata’u Rapu continues to live in the United States but he recognises that his heart is in Rapa Nui, just like that of his wife. Work prevents them from settling on the island that they love so dearly. They have two children; a second son was born after making the film and Sergio questions: ‘How can I pass on my culture when I live abroad? It’s difficult but in spite of the distance, the children see images of Rapa Nui on the Internet and they appear to almost naturally connect with it. When we took our second son to the island for the first time, he had acclimatised after three days, running barefoot everywhere! I was so relieved!’ Continuing to keep your culture alive and succeed in developing in a modern world whilst sustaining ecosystems: this is the challenge for the residents of Rapa Nui, but also ours wherever we may be.

Lucie Rabréaud/ FIFO 2020