Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, March 30, 1999

State of Hawaii Department of Education
Father Francisco Nahoe, who is half Irish
and half Rapa is host in Rapa Nui.

Exploring ties
to Rapa Nui

By Burl Burlingame


AS the voyaging canoe Hokule'a is refitted for the third and final leg of her historic re-navigation of the Polynesian triangle -- an against-the-wind, tacking sail to Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island -- the destination is the subject of a Department of Education project airing at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow on KHET.

The show is called "Te Pito O Te Henua: Rapa Nui," which translates to "The Navel of the World: Rapa Nui." Note that the Rapa Nui word for navel is "pito," very similar to the Hawaiian "piko." This connection is one of many explored by director Ann Marie Kirk.

Note also the morning air time. This gives you a clue to the intended audience -- Hawaii's schoolkids. But the show isn't Teletubbies in paradise. It's equally interesting to grown-ups, particularly the evocative footage shot by ace cameraman Mike May. The issues raised by the program are simple and important enough that even a state legislator can understand them.

Both the curse and blessing of Rapa Nui is its small size. Approximately the size of Niihau, Rapa Nui was home to a unique and thriving Polynesian culture that created gigantic works of art called moai. But by the time Dutch navigators discovered the island in 1722 -- on Easter Sunday -- the island's natural resources had been virtually wiped out by the inhabitants. European disease also took a toll, and the Rapa people were reduced to only 111 a century ago.

If this can happen to a Pacific culture, even though modern Polynesian mythology stresses preservation of natural resources, what does this tell us about the world as a whole. What happened in Rapa Nui can be considered a microcosm of the earth.

More amazing, today the Rapa Nui culture is growing again. This is another lesson for all of us.

Something to think about in the new millennium, points out director Kirk. How does cultural identity survive?

"The show is part of the materials created for an Internet course," she said. "You can learn a lot about Rapa Nui from the web site set up by the Department of Education."

The site is at, and it contains more background information supporting the course. Down the line, said Kirk, portions of the video will be online as QuickTime feeds.

The Hawaii host is teen-ager Kaimalino Andrade, one of the first graduates of the Anuenue Hawaiian-language immersion school. The host in Rapa Nui is Father Francisco Nahoe, who is half Irish and half Rapa.

"Father Nahoe was just going to find a couple of kids for us to talk to, but we discovered that he was a great guide himself," said Kirk. "He has all the the qualities to be on-camera. He's focussed, and he listens."

Kirk felt drawn to Rapa Nui ever since she saw a picture of moai as a child.

"I wanted to be an archaeologist, and seeing those giant stone heads was thrilling," she said. "To actually be there was like coming home. Everyone there looked like my cousin. It showed you what a big family Polynesians are.

"And the moai themselves -- it's hard to describe. You could just FEEL the power inside."


Bullet Te Pito O Te Henua: Rapa Nui

Bullet Airs: Tomorrow, 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

Bullet Channel: KHET/PBS

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