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Tourists return, but Easter Islanders are learning lessons from COVID-19 quarantine

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HANGA ROA: For more than two years during the coronavirus pandemic, Easter Island has been closed to tourism, forcing residents to turn to a more sustainable lifestyle and relearn forgotten skills. rice field.

Now that the island’s borders have reopened, locals, including the Rapa Nui indigenous people, want to resist the temptation to return to their pre-pandemic lifestyles.

“The time has come for the ancients to prophesy,” Julio Hotus, a member of Easter Island’s council of elders, told AFP.

According to Hotus, Rapa Nui ancestors warned of the importance of maintaining food self-sufficiency as the islands were at risk of becoming isolated one day, but recent generations have ignored those warnings. It is said that

Before the pandemic, the island’s food supply was provided almost exclusively by Chile.

Easter Island is located 3,500 km off the west coast of Chile and is world-famous for its monumental statues of giant-headed figures known as moai.

With a population of just 8,000, it was attracting 160,000 tourists a year, an “avalanche” according to Hotus, but in March 2020 Easter Island closed its borders to Covid.

No tourists, no income

Olga Ickapakarati used to sell small stone moai statues to tourists, but when her income ran out she decided to resort to farming and fishing to survive, as her ancestors lived before contact with European explorers. turned to

“We were all left with nothing, we were all left in the wind…but we started planting,” Ikkapakalati told AFP.

She used a program to deliver seeds before the island was cut off from the outside world.

Ikkapakalati planted spinach, beets, coriander, chard, celery, basil, pineapple, oregano, and tomatoes.

She shared what she didn’t eat with her neighbors, just as many families have built an island-wide support network.

“All the islanders are like this. They are kind people.

This renewed focus on sustainable living does not mean the end of tourism on Easter Island.

Last week, the first tourist plane in 28 months landed on the island, much to the excitement of locals desperate to see a new face.

But we won’t be returning to the old two flights a day anytime soon. Twice a week for now, but will gradually increase.

Major hotel chains have decided to close.

“We will continue to welcome tourists, but hopefully the pandemic has taught us lessons that we can apply in the future,” Hotus said.

“Archaeological Heritage in Danger”

Another thing the pandemic has done is raise awareness about the need to protect natural resources such as water and energy that are affected by climate change. and the iconic moai.

Carved out of volcanic rock by the Rapa Nui people of Polynesia between 1200 and 1500, the 24 km x 12 km island has over 900 rock formations.

Statues are up to 20 meters tall and weigh over 80 tons.

Most remain in the quarry where they were originally carved, but many others were taken to coastal areas to see inland, probably for ceremonial purposes.

The moai have been damaged by heavy rains, strong winds and sea waves crashing into the statue and its pedestal, causing fears for the moai’s future.

“Climate change, accompanied by extreme events, is endangering our archaeological heritage,” said Bairoa Ika, the local environmental director.

“The stone is deteriorating” and should be protected.

“The problem with the moai is that they are very fragile,” added Pedro Edmonds Paoa, mayor of the island, who said the value of the statues was “immeasurable.”

He said authorities need to “forget the vision of tourists” and take protective measures, even if that means “covering the statue with a glass dome”.

He also wants residents to maximize natural resources and prioritize local employment, while also reviving ancestral practices that foster community solidarity.

“Where it used to be visited by foreigners, now tourists have to become friends of the place,” said Edmunds Paoa.