Leonardo Pakarati & Paula Rosetti

Ta'oa? (Objects?)

The arrival of the first Western visitors on Easter Island, as today’s Rapa Nui was named in the 18th century, coincided with a time of crisis and scarcity. Obtaining objects brought along by navigators seems to have been more important than the value of objects given in exchange. Subsequently, the influence of the Catholic Church, and its intention to erase all vestiges of a religiosity found to be pagan, increased. This seems to have been a major cause for the community to get rid of objects that were once considered sacred. From that moment on, Rapanui wooden sculptures underwent a process of desacralization, which is still present in current times.

In recent years, however, there has emerged an interesting process, which could be called re-sacralization. The carved object, as contemporary replica of ancient sculptures, has obtained a monetary value since the arrival of tourism in the 1960s. In addition to that, it has begun to be tinged with a "sacred" dye, present in a vindicatory political discourse that instrumentalizes the re-sacralization of objects as a means to (re)build contemporary Rapanui identity and (re)gain social cohesion.

Using the audio-visual format of docu-fiction, we travel from ancient times to the present day, delving into the changing meaning of wooden sculptures for Rapanui people – from their sacred origin through their desacralization to today’s resignification. Dramatizations and animations, accompanied by interviews with relevant actors, such as sculptors and scholars, visualize the change of status, from objects originally conceived of as sacred to tourist souvenirs and markers of identity, and the connection of this ongoing change to certain historical events.

Article Image: Workshop of Bene Tuki, Rapanui sculptor (RIP). Photo: Paula Rosetti. Workshop of Bene Tuki, Rapanui sculptor (RIP). Photo: Paula Rosetti.
Article Image: Marcos Rapu, Rapanui artist (RIP). Photo: Paula Rosetti. Marcos Rapu, Rapanui artist (RIP). Photo: Paula Rosetti.