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Between "Easter Island" and "Rapa Nui": The Making and Unmaking of an Uncanny Lifeworld

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eScholarship - University of California
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Abstract

This is a historically informed ethnography of the Rapanui people of Easter Island. The main point of the thesis is that the “restoration” of a dispossessed and ravaged landscape by outsiders into what some scholars call “Museum Island” produces in the Rapanui an uncanny affect when re-encountering their landscape and the emplaced persons within. The ontological, historical, and contemporary entailments of the case are analyzed on the basis of ethnographic data I collected on the island in May-July 2013 and January 2014, in addition to archival research I conducted at the island’s museum. My analysis reveals that after confining the Rapanui in what is today the island’s only town, and then subjecting them to disciplinary and regulatory techniques borrowed from the concurrent treatment of lepers on the island, the Chilean nation-state came to frame the contemporary Rapanui subject through a psychopolitics of melancholy. By means of a government apparatus aimed at developing the Rapanui’s culture, a desire is interpellated in the indigenous subject to be Rapanui at the same time that the ontological and ethical entailments of being Rapanui are relegated to a lost, indeterminable object in the past (in the island’s curatorial arrangement). I show that this is accomplished by rendering the present form of the island a frozen, monologic version of the past. I also explore the ways in which Rapanui subjects today remake their world as a familiar place by regenerating connections with their personalized landscape, a process I liken to disaster recovery. I conclude the thesis with a discussion of a collaborative project in 2014-2015 that attempts to regenerate dominated forms and modes of being in Rapa Nui.

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