Easter Is­land’s car­ni­val magic se­duces all com­ers

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By MIKE LEYRAL in Hanga Roa, Chile

Far from home on Chile’s Easter Is­land for Car­ni­val fes­tiv­i­ties, one mid­dle-aged Amer­i­can woman throws cau­tion to the wind. Stripped down to a thong, she lets a lo­cal rev­eler paint her chest.

“If some­one had told­meI would end up walk­ing down the street al­most naked, I would never have be­lieved it,” says the woman, who only gave her first name, Su­san.

Su­san is one of a few thou­sand tourists who joined the Pa­cific is­land’s 9,000 res­i­dents for Ta­p­ati, an ex­u­ber­ant mix of mu­sic, dance and tra­di­tional sports that takes place for two weeks ev­ery Fe­bru­ary.

In the is­land’s only town, Hanga Roa, rev­el­ers wait in a long line un­der the blis­ter­ing trop­i­cal sum­mer sun to take part in a time-hon­ored rit­ual— a plunge in an old tub filled with clay.

A man known as Ale then spreads with his hand this red­dish­nat­u­ral paint on the bod­ies of other lo­cals — and any tourist ready to par­tic­i­pate.

Then, other lines form in front of tubs filled with white and yel­low paint.

It’s time for the Rapa Nui — the Poly­ne­sian word for both the is­land and its res­i­dents — to paint sym­bols, in­spired by the lo­cal Bird­man leg­end, or char­ac­ters from the long-lost Ron­gorongo sys­tem of writ­ing.

Shortly af­ter 5 pm, a war­rior blows into an enor­mous shell, sig­nal­ing the start of the nightly pa­rade, which fea­tures col­or­ful floats and dancers in elab­o­rate cos­tumes, not un­like the mas­sive Car­ni­val cel­e­bra­tions in Rio de Janeiro.

The Ta­p­ati fes­ti­val is at once a test of mas­cu­line strength and fem­i­nine grace cel­e­brat­ing Poly­ne­sian pride.

Easter Is­land is at the south­ern­most point of the so-called Poly­ne­sian Tri­an­gle — a Pa­cific re­gion with Hawaii and New Zealand at the other cor­ners.

The UNESCO World Her­itage Site is fa­mous for its nearly 900 mas­sive stone mon­u­ments — the Moai, carved by the Ra­paNui hun­dreds of years ago.

Ri­val teams are locked in an all­out con­test to crown a new Ta­p­ati queen, who reigns for a year.

Nu­mer­ous races and other con­tests take place — in­clud­ing reed­board surf­ing, un­der­wa­ter fish­ing, fruit-car­ry­ing, a triathlon and horse races— but the nightly pa­rades and dance com­pe­ti­tions are the high­light.

Lo­cals spend months carv­ing out large wooden stat­ues for the pa­rade floats from eu­ca­lyp­tus trees rep­re­sent­ing de­i­fied an­ces­tors, such as the mys­ti­cal Moai stone gi­ants or the Bird­man.

One night, a man draped in an­i­mal skins leads the way on his mo­tor­cy­cle, fea­tur­ing a bull’s skull on the han­dle­bars.

Be­hind him, a woman dressed as a mer­maid — her cos­tume made of all-nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als, in­cludin­gatail taken from a tuna caught just that morn­ing— poses on a float dec­o­rated with huge wooden oc­to­puses.

Peo­ple orig­i­nally from the Mar­que­sas Is­lands in French Poly­ne­sia play large drums, while the Rapa Nui pre­fer horse jaws that make a light sound sim­i­lar to mara­cas when the teeth hit one an­other.

Some of the Ta­p­ati ac­tiv­i­ties re­flect a more Latin vibe ab­sorbed from Chile — the el­derly do battle to be the ac­cor­dion king, as young peo­ple dis­play their tango skills.

But the Poly­ne­sian dance com­pe­ti­tions are fierce.

At the Hanga Vare Vare, the main fes­ti­val stage in Hanga Roa, dancers sway sen­su­ally to the Poly­ne­sian drum rhythms.

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