Easter Island's Rapa Nui language nearly died after Chile annexed the island. But, perhaps sensing that losing the language would endanger the island's status as a major tourist draw, the Chilean government is now working with the people of Easter Island to preserve the language and teach it to a new generation.
The South Pacific Easter Island’s towering stone Moai figures lure in 60,000 visitors a year.
Islanders smile, sing and dance in polyester costumes to cater to the mostly Spanish-speaking spenders. Ever since Chile annexed Easter Island more than a century ago, the Spanish language has been chipping away at the Polynesian-based language called Rapa Nui.
But these tourists, fuelling the island’s economy, are also diluting the culture they came to see. Now, with only a couple thousand speakers left, the islanders are upping their effort to revive the Rapa Nui language.
Until the late 1990s, the Chilean government effectively outlawed the islanders from speaking in Rapa Nui. Any public sector job or office required knowing and speaking in Spanish.
Anything involving the schools, police or property rights was in Spanish too.
Even the great, great granddaughter of a Rapa Nui King, Alicia Makohe, grew up speaking Spanish. She taught herself Rapa Nui at 14.
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