Sunday, August 18, 2013

Help From Our Host! (Wednesday 14 August 2013)

Today was a day off of field work. Our biggest goal was reporting some of our findings to CONAF – the agency that manages the Natioanal Park. The biggest challenge was that most of the staff don't speak much English and our Spanish is nearly non-existent. It went remarkably well, with our host, Sonia Haoa (pictured below) serving as translator. We gave presentations and tried to tell as much of the story as we could with pictures. The language barrier forced us to keep the messages simple, but some questions proved complex to answer. They seemed entertained when the questions about the ant dating got so complex Mark and I couldn't agree between ourselves anymore!
Sonia Haoa discusses reconstructed Polynesian gardens.

The language barrier makes it difficult for us to fulfil one important ethical responsibility of doing research in a place like Rapa Nui – reporting our findings back to the people on the island, particularly the native Rapa Nui population. It seems some researchers haven't felt this is a responsibility, or communicated enough, and therefore there is tension. We feel this tension most when we arrive and need to obtain permission to collect samples. This is made more complicated by the multiple institutions responsible for granting permission to conduct research. We're lucky that CONAF has stepped forward to coordinate the process for us, and link it to the permission that was already granted 4 years ago. The system of permissions has changed, probably for the better, but remains very confusing to me. It is much easier because we are not doing archaeology, which has a much higher bar for gaining permission. Regardless, it is always very helpful to have a lead agency!

The permission system, and the lack of clarity isn't just stressful for us. It puts a lot of pressure on our host, Sonia. As a Rapa Nui, who began working with Thor Heyerdahl at the beginning of her research career, Sonia is one of the most knowledgable and committed researchers on the island. Unlike the many researchers focused on moai, she is firmly committed to understanding the island's agricultural history. We are enormously indebted to Sonia, and lucky to work with her. Last time, her team was of great help. This time, she's been doing most of the work herself.

Sonia - Thanks! Muchas Gracias! Maruru!

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