Mahani Teave and NGO TOKI Rapa Nui: Easter Island’s Youth and Living Heritage

Toki Rapa Nui

TOKI Rapa Nui is a school of arts and music dedicated to restoring and promoting the broken heritage of Easter Island, and to encouraging its youth to explore and nurture their creativity.


In November 2011, with the donation of some instruments, Mahani Teave, pianist and Cultural Ambassador of Chile, started a School of Music and the Arts. This dream had been in her head since age 9, when the cultural eradication of her island threatened her desire to study music. At the time, there wasn’t even a suitable classroom, but with the desire and good-will of those who donated instruments, she began classes in piano, violin, cello and ukulele, with four different teachers.

Officially, the NGO TOKI Rapa Nui was formed in 2013. The organization’s goal is to stimulate and transmit the Easter Island cosmo-vision in an active and participative manner in four developmental areas: music and arts, cultural patrimony, social development and environment through an integral Development Center that contributes to empowering the Easter Island society with a focus on community and sustainability.

Why a Music School on Easter Island?

Indigenous peoples are among the most vulnerable groups worldwide: they’re victims of historic injustices through colonization, the later taking of their lands and resources, oppression, discrimination, assimilation, and the lack of control of their own lifestyles.

The Easter Island people are no exception to this and, additionally, they live in the most isolated inhabited place on earth, contributing to a lack of means and opportunities that greatly affect the inhabitants and deprives them of full and sustainable development. This deficiency means that children rarely have the means to develop their talents or to study art and music, languages with which they can express themselves.

Additionally, Easter Island has social problems associated with this isolation and lack of opportunities: drug addiction, a high rate of alcoholism, and three times the domestic violence of mainland Chile. These are the hard realities of childhood on Easter Island.

Faced with this reality, the pianist felt that music was an opportunity that could not be absent. Not only are the Easter Islanders one of the most musical indigenous on earth with no real opportunities to development musically, but above all because music gives children values like discipline, perseverance and a group of peers who protect them from the social problems that they are exposed to.

TOKI Rapa Nui, The Challenge

The project which receives no stable financing from the Chilean Government or private organizations, It is financed solely with donations from people and private businesses until now. In 2014, the School of Music and the Arts had more than 70 students, receiving lessons in violin, cello, piano and ukulele in different places.

Michael Reynolds, an American architect who graduated from the University of Cincinnati, and pioneered the development of a system of self-sustainable construction known as Earthship Biotecture was the construction designer.

The Earthship Biotecture system is a method of construction that combines basic materials, such as cement, together with recycled materials, such as aluminum cans, glass bottles, and used tires. The buildings use water collection-recycling, solar energy, geothermic cooling, and are totally self-sustainable and eco-friendly.

Toki Rapa Nui is the only music school of its kind in Latin America and Polynesia.

Easter Island, A Threatened Ecosystem

Easter Island’s fragile eco-system is becoming increasingly unbalanced due to the growing pressure exerted on the natural resources of this small island. The local population has risen to 5,761 residents (Census 2012) and the number of tourists to 66,467 in 2012 (per SENATUR). They produced an estimated 1,400 tons of solid domestic residue in 2013 (Easter Island City Hall, SECPLAC).

According to a 2001 AMBAR study, the island is rapidly approaching its capacity of 100,000-200,000 visitors/ year. The effects of uncontrolled tourism and disorganized development are obvious. The island’s only town, Hanga Roa, is becoming overpopulated, lacks any systematic urban planning, and has a huge and disproportionate quantity of automobiles. The congestion causes deterioration in quality of life, with undesired consequences from a cultural view (loss of identity), an economic view (tourist patrimony), and the environmental value of the territory (per Pew Charitable Trusts, 2013).

There is neither a sewage system nor a waste water treatment plant which pose a serious threat to the island’s scarce potable water sources.

Of great concern to the island’s officials and the community in general is the inability to keep pace with the soaring demand for freight from mainland Chile 3,600 kilometers away. The population has repeatedly argued that a cap must be put on immigration to the island or, to the contrary, changes in policy must be generated to raise environmental consciousness and move towards self-sustainability and a fortified culture.

Biodiversity and marine endemism make Easter Island a unique ecosystem in the world. 149 endemic marine species have been identified there, constituting a percentage of endemism superior to the Galapagos Islands. The negative pressure on biodiversity is principally due to fishing, marine contamination, plastic residue brought to this meeting point of currents, the dumping of ballast and fuel from fishing vessels, and unregulated freight.

TOKI Rapa Nui is offering Earthship biotecture as a model for music school construction that respects the environment, is totally self-sustainable and re-uses garbage. It will be harmonious with its surroundings, offer concrete solutions to serious environmental problems that plague the island, and will help protect it.

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