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By Bob Krauss

RAPU NUI, Chile (October 19, 1999 – Honolulu Advertiser)---The formal completion of Hokule‘a’s historic voyage to Rapa Nui takes place today at Anakena Beach, where the legendary chief Hotumatua landed to found the culture of this tiny isolated island.

The canoe will anchor offshore and Hokule‘a’s crew will swim in, said navigator-captain Nainoa Thompson.

To visiting Hawaiians and the natives of Rapa Nui, the landing is an opportunity to express and receive welcome in traditional ritual terms that have fallen into disuse.

To Nikko Haoa, Sr., who has incurable cancer, the landing will be the achievement of a dream. He flew from his bed in Santiago, Chile – more that 2,000 miles away – to see it.

Hokule‘a will fly the Rapa Nui flag that Haoa gave Thompson a year and a half ago in the hope that it would return the pride of his island once more to Anakena.

Papa Nikko doesn’t know it yet, but all the Hokule‘a voyagers have signed his flag they carried from Hawaii in the canoe, and will return it to him at the ceremony.

It is one of only a few Rapa Nui flags in the world, because the island does not have an official flag. Papa Nikko has led a personal crusade to establish this symbol of identity.

He explained yesterday after his arrival that the government of Chile, of which Rapa Nui is a possession, views his flag as a symbol of political protest, an incentive to riot, and not a cultural expression.

The only Rapa Nui flag that flies here is on a flagpole in front of the Catholic Church, a powerful statement by the priest, Father Joseph.

I tried to buy a Rapa Nui flag to take home, as a significant souvenir, and found that there are none for sale. So I asked a friendly woman at the market to make me one.

She didn’t understand what I meant until I drew a picture of one on a flagpole. Then she went home to sew it up. Papa Nikko said the people of Rapa Nui had never seen a flag until the arrival of a Spanish ship. They did not understand its significance. A French explorer taught them.

However, there was no Rapa Nui flag until 1888, when the island was ceded to Chile and the ruling chief decided a flag was necessary for the occasion. He sent to Tahiti to have a Rapa Nui flag made.

Papa Nikko said nobody knows what happened to the flag.

About three years ago, he and a small group of elders designed a flag with a red reimiro on a field of white. A reimiro is a breastplate in the shape of a quarter moon worn by ariki as a symbol of chiefly status. Its Hawaiian equivalent is the lei palaoa.

Papa Nikko said Hotumatua himself designed the reimiro. He said his group had some flags made and the families flew them from their houses. But the Chilean government objected. The flags have since disappeared.

Papa Nikko had his own flag made in Santiago. When navigator Thompson came to Rapa Nui to study the wind patterns for a projected voyage, the Rapa Nui patriot handed over his flag so it would fly again at Anakena.

Then he discovered he has cancer. Doctors in Santiago, where he went for treatment, advised him to stay in bed. His children said he insisted on returning for the arrival of Hokule‘a.

He was crushed when the canoe made an unexpectedly quick voyage. But he got to Rapa Nui in time for the formal arrival at Anakena.

"I believe that the flag belongs to Hotumatua and that he is returning to Rapa Nui," he said.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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