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A vertiginous descent down an ancient volcano where you play almost naked

BarcelonaHumans have spent centuries playing around in activities that others consider frivolous. It has always been like this. Many people now look on in disbelief as there are those who want to climb K2, speed down hills on a bicycle or skydive. Two ways of understanding the world that never agree. I guess hundreds of years ago an inhabitant of Rapa Nui, as Easter Island is known in the local language, mocked the brave who dared to practice a local sport, the haka pei, a tradition that still survives where every year more than one participant ends up with a few broken bones.

Every first Sunday in February, a handful of brave people gather at the summit of Maunga Pu’i, an ancient extinct volcano in the center of this island. The young participants are practically naked, as tradition dictates, just as their ancestors did: they only wear a small piece of cloth to cover their genitals and nothing else. Now, they have painted their bodies with paints after a ritual where they also sing songs and which serves to ward off fear, as they have to face a challenge that only the bravest can test: sliding down the hill on top of a kind of vehicle that they build themselves and that reaches speeds of more than 80 kilometers per hour. It is a kind of sleds made from two banana trunks that have been joined in a somewhat rustic way with ropes. The idea is to do it as it was done centuries ago, so it wouldn’t be the sport with the most safety guarantees on the planet, quite the opposite. In our house, helmets and insurance would certainly have been introduced, but on Easter Island, at the moment, it hasn’t been like that. This practice was born as a ritual to demonstrate the courage of local youth when it was time for them to enter adulthood. A kind of coming-of-age ritual, just like there are others around the planet. The inhabitants of Rapa Nui chose to do it with this dizzying descent down the hill where the winner is the one who gets the farthest without falling.

For many years, however, the haka pei it was stopped for various reasons. One, that the Rapa Nui nearly wiped out all the trees on the island and unwittingly caused one of the first climate crises in history. The second, the arrival of the Europeans, who enslaved hundreds of local youth and produced a dramatic population decline. But the Rapa Nui survived and now a few decades ago they decided to recover the haka pei as a symbol of resistance. After years of being told how to speak, dress and live by the Spanish first and the Chilean authorities later, the citizens of Rapa Nui are reclaiming their traditions while demanding more autonomy. And the haka pei is one of those traditions. The young people build their small vehicles a few days before, as tradition says to leave the sled on top of the peak for a few nights to connect with the energy of the place.

Symbol of the passage of time, nowadays the haka pei it combines beliefs from the past, such as the ceremony at the top where singing, dancing and eating are done, with new ones, as all participants visit the Catholic Church of Santa Cruz to ask for luck the night before the descent. They need to be lucky. It is a descent of about 500 meters that reaches a slope of 45%. Also, you go down the hill, unstable terrain that causes many falls. Some young people stand on the logs with their heads forward, others prefer to lie upside down. There is also a team mode, with two young people together, of a tradition that attracts curious people for its spectacularity. Now, falling hurts. very bad

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