Mahina. Aina. Mele. These are some of the names the people of Rapa Nui (a.k.a. Easter Island) gave my unborn child. With a little more than six weeks left in my pregnancy, I took the long flight to the world’s most remote inhabited island. I was only a few days shy of the “no fly” time limit.*
Some of my fellow travelers thought me crazy to make the journey while so heavy with child. The locals, however, were drawn to the baby in my belly. They commented freely on her strength, beauty, and power. Even more sincerely, they welcomed and honored her by bestowing traditional Rapa Nui names. These suggested names became offerings; gifts that could help preserve and renew an endangered language and culture.
Rapa Nui’s position is 2,200 miles west of Chile’s Pacific Coast—a rough midpoint between South America and Tahiti. Although under Chilean administration since 1888, the island’s heritage is unmistakably Polynesian. I was drawn to Rapa Nui by its monumental culture. This civilization is most famous for its statues—the moai—that were hand-quarried from the slopes of extinct volcanoes as early as 1250 AD. The moai are said to represent deified ancestors. Once completed, the ancestor’s clan skillfully walked the moai toward the coast and enshrined it on a stone platform—towering with face toward the island, back to the ocean. The walking of such massive stones seems impossible, until you see the genius of how it was done.
Forty pounds heavier than my non-pregnant self, I found walking more difficult than usual. On a few steep slopes, I wondered if I would join the toppled moai. Some had been resurrected, placed back on their platforms by archeologists. When standing, the statues are strong, primal, and fierce. I felt invigorated by the power they evoked.
Had this baby been my first, I would not have made the long journey so near my due date. But she was my fourth. The pregnancy was normal, and in spite of the discomfort of extra weight, I figured I would rather be uncomfortable in a beautiful new place than uncomfortable at home.
Although my balance was skewed, I remained active and reveled in my island adventure. I mountain biked, snorkeled, climbed through caves, and hiked the red volcanic hills. Sure, my sciatica flared up, but that became an excuse to indulge in prenatal massage and soak in a warm bath.
Traveling to Chile in the final trimester was just the distraction I needed. Planning, exploring, and then pondering the trip made the long, final weeks before delivery more enjoyable. I expected that. What I had not anticipated was how the people of the Pacific would embrace us, etching graceful lines of friendship on my heart. The names they offered were suggested with a look of smiling, quiet wisdom. My tongue could never convincingly convey the same weight and beauty of the Rapa Nui names—Moon, Wave, Song. The wisdom, however, echoed in our hearts. We were compelled to honor that feeling, and named her Minerva, after the goddess of Wisdom.
* Many airlines do not state a timeframe for expectant mothers. You must check with individual airlines before booking a flight if you plan to fly in the final trimester. In this case, I was required to travel with a letter from my care provider.