Deforestation, pollution, global warming and other environmental problems used to be “science fiction” before the 20th century. Its effects are very gradual henceforth we only experience its poisonous effects nowadays. The Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is a concrete example of what would happen if our consumption of natural resources would exceed the rate in which the earth could replenish itself. This island is located at around 2,500 miles away from Chile in the vast pacific island. Of course, the trademark of the Rapa Nui is its gigantic anthropomorphic sculptures called the Moai. The Moai are solid rock statues that can be as tall as 65 feet and weigh around 270 tons. According to archeologists and European explorer’s accounts, the Rapa Nui people have primitive tools. It is a mystery how these gigantic features were erected and put into place.
Trailing from the Out of Taiwan Hypothesis, the Polynesians first settled in Easter Island around 1200 C. E., and was a sub-tropical island filled with palm trees. Five hundred years later, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen who landed on the island saw that there where no trees more than ten feet tall. Upon the arrival of its first settlers, the island is full nesting seabirds and land birds. Even though its soil is low in nutrients, it is conducive for growing yams, sweet potatoes and other crops the Polynesian had brought with them. The trees were the most valuable natural resource for the people of Rapa Nui. It supplies food and raw material for houses, canoes, and of course in constructing the Moai.
They thrived for centuries until their consumption of trees exceeded the rate in which they consume. According to an article in www.environmentalgraffiti.com, the loss of the forest was a near deathblow to the islanders. Soon they were unable to grow enough crops to fill the void in their diets. Streams dried up, the topsoil eroded, and fires became a luxury. The society collapsed into civil wars, and the rival factions had begun to topple the Moai heads by the time the European setters arrived. The European caused further damage by bringing rats and diseases. Also, they kidnapped locals for the slave trade. The Rapa Nui people’s population ultimately decreased from 20,000 to 3,000.
Erecting Moai hastened by extinction of trees by using its tree trunks as rollers and pegs in order to put the sculptures in place. Many would wonder why these Easter Islanders did not stop creating Moai when they notice the decrease in trees. Well, it’s because the Moai are believed to be gods and ancestors. Those sculptures are such important relics in their culture. Also, there is some sort of competition between its factions. The better and bigger Moai, the bigger their pride is. (Stanford, 2012)
Easter Island and the story of its people is a classic example of how abuse to environment can cause our demise. So, we better go save the trees!
Hossler, L. (2012). How deforestration easter island’s society to collapse. Retrieved from http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/ecotourism/news-easter-island-society-collapses-when-trees-all-harvested
Stanford, A. (2012, June 25). Easter island: Moving moai and deforestation. Retrieved from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/06/2012/easter-island-moving-moai-and-deforestation