Tuesday, July 02, 2013

A lesson from Easter Island

What happened in Easter Island, could very well happen to us. This is the story of why it was abandoned. Easter Island is 163 Sq kilometres in area and located 3,500 kilometres east of Chile. Despite its remote location, the Island was inhabited for 1600 years and was once a thriving society. But by the time it was discovered by the Europeans, on an Easter Sunday in 1722, the island was a barren, wasteland with a very small population. The island was destroyed because of superstition and deforestation. Easter Island is known for its massive 80 tons stone statues and for many years people wondered how these stones were carried across the ocean into the island to make the statues. Long time ago, Easter Island was a lush, sub-tropical paradise, covered with dense forest, with a rich assortment of wildlife. The islanders ate a varied diet, which included porpoises, dolphins and many varieties of sea-birds.
As the population grew, there was increasing pressure on the land. This was exacerbated by the islander's strange ritual of building enormous stone heads, known as 'Maoi'. These were supposedly a tribute to their Gods. Building Maoi, used up considerable resources, as massive quantity of timber and rope was needed to produce, transport and mount the statues, which were positioned around the island's coast, facing inwards. As the population grew, more and more of the forest was destroyed, to free up land for farming, to build bigger Maoi and use wood as fuel. As the forest shrank, there were fewer trees for the seabirds to nest in, which meant there were fewer seabirds, which was a key part of their diet. The birds also pollinated trees, flowers and dispersed their seeds. Now without the trees, the birds disappeared and food shortage increased. What about the dolphins and porpoises? Without trees to produce timber, they could not build canoes to hunt for porpoises. Without the forest, soil now started to erode and made it barren. A centralised and organised society now disintegrated into tribal warfare and cannibalism, with people living in caves for their own safety. As the food supplies had grown shorter each year, the islanders had believed that the solution would be to create ever-greater tributes for their gods, instead of managing their resources. As each year's famine turned out to be worse than the last, the islanders tore more forests to build bigger statues, hoping to please Maoi. Maoi had destroyed Easter Island. Can you relate this to what is happening on earth today? Can we ever learn from history?

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