Easter Island - The Statues and Rock Art of Rapa Nui
The population was exceeding the capacity of its environment. Its blind devotion to religion had depleted Easter Island's resources of wood and rope. It was simply no longer possible to move the Moai statues from the quarry, so the carving gradually ceased. Pollen counts of the giant Palm trees in the crater lake silt beds show that the trees disappeared by about AD 1500. There is also no sign of Mulberry pollen from which rope was made. The extravagant use of resources may have been exacerbated by the El Niño drought documented at this time. Deforestation had become a very real problem. Did these changes render the ruling class impotent, leaving way for a new warring culture, a new regime? The society was in turmoil, and a record of the subsequent European encounters not only chronicles the rapid decline of the Rapa Nui culture, but perhaps also explains it.
But 1862 saw a visit of a different nature. In December of that year, eight Peruvian ships landed and captured some 1000 Easter Islanders, including the king, his son, and the ritual priests. The fact that the priests were taken may indicate that there was no longer any one left to teach the religious customs and conduct their ceremonies. The captured islanders - some 2000 of them - were sold into slavery in Peru. Ninety percent of the Rapanui died within one or two years of capture.
1868 saw the entire social order of Easter Island collapse, there were no more standing Moai statues on the ahu. In 1877, only 110 impoverished and disheartened inhabitants remained. In 1890, islanders were given the option of moving to Tahiti to work in the plantations. Some 300 Rapanui went willingly, as life on the island had become miserable.
Conclusion by Dr Georgia Lee
But on Easter Island, once the trees were cut down, the islanders no longer could build a canoe and sail onward, looking for another island in the sea. They were trapped in a degraded environment, and then further impacted by European explorers who brought disease and, in many cases, outright death.
Easter island is so small that it can be seen in its entirety from its highest mountain; whomever cut down the last tree on the island had to know that it WAS the last tree. But he cut it down anyway.
The history of Rapa Nui was played out on a small island and it serves well as a metaphor for our earth today. It is hard to comprehend a mentality that ignores such things as bulldozing rainforests in the Amazon - for short-term gain, and seas that are being over-harvested. Mankind has learned very little from the past. The island called Easter has become a metaphor for our time. Only by understanding the past and altering present behavior can "earth island" avoid the dreadful fate of Rapa Nui.
→ Easter Island Introduction
→ Sentinels in Stone - Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture | Page | 1 | 2 | 3 |
→ The Rock Art of Easter Island
→ The Birdman Cult / Motif of Easter Island
→ Sea & Marine Creatures in Easter Island Rock Art
→ Designs & Motifs of Easter Island's Rock Petroglyph Carvings
→ Dr Georgia Lee - Publications on Easter Island
→ Moai Location Map & Islanders
→ Contemporary Easter Island Art
→ Easter Island Glossary
→ Easter Island Conclusion