Sunday, January 20, 2008

Collapse: Twilight at Easter

There are no trees on Easter Island except for the trees which someone planted recently. I was convinced that this meant such a tragedy by the book "Collapse: How societies to fail or succeed" by Jared Diamond.

Originally, there were many trees on Easter Island like other Polynesian islands. In 900, people from other island settled on Easter Island and they prospered. Increasing population and communicating with tribes on the island provoked tribal conflicts. People established many moai statues for their demonstrations and many trees were cut down for moving and erecting moai statues.

As a result, all the trees on the island vanished from 1400 to 1600. The lack of trees affected the possibility to grow other plants and animals. This meant a decrease in something to eat, Easter Island inhabitants had began to decline.

At the time, people changed their religions and tore down the moai statues. The author, Jared Diamond, said it as "Easter Islander's toppling of their ancestral moai reminds me of Russians and Romanians toppling the statues of Stalin and Ceausescu when the Communist governments of those countries collapsed." I think it could be symbol of twilight at Easter Island. Although there were still some standing moais on the island when Captain Cook went there in 1774, all moais fall down by 1868.

Tragedy had not stopped with the decreasing food (plants and animals), The islanders also decreased. Until, finally, they begun to eat human bodies. According to excavating results, human bones were found out not only in graves but also at trash sites. The author introduced, "Oral traditions of the islanders are obsessed with cannibalism; the most inflammatory taunt that could be snarled at an enemy was 'The flesh of your mother sticks between your teeth.' " After that, epidemics and capturing islanders for slaves by Europeans made islander population only 111, despite several thousands to thirty thousand at their most prosperous era. (Now there are two thousand islanders on the island, but most of them are half-breeds.

Why did only Easter Islanders take such a destiny? The reason why is that some conditions of the island happened to make it difficult to grow trees. In a dry and relatively cool climate trees grow slowly, inactive volcanoes make non-fertile soils, no high mountains mean clouds don't appear easily and little rain, small island which is affected easily by environmental change, and because the island is located far from other islands, the islanders didn't move from the island.

The author compared the last reason with the contemporary society. Of course, in our society, people, substances and information circulate all over the world unlike the ancient Easter Island society. However, changing the point of view, we can say that Earth in the outer space is similar to the isolated island. We are in same boat. The author admitted this analogy is pushy, nevertheless, he insisted that we have to do something to avoid the destiny like the Easter Islanders. I agree with it.