Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is a microcosm of our planet. It is an example of what can happen when the environment is not protected. It is thought that more than a thousand years ago King Hotu Matua and 100 people crossed the ocean and settled in a place he called “The Naval of the World.” At that time Rapa Nui was covered with trees and all was well for generations. However, when the first Europeans arrived in 1722 life had deteriorated due to the interplay of deforestation, overpopulation, and warfare.
The entire island, which is only 22 miles by six miles, is ringed with ahu (altars) topped with giant monolithic statues called moai. There are nearly 1000 moai scattered around the small island making the whole island a museum. Building the moai was a form of ancestor worship that took organization and community effort. The most impressive group is at Tongariki, where 15 moai have been restored to their upright position, including one of the tallest, which is over 30 feet. One of the most intriguing sites is on the side of Volcan Rano Raraku where the statues were quarried. Nearly 400 heads appear to be sprouting out of the ground. They are the finished full-size moai that were waiting to be transported to altars. Due to deforestation the soil eroded and washed down the hillside so two-thirds of their bodies are buried in the ground. It is as if one day the order came to stop work and everyone just walked way.
Investigators believe that inhabitants kept carving larger and larger moai, possibly in an attempt to outdo those made by rival island groups – an early version of “keeping up with the Jones.” The most widely accepted belief is that the growth in population along with the construction of bigger and bigger moai led to the deforestation as the wood was needed for cooking fires and for the rollers needed to transport the moai to the ahus. Both issues in turn contributed to bloody wars over food and power. Construction of the giant moai ceased and those already standing were knocked over during the wars.
Is the small island a microcosm of the Earth showing what happens when the environment is destroyed leading to diminishing resources which in turn leads to wars over control of the resources?