Voyages: Easter Island and Joanne Van Tilburg Essay

Submitted By hunterthompson1
Words: 1427
Pages: 6

Tyler Roberts
Paul Shankman
Essay for Exam 1
October 14, 2014

Easter Island is a strange place with a lost past. The “navel of the world” has had quite a tumultuous history post European contact, but it seems scholars cannot quite decide what happened before the bearded men of Europe arrived on these distant shores. In this brief essay I will discuss the two strains of thought we covered in class, as well as the implications of both, and the evidence behind each theory. The first model for Easter Island’s beginnings and ultimate downfall that I want to discuss was proposed by academics Jared Diamond and Joanne Van Tilburg. They believe the island was first settled between 800 and 1200 AD by a small founding population of 20- 50 people (probably one voyaging canoe). The island underwent population growth from 1000-1300 AD, to the point where Rapa Nui is believed by these scholars to have sustained as many as 15,000 people (between 9,000 and 15,000). This was also the period when the citizens of Easter Island began constructing the massive Moai statues that they are famous for. Diamond and Tilburg believe that by 1500 AD the island was in trouble. Resources were scarce, deforestation was complete, statue building ends, and warfare and depopulation become prevalent. This collapse of the island’s ability to sustain a large population ultimately led to desperate natives trying to bring back Rapa Nui’s Mana. Mana was a force the people of the island believed in. It was an animatistic system that allowed the residents of the island to subsist, and this Mana drove the wheels of life. They thought that the statues they erected held Mana (They could not stop building them when the wood ran out because it would show a lack of power from the clan(s) that did not erect them anymore.), but when the food supply began to dwindle, and the people began to starve, the Birdman cult was started. It was thought that this cult would bring Mana back to the island. Men from different clans on Rapa Nui would meet on the cliffs of Anakena to begin a perilous race to a smaller island not too far off shore. The man who succeeded in collecting the first egg laid would have to swim back to the mainland with it, and in turn bring Mana back. It seems that even the cult of the Birdman could not save Easter Island from ultimate destruction. The Europeans came and enslaved much of the population. Many died, and the few who lived and returned brought small pox back with them. Eventually, when the population was whittled down to some 200 people, a Scottish sheep farm was started there. The sheep only furthered the decimation of the land. So, what led to these islanders ruin? Diamond and Tilburg believe that the complete deforestation of the island paired with slash and burn agriculture (depletes health of the soil) brought on the end of Rapa Nui. The volcanic soil there was not resource rich to begin with, but after cutting down the trees, birds had no place to land and lay eggs. Without these eggs and the guano that these birds produce (a good soil nutrient) the citizens of Easter Island found themselves in hot water. There is evidence of wide spread cutting (stone axe marks on stumps), and burning done by humans, and this contributed to a lack of rain. Without the trees to capture moisture rainfall was greatly diminished and it was harder to grow crops. The forest provided essential resources for the people of Easter Island. It gave palm nuts, sap, and wood for boats and canoes. These canoes were used to catch large fish outside the reef, and without the material to build the canoes islanders would have to take these more desirable fish off the menu. The people of Easter Island worked their way down the food chain. Early explorer’s accounts mention them eating rats, which flourished on the island. Despite all of this, however, there is no substantial proof that people on Rapa Nui suffered from malnourishment. Diamond and Tilburg see Easter…