A Warning from Easter Island


Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid examine the history of Easter Island. Could the story of this island be a warning about the future of Earth?

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Transcript


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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

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And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Easter Island sits in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, all by itself. It is the loneliest piece of populated land in the world. The closest people live over 1700 kilometres away.

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About 1000 years ago, the first people arrived on Easter Island. They called it Rapa Nui. They settled there. For many years, Easter Island was a perfect place to live. It was beautiful. It was surrounded by clear blue water. A thick palm forest offered many resources. There was a wide coastal plain with rich soil. The people could grow their main vegetables: sweet potatoes and yams. And more than 30 different kinds of seabirds lived there. The birds’ songs filled the air with music.

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But in only a few hundred years, the civilization that existed on the island fell. And some people believe that this small island can serve as a model for all of earth. Today’s Spotlight is on Rapa Nui - Easter Island. Could what happened to the people of Easter Island happen to us?

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At first the Rapa Nui population grew slowly. And then it began to grow more quickly. Around the year 1550, there were about 9,000 people living on the island. The Rapanui people had created a complex social system. They were one of Polynesia’s most advanced cultures. Different chiefs led 11 different Rapanui tribes. The tribes lived together peacefully. But, over time something started to threaten that peace. In less than 150 years, the Rapanui culture would almost disappear!

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Many scientists had questions about the Rapanui people. The scientists did not understand how such a complex society could just disappear. But now scientists have some theories about what happened to the Rapanui people.

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No one can be completely sure what happened to the people on Easter Island. But, the scientists’ theories may be important to our world today. In fact, some scientists believe that Easter Island may serve as a small model. What happened on Easter Island may represent what could happen to our planet.

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One theory says that the Rapanui culture rose and fell with the island’s trees. The Rapanui used the same word for “tree” as for “riches” or “wealth.” Scientists studied the remains of trees and waste on the island. They found that the Rapanui used the island’s trees for everything. They ate the fruit the trees produced. They also ate the birds that lived in the trees. They used the leaves to build the tops of their houses. They used the trees’ outer parts to make clothes. They burned the wood to cook their food and to keep warm. They used the trees tall centres to make small boats for fishing in deep water. And they used fiber from the wood to create ropes.

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The Rapanui used every part of the island’s trees. And they used them quickly. Jared Diamond has studied Easter Island. He says that the common palm tree on the island had disappeared by the year 1400. He believes this lack of trees soon had a serious effect on the island and its people.

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Scientists believe the Rapanui suffered greatly without trees. The food from the trees disappeared. And the Rapanui could no longer make wood boats to hunt big fish in deep water. Instead, they had to eat the smaller fish they found closer to land. After a short time, they had eaten most of those small fish. The people became very hungry.

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The lack of trees may have also changed the climate on the island. Fewer trees meant less rain fall. Soon, the Rapanui’s crops started to die from lack of rain. And the soil became hard and dry. Scientists say that a civil war began on Easter Island. The Rapanui tribes began to fight each other for resources.

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Easter Island is probably best known for its huge stone structures. They still stand today. They are called “Moai”. Moai look like large stone heads. There are hundreds of Moai on the island. They face the land. Their backs are turned away from the sea. Experts believe the people built the Moai to honor their ancestors. Building these statues was very important to the Rapanui people. Even when there were few resources, the people continued to build them.

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During this time, explorers from different nations also came to Easter Island. These explorers brought new diseases. But they also took some of the people for slaves. By 1872, the number of Rapanui fell to just 111 people.

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So, can Easter Island serve as a model for the future of our planet? Does what happened on the island represent what could happen to people today? Many situations on Earth today are similar to the situations on Easter Island. For example, the earth’s population is rising. Some of the earth’s resources are starting to disappear. Many of the earth’s animals are dying out. Too many people in the world do not have enough food to eat. And war threatens to destroy many societies. Will we soon start to lose whole cultures?

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Scientists believe that people should think seriously about the events on Easter Island. Jared Diamond has written books about his theories about Easter Island. He told PBS,

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“Thanks to globalization, international trade, airplanes, and the Internet, all countries on Earth today share resources. We affect each other. Easter Island was as lonely in the Pacific Ocean as the Earth is today in space. When the Rapanui got into difficult times, there was nowhere they could go. They had no one to ask for help. We modern people on Earth will also have nowhere to go for help. Those are the reasons why people see the fall of Easter Island society as a model. It is a worst-case situation for what may lie ahead of us in our own future on Earth.”

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Do you think Easter Island can be an example for the world? Can we learn from the Rapanui people? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

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The writer of this program was Rebekah Schipper. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘A Warning from Easter Island’.

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Visit our website to download our free official app for Android or Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Who has the responsibility to protect the earth’s resources? Are there things individual people can do?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Jaime Velasco Ordoñez
said on October 29, 2018

I don’t think could happen the same than Easter,s island because in the rest of the world aren’t just the resources there used to be on the Easter Island . And if it happened would be for a bad organisation of the head leaders.

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Honneur
said on October 29, 2018

I think it’s possible the Easter Island bad experience could occur in other places of the world. Here in Brazil there is a Region which is becoming a desert by the action of men: the Northeastern will be a desert in the next 50 years if the destruction of enviroment do not stopped. Many people are trying to make something against the enviromental crime, but whitout succes for now.

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luatdq
said on October 30, 2018

I knew huge stone structures name Moai on the internet and the book. Many people believe that Moai made by an alien or made by ancient ancestors of humanity. I don’t know who made Moai but I think Moai very sacred and meaningful.
A Warning from Easter Island remind to us eliminated may appear on our planet, we must protect the environment and natural resources and must act immediately. There are 7 billion people on our planet, resources are starting to disappear, an environment is a pollution, the forest is more and more narrowing. At that moment after we discover in space we know that we are lonely in space so we action for yourself and our children