Easter Island

Easter Island (today called Rapa Nui) is situated in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 2000 miles west of South America. It was firstly reached by the Polynesians in the 5th century CE, and as soon as it was reached, the population started growing and improving its lifestyle. The density of the population grew along with the agricultural innovation. Easter Island was discovered in 1722 by European explorers. The condition of the island at that moment was disastrous – explorers found the island’s habitants starving and committing cannibalism in warfare. However, according to Jared Diamond (1), the ecological and environmental origins have been clear only for the past twenty years. Scientists claim there are several consequences, but only one reason for the mysterious collapse of Easter Island. The cause is the island habitants’ uncontrolled misuse of the natural resources. On the other hand, the consequences are tremendous: population has faced with the deforestation, land erosion, extinction of many species, etc. As it is known from the environmental science and ecology, once a species becomes extinct, the same species cannot appear again on the face of Earth. This is why the Easter Island’s population wasn’t capable of rebuilding.

Despite the fact that the population of this island commited self – destruction, the evidences depict their rich culture. When I say evidences, I refer to the giant stone statues also known as Moai, which weight around 80 tons each. Due to the scientists’ exploration, these massive statues were transported by the wooden tracks. Ben Ewen – Campen (2) states that this is the reason which mainly caused the deforestation, which later caused the absence of the boats for fishing (population’s main food resource). Consequently, the natural resources were destroyed because of the cultural traditions and architecture.

Eister Island's stone statue hight compared with average human's hight. Source (6)


This video is a short representation of the Easter Island’s destruction

Source (10)



Tikopia is an island smaller than the Easter Island. It is situated in Pacific Ocean. This small extinct volcano was discovered in 900 BC by the Polynesians.

Due to the information mentioned above, the history and tradition of Tikopia is very long. Although Tikopia is smaller than the Easter Island, “the maximum population density of Tikopia was much greater than that of Easter Island” (2). However, there is a reason why the population was greater and why there are still natural resources available on this island.

Tikopia was a homeland of the Polynesians, which had built throughout the time very rich culture, like the ones on Easter Island. However, what makes Tikopia different from Easter Island is the fact that Tikopia had a “low – conflict society”, in which Tikopians have made society – wide decisions. These decisions contributed to the Tikopian’s peace and lifestyle. As I mentioned before, there are still natural resources available on this island unlike the Easter Island. There are many ways in which the Tikopians kept sustainability; but the most interesting one is removal of the pigs from the island. They decided to do this because pigs were continually eating the crops. This step in Tikopian’s society contributed to their stability. Since they used to sacrifice animals (pigs also) because of the cultural traditions, we can say that this is also a representation of a cultural sacrifice.

Tikopia's extinct volcano. Source (7)


Islands Today

Because of all the historical events which took place on these two islands, some changes have occurred.

Easter Island is “a metaphor for ecological disaster” (3). Today, there are around 5000 inhabitants, which are citizens of Chile. Moreover, it is a tourists’ destination with an open air museum. Due to the facts from the past, the resources of the Easter Island are very limited.

On the other hand, Tikopia is much more developed than the Easter Island. Tikopia is a part of Santa Cruz Islands. Around 1200 people share cultural traditions in an environment full of vegetation. The population is smaller on this island due to its area.


Easter Island vs. Tikopia

Today’s situation and faith of both of these islands was influenced by many factors.

However, the major changes and consequences happened due to the large – scale environmental changes made by a society.

As it was concluded before, destinies of Easter Island and Tikopia were not the same. Scientists claim that it has to do with the size of the islands. As Easter Island is bigger, it was consequently available for several cultures to develop. On the other hand, Tikopia is a small island whose small society had small decision making. In my opinion, this is extremely important since the habits of the population influence their environment.

Likewise the society and its culture can make changes in their surroundings, also environment of the islands contribute to the development of cultural traditions.

As we can see, there are many differences in the Easter Island’s and Tikopian’s societies. As the Tikopian society is smaller, it was easier for the Tikopians to make a conjunctive decision. Therefore, the break point when their started removing pigs from the island was exceedingly important. The idea for sustainability of Tikopians had changed the future of this island tremendously.

In spite of this, Easter Island’s society was bigger and for this reason the decision making wasn’t that easy for them. Moreover, when they discovered the resources, the habitants were using them without control in order to improve their lifestyle and culture. They weren’t thinking about the distant future – they were satisfying their present needs, which led to the hideous consequences. They didn’t exactly have an approach to the idea of sustainability, which led to disappearance of the natural resources and to the collapse of plentiful ecosystems.

To sum up, the decisions and mistakes made by each of these two societies were made slowly. We should be aware of the fact that it was an ongoing process which lasted for centuries. Without an accurate knowledge of the consequences, mistakes have been made by the Easter Island’s habitants and modern society should learn from this example. In my opinion, the given example is very beneficial for current world’s societies and we should take an advantage of the previous happenings in order to improve our environmental problems’ solutions. Today’s growth of population and increased use of the natural resources may lead to a disaster even worse than the one which took place on the Easter Island. Modern societies should have much better approaches to the ideas of sustainability so as to provide a better environment to future generations. There is no need for any other fallen culture, ecosystem, or environment.

Easter Island's Inhabitants. Source (8)

Easter Island's inhabitants. Source (9)


(1)   Diamond J. Ecological Collapses of Pre-industrial Societies. Stanford University, May 2000

(2)   Ewen – Campen B. (2003). Culture and the Environment on Easter Island and Tikopia. Retrieved February 19, 2011 from http://fubini.swarthmore.edu/~ENVS2/S2003/Bewenca1/Ben_Second_Essay.htm

(3)   Brookman D. (2007). Easter Island Home Page. Retrieved February 21, 2011 from http://www.netaxs.com/~trance/rapanui.html

(4)   Easter Island: The mystery of population collapse. Retrieved February 21, 2011 from http://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/News-Events/News-Archive/2008-News-archive/Easter-Island-The-mystery-of-population-collapse

(5)   Tikopia. Retrieved February 19, 2011 from http://www.worldlingo.com/ma/dewiki/en/Tikopia

(6)   Honors Senior Thesis Research Support. Retrieved February 22, 2011 from http://www.honors.ls.wisc.edu/SiteContent.aspx?prev=1&id=46

(7)   Help to Save a Civilization – Tikopia. Retrieved February 22, 2011 from http://home.netcom.com/~yellowrose/tikopia/id1.html

(8)   Faces of Melanesia: Papua New Guinea, The Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. Retrieved February 22, 2011 from http://www.zeco.com/travel-reports/fullreports.asp?id=112

(9)   Heritage Images. Retrieved February 22, 2011 from http://www.heritage-images.com/Preview/PreviewPage.aspx?id=2324961&pricing=true&licenseType=RM

(10)National Geographic. “End of Easter Island” (June 01, 2009). Retrieved February 22, 2011 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfbQA-Krx9Q