Pale Green Dot: Notes From Easter Island
A steady and comfortable 5-hour flight brought me safely down on a little piece of volcanic rock spewed out millions of years ago in the middle of the Atlantic. Surrounded only by water, the anxiety I expected to feel from this isolation did not hit me at all. I’m used to being in remote places by now, I’ve grown accustomed to it and am almost starting to feel alien in big cities. In the time leading up to my impulsive decision to visit Rapa Nui, I received tons of inaccurate travel advice regarding the island. Apparently, Easter island has non-potable water, Dengue Fever mosquitos and not much more activities than dodging tourists and spend small fortunes for basic amenities.
It’s no secret that this remote little spec in the vast Pacific has had a controversial history with regards to sustainability, as the locals cut down most of the indigenous forests and flora to feed their giant monolithic building cravings. The inhabitants cut down the trees and forests that used to once cover this tropical paradise to move and manufacture the giant Moai statues that are scattered across the landscape today. Why did they build these? Was this to pay respects to the gods? Was the isolation getting to them or was it a case of ancient aliens visiting them to share intimate knowledge of the universe with this tiny, enlightened group of Polynesian people. The ancient alien theory, strange as it might be, should not be swept under the rug, for these Moai hold a silent mystic to them that is more fiction than science. You can stare deep into their eyes and wonder what they would say if only they could talk. What have they seen? What secrets do they hold?
The Moai stand speechless and cold on the rolling green hills of Easter Island. I find myself caught in a staring contest with a rather oddly shaped one on the western shore of the island, as the sun sets in a cotton candy pink behind it. I’m mesmerized and as dumb as the statue I’m facing. Only a few artifacts on earth bear such mystique and mystery. It’s an outright spiritual experience to observe such a spectacular part of history, a time capsule of what once was, in a time long lost. Again, I was thinking - why were the Rapa Nui making these Moai? The fact that they are still standing today shows how much of an impact human actions can have on the future. Will they be standing there for another 800 years? Maybe a thousand, ten thousand? It’s impossible to say. The Moai is a daunting example of how a civilization can create something that will ultimately outlast them. Is this not what we are doing today with our rapid and out of control exploding industry, exploitation of natural resources and booming population growth? Will the technology, like robots and artificial intelligence we work so hard on to make our lives better and more efficient, ultimately be our demise, our downfall? Humanity might not be making Moai and laying them out on the hillside anymore, but we are in fact creating systems that will cause an ultimate collapse in society, as the Rapa Nui people learned long ago.
I decided to hike from my camping spot at Camping Mihinoa to Anakena, the farthest beach from the town and one of the most significant attractions on the island. This feat is deemed by most travelers as absurd as it’s a roughly 30km round trip in hot and humid conditions. I prefer walking as I get my cardio exercise in, something I have been missing out of due to my lower back injury and something that is clearly evident in the rapid expansion of my gut. About four kilometers into my journey I got picked up by a local indigenous Rapanui in his bolted together and rickety, red 1980’s Toyota Hilux. His English was somewhat understandable as he described to me that he had worked with a US company when the US Army had a presence on the island a few years ago. In our conversation, it seems very clear that he has a strong dislike to foreign settlers, especially Chileans who come to the already crowded island and seek permanent residence.
Later I would catch a lift with another Rapa Nui man, one with the same style red pickup truck, but with slightly better English. The other similarity that the two aged and leathered Polynesian men shared is the fact that they were both born on the island and have in fact, never in their life travelled off it. This is a land mass with a diameter of roughly 30km, describing this as a speck is in the vast Atlantic is almost excessive. All that these men know - their whole life, all their childhood memories, first loves, drunk nights out, bike accidents, school exams, sports events, ideologies, dreams, opinions, bloody noses, tears and near deaths - all walled not by a figurative barrier as some experience, but by a literal blue boundary surrounding them. A comparison could be drawn between their life on the island to the famous literature piece by Carl Sagan called Pale Blue Dot. In this, Carl Sagan describes a photo of earth taken from the Voyager 1 Space Probe as it's about to leave the Solar System. With her last breath, the probe sent back a photo of Earth shown as a faded little dot, suspended in a sunbeam in the vastness of space. In this piece, Carl Sagan describes the insignificance of human existence by poetically reminding us that all that we know as humans, all that we will possibly ever know, is shown in this single photo as a little, pale blue dot in the middle of nowhere. The outtake of this comparison should not be that the lives of the Rapa Nui and their existence is, in fact, insignificant, but rather compare the isolation they experience with that of Earth floating around in the nothingness of Space.
In modern times, the influence of globalisation and the long reach of the Chilean governments' tentacles can be seen in the new cars driving around the island and giant LATAM aircraft that touch down daily on the single landing strip, bringing with them tourists, industry and unwanted consumerism. The Rapa Nui people already have all they need to survive - fish are found in abundance around the island’s crystal-clear blue waters. Agricultural crops are sustainably grown and no security is needed in such a tight-knit, humble and traditional community. Spending days on an island completely shrouded in mystery and mystique such as Rapa Nui is something to experience. For once, long and prolonged moments of wonder and awe of life could be experienced, as the island almost forces you to reflect. I’ve realized that this experience will be a foundation of my life going forward and has raised my self-awareness and insight. This did not bring on anxiety, as one can imagine sitting in the middle of nowhere, but rather the feeling of being alive, passionate and at peace.
I ventured to where Moai were manufactured, carved in one solid piece from the mountain face on the hill in the middle of the island. Some of these Moai weigh up to 100 tons with the tallest reaching 10m high. In the mountainside lay a few half-constructed Moai - their silhouettes can be seen in the little rock compartments from where they were carved. There it still lays, never erected, never born. It lays in the mountain on its back, like a baby lying in its mother's womb. Forever bound to the rock of its conception, never quite able to make it out with the rest of the Moai. You can stare at the Moai as if it were a person, each one an individual with what seems to be a personality and a story of its own. If only they could speak - what interesting and valuable insights they must have into civilization as a whole that can be learned. Does the story of the Rapa Nui people tell us a lesson that can be applied both on any location as well as any time in history on Earth? The lesson being that man, given space (vicinity), time and resources will ultimately lead to their own demise and downfall in the pursuit of ego, religion, god, power and immortality? If a civilization stranded on an island, one with resources such as fish and sustainable agriculture, in a time where technology and industries were not close to being as developed as it is today, still finds a way to drive their civilization to near extension and similarly, do so to the resources on the island like the flora and fauna, is there then hope for man and civilization in general?
Do you ever sit down to ask yourself how history unfolded - how you ended up sitting where you are right now? What events led to you being there and how much of an influence you really had on the sequence of said events to dictate your current position in life. What is the significance of your life in the incomprehensibly vast timeline that has shaped the universe, molded the planet, sculpted the mountains and eventually down the line formed this cognisant, sentient being staring at his computer?
The Rapa Nui changed their island of inhabitance as they wanted in a way that reflected their way of life, ideologies, culture and philosophies. But what were these people thinking? Is it ignorant to think that these men and women loved and experienced emotion and feel different than that of our own? This was approximately 700-800 years ago, what will humans be like in the similar time from now? How about double that or 10 times that? What about a thousand years from now, or a million. How is it that one can be modern, advanced and civilized but in the vast vacuum of space and time can also be insignificant and unimportant at the same time. Should we not know what we know of the past and present be better at predicting, molding and anticipating our future? If not for the wellbeing of man but for the wellbeing of ourselves… How does it make you feel that by sitting behind your computer, stressed out about work and life that the inevitability of death and life going on, has a power over you that you would never be able to conquer? Ultimately, it’s all about appreciating yourself and not causing harm to others or to the environment. After all, I'm sitting on a pale green dot in the middle of the Pacific, 3500km from the continent - what else is there to fucking do?
Most photos were taken by me and are left unedited
Some photos by Blanca Edwards @Blancuin
Various Black and White and Colour 35mm film
Photographs by Carl van der Linde and Blanca Edwards
Story by Carl van der Linde