The guilty pleasure of morbid curiosity, a lesson from the Moai


The Moai are a collection of statues that cover the beaches of Easter Island — big stone faces scattered across barren land.

Researchers posit that around 9000 B.C., Polynesian mariners discovered the
isolated island and settled it.

They made their homes under its palm trees. At first there were only a few dozen settlers. They thrived in an island paradise where the palm trees reached 60 feet into the air.

The settlers used wood from the giant trees to construct homes and boats. They successfully fished in the island’s waters, and society boomed.

To thank their gods for their prosperity they made large idols, the Moai. The largest statues weighed 86 tons and were 33 feet tall, according to Wikipedia.

They fashioned ropes and ramps from the palm trees that allowed them to handle the large offerings, which archeologists think were carved to resemble ancestors who were revered as gods.

The population was advanced for its time, and with each generation, its numbers grew. By the year 1500 B.C., there were 15,000 islanders. But the island couldn’t support a population that size. Resources were depleting, so they splintered into factions and fought for what was left.

Then the story got even spookier. From the clues left behind, historians surmise that even in the face of a catastrophe, the natives weren’t able to change their ways.

They raced to the end of their days, speeding their own extinction. The more resources dwindled, the more they fought.

Each tribe built more and more monoliths to stand guard over them as they fought. When they ran out of tree bark to make ramps to carry the statues, they let them stand in the quarries where they were carved.

According to Time magazine, there are 877 statues on the island today in various states of completion. But the islanders’ pleas to the heavens went unheard. Deforestation wreaked havoc on their soil. They ran out of wood to build fires and boats.

By the time the island was rediscovered by the Dutch in 1772, there were about 2,000 people left. They were cannibals living in caves with no memory of the great civilization responsible for the statues around them.

There are some fantastic theories on what happened to the people of Easter Island, like their technical skills were so advanced, they must have been an alien race who abandoned the island to go back to their home world.

But the exotic story of Easter Island doesn’t need sci-fi embellishments. The reality paints a heart-stopping picture that grabs our attention. And people learn best when emotion is involved.

Picturing the island’s exotic stone faces against the night sky sets our neurons on rapid fire, and the car crash of a once prosperous civilization is laid out so we can learn vicariously.

Morbid curiosity may seem like a guilty pleasure, but that’s how we learn what happens when we don’t play by the rules. Rubbernecking allows us to see the results when mistakes are made.

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About genemyers

Gene Myers is a New Jersey poet, music journalist and columnist who learned to walk twice. His weekly column is called The Joy of Life. He was awarded first place in Arts and Entertainment Writing by The New Jersey Press Association.
This entry was posted in catastrophe, civilization, deforestation, depleting resources, Easter Island, extinction, idols, living vicariously, Moai, morbid curiosity, offerings, Rubbernecking, The Joy of Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The guilty pleasure of morbid curiosity, a lesson from the Moai

  1. Melissa says:

    Such a great story… I was really impressed when I first heard it a while ago… but unfortunately as with so many other great stories it appears not to be true, according to more recent research:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/punctuated-equilibrium/2011/sep/07/3

    It’s definitely true that we can learn a lot from the mistakes people made in the past, though — not that we seem to do so…

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