Eating Up Easter Island: An Environmental Emergency

Eating Up Easter Island: An Environmental Emergency

By: Storyteller -

“Globalization arrived quickly and in a very short amount of time and that giant snowball starts eating up everything - culture, kids, elders - everything goes into it.”


Written by Beto Wetter

Easter Island - or, as the indigenous population calls it, Rapa Nui - is nearly 4000 km off the coast of Chile, and is home to the famous - and mysterious - Moai, huge stone monuments of Polynesian gods carved by the ancient people of the island. But now Easter Island and its people straddle a complex and divisive line between tradition and modernity, a tension highlighted in a new and unique documentary, Eating up Easter.

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Ostensibly, Eating Up Easter is an ode to the passing of time and tradition on one of the most remote places on earth, in the face of modernity. “Globalization arrived quickly and in a very short amount of time,” remarks Mahani, an activist and teacher, “and that giant snowball starts eating up everything - culture, kids, elders - everything goes into it.”

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A visceral example of the negative impacts globalization brought to Rapa Nui was garbage, and lots of it. As Mama Piru, an elder community leader and all-round fireball who works at the Orito Recycling Plant explains, to a background of vast bags full of plastic: “None of this [trash] is from here. The tourists go back, but all the trash that came on the plane with them stays.” 

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Environmental degradation is a significant consequence of an unstoppable tide of tourism. However, these two colliding forces are metaphors for existential threats faced by the island and islanders alike. As economic development becomes a kind of holy grail, resulting in the tourist population increasing 386% from approximately 22,000 in 2002 to a staggering 107,000 in 2018. “What do you think has caused all this building on the island?” asks filmmaker Sergio Mata’u Rapu. “Very simple. Count the tourists coming [on] every plane,” his father replies.

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The most visceral and successful environmental documentaries tend to be able to tell a local story whilst at the same time universalizing a tale for our times, and Eating Up Easter is no exception to this multi-level engagement, gently and forcefully expressing the pressures and opportunity offered and impacted on all of our pasts and traditions by global capitalism, the "Eating Up" of the title. 

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Pointedly, the documentary does not claim to hold all the answers, but it does offer a glimmer of hope for how to reconcile this tension between tradition and modernity, focusing on the island’s active and engaged citizens in their pursuit of a middle way. “Most people just need a little push,” says music teacher and community beacon Enrique, “by igniting energy here on the island we will mobilize all of the other continents.” A hopeful statement for complicated times, perhaps, but of course when did any movement not begin locally, in someone’s backyard. Maybe Easter Island is not so far away after all. 

Photographs courtesy of Plastic Oceans

Beto Wetter is an environmental advocate from California who researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from conservation and sustainability to environmental diplomacy.

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