PRIMARY RESOURCES: ACTIVITY 2
TAKING EVERYTHING AND GIVING NOTHING: THE CASE OF EASTER ISLAND
This is not so much a game as a simulation - an attempt to show what happened to
the environment of Easter Island after human beings arrived there sometime in
the 5th century CE. The story is told in the first chapter of Clive Ponting's A
Green History of the World.
- To illustrate the way in which decisions have long lasting effects
- To study this in relation to a real situation.
Values in the faith community illustrated by stories from Jewish, Hindu and
Living things and their environment: ways in which living things and the
environment need protection.
- A large plan of an island, divided into sections
- About 100 small paper trees
- 20 paper houses
PART A - PERSONAL WEBS
- Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4 - each group represents a clan. Sit,
in groups, around the plan of the island. Explain that the group has just
discovered the island and plans to settle there. Allow each group to choose an
area to site their house. As they put their houses in place, remove one tree
from the area.
- Explain that fifty years have passed. The group are very happy, but
- Their houses need to be replaced - each group removes a tree
- Their population has doubled - another tree goes, to be replaced by a house
- They need to build more boats to continue fishing - another tree goes
How do the group feel now? Are they still happy?
- Go forward another fifty years and repeat the operation.
- How does the group feel now? Are there any clouds on the horizon?
- What are they going to do?
- Perhaps if they are beginning to realise that resources are diminishing, you
could introduce the idea of warfare and stealing rival resources. Do some groups
want to take a chance on attacking a rival group? If they do, each member of the
group takes a turn at rolling the dice. The group with the highest score wins,
eliminates their opponent and captures their resources.
- Keep repeating until the island is bare of trees. Perhaps when the trees are
all gone they can continue fighting in order to capture food from their rivals…
Continue until there are only one or two groups left.
- How do they feel now?
- What went wrong?
- - - TAKE A BREAK - - -
When the class returns, begin the plenary by explaining that the game they
have been playing is based on real events. The details can be found in Ponting's
He tells how, when the island was discovered, it was covered with trees.The
20-30 original settlers brought sweet potatoes and chickens with them. They
developed an elaborate society; focussed on ritual sites which were embellished
with gigantic stone statues. These statues were moved from the quarry on rollers
made from trees. At its height; the population of Easter Island numbered about
When Europeans first came to the Island in 1722, they found about 3,000 people
living in caves and tiny straw shacks. There were no trees and people were
perpetually at war. Their chickens were kept in fortified stone coops, which
were the object of inter-clan raids - and at times they resorted to cannibalism
to supplement this meagre source of food. They no longer remembered how their
ancestors had transported the mysterious stone statues.
What had happened? Their collapse began with the destruction of the trees. They
could no longer build boats, or houses, or move their statutes - lots of which
were found stranded in the quarry. Without tree cover, the soil leached its
nutrients. The arrival of the Europeans destroyed what remained of their
society, but how long would it have lasted anyway?
What do the children think?
- Are there any parallels with our own society?
- We have an abundance of things - but is this because we only plan short-term
and don't think about whether our consumption can be sustained?
- Or are we going to make a better job of it than the Easter Islanders?
This is a good place to discuss the difference between 'needs' and 'wants',
linking to some religious insights.
RELATING TO FAITH
All religions condemn uncontrolled consumption/greed:
- The Islamic story of 'The Holy Man and the Magic Bowl' emphasises
that human need is endless. No matter how much money the rich king pours into
the beggar's bowl, it is never full. The Holy Man explains that the bowl
represents the 'need' of human beings. (See Faiths for a Future, REEP, p.85).
- A Jewish folk-tale, 'Concerning the Poor Man Covetous' (in The
War of the Birds and the Beasts, ed. Arthur Ransome, Puffin pp.64-69), tells of
how 'needs' soon slip into uncontrollable 'wants'. A poor man on the brink of
starvation is given a magic bowl by a mysterious rabbi. He puts it under his bed
and, next day, discovers it contains a coin. He notices a magic symbol carved on
it. He uses some of his money to pay to carve another symbol on it, and next
week the bowl contains two coins. He uses some of his money to carve two more
symbols and so on. Then the mysterious rabbi returns, with fire in his eyes, and
snatches the bowl back. The poor man finds himself more wretched than when he
- In the Hindu tradition the Chipko (Hug-a-Tree) movement has
developed in protest at the unbridled pillaging of India's natural resources.
Members of this movement try to prevent logging through direct action - but also
place emphasis on re-planting land that has been stripped of its forest cover.
The relevance of this to the Easter Island catastrophe is obvious (see Song of
the Earth, Mary Hoffman, Orion Children's Books p.28).
© REEP, Graeme Watson