Cartoon: Serkan Altuniğne*
– What are you thinking about?
– I'm wondering why we've been spending millennia trying to destroy the world, instead of just killing each other right away.
– Why? Because of stupidity.
In the midst of the Pacific Ocean, far off the coast of Chile, lies Easter Island. It's known as the most isolated inhabited piece of land. After reading Jared Diamond's book on the island's history (Collapse, Viking Press, 2005), I realised that it's also our world in miniature. A laboratory for everything that's happened to us.
Until 300 AD, Easter Island was a paradise as yet undiscovered by humans. A paradise that was covered in jungles and populated by waterfowl. Unfortunately, it was these very birds that would betray the island. Polynesians exploring the region in their canoes saw the swarm of waterfowl flying cheerfully over the island and dolphins gleefully swimming along the coast, and realised they'd discovered a fertile island. With this first human step, the destruction began as well.
The Polynesians immediately started to cultivate the island. Bamboo huts were put up, canoes made from tree trunks and centuries-old trees cut down to burn the dead. As people populated the island and invaded the forests, the number of birds reduced in parallel to that of the trees.
The decline in the bird population led to an increase in the mouse population; even more mice nibbled at more tree roots. Now the forest was being threatened by both humans and mice.
After a while, there were no more trees left to build canoes. Since no more canoes could be built, it was no longer possible for the Polynesians to head out into the ocean. Within a thousand years they had reached the point where they were fishing from the shore. The population shrank to two thousand inhabitants, the island was dying.
After the erosion had taken the last trees with it, the culture changed as well: The Polynesians gave up their tradition of burning the dead on beds of palm leaves. Instead, they began to bury them. And so the island turned into a giant cemetery. The last islanders began to nibble on the mice that nibbled the trees. After the mice eradicated the trees and the humans eradicated the mice, that which was to be expected finally happened: people ate each other. Cannibalism.
In Jared Diamond's book there's a frightful example of a saying from Easter Island:
“Your mother's flesh is stuck in my teeth.”
Don't you think that sounds like a short foray into the history of the world? Forests that are destroyed by a mankind obsessed with construction, mice that invade the same woods alongside humans and then become victims themselves, and finally people who start eating each other because nothing else is left.
We're humans who're ashamed of our nakedness but cannot find a leaf to cover our shame ...
The years we're leaving behind are forcing us toward Easter Island's fate: into the wasteland of cannibals.
When Thomas Cook visited Easter Island in 1774, only a few thousand indigenous people were left. And they soon died of the smallpox that the Europeans had introduced to the island. The survivors were in for a new kind of misfortune: slavery.
Two ships that landed in 1836 abducted the remaining inhabitants to Peru and forced them to work in the mines there. By the end of the 19th century, only 111 people were living on the island.
John Steinbeck borrowed the title for his novel Of Mice and Men from a poem written by Robert Burns in his native Scottish dialect:
“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men /
Gear aft agley”
(“The best laid schemes of mice and men /
Go oft awry”)
The current state of the earth, which we're trying to destroy hand in hand with the mice, shows us how utterly our carefully forged plans go awry. 2017 was a year in which the last waterfowl disappeared from the sky, the mice ate the last roots and the cannibals got really fat.
The ships for which we sacrificed the trees are driving us into the mines of racism, violence and hatred, under the command of the captains we ourselves have chosen.
The sound of the whip striking our shoulders is drowned out by the hullabaloo from those applauding the captain.
We're right in front of the final descent into the eternal wasteland.
In 2018 let's plant trees. Let's feed the waterfowl.
Let's stop eating each other; Let's defeat the captains who want to enslave us. Let's open the eyes of the claqueurs.
Let's rebuild our sad island that's become a graveyard, hand in hand.
There's no other salvation for us. I wish you all a happy new year!
*Serkan Altuniğne is one of the most famous cartoonists in Turkey and has drawn cartoons for Penguen
(Penguin), an Istanbul-based weekly satire magazine, since 2002.