Essay about Culture and the Environment on Easter Island and Tikopia

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In his book Human Natures: Genes, Culture and the Human Prospect , Paul Ehrlich argues that the cultural practices of a given society develop largely as a result of the large-scale environmental factors of the area in which the society lives. He gives the striking example that all religions that developed in deserts are monotheistic, whereas those that began in rainforests are polytheistic (Ehrlich, pp 9 of handout, 2000). Ehrlich argues that the size and geography of a region, its climate, the availability of resources - the "macroevolutionary" forces - will have an enormous effects on the cultures that develop there.

Ehrlich continues by pointing out that cultures do not only develop as simple, predictable reflections of their
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Clive Ponting (1991) gives the history of Easter Island roughly as follows: In the fifth century CE, the 150 sq. mile island (2) was reached by no more than twenty or thirty Polynesians. The population slowly grew as agriculture developed on the island. Many native Polynesian food sources could not be propagated on the island, but sweet potatoes and chickens were successfully imported. The islanders were also heavily dependent on fishing, which they did in wooden canoes. By the sixteenth century, the population peaked at around 7,000 people. Initially, the agriculture was successful enough so as to only require a relatively small amount of labor, leaving the inhabitants with large amounts of free time that enabled them to develop complex religious ceremonies and rituals.

The most striking aspect of the religion on Easter Island was the carving of up to a thousand massive stone busts located throughout the island, some weighing nearly eighty tons. Although their function is not completely understood, these statues are generally believed to have been used in religious ceremonies and also as signs of prestige among the different clans on the island. These statues were transported over the island on enormous systems of wooden tracks. Ponting suggests

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