The Resilience of Easter Island


Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is famous for the megalithic statues called moai. It is assumed that deforestation of the island by the Rapa Nui led to a cultural collapse. A brief period of prosperity was followed by a long period of chaos due to the misuse of natural resources to transport the spectacular moai.

When the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen visited the island in 1722, the Rapa Nui would have been hungry thieves, prostitutes and cannibals. Easter Island became an example to environmentalists as a warning for the entire planet. However, recent research suggested that the introduction of the Polynesian rat was the reason for deforestation.


The Dutch anthropologist Sebastiaan Roeling shows that the current image of Easter Island is completely false. He demonstrates that the use of firewood is the true reason of deforestation. And while describing all aspects of Rapa Nui culture, religion and history, he also shows that deforestation did not led to famine, war and cannibalism. The loving and caring Rapa Nui developed innovative changes in agriculture and a new birdmancult to restore the order on the island. Their resilience is an example for the entire world rather than a warning.

The book

The Resilience of Easter Island gives a large but clear amount of information about the entire natural and cultural history of one of the most fascinating but isolated islands in the world. It starts with a description on how the island was created by force of nature and how the first plants and animals found their way to the island followed by a detailed description on how the Polynesians were able to colonize Easter Island and what influence their culture eventually had on their environment. Roeling describes his theory on the true cause of deforestation on Easter Island: firewood.

A description of the first European visitors is followed by a very extensive chapter on Rapa Nui culture with topics like appearance, family life, agriculture, festivities, rongorongo script, cannibalism and much more. Roeling also explores the truth about the allegation that the Rapa Nui were all thieves and prostitutes. The descriptions about Rapa Nui characteristics in the ship log’s of the first European visitors give a complete new view on how we should interpret these Rapa Nui values. This chapter also explores the truth on the statement that the Rapa Nui initiated their own collapse, which is claimed by authors like Jarred Diamond.

When writing about Easter Island, one cannot pass by the megalithic statues of the moaicult and the later developed birdmancult. Both of these cults are described extensively in Chapter 4 followed by Rapa Nui mythology and religion. The final chapter describes the real downfall of Easter Island, caused by the Peruvian slave traders during the 1860s.

The author

Sebastiaan Roeling was born in 1980 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. During the holidays his family used to travel to countries along the Mediterranean. It was here where his interest in other cultures developed. As a boy his grandfather told him many stories about the Dutch explorers like Abel Tasman, Willem Barentsz and Jacob Roggeveen. The story about the discovery of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in 1722 by Roggeveen fascinated him the most and he started to dream about being an explorer himself.

During a vacation to Yucatán, Mexico, he visited a Maya village near Campeche and it was here where he decided to follow an education in anthropology, the nearest thing to an explorer of the Dutch Golden Age. The next ten years, Sebastiaan devoted his life to study the Lacandón Maya in the Chiapas rainforest after which he published his much-acclaimed Shadows of Bonampak. He acted as a consultant for projects of UNICEF Belgium and the BBC. Back home he worked for an environmental agency in Rotterdam. He continued his environmental work in the famous historical city of Delft and specialized in environmental crisis management. Currently he works as senior supervisor and coordinator of environmental crisis management at an environmental agency in The Hague.

At the beginning of 2012, Sebastiaan started to prepare a study trip to Easter Island. In March 2013 he finally set foot on Easter Island to start his research. His education in anthropology and professional career as environmentalist seemed to be the perfect combination for his research at Easter Island. He is especially thankful for the fact that his wife and children were able to accompany him during this research.

Sebastiaan Roeling is married to Monique. Together they have three children: Emma (2008), Valentijn (2010) and Victoria (2014).

The Resilience of Easter Island is available as hardcover or e-book.

Read the introduction and the contents

Read a sample…


Title: The Resilience of Easter Island – A Historical Ethnography
ISBN: 9781326329112
Author: Sebastiaan Roeling
Publisher: Lulu Press
Published: 02 August 2015
Language: English
Pages: 242
Binding: Hardcover (casewrap)
Interior ink: black & white
weight: 0.4 kg
Dimensions (centimetres): 15.24 wide x 22.86 tall
Original Dutch title: De Veerkracht van Paaseiland

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