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White Coral Eyes
If They Could Only Talk by Hannah Bloch
© 2013 James LaFond
I am outlining a novel set on Easter Island [Rapa Nui] and have accessed my National Geographic collection for a recent piece. John Keegan once used Rapa Nui as a cautionary war story. Later Jared Diamond—vilified by right wingers for suggesting in Guns, Germs and Steel, that Eurasian civilizations advanced ahead of the rest of mankind do to natural resource distribution rather than moral superiority—used Rapa Nui as a case study of ‘ecocide’. But what most of us care about, is not how the most isolated society on earth imploded, but how they raised their super-cool statues.
If They Could Only Talk
Easter Island: The Riddle of the Moving Stones
Cover story, National Geographic, July 2012, page 30-49
Hannah Bloch, photography by Randy Olson, with art and sketches by the best illustrative painters in the world, whoever they are
The photography is evocatively dazzling, the art amazing and the subject intriguing. Ms. Bloch does a solid job of broad-based reportage. This style of article is at once a look into the past, an overview of those who have looked into this particular past, a look at those who are currently straining their academic eyes into this lost corner of the world, and an introduction to those left behind and what is left of their world.
The author does not do a white wash or engage in revisionism. What she discovers is clear and interesting: that the giant moai, the spooky standing stones, were moved far more easily than earlier speculators had fancied; that Rapa Nui is now an Argentine tourist spot, with a depleted coral reef unable to sustain the tuna appetite of tourists; and that two American intellectuals are trying to prove that the Polynesians who discovered this plush paradise did not kill off the trees or each other, but were faultless stewards of their habitat.
Hannah Bloch takes in all sides of this controversy, but does not dig too deep. She is reporting, not writing a thesis. I find this middle-of-the-road perspective refreshing in our own contentious day; and find further that it inspires me to speculation. She did bag one really good quote from an indigenous person after speaking to the ‘primal peace and love’ intellectuals; “Don’t tell me those obsidian tools were just for agriculture,” he says, laughing, “I’d love to hear that my people never ate each other. But I’m afraid they did.”
Amen brother.
National Geographic is a spectacular resource. As long as it remains on newsstands we are at least nominally civilized.
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