Why this book?
I first came across this book in a communal library at a guest house I was staying at on Easter Island. The island is one of the most profoundly affecting places I have ever visited: even today the sense of remoteness is palpable: it’s four hours’ flight from the nearest airport, the island and its population are small, essential supplies such as mineral water and toilet paper come only once a month. And yet centuries ago a small group of would-be settlers from elsewhere in the Pacific landed and established a remarkable community, famous for its mo’ai (statues). They survived, and thrived, for a time, but it was always a precarious existence, and the natural environment has been altered forever as a result. The question of the extent to which the community is sustainable seems, to me, still to be there. It led me to think deeply about human beings and the natural environment and the importance of sustainability, of balance between the two, and at what point things become unsustainable. I was absolutely in the right frame of mind to discover a book like Tree of Rivers
This is a history of the European colonisation of the region, and how thousands of indigenous people, divided into countless tribes, each with their own beliefs and practices, had lived contentedly, in harmony with the natural environment, for perhaps thousands of years, only for the Europeans – supposedly from more ‘advanced’ societies, with superior technology - to come and disrupt their lives, killing many, destroying much of their world, and ending the ways in which some of these groups had lived. The Europeans were so clumsy: yes, they had metalworking capabilities which the locals envied, and weapons, but they didn’t know where they were or were going, or how to navigate the dense rainforest, they didn’t know how to feed themselves or keep themselves healthy, and had to rely on the locals to help them navigate and to eat. The locals may not have had metal or guns, but they had everything they needed: I was really struck by the story of the pens in the river built by some communities to capture turtles which they could then keep alive and eat when they needed them. Simple, but effective, and sustainable too. The Europeans were motivated by the desire for conquest of land and people, to exploit the natural resources available – some bet everything on the search for an ‘Eldorado’ - a city of gold that in fact didn’t exist – and others were driven by religion and the desire to convert the locals to Christianity. It all seems so selfish, stupid and destructive now, and of course has given me a new perspective on the activities – including archaeology – of Europeans and other colonists in countries more familiar to me, such as Egypt.
When you buy a book we may earn a small commission.