A turtle which explorer Captain Cook gave to the King of Tonga in 1777 died yesterday. It was nearly 200 years old.
The animal, called Tu'imalila, died at the royal palace ground in the Tongan capital of Nuku, Alofa.
The people of Tonga regarded the animal as a chief, and special keepers were appointed to look after it. It was blinded in a bush fire a few years ago.
Tonga radio said Tu'imalila's carcass would be sent to the Auckland Museum in New Zealand.
- Reuters, 1966
What's up with the epigraph?
It's sad that Tu'imalila died, but we've got to say, 200 years is a darn good run.
While Tu'imalila's story is fascinating—and true—what is it doing at the start of a science fiction novel about a bounty hunter hunting down androids in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco?
It introduces the reader to two of the novel's important themes: empathy, and perseverance in the face of entropy.
Humanity's ability to feel empathy, even for nonhumans, is presented in the way the people of Tonga treated Tu'imalila—royal palace, special keepers, you know, the good life. In fact, his was probably a life better than they experienced. The national grief over his passing also demonstrates their profound love for the turtle.
The turtle's preserved body shows us the desire to fight the good fight against entropy—the breakdown and disintegration of a system including society, the universe, and even life itself. The memory of the turtle is an artifact there, and the perseverance of memory might be the best we can hope for in a reality where everything, even reality, will one day end. Like the Tongans, Rick and other future citizens revere animals as an important part of their society. They are also trying to keep the memories of animals alive although their battle is to preserve entire species rather than the memory of a single turtle.