A Lesson from the Sun God

photo from en.wikipedia.org

On April 18, 2002, one of my heroes died at the age of 87. Since my childhood, his is life represented the spirit of adventure I always desired to capture in my own time.

In 1947, Norwegian explorer and writer, Thor Heyerdahl, successfully sailed 5000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian Islands in a self-built balsa wood raft he named Kon-Tiki after an Inca sun god. Inspired by Spanish Conquistador drawings of Inca ships, Heyerdahl’s purpose for his dangerous voyage was to demonstrate to the world that ancient people were capable of making contact with distant cultures by virtue of long sea voyages in makeshift water crafts with virtual paper sails.

Using only the materials and technological knowledge available to the ancient Peruvian people, the explorer set out to prove that pre-Columbian South Americans could have settled Polynesia from west to east, not vice versa as widely believed.

The Heyerdahl expedition lasted 101 days and did successfully demonstrate that it was possible for primitive cultures to sail the Pacific safely with assistance from the prevailing west wind and reliance upon fish for hydration in the absence of fresh water.

In a later expedition in 1969, Heyerdahl set out to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a boat named Ra after the Egyptian sun god. After several weeks at sea, the boat, constructed from papyrus based on drawings from ancient Egypt, took on water and broke apart following unsuccessful attempts to modify the vessel at sea. However, one year later, a successful voyage in the Ra II landed its crew in Barbados, proving that trans-Atlantic voyages were possible in the ancient world.

Thor Heyerdahl's book, Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft, became a best seller and should be required reading in modern high schools. The actual Kon-Tiki raft may be seen by visitors to the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.



  1. Thanks for the follow over at A Life-Size Catholic blog. I'm looking forward to clicking around and seeing what's happening here.

    A cursory view makes me think you might enjoy my new blog ...Define Inspiration. I just started it a about 10 days ago. Are you still cooking?

    I visited your older blog too. You're consolidating, me, I'm expanding!

    Now your newest follower. Have a great weekend.

  2. Holly: Yes, I love your blog, and yes, I am still cooking. Now that I am writing full time, my wife is excited because I cook most of the big meals. For me, it is therapy. Thanks for following. Enjoy your weekend as well.

  3. You are right, JJ, that Heyerdahl's book should be required reading in high school these days, as should many other books which are not on a list.

    Thanks for your offer to help us when we get to the coast. I'll keep you posted. We are already getting showings on our house after only a day on the market.

    So you're cooking, eh? Carol's a lucky woman!!


  4. Judie: Yes, I have been telling her that for years. There is a long story behind the cooking. I think I even blogged about it a few years ago.

  5. He became one of my childhood heroes too, after I read the book.

  6. Jean: I understand. I read the book and got so wrapped up in the voyage that I would dream about adventure all the time as a boy. As I grew, it became part of my life.

  7. I had heard the name, but knew nothing of the story. I love your blog and I always find something interesting here. But in my more insecure moments, I wonder where I've been all my life and what on earth was I doing during all those years of formal education! The breadth of your interests and knowledge always amazes me.

  8. Galen: Thanks for your kind words. I fell in love with adventure stories when I was a kid - and never grew up!

  9. This is so interesting, especially for me living here in Norway! I was able to visit the Kon Tiki museum in Oslo once a couple of summers ago and even though I knew very little about Thor Heyerdahl and his adventures then, I found it extraordinary! I must put that book on my reading list! Thank you for such an informative post!

  10. I haven't thought about Kon-Tiki in years. Thank you for the refresher course and inspiring a second read.

    Thank you for being my 100th follower too. You are a milestone. I thought I'd never get 100 followers;most people (including my dearest friends) find art blogs boring--and they can be. Your blog is not however. It would be my pleasure to reciprocate and pay return visits.

    I understand what Galen Pearl is saying. I have those wanderlust feelings too on occasion, now that my knees don't like to wander anywhere not five star. Then I look at my three middle aged guys and what they are doing in the world, and I know that my adventures on the home front were as brave as crossing the ocean in a balsa wood raft.

  11. I love history! And I'm glad he was able to prove his theories.

  12. Colleen: You are very welcome. I envy you. I would love to visit that museum. Perhaps, this is my chance to plan a new trip.

    L.W.Roth: I am so pleased to be your 100th follower. Your site is terrific,and far from boring! I teach Integrated Arts at a local university and I learn more and more about art every day of my life. And Galen is fantastic!

    Miranda: I am with you. Thanks.

  13. I remember watching a documentary about Kin-Tiki as kid.
    Hey, I really like the layout of your blog and keep the history lessons coming.

  14. I thought about you when I saw "Midnight in Paris." Did you see it? I really liked the way Hemingway was characterized.

  15. #167 Dad: Thank you. Will do.

    As for Midnight in Paris, I have not seen it yet, but it is high on my priority list.

  16. Wonderful spirit and determination.

  17. Wow, this is fascinating, JJ! What an amazing man. I'd never heard of him, but I'm glad he wrote that book. Sounds like a great read!

  18. KB: He did. He is one of my idols.

    Lynn: It is great real-adventure reading.


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