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.