Friday, July 7, 2017

Heyerdahl Would Be Proud

\So, thanks to Janice for sharing the link to this story about a traditional Polynesian craft sailed by Hawaiians that just completed a circumnavigation of the world:

I like that they took their time, and particularly like the part about asking permission from the local indigenous people wherever they went.

I found this all the more interesting because of my lifelong interest in Thor Heyerdahl, whom I first read along about sixth grade and whose books I read and re-read for years thereafter: KON-TIKI, AKU-AKU, THE RA EXPEDITION.

In more recent times, I was much taken with Geoffrey Irwin's book THE PREHISTORIC EXPLORATIONS AND COLONISATION OF THE PACIFIC (highly recommended), which I first found in the Kent library and later tracked down my own copy of. I came away from Irwin's book persuaded that he was in the right about the Polynesian exploration and settlement of the Pacific as purposeful: carefully planned and skillfully carried out, not a matter of setting out in a random direction and hoping for the best.*

I find myself curious as to what Heyerdahl wd make of this just-completed epic voyage, carried out v. much in the Heyerdahlian manner. On the one hand, he was the great champion who argued that we deeply underestimate prehistoric peoples, many of whom he held to be highly skilled boatmen capable of long voyages across the sea -- whether from Peru to Tahiti (Kon Tiki) or the Mediterranean to the Caribbean (The Ra). And on the other hand, his strongly-held personal thesis was that the Pacific was settled from the east, not the west.** That is, that the peoples of Easter Island &c were descended at least in part (culturally as well as biologically) from explorers who came from the Pacific coast of North and especially South America -- an argument that's now been not so much disproven as rendered moot.

On a personal note, Heyerdahl was one of my heroes for trying to actually find out if his theories were possible by practical experimentation in the field. I cd no longer accept Von Daniken and other 'unsolved mystery' types about the heads of Easter Island, for example, after reading Heyerdahl (AKU-AKU), who showed how the statues were carved, how they were moved, and how they were set up once in position, complete with top-knots. There's also a Tolkien connection, albeit a tenuous one, in that Allen & Unwin was Heyerdahl's publisher. Just was THE LORD OF THE RINGS was A&U's big hit of the 1950s, their great hit of the decade before Tolkien had been KON-TIKI. In fact, the one time I got to meet Joy Hill, she had a copy of one of Heyerdahl's ships (either the RA or, more likely, the TIGRIS) on her mantle, a gift she said from Heyerdahl, who'd become a friend of hers in the course of their dealings at Allen & Unwin.

--John R.

*his chapter on the early (30,000 BC) movements by ship from mainland asia to New Guinea and Australia was particularly interesting --mostly predicated on whether you cd see where you wanted to get to from where you were -- and possibly apropos of arguments re. the early (pre-Clovis) settlement of the Americas.

**I have, but have not read, a copy of his massive tome AMERICAN INDIANS IN THE PACIFIC (Allen & Unwin, 1953) -- though looking at it now I see he includes material on native peoples from near where I now live, like the Makah and Salish.

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