Preparing my trip to Easter Island, memories of Kon-Tiki leaped into my mind, one of the first travel/adventure books I read. Thor Heyerdahl and his crew did not sail to Easter Island in 1947, but further north, yet the underlying question if the islands of Polynesia were settled from Asia or from South America concerns all of the South Pacific.
Heyerdahl’s scientific methodology is outdated. Nowadays one would analyze DNA to reconstruct migration routes, instead of floating on a not very navigationable raft for a full 101 days through seas infested with sharks who’d love to eat a Scandinavian for change. But the Kon-Tiki expedition was definitely more thrilling. And the only way to make the general public aware of a debate which had until then only raged in academia.
The younger ones among you may only remember all this from the 2012 movie, which was a rather kitschy attempt to get a generation used to kitsch and action interested in the expedition.
If you think that the part about sharks and whales is over the top, here is a great cinematographic document for you: a film from the 1947 expedition.
Until now I hadn’t even known that the scientists/adventurers were also filming. Their material was made into a documentary which is endlessly more impressive than the recent movie. In 1952 it even won an Oscar.
Here’s the trailer:
To see the whole film, you do however have to visit the Kon-Tiki-Museum in Oslo. Fittingly, a taxi from Oslo train station to Bygdøy peninsula, where the museum is located, costs just as much as a flight to the Tuamotu archipelago.
In 1955, Thor Heyerdahl finally visited Easter Island, where he again advertised the hypothesis that the primary settlement came from South America. But he had some influence on Easter Island before. With the news of the successful Kon-Tiki expedition, it had become known that simple rafts were fit for long journeys if you caught the right current. When the Easter Islanders read about this in National Geographic, some of them built boats and used them to flee to Tahiti, a journey of 4,258 km.