A new international expedition in the spirit of Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki voyage intends to both support and challenge the theories of the Norwegian explorer, who would have turned 100 on Monday. Three teams plan to set sail from South America to Easter Island and back, to test whether ancient seafarers could have done the same.
Heyerdahl, who died in 2002, was convinced that Polynesia was settled not from Asia but from South America. He won international fame for his legendary Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, when he and a drew of Norwegians plus one Swede sailed more than 8,000 kilometers over the Pacific in their hand-made raft. Heyerdahl later launched more expeditions over the Atlantic and out from Iraq, famously burning one of his rafts in a protest over war and pollution of the seas.
Heyerdahl’s theories were constantly challenged, however, and he was never as popular back home in Norway as he was abroad. He remains one of the most famous Norwegians who ever lived, though, and the 100th anniversary of his birth was marked over the weekend with the airing of a documentary on his life, the showing of the original Kon-Tiki film that won an Academy Award and special events at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo. The third volume of a comprehensive biography of Heyerdahl by respected explorer and author Ragnar Kvam was published last year.
Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja also made their own personal homage to Heyerdahl last spring, with news bureau NTB reporting Monday that they made a private and secret trip to Easter Island, appropriately enough during the Easter holidays.
“It was a beautiful island,” King Harald told NTB. “When Thor Heyerdahl was there it was brown and there was hardly any grass or trees. Now it’s a completely different island. It was a green and beautiful place.” The royals were friends of Heyerdahl, who despite the controversy around him, was given a lavish funeral in the Oslo Cathedral with the royals present.
The royals marveled, as have many others, over the island’s famous and mysterious stone statues that the king called “a fantastic sight to see. We saw them for the first time at sundown and were completely alone.” There are around 900 of the statues located around the island, and Heyerdahl researched them tirelessly over many years.
The new expedition, led by Norwegian Torgeir Sæverud Higraff, will use what they call the “Polynesian flagship,” a double-hull canoe, in the hopes of showing that it was possible to travel from the west coast of South America to Easter Island in Polynesia faster that Heyerdahl managed on Kon-Tiki.
“This will be a quantum leap,” Higraff told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He believes, as Heyerdahl did, that there must at least have been contact between people in South America and Polynesia. Higraff, a Norwegian author, teacher and adventurer, decided when Heyerdahl died that he wanted to sail in Heyerdahl’s wake and mounted an earlier expedition, the Tangaroa, with Heyerdahl’s grandson Olav and others in 2006.
Heyerdahl, King Harald said, “was a fantastic storyteller. Sitting at a table with Thor Heyerdahl was like an adventure itself.”
“He wasn’t always right, but he got folks to think,” King Harald told NTB. “He attacked problems from a completely different angle than most everyone else would have done, like reading source material literally.”
King Harald and Queen Sonja were due to attend a dinner at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo Monday evening, to mark the explorer’s 100th birthday.