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Kon-Tiki: Keeping The Flame Alive

  • November 9th, 2006
  • Posted by 7thmin

kon-tiki-reduced.jpgOslo’s Kon-Tiki Museum is headed towards a new milestone, a sixtieth anniversary.

The Norwegian scientist and adventurer, Thor Heyerdahl and his five crew members drifted half-way across the Pacific Ocean, from South America to Tahiti, in 1947.

Heyerdahl did not prove nearly sixty years ago that Pacific Islanders originated in the Americas, but he strengthened his argument that they may have and many today think it is probably true.

More than all that, he captured the imagination of generations.

In the late 1960s he also made an Atlantic crossing, in the Egyptian reed boat of ancient design, called Ra, to make the same kind of point about human migrations.

Both vessels are today preserved in their purpose built home, just across the water from the Oslo city centre, continuing to draw in crowds, yielding to the fascination of a great and novel adventure.

Going to sea in a small vessel, in search of an idea, over such great distances, will have its dangers.

Kon-Tiki made land-fall on a remote island through heavy surf and was nearly splintered.

The Ra on display is RA II; the forerunner had problems with its design and came to pieces in mid-ocean.

It was all an act of faith, and perhaps that power of the idea is what has brought in millions to see a couple of strange old craft in a big boat-shed, looking in part a museum, in part another ocean theme park.

It has a Marketing Manager, Half Dan Tamgen, who has counted the numbers; he sees over 220-thoiusnad visitors each year, 70 % of them foreign guests, “from all over the world.”

From the South Pacific?

“Of course,” he says.

“Some of them believe it, some of them don’t.”

He thinks 20 million may have visited the Kon-Tiki by now.

He knows that Heyerdahl’s celebrated book about the voyage appeared in 70 languages and sold 50 million copies.

A Kon-Tiki film won Norway’s only Oscar and was seen by perhaps fifteen million.

Kon-Tiki became both a myth and a fairly large business.

Today, says Half Dan Tamgen, it is mainly the older generation who know the story at all well, but that may not be where the story is allowed to end.

“We have quite a good job to do, to get the young people to learn about the Kon-Tiki expedition,” he says.

“The older people , they really know, but the young are not so strong with the story; so we are also doing quite a lot of work with writers who are writing books about the Kon-Tiki expedition, for young people.”

Well, had Theyerdahl had GPS and a satellite phone, transmitting an instant documentary day-by-day, who would have noticed so much?

Times do change quickly.

The Ra expedition, twenty years after Kon-Tiki, had a multi-national, multi-cultural. crew, and among other things they “discovered” ocean pollution.

While Kon-Tiki in the Pacific encountered wild nature –huge waves, sea-birds and sharks – Heyerdahl in the Atlantic was appalled to find himself pulling chunks of oil out of the sea.

He obtained a commission from the United Nations to let him document his findings on its behalf, hoping the world community would begin work to try to put an end to it.

Some of the first tentative environmental accords followed that initiative.

(This report is archived under EUAustrlia, Commentary)
Picture: Detail from mural outside the Kon-Tiki Museum.