Aku-aku Essay - Critical Context

Thor Heyerdahl

Critical Context

Although Aku-aku is a scholarly work, it has qualities that appeal to young adult readers. The reasons for creating art may seem strange and mysterious to those looking at artifacts from an unknown culture. These artifacts may include knowledge, beliefs, styles, and several other characteristics of the originating culture. This 384-page book offers many illustrations to provide the vicarious experience of visiting Easter Island. The landscape, the residents, and Thor Heyerdahl and his team are shown in color photographs, and maps, drawings, and an index are also included.

Some young adult readers are looking for adventure—for travel across the high seas or for a visit to a remote tropical island. All these elements can be found in Aku-aku, which describes a heroic quest. Heyerdahl’s expert use of description allows the reader to imagine every setting. He creates suspense and engages his reader’s intellect with questions, supplying an answer to each one. Reviewers referred to the book as absorbing or as being a vigorous adventure story, with the lure of mysteries to be solved.

The context of the book places a seemingly heavy emphasis on race and ethnicity. Special value is accorded to European influences, while the native people, such as the mayor, seem to be less important in their own land. By the end of the expedition, however, this relationship is shown to be reversed. Heyerdahl reveals the apparently ignoble mayor to be the one who holds the keys to all the mysteries that Heyerdahl and his fine team of experts were at a loss to discover on their own. Heyerdahl likes to provide his book with some intriguing turns. He asks challenging questions before he offers answers; he sets up mysteries that he later solves. It could be that the racial and ethnic emphasis in Aku-aku was another technique to lead readers to make certain superficial judgments, only to be caught by surprise when these presumptions are overturned.

Heyerdahl is also the author of Kon-Tiki ekspedisjonen (1950; Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific by Raft, 1950), which chronicles his voyage on a craft made of balsa.