Kon-Tiki Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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As a postgraduate student of zoology from 1936 to 1938, Heyerdahl lived with Polynesian natives on the Pacific island of Fatu Hiva, in the Marquesas group. In his attempt to understand the original settlement of these chains of islands by the variety of peoples whose ancestry was celebrated in native lore, Heyerdahl became convinced of the possibility that the original natives had actually come from the South American mainland by means of the sea. He was so impressed by this notion that, upon his return to Oslo, he changed his studies to ethnography, with special reference to the native peoples and traditions found in British Columbia and in Peru. World War II interrupted these pursuits, however, and a decade passed before Heyerdahl could gain support and realize an adventurous experiment to demonstrate that one could travel over the Pacific Ocean by balsa raft, journeying from the Peruvian coast to the Polynesian islands.

Within the account of his adventures, Heyerdahl provides instances in which the crew members shared their knowledge and understanding of the prehistory of the settlement of the Pacific islands by original native peoples. One of the peculiar ma-terials brought upon Kon-Tiki by its six sailors was Bengt Emmerik Danielsson’s choice to fill his allotted chest with seventy-three books; he read as time permitted and almost held back the abrupt end to the voyage so that he could finish his final volume. This act could seem the epitome of eccentricity or folly were it not for the fact that the volumes were “sociological and ethnological works” whose contents proved invaluable, not only to the ongoing discussion of Pacific island prehistory but also to the understanding of the operation of such a huge and apparently unwieldy vessel. According to Heyerdahl, it was ultimately the collected lore from the native peoples that provided the margin of difference that permitted the success of the Kon-Tiki expedition. A noteworthy digression on Polynesian astronomical observations and their practical applications to transpacific sailing gives ample illustration of this claim.

It is of equal significance that, in the midst of the account of the events at the halfway point of the trip, Heyerdahl pauses for a lengthy meditation upon Easter Island and its gigantic stone heads, which the anthropological studies of Heyerdahl and his crew were also trying to explain. At a later date, this meditation led Heyerdahl to excavations on Easter Island, just as earlier considerations while studying zoology on Fatu Hiva had led ultimately to the construction of Kon-Tiki....

(The entire section is 627 words.)