Thor Heyerdahl Glyn Daniel - Essay

Glyn Daniel

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Thor Heyerdahl, whose Kon-Tiki expedition captured the young imagination of the world, visited Easter Island in the last few years and with a party of arachæologists and anthropologists made his own investigations…. He claims that as a result he has solved the mystery of Easter Island, that it was first settled about AD 400 by people from central and south America, that the great statues (which he places in his second period of occupation, say between the tenth and fifteenth centuries AD) get later as one travels westwards, and that the statue-building people were massacred by the ancestors of the present inhabitants of the island who came in canoes from Polynesia.

All this may be right, but it is impossible to accept his case, or even to understand it clearly, on the basis of the present book [Aku-Aku: The Secret of Easter Island], which is a highly garnished and overdramatised account of his visit to Easter Island. But behind its façade of personal encounter and adventure, its publicity and colour, it is clear that Heyerdahl has done a great deal of interesting work particularly on the technique of cutting and moving the statues. The Kon-Tiki Expedition was followed by a learned statement of case, American Indians in the Pacific, and in due course Aku-Aku will be followed by a learned account of Heyerdahl's investigations on Easter Island; we must await that full statement before we evaluate his views in relations to those of Métraux and others. But there is this difference between Kon-Tiki and Aku-Aku. Scholars said that it was impossible for men to sail in balsa-rafts from the west coast of America to Polynesia; Heyerdahl demonstrated that the impossible was practicable for bold, buccaneering twentieth-century Vikings. He demonstrated that it was possible that the culture of Polynesia could have come from America, and no one can gainsay that. But now he argues that the culture of Easter Island certainly did come from America, and while we admit the possibility, we await proofs of the certainty, and will wish to study them in relation to the adduced proofs of the Asian origin of Polynesian culture. Meanwhile, Aku-Aku will hold all kinds of men and women from the chimney corner.

Glyn Daniel, "Telling Secrets," in The Spectator (© 1958 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 200, No. 6776, May 9, 1958, p. 599.