Norwegians are a sturdy and determined people. And Thor Heyerdahl might be the sturdiest and determined of them all and he has his legendary Kon-Tiki expedition – where he sailed across the Pacific in a steerless raft – to proof it.
Kon-Tiki, an ancient & steerless raft
Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian ethnographer who believed that people from South America could have settled in Polynesia in pre-Columbian times sailing across the Pacific Ocean. In 1947, to prove his point Thor embarked on a kickass sailing expedition, using a raft named Kon-Tiki after the Inca sun god Viracocha for whom “Kon-Tiki” was said to be an old name.
The Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those early Polynesian settlers at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so.
The expedition was funded by private loans, along with donations of equipment from the United States Army. Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where, with the help of dockyard facilities provided by the Peruvian authorities, they constructed the raft out of balsa logs and other native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores. The trip began in style on April 28, 1947 when Heyerdahl, five companions and a pet parrot named Lorita set off from Peru. They sailed the raft for 101 days and over 6900 km (4,300 miles) across the Pacific Ocean before smashing into a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947. The crew made successful landfall and all returned safely.
In spite of proving his point that South Americans could have sailed to Polynesia and settled there, most anthropologists now believe they did not!
The original Kon-Tiki raft is now on display in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.
KonTiki the Book & Movie
Thor Heyerdahl’s book about his experience became a bestseller. It was published in 1948 as The KonTiki Expedition by Raft Across the South Seas ( sold out in 15 days), later reprinted as KonTiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft
A documentary film about the expedition, aptly named Kon-Tiki was produced from a write-up and expansion of the crew’s filmstrip notes and won an Academy Award in 1951. It was directed by Thor Heyerdahl and edited by Olle Nordemar. The whole film is black and white, shot on a single 16mm camera.
Subsequently, the voyage was chronicled in a documentary TV-series The Kon-Tiki Man: The Life and Adventures of Thor Heyerdahl, directed by Bengt Jonson, and in the 2012 movie ‘Kon-Tiki’, directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg.
It became the highest-grossing film of 2012 in Norway and the country’s most expensive production to date. The film got both nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar (2013) and for a Golden Globe Award as Best Foreign Language Film (2013). It is the first time a Norwegian film has been nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe.
Kon-Tiki, An-Tiki, Plas-Tiki….
The KonTiki expedition has inspired many spin-offs that borrowed of the fame of the highly successful Kontiki reenactment. Notable ones are the An-Tiki, a garden shed raft that sailed across the Atlantic and the PlasTiki, a plastic bottle boat (recycled PET bottles) that sailed across the Pacific.