A Year: Day to Day Men: 6th of October, Solar Year 2018

The Trail Hiker

October 6, 1914 was the birthdate of Norwegian anthropologist and explorer Thor Heyerdahl.

Thor Heyerdahl began to study biology and geography at the University of Oslo in 1933. At the university he came in contact with Bjarne Kroepelien, who had traveled around Polynesia during the first World War. While living on Tahiti, Kroepelien fell in love with and married Tuimata, one of the daughters of a Tahitian chief, Tereiieroo.

The world-wide 1918 influenza pandemic struck Tahiti, resulting in the deaths of half of Tahiti’s population, including Tuimata. Bjarne Kroepelien subsequently amassed a unique collection of books on Polynesia, which he would years later bequeathed to the University of Oslo. Heyerdahl’s access to these books, as well as Kroepelien’s friendship with Chief Tereiieroo, would have a major impact on Heyerdahl’s life and career.

Thor Heyerdahl married Liv Coucheron Torp in 1936 and visited Tahiti, both sharing a desire to escape from Western civilization. Heyerdahl’s theory that indigenous South American peoples were the first to populate Polynesia took shape after he and Liv made several interesting discoveries on Fatu Hiva and the neighboring island of Hivoa. They stayed on Fatu Hiva for a year, before deciding to return to their native Norway.

Back in Norway, Heyerdahl began writing his scholarly work entitled “American Indians in The South Pacific”, which was published in 1952. His living on Fatu Hiva had instilled in Heyerdahl  an interest in how the remote Polynesian islands of the Pacific Ocean came to be inhabited; this question had been a defining topic in Pacific Ocean research for many years.

Heyerdahl was convinced that the first humans to reach Easter Island – and other islands in the eastern part of Polynesia – came from South America. He believed that only later did people come to Polynesia from the west, and then via the northwest coast of Canada and Hawaii

According to scholars with whom Heyerdahl discussed the subject, the peoples of South America did not have seaworthy rafts or boats that could take them as far as the Polynesian islands. In order to prove that it was possible, Heyerdahl decided to build a raft and make the journey himself. On April 28,1947, he and five other men left the seaport of Callao in Peru on a balsa wood raft called the Kon-Tiki, destined for Polynesia. The raft ran aground on the Raroia atoll in Polynesia after 101 days in open waters, proving that it was indeed possible for South American peoples to have traveled to the islands of the South Pacific.

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