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Interview :42 - 43:06 Play :42 - More
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Thor Heyerdahl  






Kon Tiki; Ethnology  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
11 Apr 1997

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0:42 - (interview begins abruptly)

1:12 DZ (asks about his fear of the water as a boy)

TH And with very good reasons. Because at the age of 5 I was playing with some bigger boys near an ice hole in a frozen lake and the big boys were jumping from the solid ice onto drifting blocks. And at the age of 5 I thought this looked fun and I jumped too. But you know you have to jump back fast b/f the ice block turns over and I didn't so I went upside down into the hole (DZ - into the frozen water) and into frozen water and what people don't know is that when you're on top well that you know and that the ice is white and the hole is black but when you're down below it's the opposite. Then the ice is black and the light comes through the hole so it's white (DZ - you can remember) so I struggled - yes I remember it very well (DZ - I mean you can visualize now being under the ice) yes - I tried to get up through the black hole and it was solid ice and I bumped my nose and my head and then I don't remember more until some big boys got hold of my boots and pulled me out. So that was the beginning of my experience with deep water. And at the age of 12 I fell in another time in the fjord and almost drowned and so it took me a long time to believe that the ocean was something charming.

DZ So you grew up actually thinking of the ocean as a really frightening¿

TH To me that was the enemy, that was the end of the human world, that was where the ocean b/g so for me I was certainly not meant to become a sailor. But I also studied biology not marine biology but I was interested in land animals and land plants and I went to Polynesia for the first time to conduct studies in the Marquesas(?) Islands and that's when I fell into the water for the third time. I was big enough then - 22 - that I realized I better try to swim and I managed and from then on (DZ - so you didn't even know how to swim at the age of 22)

3:48 DZ So looking back on all of this, looking back on these amazing expeditions - Kon-Tiki and all of the others - do you feel at least in part¿ the reason that you undertook these amazing voyages was sort of as a way of confronting and putting to rest these fears of yours?

TH No - I don't think so. I think that it all had to do with the fact that I had approached a problem when it came to migrations in the pacific oceans which had been unsolved and instead of approaching it through archaeology and anthropology which would be normal I approached it through biology and I realized that there were certain cultivated plants that man had brought from S. Am. to Polynesia before the Europeans came. So I was sure that in pre-Columbian times S. Am. must have had a population who could navigate in the open oceans and then the archaeologists refused that then they say well do you know you are a biologist you don't know this

DZ ¿So when you undertook these amazing expeditions - Kon-Tiki - sailing on a raft from Peru across the Pacific, you were doing it despite your¿you were so convinced that your theories were right that you were doing it despite your terrible fear of the ocean

TH I was 100 % certain because I was educated in genetics and genetics don't lie. And I knew that when you have a plant like the sweet potato or the gourd just to take 2 ex. and they belong to S. Am. and they can only spread by human craft across the water, then I knew somebody had gone and then the anthropologists said nobody could have gone before Columbus because these people had only balsa rafts¿

6:06 DZ (asks how scientists and his family reacted to his sailing across the ocean to prove his theories)

TH Well if you start with the scientists, every single one said it is absolutely impossible. As a matter of fact I said¿ try if you don't believe it you try and I said to myself I will try b/c I'm sure it is possible.

DZ I mean some scientists thought you were sort of nuts.

TH Not only some, I think they all believed except in my own field. The biologists at the University of Oslo they supported me and I lectured at the U. of Oslo in that faculty even before the expedition on my theory b/c they believed in the genetic conclusion. But at that time, 50 yrs ago¿(?) it was a very new science and wasn't taken serious by the anthropologists at all

DZ (asks about his family's reaction and fears)

TH Well, I assume that they weren't too happy about it but I had been already at that time, 10 years earlier on my first expedition with full support from both Oslo U. and my parents to an island in the Pacific where I lived with my first bride a year w/ no contact w/ the outside world - no radio, no matches, no medicine - I think that the fact that this worked out and I came home alive that I felt that I knew what I did.

DZ 8:05 So they did not try to dissuade you

TH Well I think my father knowing all the trouble he had to try to in vain to teach me to swim. He thought that this was a little too much of a change. That I would certainly go across the world's largest ocean on a raft. But he yielded and my mother was tremendously interested in ethnology and anthropology. We had the big library on the topic and I remember that all the problems we had to get going started she sent me a telegram ¿. I only look forward to see you safely onboard the raft. So she was more afraid of all the complications of getting such an expedition organized and she felt highly certain that I would get across. She felt that my conclusions were illogical and I think the men that came with me they had their reason b/c they knew me and they knew I enjoyed life very much and they felt that well Thor wouldn't do this if he felt there was much chance at losing his life. So they trusted me too and they were very happy about going but I must say that there were at lrg. took it for a crazy expedition.

9:37 DZ (asks if he still has flashbacks of images of the voyage)

10:00 TH Notunless I think back on it or when I meet my friends who took part in the voyage and we talk abut it (DZ - ¿ tell us about a moment that you can remember) what burnt itself in the memory of all of us was at the very end of the voyage. We were worried for the first couple of weeks b/c everybody said that the logs would absorb water balsa log is very porous so it would sink in 2 wks. We saw that this was not it and when we say how¿ (?) this little raft road the biggest waves we gradually felt completely safe.

DZ ¿ Completely safe - I have read in your own book kon-tiki that you would be in the middle of storms and you would literally lash yourselves to the raft, tie yourselves so that the waves wouldn't throw you ¿.

11:03 TH That was to be quite sure b/c we knew as long as we were on the raft we knew wouldn't sink¿ if we were washed off well of course we would be finished¿ what gave us a tremendous feeling of security on the raft was that when a big wave come onboard it ran through the bottom and out again and you didn't have to bail. I'd been dead scared in a canoe or normal vessel b/c when it fills w/ water you sink. 11:34

DZ So this is TH's definition of safe. So you say the moment you remember vividly¿.

TH ¿the last night we had been afloat this was 101 day it took to cover this wide gap of the pacific ocean we all woke up at night because the rolling was diff. And we felt that no we were approaching land we had irregular waves and worse it was back wash from land and strong current. And that gave us some exciting and we discovered a coral reef ahead of us and it was an enormous reef of coral reef from one horizon to the next so we couldn't steer by. That was horrible we knew we were going to be thrown up on this reef. Any other boat would have smashed and we'd have been killed.

DZ ¿ I thought your scariest moments would have been at the beginning of the voyage but you're saying here we are almost at the end and you thought we're so close to this achievement and we're about to die¿

TH the last seconds or the last maybe 2 or 3 min. we were thrown in by this tremendous surf. The highest surf in the world is on the east coast of the ¿..(?) atolls b/c they're 4300 miles of open ocean w/ trade wind and current going in one direction so the surf rose higher than the top of the mast of the raft and we were 1st at thrown against the reef and waves broke down above us from above and we were sacked out 12 times and thrown up on the reef again and the last wave threw us so far up that the next just push us in over the reef. In the end the raft ended in the lagoon there are no other vessel I think in the world that could have travel across and into a calm lagoon.. those moments with the ocean over us and we were hanging on with all our forces that was¿ it couldn't have been more horrible¿ I'm grateful that we are all alive¿.

14:41 DZ (says 1972 Thor b/cm 1 of the 1st to tell the world the oceans were b/cm polluted. Asks what Thor say that made him so frightened)

15:18 TH In 1947 on the kon-tiki we sailed for 101 days w/o seeing any sign of man - no plastic bottle, nothing at all that indicated that there were other human beings on this planet and the water was crystal clear¿ on my next ocean expedition across the atlantic in '69 I briefed my crew¿.
(talks about the diversity of people he had on this trip)
16:25 TH ¿and the very 1st morning we woke up this was in '69 off the coast of Morocco(?) the NW coat of Africa, Abdula, who was a Muslim, yelled and said the water is dirty. I can't wash myself before prayer to Allah and I went to look and there were oil lamps and oil slick and I thought this is bad luck. There must have been a tanker gone by and we sailed and day by day and saw oil lamp - not slick - but small tar bowls and the whole trip this happened. I got shocked. We sailed under the UN flag b/c I wanted to try people from different political, religious, ethnic bkgds. could collaborate eve under distress in a small vessel. So I sent the facts, or it wasn't facts at that time it was morse radio to secretary general Utant(?) and said that the world ocean is getting polluted 17:41

(he talks about how they had to cut the expedition short but then on his next expedition he kept a daily journal) 18:30 TH then Utant(?) asked me if you go again make a day by day observation and we did. We found oil clots 43 out of the 57 days it took to cross the ocean. And they were clots from different sources and obviously it was the comb. spill or refuse from the world tankers that were circulating and accumulating in the ocean 19:02

DZ (makes a point about world interest in the oceans)

19:16 TH ¿I would say that the 1st to get interested, of course, were the oceanographers of both the US and Sov. Union and even Norway send out experts to study. They thought this was exaggerated by us and they came back w/ reports that it was much worse than what we could see. We could only see the visible tar bowls but they found all the other chem. that were invisible for the eyes.

DZ asks if he feels there's been an improvement concerning ocean pollution

20:00 TH There was an immediate reaction by the shipping and the oil companies and I think that what is thrown overboard from the ships has been reduced tremendously. It's not a fraction of what it used to be. But what we must realize is that it isn't the ship on the ocean that does it all. It is all the sewers from all the cities and from all the country sides every little creek and river running into the ocean today is polluted w/ detergents and insecticides and these are things we cannot see but they float. They are lighter than sea water and they concentrate on the surface and this is where the most important part of the marine life is. The plankton that helps giving us the oxygen we need to breath - that is the problem. We are concerned about what the ships do but what about the ave. housewife, the ave. farmer, not to mention industry. This is where we have a long step to take b/f we can see any improvement. 21:20

DZ (talks about no man being an island and that the world is really one place)

22:01 TH I think this is really the message I've struggled to pass through. I believe very strongly in the unity of mankind. And I think that we of Eur. origin we are so much to blame by going around telling the people that we have civilized this planet. And we forget that it was Africa and W Asia that civ. us in the beginning . We are bringing script here and there but we forget that we got it from the Phoenicians who brought it to Crete and it was people out of the Middle East that civ. Greece and they civ. Italy and the rest of eur. and we seem to feel that we are the only ones who could have crossed thousands and nobody have done this b/f us and we don't think of the fact that deep sea vessels that I used to cross both the Atlantic and the indian ocean over¿(?) they were used in Mesopotamia and ¿(?) and of the N coast of Africa since prior to 3000 BC for more than 5000 yrs. And we learned through the greeks how to build ships and sail. We were the last continent of all if you exclude australia that learned to write. Even in america, the Olmecs in Mex. They had hieroglyphic script 1200 yrs b/f Christ and we in Eur¿. 6-800 yrs BC we got it from Asia. 24:13

DZ talks about humankind of today not being that different from humankind of thousands of yrs ago

24:28 TH We have the accumulation of inventions but we must not forget we are born w/ exactly the same brain, exactly the same muscles, the same nervous sys. As people 5000 yrs ago. We mustn't think that they were more afraid of the problems in nature than we are or that they had diff. Drifts - they were so amazingly similar to us. And I feel that we should give people in asia and africa and aboriginal america full credit. We have all helped build up the culture we have today. We must not underestimate the incredible civilizations of Mex., cent. Am and peru that saved eur. at the time of the conquest. And incidentally, not to talk badly about europeans, I will also defend people we criticize. We criticize the spanish conquistadors b/c they stole all the gold and behaved so badly to the Incas. Now when we dig in peru we find that mankind has always been the same. We find that he gold the spanish stole from the inca, the incas had robbed from the ¿(?) pop. On the cost only 3 generations b/f. the incas had done exactly the same that the spanish did to them afterwards. 26:19

DZ sort of asks how we should feel about this view

26:31 TH I feel that we should not believe that we are so tremendously much better than the others but we are not worse either. I mean we have all participated in building up the civ. we have today in good and evil and I think the only way to survive is that we stop hating each other and stop to think that I'm better than you and my sys. is better than yours. If we're going to survive on this tiny little planet that you can sail from 1 continent to another on a raft in a few weeks then we have to collaborate. That's the only way of survival otherwise we are going to sink together. We have one common enemy and that is pollution and the destruction of our own environment. Let's get together when there is still time to save the plankton in the sea and the ozone layer that we are doing the best we can to destroy so the sun may become an enemy - that is the one that has given us life for all these millions of yrs. on the planet. 27:52

27:53 DZ pulls out a photo of the kon-tiki in the middle of the pacific ocean that a colleague's uncle has carried w/ him¿ he asks Thor to guess why the man would carry this w/ him 29:03

TH (asks if he was a sailor but has no idea) 29:19

29:21 DZ says Thor is too modest and the picture has to do w/ admiration of people w/ courage who follow their visions

29:54 TH says he must take the answer given

DZ comments Thor is 83(TH confirms he will be 83 this year)¿ asks his realms of adventure today

30:26 TH I don't jump from 1 raft to another. In between I organize archaeological projects preferably on islands b/c that's where man came much earlier than what archaeologists usually have been thinking. And so we have pushed human hist. Back thousands of yrs. both in the indian ocean in the ¿(?) and we are now finding amazing evidence of pre-eur. Voyages in the atlantic by having located step pyramids of the same type as you have in mex. And peru¿ in (?) a tourist is. w/ 4 million tourists per yr. in the midd. of a city the canarians have built the city around a complex of pyramids. Half the city realized what it was and that's why they never destroyed them and the other half believed that this cannot be built by any other people than eur. Eur. must have beent he 1st here. 31:51

DZ asks what other explorations are vital for explores to undertake

TH I think there is so much to be discovered right in front of or on ¿(?). I think there should be much more collaboration b/tw the general public and the professional scientist. B/c both the public and the scientists seem to believe everything is in the ¿(?) you can't find anything today unless you go to the moon or jupiter¿ b/c we know everything on this planet. And my own contact w/ the public through the fact I collaborate w/ scientists ¿ I always work w/ professional archaeologists and ethnologists and biologists but I write also pop. books for the public. They take interest and send me photos. and info. not on my own raft like you're friend here but from the Moldeeve(?) islands I was sent a photo. of a huge stone head w/ long ears from the president of the republic who said this must b something strange b/c we have been Muslims since the arabs came her in '52 so we went there and here we find that the buddhists and hindu had been on the Moldeeve(?) is. long b/f eur. hist and build temples. And then the next day I'm told in peru that only 3 miles form the pan-american hwy. there are enormous pyramids that have never been studied by scientists. A few peruvian archaeologists knew about them and had no possibility of doing anything. It was not on the map. The government of peru had never heard of them. And then we got there and did an expedition and you can see them if you can stand up on a track, but people had thought they were just wind blown and destroyed mt. cliffs. And you go there and it's the lrgt. pyramid complex in S. Am. 26 pyramids¿ nobody had dug them and we start digging and we find mummies and art so much that peru has built a museum at the site of Tukama(?) and right now the same is happening on Tin(?) Reef that people send me photos and say what is this ¿ is seems people have come from outer space and built this on Tinner(?) Reef is. and we go there and we find this pyramids well protected and w/ sediment near stairway oriented to the sun and w/ platform for solar worship on the top. 35:23

DZ asks to give ex. Of ?s Thor still has that he would like to see people answer

TH35:36 The main and biggest ? for me on the human past is how come that we know today that man has walked around the way we look today for 2 mill. yrs. or more and then suddenly at the same time roughly 3100 BC we get civilized and start building pyramids and mummification and script at the same time in Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley and from them on civ. Spreads rapidly along the coast of all of Asia and soon after it pops up in mex. And peru. How comes that all this sudden blast and that the maya say that the 0 yr. that recalculated into our calendar sys. Comes out at 3113 BC and that's only 6 yrs. diff. From the hindu calendar sys. on the other side of the indian ocean. What happened w/ this sudden blow of civ. They certainly did not land from outer space. They would be burnt up coming through our atmosphere. Theses were people who came sailing to all these areas of w/ ready knowledge of shipping. The 1st illus. of Egyptian, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley art are big reed ships where the gold kings are navigating the ocean and my ? is where is the common root that we know nothing of. We have the branches suddenly ready developed. What happened. Certainly they are not envisioned. It must be below the sand in the desert or the general mud or at the bottom of the sea. We don't know. We just know that every thing exploded about 5000 yrs ago into full bloom. 37:56

DZ asks if people who set out the rafts knew where they were going

38:13 TH I think all these early civ. were sun sorshippers. The sun was their god and protector and I believe that a lot of early voyages was intentional exploration, following the sun. they all believed the planet was round or whatever form it had they believed by sailing far and off towards the west you come back again in the east like the sun. and these people certainly had as much courage as the early eur. explorers who were told that political propaganda by the span. and port. explores that you don't go there b/c you come to the end of the earth. there's and waterfall and dragons and sea serpents. These people were navigating long enough to know that there were no such problems. I believe that much more started that I myself used to believe. I used to believe that a lot started by accidental drift voyages and they were caught by wind and current. But I am more and more convinced that just as the early Phoenicians sailed our of Gibraltar and down the coast of africa and up the coast of spain unintentionally not only exploring expeditions w/ women and children on board to settle new colonies. They had every body w/ them. They trained the masons and artists and royal families. They went to settle in new land to look for new land. 40:12

DZ what do you want to be your legacy?

40:31 TH What I feel is the need that people start to realize that we human beings - we are not ht masters of this planet we pretend to be. We act as if we invented the human brain. I think we should have much more respect for the real creative powers whether we call them evolution or creative, whether we believe it is nature itself that has performed all this or there is something behind nature that has used nature to do it. we should realize that if we destroy the natural environment that is the same as to destroy ourselves. 41:25

interview ends

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