Heyerdahl and his crew of four Norwegians and one Swede, went to the Ecuadorian forest to cut down balsa trees, hauled them to the Peruvian coast, and built the Kon-Tiki, which was modeled after rafts that had been common in Peru when the Spanish first arrived in Peru hundreds of years earlier. The Kon-Tiki was named after a legendary pre-Incan sun-king, who ruled the land, and then migrated westward across the sea.
They set sail from Callao Harbor, Peru, on a difficult journey – the raft was not easy to maneuver, it could only sail in trade winds and drift with the current. The adventure took 101 days, covering 4,300 miles, and ended when the Kon-Tiki made landfall on a coral reef near the uninhabited Polynesian island of Raroia.
An Academy Award winning documentary was made of the voyage, and can be viewed on YouTube here. The crew was made up of Norwegians Thor Heyerdahl, Herman Watzinger, Torstein Raby, Knut Haugland, Erik Esselberg, and Swede Bengt Danielsson. Knut Haugland was the last of the original crew of the Kon-Tiki to pass away – on December 25, 2009, at the age of 92.
Heyerdahl also authored Kon Tiki: Across the Pacific By Raft, a best selling story of the journey.
As we celebrate the sixty-third anniversary of the beginning of the journey of the Kon-Tiki, we realize that we have new adventures taking place now. With the advent of these new adventures, such as the journey of the Jewel of Muscat (a replica of a 9th century Arab merchant) or of the Talisker Bounty (recreating the voyage of Captain Bligh after he was set adrift through the mutiny on the Bounty), it does well to remind ourselves of the brave sailors who expand the horizons of human knowledge and endurance through their efforts.
The potential of engaging the students in discussions of these voyages in the classroom is enormous, bringing in math, science, geography, history, sociology, psychology – and much more. These are things our kids need to be exposed to in order to have a better appreciation of the historiography that surrounds us all, and it’s interrelatedness with other academic endeavors.
Kon Tiki at sea: Wikipedia
Photo of Thor Heyerdahl: Great Dreams
The Kon Tiki on the open waters: Yachtpals
Crew of the Kon Tiki: Kon Tiki Museum
Map of the route of the Kon Tiki : Kon Tiki Museum