Heyerdahl (1914 – 2002) was a Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer with a background in zoology, botany, and geography. Thor Heyerdahl has long been interested in the history of early seafaring and has advocated that the oceans, far from being obstacles, could and can be safely crossed on relatively simple watercraft by following the natural conveyances of the winds and currents.
See Topic: “Thor Heyerdahl”
He became notable for his balsa raft (Kon-Tiki) expedition in 1947, in which he sailed 8,000 km (5,000 mi) across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built balsa raft from South America to the Tuamotu Islands. The expedition was designed to demonstrate that ancient people could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between separate cultures. This was linked to a diffusionist model of cultural development. Heyerdahl subsequently made other voyages designed to demonstrate the possibility of contact between widely separated ancient people.
See Topic: “Kon Tiki”
In 1969 and 1970, Heyerdahl built two boats from papyrus and attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco in Africa. Based on drawings and models from ancient Egypt, the first boat, named Ra (after the Egyptian Sun god), was constructed by boat builders from Lake Chad using papyrus reed obtained from Lake Tana in Ethiopia and launched into the Atlantic Ocean from the coast of Morocco. The Ra crew included Thor Heyerdahl (Norway), Norman Baker (USA), Carlo Mauri (Italy), Yuri Senkevich (USSR), Santiago Genoves (Mexico), Georges Sourial (Egypt) and Abdullah Djibrine (Chad). Only Heyerdahl and Baker had sailing and navigation experiences. After a number of weeks, Ra took on water after its crew made modifications to the vessel that caused it to sag and break apart after sailing more than 6440 km (4000 miles). The crew was forced to abandon Ra some hundred miles before Caribbean islands and was saved by a yacht.
See Topic: “Reed Boat”
The following year, 1970, another similar vessel, Ra II (depicted on the stamps), was built of papyrus by Demetrio, Juan and Jose Limachi from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and likewise set sail across the Atlantic from Morocco, this time with great success. The crew was mostly the same; only Djibrine had been replaced by Kei Ohara from Japan and Madani Ait Ouhanni from Morocco. The boat reached Barbados, thus demonstrating that mariners could have dealt with trans-Atlantic voyages by sailing with the Canary Current. Also in terms of survivability, the reed boat is equal, if not better, to most any boat used by Europeans during the early centuries of exploration. The Ra II is now in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.
The book The Ra Expeditions and the film documentary Ra (1972) were made about the voyages. Apart from the primary aspects of the expedition, Heyerdahl deliberately selected a crew representing a great diversity in race, nationality, religion and political viewpoint in order to demonstrate that at least on their own little floating island, people could cooperate and live peacefully. Additionally, the expedition took samples of marine pollution and presented their report to the United Nations.
Barbados 1979, S.G.?, Scott: 489.
Norway 2004, Inland Mail.
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