Saturday, July 25, 2009
a real adventurer
It hardly seems believable to most people under 40 that not all that long ago there was no world wide web . Html was developed in 1990 and only mastered by me two years ago once I had a reason for posting pictures, links and youtubes. It was my husband who took to computing early on so I'm aware the internet is older than the web but general access to it was pretty restricted until the late 90's. 20 years ago net and dial-up connections went through big university servers and were charged by the minute - there was nothing to look at until the first browsers were developed. Back then everybody pretty much used netscape and everything was mostly based on the free transfer of information. Commercial applications came along with the html pages of new dot-com businesses (many of which tanked in 2001) with google, amazon and ebay opening up the concept for everyone to use easily.
But I hadn't intended to do a post about the web or blogging even though it's kind of remarkable that we've all grown so accustomed to our high speed access that an unplanned day or two without it is like having one of our major senses dismantled. What, or better put, who, I wanted to write about is Thor Heyerdahl, a world-renowned explorer, anthropologist and archaeologist and the fact that when we arrived here in Portland in 1993 I'd been making an extensive effort to find all of his books. I'd searched book stores all over the Providence and Boston area and had come up with only a couple, including a dog-eared copy of Kon Tiki. It turned out Powell's had them all and I was happy to read of his multiple adventures which appear to prove his hypothesis that established theories about civilisations and the movement of peoples were not necessarily correct.
Heyerdahl believed that there was a link between the sun worshipping cultures of central America and those which had developed on the Nile, the Euphrates and in the Indus Valley that had transferred pyramid-building technology. Reed boats depicted on the wall paintings in the Valley of the Kings and those on ceramic pots in northern Peru had made him curious about the connection. In the 60's he got Indians from Bolivia to come to Egypt to help build a reed boat, Ra, with 280,000 reeds brought from Lake Tana in the Ethiopian highlands. One of my books has a wonderful photograph of the Ra in front of the pyramids as it was being pulled to the Nile. Along with an international crew of seven he set sail in the 50 ft. reed boat, from Morocco across the Atlantic towards Barbados. The expedition had to be abandoned after 3,500 miles and 56 days, one week away from Barbados.
The Ra II built in 1970, also had to be abandoned short of its goal. One of the main problems during the Ra and Ra II voyages was that water absorption made the reed boats float very low in the water, covering their decks in water in the last few weeks. He was especially concerned about the toxic pollution in the Persian Gulf as he described the reeds of their boat disintegrating while they watched. Later he learned from the Marsh Arabs, who lived in the former Sumerian region of Iraq, that if the reeds were cut in August they would retain their buoyancy. Heyerdahl decided to try.
In 1977, his largest reed boat was ready – 60 feet long and named Tigris after the river in which it was launched. Built under the leadership of the same South American Indians who had built Ra II, Heyerdahl sailed under the UN flag and with an international crew of 11 men (and Crow).
The Tigris voyage lasted for 4,225 miles. The boat first sailed down Shatt-el-Arab from Iraq to the Persian Gulf and out into the Indian Ocean and continued on via Oman to the Indus Valley in Pakistan before it finally left Asia and sailed over the Indian Ocean to Africa. The five month long voyage ended in Djibouti at the entrance to the Red Sea. Surrounded by war on all sides the members of the expedition decided in April 1978 to burn the boat. At the same time they sent out a unanimous appeal to the UN to stop the delivery of weapons to developing countries in this part of the world, which had laid the foundations for our own civilisation.
The Tigris was deliberately burnt in Djibouti, on April 3, 1978 as a protest against the wars raging on every side in the Red Sea and Horn of Africa. In Heyerdahl's open letter to the Secretary of the United Nations he said in part:
' Today we burn our proud ship... to protest against inhuman elements in the world of 1978... Now we are forced to stop at the entrance to the Red Sea. Surrounded by military airplanes and warships from the world's most civilized and developed nations, we have been denied permission by friendly governments, for reasons of security, to land anywhere, but in the tiny, and still neutral, Republic of Djibouti. Elsewhere around us, brothers and neighbors are engaged in homicide with means made available to them by those who lead humanity on our joint road into the third millennium.
'To the innocent masses in all industrialized countries, we direct our appeal. We must wake up to the insane reality of our time.... We are all irresponsible, unless we demand from the responsible decision makers that modern armaments must no longer be made available to people whose former battle axes and swords our ancestors condemned.
'Our planet is bigger than the reed bundles that have carried us across the seas, and yet small enough to run the same risks unless those of us still alive open our eyes and minds to the desperate need of intelligent collaboration to save ourselves and our common civilization from what we are about to convert into a sinking ship.'
Heyerdahl's work, explorations, thoughts and conclusions deserve much more space than I'm able to manage in a small blog post but thankfully, because of the world wide web, most of the information is now readily available to anyone who might be interested. We descendants of Europeans have a tendency to believe we've brought civilization to the world but the opposite could also be true. It's now fairly well understood that our continent was inhabited for thousands of years before those ancestors arrived with their greed intact. Shortly before his death in 2002 Heyerdahl remarked, 'I say that no European has discovered anything but Europe.'
The fact that there was a civilized world before us and there could very well be again is worth some consideration. He traveled the world discovering pyramids and other signs of ancient civilizations unknown to most people even now when we're told modern science knows everything worth knowing:
'I'm left with a conviction that there's something wrong with science. So much information is available nowadays that to make any forward progress scientists are forced to specialize, making any attempt at an overview impossible. I've always searched for correspondences but young people today are crushed by scientific orthodoxies before they even get a chance to explore.'
The web as we know it arrived fast and not too long ago. If it ever disappears rest assured humanity has a long track record of keeping in touch with the truly important things.