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.


Nancy said...

Wow, thank you for this. I had forgotten all the details of his three attempts with the Ra. Also, I either had forgotten, or never knew, that he had burned the last one in protest. It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how long we live, we just never seem to learn that killing our fellow human beings amounts to actually killing ourselves. I will say, in reading The Intention Experiment, I am excited to learn of all the experiments going on all around the world, having to do with energy and human consciousness. Maybe these discoveries will change the world. One can hope.

Great post.

Seraphine said...

and the sad thing is arms sales continue to increase year after year. and the world becomes more dangerous.
hopefully, with the internet and international travel available to so many, people learn about each other and learn to live together peacefully.
or we're all in a boat up a creek without a paddle.

Utah Savage said...

What a great read that was. I believe that my ancestors were here at least 7,000 years before the Europeans arrived. We had a very old culture that had a written language and spiritual beliefs that were based on sharing not owning. I feel related to all the indigenous cultures on this continent. I feel very alienated from the white culture that sees itself as superior to older cultures especially those of color. Racism is a white invention. And it's very hard to defeat. The greed does lead to wealth and wealth breeds power and power is the great corruptor. Power will do anything necessary to keep power, even commit genocide.

I am horrified that we make the arms dealers rich beyond obscene. Continuing on this path will destroy us all.

susan said...

nancy - I'd be the first to agree that people can end up exhibiting very bizarre behavior - something most often driven by a relative few who want to consolidate wealth and power. The rest of my thoughts on this subject could last through another dozen big posts so I won't try. You have made me curious enough to follow up on the Intention Experiment.

sera - I understand that weapons making is the only major industry left in this country. You may be right about travel and friendship both virtual and real making the difference. I hope so.

utah - I'm glad you enjoyed it. I too have always felt like an outsider in this greedy western post industrial culture we inhabit. Social Darwinism is anathema to what being human actually meant for many thousands of years. Societies that practice the teachings of the Book (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) have caused a lot of unnecessary problems with their refusal to see the world itself as sacred while praying to an angry God of their imagination. At heart I'm an old black woman struggling to raise orphaned grandchildren in a chaotic world where I hope equilibrium can be restored.

Lisa said...

I feel more intelligent for having read this. One of the things I love most about the internet is that there is an opportunity to learn, to laugh, to love, to feel, to think....

This line: It's now fairly well understood that our continent was inhabited for thousands of years before those ancestors arrived with their greed intact. got a big amen out of me.

gfid said...

perhaps you've read Ronald Wright's Stolen Continents, about north and south American civilizations prior to the 'discovery' of the continent by europeans? chilling stuff. i remember reading a dummed down version of the Kon Tikki story in elementary school, but i had no idea the scope of his accomplishments. inspiring!!!

La Belette Rouge said...

I was particularly struck by this line: "
'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."

We so rarely look at the dark side of progress. Access to information always seems a solely positive thing and yet it doesn't allow the time and space and dreaming between wondering and discovery.

gfid said...

before relocation, i started a book called 'The Ingenuity Gap'.... and it's somewhere among my miscellaneous boxes stashed here and there'n everywhere.... can't remember the author's name.... but it's about the idea that ethics are not keeping up with science. how we have the ability to do so much that we don't understand the consequenses of, nor the long term ramifications of. nothing new, i guess, but just happening much faster than we can, (or have the will to) sort through. at least in the past there appeared to be a common will to find ethical practice, etc....

Liberality said...

'I say that no European has discovered anything but Europe.'


susan said...

lisa - Gfid mentioned a very readable book by Ronald Wright called Stolen Continents about the invasion by Europeans of both north and south America is amazing. Everything kids get told in school is a LIE.

gfid - In fact, I did not long after we arrived out here. It was incredibly well researched and remarkable in its focus on Aztec, Maya, Inca, Cherokee and Iroquois history from 1492 to present. I may have to read it again.

belette - That's true. I don't think Newton, Galileo and Ben Franklin among others would get a look in these days. Science has been corporatized along with so much else and there's little hint of pure science anywhere but especially not here.

gfid - That one I haven't heard about before but it sounds worth checking out. The situation we have now is definitely way out of control.

liberality - TRUE. Great line, eh?

Steve Emery said...

I loved reading Kon Tiki as a kid - it greatly impressed me - opened my mind. Thanks for posting this. It made a good close to my evening on the net.

lindsaylobe said...

Hi Susan
An interesting and very well presented posting to refreshingly remind me of how enthralling it was to first read that wonderful book and view the pictures about the Kon Tiki expedition. A best seller at the time.
When I first started out mechanization was only just beginning as ledger machines were the only means of automation apart from the large manual card systems. The subsequent experience of the fruits of the information age you have identified certainly did make such a vast difference to our lives. But I have also noticed that pure research is on the wane as research Institutions become dominated by the commercial objective to attempt to narrowly focus all research work to provide a pay back. But a history of science reveals most of our major scientific discoveries were purely accidental or incidental to the original research intention and are invariably as first presented counter intuitive.
Whist we can say many aspects of science are no longer a mystery – e.g. We can say water is by definition (H20) – other definitions such as life itself (and where life begins and ends in the multitude of cells) remain mysterious. I don’t think anyone can satisfactorily say what consciousness and collective consciousness is. In the end science and religion must remain a servant of our philosophy which shapes what we think and why we think what we think – whether we like to acknowledge the role of philosophy or not.
Meanwhile this year’s first half of natural disasters with tornadoes, cyclones quakes, bush fires, drought, and heat waves increased in frquaencey once again to emulate the long term upward trend line indicative of global warming. Science hopefully will provide us with the information to avoid a repetition of past mistakes but only if we opt from a philosophical point of view to actively adopt socially environmental responsible business practices.

Best wishes

fairlane said...

got your message.

decided you were right.

the prodigal son has returned.

Randal Graves said...

You're all a bunch of communists! Praise the Lord and pass the ammo.

okjimm said...

Great Post. I maybe a drinkin, smokin, unrepentative degenerate football watching bum..... but I have never owned a or killed anything bigger than a fly(well that one mosquito WAS pretty big)

great post.

Seraphine said...

i can make a whistle out of a reed.
and i can make two blades of grass whistle by blowing between them.

Ben said...

Ooh, Heyerdahl is a fascinating topic. Kind of dovetails with some other stuff I'm readking, about early toolmaking. Loved your concluding paragraph.

susan said...

steve - I think you'd enjoy his other books too. He was a wild man.. in the best possible way.

lindsay - I agree with you and considering we're about the same age, I've seen the same changes in business management. There are still a number of positive aspects to the old fashioned kind of general ledger accounting - namely, the fact you can't feed a weird algorithm into a high speed computer with the only plan being to accumulate vast sums of wealth for a few. That certainly hasn't been a change for the better.

fairlane - :-)

randal - What happens when you have to go next door to beg for a cup of ammo?

okjimm - Well I'm a drinkin, smokin, unrepentant former baseball fan but I must admit I participated in the killing of a very well armed hornet in my office last week.

sera - With those skills you're well on the way to building a reed boat.

ben - It's kind of funny how synchronicities can come along and keep us on track.

Dr. Zaius said...

Awesome! I saw the movie years ago, "The Ra expedition". I was just a little kid at the time.