May 6, 2009

The Ra Expeditions

by Thor Heyerdahl

I finished reading The Ra Expeditions yesterday. Some twenty years after Kon-Tiki, Heyerdahl observed similarities in the ancient cultures of the Olmecs and the Egyptians, and surmised that a reed boat may have long ago crossed the Atlantic Ocean, carrying Egyptian ideas and technologies into South America decades before Columbus. So of course, he set out to prove it was a possibility. More so than Kon-Tiki, this book describes the long and tedious route Heyerdahl had to take to get the boat built, his many visits to remote lakes in Africa, his theories and comparisons of the ancient cultures. There's not much of the oceanic nature writing I enjoyed in Kon-Tiki, and the personality differences among the crew members (from seven different nations and only one of them a sailor!) causing frictions to arise under the stress of months spent on a small boat, was addressed a lot. I was continually astonished by things I read in this book. Papyrus reeds no longer grow in Egypt, so he had to travel to the source of the Nile to find them. He had to go to lake Chad to find people who still knew how to build reed boats (and there the local people live on floating reed islands!) The building crew copied designs meticulously from ancient paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs, and failed to understand the significance of one rope on the boat, which caused the first Ra to start to fall apart before they made it across the ocean. He had a second boat built, properly this time, which sailed all the way in record time. Amazing. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Kon-Tiki, but still thrilled to read the account. I can't believe people would do this sort of thing- sail across an ocean on a boat made of reeds! that started to fall apart on them! attacked by portuguese man-of-war (whose paralyzing affect they cured with fresh urine)! and more.

I read this one for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge

Rating: 4/5 ........ 341 pages, 1970


Bybee said...

Would Kon-Tiki fit into my Eco Reading Challenge, or is that too much of a stretch?

Jeane said...

I had to go look up what the Eco Challenge was about. I think Kon-Tiki might be a stretch, but you could make it fit! A better one might be another book he wrote called Fatu-Hiva Back to Nature where he lived on a south sea island (for his honeymoon!). I haven't read it yet, but it's on my bedside pile.

bermudaonion said...

I remember when this book was popular. I'm glad to see it's stood up to the test of time.