The Coming of the White Bearded Men: The Origin and development of Thor Heyerdahl's Kon-Tiki Theory [article]

Victor Melander, University, The Australian National, University, The Australian National
From the late 1930s to his death in 2002, the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) relentlessly sought scientific acceptance for his controversial Kon-Tiki Theory. The theory separated the settlement of the Pacific into two different migrating races: the transatlantic culture bearers or white bearded men; and the originally Asiatic warrior race, the Maori-Polynesians. To date very little scholarly attention has been devoted to what influenced Heyerdahl to develop the intensely
more » ... theory. Heyerdahl himself claimed that the theory came to him as an epiphany through encounters during his first journey to Polynesia in 1937. The aim of this thesis is to analyse the origin and development of Heyerdahl's theory by focusing on his 1937 journey to Polynesia. This will be done particularly by targeting three distinguishable tropes of ethnographic travel writing detectable in Heyerdahl's own narration of the theory's origin. These include: Heyerdahl's contrasting of the omniscient traveller and the armchair scientist; the connection he drew between a white race and advanced culture; and his emphasis on being there as the only means to extract knowledge. In Heyerdahl's writing the latter trope also includes a second level which stressed the need to be there not only physically but mentally by performing primitivism. A central aim of this thesis is also to deconstruct Heyerdahl's autobiography, to extract original chronologies and intentions masked by later improvements from secondary contexts and intentions. In addition to published sources, the thesis source material consists of archival material such as field-journals, letters and manuscripts. Through these sources the origin and the development of the theory will be analysed from the mid-1930s up until its final publication in 1952. The analysis will focus on the influence Norwegian scientific tradition and Heyerdahl's student years at Oslo University had on the theory. It will also focus on Heyerdahl's knowledge and perceptions of Polynesia prior to his P [...]
doi:10.25911/5e96e30f77539 fatcat:l5b3oikpwjer3jsntz6klh32tu