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Film / Kon-Tiki

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Kon-Tiki is a documentary film from 1951. It is Thor Heyerdahl's account of his voyage in the summer of 1947 with five companions, in a raft, over 6,980 km (4,340 miles) of open ocean, from mainland South America to landfall in the islands of Polynesia.

At the time the history of the islands of the south Pacific, and specifically how they were settled, was a subject of intense academic debate. The dominant theory of that era was that the islands of Pacific were settled by people who set off from the Asian mainland and traveled eastward. Heyerdahl disagreed. He believed that the south Pacific was settled by people who set off from mainland South America and traveled westward. Heyerdahl contended that the famous moai statues of Easter Island resembled Incan statuary, and that Easter Island myths indicated that peoples from the Americas had settled the island.


In order to show that his theory was feasible, Heyerdahl and his crew constructed a boat using what would have been available to the ancient South Americans, namely, balsa wood tree trunks and rope. They set out on a voyage that lasted a little over three months, in which they were able to feed themselves from their stored supplies and the fish they caught. Little steering was required as the prevailing wind and ocean currents sent them right where they wanted to go. They made landfall on Raroia atoll.

While Heyerdahl showed that the voyage was feasible, and several other groups duplicated his feat, later research indicates that the original theory of Polynesia being settled in an eastward direction from the Asian mainland is correct. In particular, genetic evidence solidly backs the general outlines of Polynesian colonization originally set out on the basis of Polynesian linguistics.note  That being said, there is tantalizing but inconclusive evidence that Asian-descended Polynesians made the reverse journey at least once before 1492, possibly accounting for Heyerdahl's observations and partially vindicating his theories.


A dramatic film of this voyage, also titled Kon-Tiki, was released in Norway in 2012.


  • Dissonant Serenity: Heyerdahl when he recounts some of the more dangerous parts of the voyage, like the time two guys got into the little rubber raft attached to the Kon-Tiki and were nearly left adrift in the ocean, which almost certainly would have resulted in their deaths. He says it would have been "not very nice".
  • Eenie, Meenie, Miny Moai: Heyerdahl cites the similarity of Easter Island moai to Incan art as evidence for his theory.
  • Experimental Archeology: Former Trope Namer as "Kon Tiki Plot". Heyerdahl set out to show that South Americans could have settled Polynesia by doing it himself.
  • Hula and Luaus: Well, it's Tahiti, in south Polynesia, not the Hawaiian Islands. But there are still two good-looking women in grass skirts dancing at the end of the movie.
  • Narrator: Thor Heyerdahl, in both the Scandinavian and English versions of the movie.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Heyerdahl mentions that at one point they spent five days fighting a brutal storm—which was too bad to allow filming.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The crew of the Kon Tiki took a pet parrot with them. The parrot stuck with them on the boat for sixty days, until they hit a storm, whereupon the parrot flew away and never came back.
  • Vehicle Title: Kon-Tiki was the name of the raft.
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: A rare 20th century example, as six guys sail over 4000 miles on a goddamn raft.

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