Winter 2006 (14.4)
Marvels & Mysteries at Sea
Format - 150 KB
by Betty Blair
One of America's most distinguished
journalists - Bill Moyers (born 1934) - recently mused about
his type of journalism in front of a distinguished audience of
150 guests who had come to honor him for "extraordinary
contributions to public cultural, civic and intellectual life.1
"We are often asked whether our kind of journalism really
matters," he began. "People are curious about why we
give so much time to novelists, playwrights, artists, historians,
philosophers, composers, scholars, teachers - all of whom we
view as public thinkers. The answer is simple: They are worth
"Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?" Moyers
continued. "Reading Shakespeare does not erase the budget
deficit. Plunging into the history of the 15th century does not
ease traffic jams. Listening to Mozart or reading the ancient
Greeks does not repair the ozone layer crime is still rampant,
the divorce rate continues to soar, corruption flourishes, legislatures
remain stubbornly profligate."
And, we, at Azerbaijan International magazine might add that
thinking about Thor Heyerdahl
(1914-2002) who dared to sail 4,000 miles across the Pacific
Ocean on a raft made of balsa logs in 1947, or the recent Tangaroa raft expedition led by
Torgeir Higraff, which was based on Heyerdahl's experiment, doesn't
alleviate tensions in the Middle East. Nor will it lessen the
brutal nightmare in Iraq of occupying forces and suicide bombers.
Nor is it likely to deter what seems to be an administration
hell-bent on dropping nuclear bombs on Azerbaijan's neighbor
to the south, which, if carried out, will have unprecedented
catastrophic consequences for the entire region.
In his speech, Moyers went on to quote award-winning novelist
Maxine Hong Kingston: "All human beings have this burden
in life to constantly figure out what's true, what's authentic,
what's meaningful, what's dross, what's a hallucination, what's
a figment, what's madness. We all need to figure out what is
valuable, constantly. As a writer," Kingston continues,
"all I am doing is posing the question in a way that people
can see very clearly."
It's an understatement to say that we live in dangerous times.
But Thor Heyerdahl, too, carried out his experiment, on the heels
of World War II, which at the time had been the most devastating
man-made disaster known to modern man. He knew what war was all
about. He himself had been drafted as well.
But when others were pessimistic about their destiny in life,
Heyerdahl gave breath to the possibility that one could confront
forces and institutions larger than one's self. One could influence
and shape one's own destiny - at least to some extent. Though
war had demanded blind obedience, wanton destruction and murder,
Heyerdahl set out on an insane voyage to prove that oceans served
as avenues of conductivity, not separation, for human kind.
Despite three other major sailing vessels that Heyerdahl later
went on to construct and sail - the Tigris, Ra I and II - on
different seas, with different winds and ocean currents, it was
the Kon-Tiki that captured the world's imagination. Kon-Tiki
gave him a microphone to become a spokesman for world peace,
scientific exploration and a healthy global environment.
Heyerdahl was always looking for what linked mankind. He rejected
man-made constructs of separation and isolation, such as political
borders, boundaries and walls. For him, mankind was connected
to each other and, thus, we were all responsible for each other.
For him, the words "me and mine" needed to be replaced
with the more embracing terms: "us and ours".
Heyerdahl came to Azerbaijan on at least four occasions -1980,
1994, 1999, 2000 - the last three of which were upon the invitation
of the late President Heydar Aliyev. He was embraced in the Soviet
Union despite some of the academic challenges that he faced there.
For example, when "Kon-Tiki" was first published in
1951, the book was forbidden until Nikita Khrushchev came to
power . Then
it soared to the top of the bestseller lists in all of the Eastern
European languages. "Kon-Tiki", thus, became the
first book ever to sell more than a million copies there.
Pleshakov's obituary 2, summarizing the legacy of Heyerdahl,
he observed that the Soviet Union was one of the nations that
loved him most and the crazy imaginativeness of his seemingly
flimsy expeditions at sea always inspired and gave hope. He was
the David daring to stand up against Goliath.
"Somehow, no matter what happened in the Kremlin or in the
White House, the ocean, with its waves and riddles, was still
there. The coral reefs were just as beautiful as ever. And life
And maybe that's the most important lesson for today -"Life
does go on!" Perhaps, that's the most essential message
"worth listening to". And if it is true, then we all
must take responsibility for our tomorrows.
"If there were something I could
wish for in the future, it would be that there would be an end
to all the conflicts between the different religions, and that
everyone who believes in a creative force behind nature would
use intelligence, conscience, intuition, the Holy Spirit, and
everything else that is in our collective power to get advice
and help to preserve nature before we completely disturb the
great Day of Rest."
Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002)
"In The Footsteps of Adam by Thor Heyerdahl," London:
Little Brown, 2000, page 298
Excerpts from Bill Moyer's acceptance speech for the Frank E.
Taplin Jr. Public Intellectual Award given to him and his wife
Judith for "extraordinary contributions to public cultural,
civic and intellectual life" by the Woodrow Wilson National
Fellowship Foundation. New York City on February 7, 2007.
2 "Thor Heyerdahl: "Adventurer's
Death Touches Russia's Soul," by Constantine Pleshakov.
Japan Times on May 5, 2002. [See Azerbaijan International 10.2
(Summer 2002). Search at AZER.com].
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