National Geographic : 1941 Jan
Turning Back Time in the South Seas BY TIIOR HEYERDAHL JWith Illustrations from Photographs by the Author W E WANTED to go back to nature. Though the cold of the northern winter had settled on Oslo, already we felt the heat of the Tropics as we made our plans, poring over maps of the southern seas speckled with tiny dots of islands. For the thousandth time I put my finger on one small yellow dot in the vast Pacific. "Fatu-Hiva," I said to Liv, my fiancee. "That's the place for us." Once again we were deep in argument. Why couldn't we carry out the plan we had in mind? Surely, we reasoned, there is room enough in this modern world to escape civili zation. We had gone over the possible places -Greenland, the Sahara, the jungles of Brazil... Each had been considered and each in turn dismissed, for to these places one must carry something of civilization to keep life going. "I'll go with you," Liv had said, "if we can do the thing thoroughly-go right back to nature; not take any bit of civilization with us; renounce both its benefits and its evils." With all the courage of her 20 years she was prepared to face whatever the future might hold for us in whatever unknown paradise we selected. I agreed with her. If we were to do this thing, we should do it right. "We'll go back thousands of years and start where our primeval ancestors left off," I said, enthusiastically. "With our bare hands we will make our living and be one with nature. "Then," I mused, "we can tell whether or not this modern world is as much of a bless ing as men think." Prescription for "Escape" Knowledge gained during my years of geographical study was brought into use as we considered the different countries of the world, and one by one eliminated them as use less for our purpose. We needed a depopulated piece of land, fertile and rich in fruit and other forms of food. But nature was niggardly where man had avoided settling; and where nature was generous, men were plentiful. This was so even in the South Sea. Island after island was eliminated. This one had a car road all around; that one was a center for tourist business; here was one without water; there, one without fruit. Many were only copra plantations. More were densely populated with natives. There were thousands of islands and reefs, but none like Fatu-Hiva (map, page 112). This little island, described by botanists as one of the most fertile in the South Sea, and beloved for its beauty by the comparatively few travelers who had seen it from within, had another advantage for us. Here was space enough. Ninety-eight per cent of the natives had gone from the island forever. The jungle had crept down from the mountains and reoccupied the deserted gardens, covering the ruins and man-made habitations. Yes, here was space enough for us two, and food enough, where once thousands of natives had struggled to survive. In an overgrown, forgotten garden in some lonely valley, we could, perhaps, build our selves a home of branch and leaf, live on fruit and fish, and stroll through the lush tropical foliage among birds and semiwild game, at one with nature. We chose Fatu-Hiva. And so we were married and set out on our honeymoon. Bound for an Island Eden Six weeks later the tropic sun beamed in reality on our helmets as we stood on the beach of Tahiti, watching the big French steamer that had brought us disappear into the horizon. We had made our first step toward our goal. For a month we waited in Tahiti for the little schooner that was to take us to our far off island in the Marquesas. Meanwhile, we went far from Papeete, the capital, to the Papenoo valley home of Teriieroo i Teriieroo terai, chief of all the chiefs of Tahiti (p. 117). A full-blooded native of proud demeanor was Teriieroo, conscious of the past culture of the islands and bitter at the shadows cast over them with the arrival of the white man. This charming, stout-bodied man, with his keen mind and sense of humor, was intensely interested in our undertaking. He made his home ours, for our stay. Under his friendly eye we learned much that was to be of value to us in the life ahead. Madame Teriieroo, hopping about a pile of hot stones that served as an oven, familiarized Liv with the secrets of Polynesian cookery.