on 12 March 2011
This is a really fascinating account of Thor Hayerdahl's archaeological expedition to the Maldives and what light he was able to shed on the history not only of the Maldives but also on the 'long ears' civilization which travelled along the equatorial channel. They brought vital knowledge to a number of countries including Peru, Easter Island, Bahrain, the Maldives and many others.
You are taken on the adventure with him every step of the way. With him, you encounter the obstacles, not least the destruction of ancient relics by the Maldivians through their religious beliefs. You rejoice with him on progress made in overcoming the prejudices of the Maldivians themselves and his gentle, patient pathway to that progress. You share the excitement of the many finds, some quite unexpected. It is impossible to read any of Thor Heyerdahl's books without developing a deep liking for this extaordinary man.
All Thor Hayerdahl's books are extremely entertaining and readable, with an approach very different from the usual rather dry expositions of archaeological works. The Maldive Mystery, like other books by this author, is written with style, humour and interest, yet is wonderfully informative.
I would strongly recommend it.
Thor Heyerdahl was one of the great explorers of the 20th century. As a man who sailed reconstructed ancient craft across oceans, he is the only person who has shed light in popular format on the ancient history of the island chain that comprises the Maldives. As a now extremely popular tourist destination, the Maldives have been transformed from even 25 years ago when Heyerdahl was writing in the mid-80s but what the book establishes is some of the fascinating worlds that these coral atolls have been part of.
The Maldive Mystery is more a tour through Thor Heyerdahl's various expeditions to the Maldives in the early 1980s at a time when the country was just re-emerging back into the international community. Having been relatively unheralded for so long and under the yoke of dictatorial sultans, the Maldivians were not always keen to speak to Heyerdahl about their ancestral stories but the Maldive Mystery unravels some of the tales combined with archaeological developments to begin piecing together a record that strethes back towards the earliest civilizations in history.
Heyerdahl was clearly a colourful character and the cast on his adventure are brought to life whether they be close companions from the Scandinavian archaeological community or bureaucrats from the Maldivian President's office and these tales are sometimes as enlightening as the delve into the past. Heyerdahl clearly had a reasonably high opinion of himself and I could not quite see why he had to refer to himself as the equivalent of Sherlock Holmes on two occaisions as this is not a detective mystery, merely some first steps into exploring who the Maldivians are and what part they played in civilizational progress.
Heyerdahl's digs are at first opposed by the local bureaucrats on religious grounds but it eventually turns out that it was all just a genuine misunderstanding because most Maldivians had never encountered archaeologists before. Heyerdahl plays up the religious differences that were said to have kept the past hidden during the era of the sultans but having read this while in the archipelago, I couldn't see a hint of that cultural mistrust.
What Heyerdahl does discover is a history that stretches back through four epochs (not counting the current tourist base, the relatively low impact British protectorate, and the brief Portuguese occupation) that pretty much define the stages of broad south Asian culture. The Maldives turns out to play a surprisingly large role in the economics of international trade at times and Heyerdahl intersperses his own adventures with analysis of historical trends in a superbly written way.
One gripe that is apparently often levelled at Heyerdahl is that his speculation is sometimes more imagination than science. This appears to be the case with his overarching theory of an ancient sea faring race that crop up all over the world. Heyerdahl was writing in a time before DNA analysis allowed better mapping of people flows and his unlikely hypothesis doesn't seem to fit.
Still, he's wrong on one speculative aspect that doesn't really matter to the flow but he's right about his quest to explore and the loving detail of those around him. The escapades his group get up to span several years and several groups but the writing is so tight that it all fits together superbly. The life threatening incidents that cause a few of the group to be injuried out are gripping. This is a page turner as Heyerdahl leads the reader expertly through his story and the story of the thousand islands - it is a beautiful part of the world and this is a great accompaniment to that place.
on 16 December 2011
This is typical Heyerdal of Kontiki memory. Entrepreneurial, enthusiastic, hyperactive, resourceful, but not necessarily on the mark when it comes to conclusions.
He spent considerable time in the Maldives, which is commendable. In a state that does not allow any symbols of religions other than Islam to be displayed (I have seen little Buddhas being confiscated at the airport) he was able to persuade the president to allow for diggings in Buddhist sites and most of that stuff is now on display at the Male museum. This alone justifies buying the book.
However his conclusions about the role of Hinduism and Buddhism in pre-Islam Maldives are less than watertight, just as his conclusions after the Kontiki expeditions were. He pretty much acknowledges as much at the very end of the book. Finally, he also spends too many pages writing about himself.
on 17 December 2002
Thor Heyerdahl's book gives an excellent insight into the ancient history of the Maldives; and how numerous cultures have influenced the islands especially in the pre-Islamic Maldives. Based on his visits to a number of islands where he had discovered pre-Islamic artifacts, the book attempts to trace the ancient cultures that dominated the islands. However, this book is far from being a comprehensive analysis of the origins of the Maldive people. It just raises several questions.
Overall, interesting and fascinating reading for those who wants to know more about the ancient culture of these islands.