10 August 2011

Book Review: Maldives Mistery, by Thor Heyerdahl, ***

From the museum of Malè, 2009

When the Maldive Islanders converted to Islam in the 12th century, they discarded or destroyed all traces of earlier cultures, thus denying their past. Recent archeological discoveries prompted the government to invite Heyerdahl to examine the artifacts and attempt a reconstruction of pre-Islamic history.

Located in the Indian Ocean southwest of India and west of Sri Lanka, the Maldives encompass two broad, reefless sea passages ("One-and-Half" and Equatorial Channels) well-known to ancient mariners. Heyerdahl, an authority on primitive sea travel (Kon-Tiki, The Ra Expeditions, unravels a mystery that reaches into the vanished civilizations of Sumer and the Indus Valley. The Maldivan artifacts showed that temples were built around A.D. 550; that the original settlers had been sun-worshipers. (Reed Business, 1986).


This is typical Heyerdahl 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.

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