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- Summary
What we know
What we NOT know
Material & Tools
Fate of Log Rafts
Guara steering
Hull Shape
Sails on Rafts
Modern Gear
+ Addenda
[ img - inca-sol.png ]Quechua
[ img - tumi2.gif ]
Boats of Pharaoh
[ img - egypt-image.png ]Thousands of years ago
INCA Tupac Yupanki expedition
[ img - inga.png ]year 1465
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Incas' Oceangoing Balsa Log Raft

What we know about Inca seafaring

The maritime society in the Pacific developed different

What happened when the Europeans discovered the South American continent?

In the conflict with the Europeans the Incas were knocked down in an impressing havoc in good Christian style, due to superior weapon technology + unknown illness that killed more men than the arms. A sort of bacteriological war, we could call it, being a great help for the foreigners, freeing them to do so much killing-work themself.
The bad result costed the Inca-people their freedom, their gold and all their fertile land; but the indigenous survived as race, because the men were good, strong and gratis workers for fields and mines, and the women grew good mothers for the Spaniard's illegitime children.
In comparison, the North American indigenous didn't survive so easy. The natives of North America were definitively subdued, when the Gatling gun and the quick loaded repeating rifles, revolvers etc. ware invented and came on the market.
Ref: Book of the great indianfighter General George Armstrong Custer 1872: "My Life on the Plains" - ISBN 0-8061-1357-X

Today this northern country is repopulated by immigration of forreign races - and all earlier culture and their history is erased.

In south: as second consequence the Inca nation too lost their culture and their organizations. Technologically subdued - and still kept down !
Therefor is left so little from their heydays.

Don't forget the general RULE OF WAR - still valid:
As soon as the size of a BOOTY seems larger than the MILITARY COSTS, then the war will break out
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 Robbery and War are as any other business:     The gain has to be higher than the costs
So it always was - and so it still is -
- the Incas learned it -
and many nations will experience that phenomenon in a foul way
That means: "If a boy, a man - or a country - can't defend himself, he will get bullied, exploited or enslaved"

, the Incas learned this in the same moment, as they showed their huge richness of GOLD to the Spanish visitors in Cajamarca 500 years ago - subsequent, as told, they only few years after had lost everything.
But things repeat, and even today the Peruvians have a problem with too much Gold recently found in the region of Cajamarca - in Conga.

By its nature "gold" of every sort, being golden, white or black - solid, powder, paste or liquid - is submitted the same general RULE OF WAR mentioned above.

Adam Schmidt year 1776,
"The Wealth of Nations":

The discovery of the abundant mines of America, reduced, in the sixteenth century, the value of gold and silver in Europe to about a third of what it had been before.

The liberation of the Latin-American colonies was a consequence of the defeat of Napoleon.
These liberations changed again the flow of gold and silver going to Europa.
A shortage of silver for the English China-trade ended up 1-2 decades later with the Opium wars, as the English won, opening up for use of opium as payment for merchandises from China.
Neither then, the British hadn't any qualms about the Chinese society getting addicted to drugs.
The dominance at sea

To meet the balsa rafts was a great surprise for the Spaniards
- even their own ships could hardly take so heavy a load. And from the Spaniards we have the oldest written accounts.
The balsa rafts came from the Manta area, as is on the westmost coast of Ecuador just south of the Equator. There they had the materials to construct the rafts and from there they started sailing up and down the coast
After the deed of Thor Heyerdahl scholars and archaeologists seems to have intensified their work, and have found evidence, that the pre-Columbian seafaring, had its center in the maritime coast-society just under Equator. From what today is called Puerto Viejo their rafts sailed up along the coast to Panama and Acapulco in Mexico and down to Chiclayo, Trujillo and Paracas areas - against south until the northern of Chile.
There are archaeological finds as indicate a frequent mercantile interchange together with transfer of technology.

We don't know any historical nor archaeological argument for Heyerdahl's choice of Callao as port of departure for his Kon-tiki expedition, there were never before mentioned rafts starting out from Callao, until he did it in 1947. It seems as a result of an arranged meeting with the peruvian president Jose Bustamante y Rivero, as of narrow political reasons offered the service of the per uvian navy.
Now it is a part of the "Heyerdahl concept", and Callao has developed as a main start-port for oceangoing Rafts - at least for Norwegian rafts.
Callao was founded by the Spaniards, as a lovely site for anchorage, protected from the ocean waves by a natural breakwater: the Island of San Lorenzo.

The people from Manta continued their sailings too under the Spaniards but their oceangoing rafts disappeared together with other big sailships by arrival of steamers and motorships of iron. The route up and down the coasts have still no contemporary raft accomplished, even there have been attempts. On the other side the descendant in form of smaller rafts are still sailing on the coasts of Ecuador.

According to old legends reproduced by the Spaniards, and published by the peruvian historian María Rostworowski, the later Inca Tupac Yupanki around year 1465 (after his conquest of Quito) sailed out from Manta to the islands of Mangareva (23°S and 135°W) - then to Tahiti (17°S - 147°W), returning via RapaNui (27°S - 109°W) - and then back to Puerto Viejo (1°S - 80°W).
He sailed out with a company of 1000 men on 50 balsas of which the bigger were made of 13 logs, had two huts and two masts. He returned after one year round trip.


An artist's interpretation of a Tupac Yupanki Raft with an A-mast, a square sail and a central placed Cabin
- and too the artist has demonstrated an open fireplace on the quarterdeck
- and that the craft was controlled by the daggerboard system in combination with the stabilizing and long-nosed flat keel-system.

The round "mill-stones" on foredeck are anchors.

Ref: Jose Antonio del Busto D.: Tupac Yupanki, descrubridor del Oceanía

[ img - tupaq-raft+.jpg ]

A condition for the existence of any empire is, that they can write a letter and send a message, as they will be able to read and decipher without misunderstanding in the other end of the empire.

The mean for the Inca comunication system is called Quipu (also spelled khipu or quipo). Quipus were the Inca's written messages = their comunication mean to administrate and keep together the Empire. It seems as every Empire need a comunication system to exist. Quipus is the only known pre-Columbian comunication means system in South America - in Central America both the Aztecs and the and the Mayas had their own system.
A Quipu consists of knots tied on wool and cotton strings and dyed with certain colors - and not symbols carved in wood nor clay tablets neither painted on papyrus, paper nor vellum.
Quipus were a knotted "page" of information as easily could be sent by running messengers and interpreted across all their civilization.
All Quipus were gathered by the Spanish church and burned as heretic, diabolic or heathen - to make a stop for the Andean Deity. The same happened in Central America.

Less than thousand Quipus have survived around in museums and collections, and nobody today can interpret them. Therefore nobody knows if they could tell something about seafaring and the Balsa Rafts? I guess we need to wait for an investigator as understand the soul of the language - that means a person with roots in the Quechua-society - to be able to decode these Quipus.

Survived descriptions from the Incas themselves around their Balsa rafts?

[ img - Quipus-1.jpg ] [ img - Quipus-2.png ] [ img - Quipus-4.jpg ]
Drawings of Quipus made by the indigenous chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma around year 1615

Inca language today

The most spoken native languages in South America is Quechua, the Inca's language - also the biggest native language as has survived in all America. Quechua is still spoken by around 10 millions of persons.
In their striving to transfer the messages from the Bible onto their community many clergymen have expressed the sounds of the local dialects of Quechua into words written by latin letters. Each dialect their own diccionary and each wird with special spelling!

The 10 million Inca-descendants as still are Quechua speaking are divided. They live now in what is 6 national states as can't cooperate - at least not in indigenous matter.
The result is as if a woman has got "half pregnant":  Such a hard breed-work serves for nothing because it will not bring any baby. Here: a letter written in one region can't be read in another.

On the web-site of Quechua-people we can demonstrate 6 alphabets with many 'surprise-letters' and many 'right writing dictionaries' = as give us different dialectal spellings for the same word in the quechua language.
We can here compare with all bigger colonial languages, as in spite of used in many continents and countries are kept united by one and only one 'right writing'.

Well - it is the task for the Quechua speaking themselves to unite their writings, but that will not happen without some political support from the National States.

Conclusion: we can't expect survived lore expressed in any Quechua dialect.


[ img - balsas+spanish-galleon.jpg ]
Cuquimpu natives paddle to the Santiago to unload it's cargo. Courtesy Louis S. Glanzman and National Geographic Magazine.
last information from modern time

The last balsa rafts left

The last oceangoing Balsa raft was reported 1910.

As told before, they waned and disappeared together with the big sail-ships
- by the arrival of steamers and motor driven ships.
As Thor Heyerdahl wrote 1948:
The last instructors in raft sailing had been dead for centuries

What we know today comes mostly from historical and literary studies of what some of the first Europeans have heard and seen in this new world - and then have written down.

From then and until the balsa rafts disappeared 1910 we have 3-400 years. That means that there may be much material, that neither is collected, registered nor investigated. One more task for the historians.
On the other side, if the descriptions from all the years are mixed without taken in consideration that during the years and generations, the European technology has been transmitted and mixed in with the original American - then we too could have a source for misunderstandings.
There are neither much investigation of, what we could call the natural base for the existence of those Balsa Rafts: Technology employed on the rafts, tools and methods at disposal for the construction of rafts nor the raw material present in the area - at that time.
Because of this lack of knowledge around what they then could, much misconception is sneaking in. Tools and technology from other parts of the World is creeping into our interpretation and filling up this emptieness.

Evidences from a Past:

The sketch made by lieutenant later admiral F.E.Paris 1841 is the only one we have found showing technical details in the construction of a native balsa raft. The raft is from the north-west coast of South America. The maximum length of the raft is 80-90 feet, maximum width of a raft is 25-30 feet - and with a freight capacity of 20-25 tons. Double size of Kon-tiki.

[ img - balsa1841.jpg ]
probably the most technical correct drawing we have of a balsa raft

The curved yard
is something totally unseen in the western hemisphere, outside the balsa sail area - and we have no experience. A curved yard is a light construction, tied together of three parts (ref: Brunning photo#1) and therefor not so heavy to hoist in a mast, as at least in Inca-time hadn't any block nor sheave in the top.
On the photo the halyard is passing over a block of some sort, tied at the top of mast. On this drawing we clearly can se both the braces and one single row of reefs on top of sail (what seems very few), but we can't see any parrel - what we too agree could be a little complicated on an A-mast.
A light yard can be more flexible - as a fishing rod - why it shouldn't break so easily. It remind of the flexible lateen yard.   [ img - albufera.jpg ]
If there are any aerodynamic advantage in this curved construction? As said: we don't have any experience. The drawing verify that an A-mast only need stays and no shrouds.

A photo is showing details as we can't find on a drawing, but these photos are 50 years = two generations younger than the drawing.
This photo#1 of a balsa by Brüning show some interesting details.

1): Over the balsa trunks for buoyancy is tied a layer of crossbeam-trunks to keep together the balsa-logs. Upon them are placed a few longitudinal going trunks, as seems used mainly to lift the deck aun higher from the sea.
That third layer we have never seen or heard about before.
Then at top we have the deck as a fourth layer of timber or whatever they used as deck for crew and cargo.

2): The sail seems rather high and large for a craft of that size - holding around 15 meters in height and 10 meters width.

3): The yard is curved, and build by three sections and seems more across the raft than the fastening of tack and sheet indicate. We don't know why it is so, but perhaps it has a function as an airfoil - to add an aerodynamic pull, when the wind is passing from the port side and over the curved surface of the sail. On the photo we can't see any braces, and we have no experience with curved yards, but that turn us back to the old theme for dispute: if the wind on sail Push - or Pull?

4): The strange claw, as is seen where the bow-line is attached on fore leech, could look like the fork-end of a spar, a sprit, a pole as probably is supported by the foot of mast and attack the leech in an eye.
If that is the case, it signify that there are no force from bowline hauling against fore stay nor downwards on their curved yard - with other words, it is possible for them to position the fix point of the leech where they want and therefor it is easier to "screw" the sail, as it seems they have done.
(We DON'T KNOW that trick from our own one-masted square-sailors.)

5): The mast as is a single-mast and not A. It seems supported by three stays only and we can't see any shrouds. That is a solution as is known from land-based masts for aerials.

This photo has been taken in the childhood of photography - in 1890.

That means from last in the era of the big sail ships - after 350 years of naval development under influence of the Europeans.

Photo text in Spanish:
"Impressing photo by the german Hans Heinrich Brüning of a balsa-raft in the north of Peru, where we clearly can see the difference between the size of sail and the sailors"

Note that none of the stout seamen seems occupied with any "hand on tiller" - nor hand on any Guara for stearing.
[ img - bruning.gif + Bruning-balsa short2.jpg ]
[ img - Bruning-balsa short2.jpg ]

If the Bruning Museum has more photos of Rafts - that is not known

This second photo from Brüning seems to show the same first balsa
- or perhaps it was the other seen in the distance.
The photo is verifying that it is a sprit as is attacking the foreleech in its bow and in this way give special options for adjusting the sail.
The curved yard seems hanging, but how it is fastened to a halyard is not possible to see - neither how it is controlled by the brace-ropes. It seems more as there are no braces. A curved yard as this probably is easier to hoist, and being of a flexible nature it won't break so easily.
[ img - balsas107a-Bruning.jpg + balsas107b-Bruning.jpg ]
[ img - balsas107b-Bruning.jpg ]

The messages from Early drawings

Our problems with early drawings seems to be many, and one of the obstacles is that so little information is left from the Incas - and the drawings and sketches as exist is often object for misinterpretion, mainly because they were drawn under other conditions and with other purpose than we use today.
Some examples:
One of the earliest drawings is due to Admiral Joris Van Spilbergh, who visited Paita year 1615, when he as a consequence of the Dutch War of Independence was send on a raid around the world to loot the Spanish colonies.

The sketches are a product of hand drawings made perhaps long time after. I suspect that both the raft with the condor and that with triangualr sails were placed in the scenery of the Payta harbour - placed to fill an empty area on a drawing made years after the raid. To tell a story.

The hand copying technique of at that time was by a glass-plate and a candle and the result were always:
To be exact they had to be mirrored two times - or copied as pure free-hand drawings.
[img - payta13.jpg ]
Payta Nr.13
[ img - Payta-46_Spilbergen.jpg ]
Payta Foly 46
which drawing is the original and the copy is difficult to say
but no drawing is reliable compared to a photo

Two extracts from Gutenberg EBook around Joris van Spilbergh: "Voyage of George Spilbergen around the world, in 1614-17": (Note: The original document of the admiral was written in Latin language"
1): "On this occasion they took a Peruvian bark, strangely rigged, having 6 stout natives on board, who have been out fishing for two month and had a cargo of excellent dried fish, which was distributed through the fleet." - (seized or paied ?)
2): "While on island of Lobos, the Dutch took two birds of enormous size, not unlike an eagle in beak, wings and talons; their neck being covered with down resembling wool, and their heads having combs like those of a cock. They were two ells in height, and their wings, when displayed, measured three ells in breadth."
And that was van Spilbergen's experience and adventure !

So, it is confirmed, that a such strange rigged craft they really meet - and took, and therefor she is drawn on the image from the bay of Payta, and that is the message of the drawing: to tell a story. But many scholars have since taken this subordinated detail out of its main and analyzed it separately. The sail is often named in the running literature around rafts, and she has raised much "technical" discussion among "scholars" in Post Heyerdahl time.
What is wrong?
The draughtsman probably wasn't seaman and couldn't therefor catch all the smaller maritime specialities in his memory for later put them down on paper - so I expect the raft drawing is mixed up with whatever. My guess as sailor is, that the raft has had a Crab-Claw sail as was rather common out among the pacific islands, whereas a Crab-Claw was unknown in the European region - and as Indigenous matter therefor inferior for a Dutchman to pay any special attention more than establish as 'a rare case'. The way the rigging is shown for example: For his reproduction the draftsman picked up the bent mast, but sitting down in his cabin perhaps long time after, drawing the sheet and underleech, he sketched-out something he knew from home - from the lateen sail. Note specially the drawing 'Payta 1' - the sheet of fore sail is drawn as fixed on wrong side of the raft. That is 'Good Enough' for that illustrative purpose, but not as archaeological documentation.
My evaluation says, that both rafts (this with a condor and that with curved mast) are drawn of decorative reasons on that sketch of a battle - or to tell a good story - or simply to fill out an empty space on the paper. At least we know, that very few raft will sail voluntary into an active battle field as is indicated here.
My personal interpretation is, that the drawing is made some years after, by Spilbergen's return to Holland -

The strange detail on Spilbergen's Payta drawing

Lateen - or crab claw sail

The raft with curved mast we have in two sailing directions but three draw-qualities.
- and that means probably one original and two mirrored copies -
[img - Paytaraft-with-triangular-sails.jpg ]
[ img - Spilbergen-ano1615.jpg ]
[ img - raft46.jpg ]
Dont forget that a drawing is not exact as a photo!
A drawing is made after the vessel has passed - perhaps years after - and neither a drawing nor a painting is therefore a more reliable evidence than the memory of the draftsman. And he was perhaps neither a seaman nor knew what he was sketching.

[img - tahitiwayfarer-Hanneke.jpg ]
Hanneke sailing with Crab-claw sail - and note:
no steer-oar, but a dipping steer paddle on lee side
[ img - Jangada_(de_Chesnel,_1856).png + jangada-Encyclopédie militaire et maritime.jpg ]
[ img - jangada-Encyclopédie militaire et maritime.jpg ]
Encyclopédie Militaire et Maritime 1856

Not all what is drawn with ink is old
- too sketches can simulate to be oldish -

The dominance at sea

This sketch has given much confusion
An encounter between two cultures in that time was always hostile - pure sea robbery - well, the raft was conquered, the seamen thrown out and the women taken on board
These strange alike lateen sails seem to be an erroneous interpretation from a draughtsman.
But that isn't so - the sketch was made and published to justify the choice of lateen rigging for the Manteña Huancavilca expeditions twenty years ago.
[ img - lateen-sails.gif ]
A mirrored copy will always lose some details !

in the time before the photography

If not done as free hand, copying in that time before Xerox too was by a 'Photo-Graphic technology'. (Photo=light and Graphic=draw)
The tool was a simple glass plate, a candle plus ink and a pen to trace the reflected image.
Therefore not any drawing are possible to accept as a reliable testimony and source for studies, but often it is difficult to see which one is the original - and which is a later careful handmade copy; but in general a copy is with fewer details.
The mirrored technology was very useful to produce a matrix for later book-print. The glass-plate principle for copy of drawings was used until we got the photocopier.

The Spilbergen sketch

Nobody says that the original drawings are made 'on-site' - perhaps drawn after the memory - as illustration for a book printed years later in another country as Holland.
[ img - mirror copying.gif ] As I understand the sketch, the admiral Spilbergen had ordered his sketchsman to illustrate the position of the Dutch fleet in front of Payta (all 6 with Dutch flag).
I can't see where the draughtsman has been seated while sketching, but I know, that a draftsman in that time must have worked with ink and feather pen, and that normally claim conditions as is difficult to obtain outdoor and in no way flying above the ocean in the middle of a bay. Sitting down in his cabin he had to rely on his memory and imagination, and that is OK for drawing of the Dutch ships, as he knew very well - the landscape he could control by peep out, but the surrounding adorning details are uncertain.
The compass is drawn of decorative more than informative reasons - the arrow point more to East and not North, but that isn't marked. Too we know that two Condors ware caught on 'Isla de Lobos' 100 nautical miles before the arrival to Payta and it seems incredible to imagine, that the one animal was brought by a paddling balsa all the way to Payta.
Our conclusion is, that the raft simply is placed on the drawing for decorative and illustrative reasons only - what was very common in those years - or to give occation to tell a good story.

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Lima - Octubre 2019 - Fifth Edition of this page