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eveleth : sandwich islands mission, 1837 

Ephraim Eveleth : Notes from the Sandwich Islands Mission, 1837.

Extracts from
Eveleth, Ephraim et al.: History of the Sandwich Islands,
with an Account of the American Mission Established There in 1820,
with a Supplement Embracing the History of the Wonderful Displays
of God's Power in These Islands in 1827-1839.
American Sunday-School Union, Philadelphia, 1837, pages 59 to 62.
First editon 1831.

Eveleth, Ephraim, 1801-1829
This is a second-hand account prefaced by a brief memoir of Mr. Eveleth, who died before fully completing his work.
The second edition updates the 1831 original.

Page 59

It would seem natural to suppose, that a people thus destitute and degraded, would of course be melancholy and desponding.
But although they are frequently borne down with heavy burdens, deprived of many of the comforts of life, and all the refined enjoyments of cultivated society, yet they have their sports and amusements - their seasons of recreation and festivity.

Their amusements are such as you would expect to find among a race of untutored savages; those which excite the greatest interest are swimming, racing, boxing, and dancing.
The first of these is practised by all - young and old - males and females.
Even ...

Page 60
... children, at the early age of four or five years, become expert swimmers, acquiring a courage in dangerous exploits, and a familiarity with the watery element, truly wonderful.
In their common excursions all seem equally at home on the ocean; and should their boats be overturned by the heavy motion of the waves, it is a matter of little inconvenience to them.
While Capt. Cook's ships were in the vicinity of the Islands, a mother, with several small children, in crossing the bay in a canoe, were upset.
The youngest child, a boy of four years, seeming delighted with the sport, swam about, playing various tricks in the water, while the mother and older children were busily engaged in righting their boat.

In the midst of their recreations the swimmers are sometimes interrupted by the appearance of a shark; in which case, a signal being given, the natives instantly flock around the new comer, and with surprising dexterity attack this monster of the deep, whose daring voracity exceeds that of any other animal.
They sport with his rage, and will even at length carry him in triumph to the shore.
Sharks, however, not unfrequently destroy children while playing in the water.
An instance of this occurred at Lahaina, one of the missionary stations, not long since.
The unhappy sufferer, a boy fourteen years of age, was devoured in the ...

Page 61

... presence of friends who were endeavouring, though in vain, to rescue him from the dreadful jaws of the fish.

But the pastime which these people take most delight in, is sporting in the surf, at the times when the sea is thrown into the greatest commotion by wind or storms, and rolls in upon the beach in monstrous billows.
The spot selected for this amusement is generally one where the shore is lined with large rocks, against which the waves beat with the greatest violence.
The natives, sometimes to the number of two or three hundred, of every age, sex and rank, assemble at this place; and taking each a strip of plank, from three to fourteen feet in length, and one or two feet in breadth, which is made thinner at the edges than in the middle, they advance with them into the surf.
If they encounter a high wave, they dive under it, and as it rolls over them, they rise to the surface and swim, until meeting another, and another still, which are in the same way avoided, they at length gain the smooth sea, beyond the breaking of the surf.
This exploit is attended with some difficulty and danger, for if the person attempting it does not succeed in diving under the wave, he is caught by it and forced back upon the rocks with great violence, at the risk of being much bruised, or perhaps killed.

Having reached the calm seas, beyond the ...

Page 62

... reef, which is sometimes a quarter of a mile from the shore, they place themselves on their narrow boards, having their faces downwards, and their heads raised considerably above that extremity of the plank which is nearest the land.
Then taking advantage of one of the highest waves, they are driven towards the beach with astonishing impetuosity and rapidity.
They are anxious to gain the harbour without being overtaken by other waves, which follow on hard behind them, for if they fail of steering their little barks directly through the narrow spaces between the rocks on the shore, they are obliged to leave them to be dashed against the rocks, while they make a precipitate retreat themselves, by diving under the wave that is rushing upon them with its violence and fury.
They must resort to the same expedient, if, by mistake, they mount one of the smaller surfs, which generally breaks before reaching the shore, and drops them into the gulf below.
These experiments the natives repeat, during two or, three hours at a time, with incredible courage and success.

Eveleth, Ephraim et al.: 
History of the Sandwich Islands, 
with an Account of the American Mission Established There in 1820, 
with a Supplement Embracing the History of the Wonderful Displays 
of God's Power in These Islands in 1827-1839.
American Sunday-School Union, Philadelphia, 1837.

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Geoff Cater (2010-2015) : Ephraim Eveleth : Notes from the Sandwich Islands Mission, 1837.