A stranger is forcibly struck with the remarkable fearlessness which the natives of these islands have of the sea. They appear almost as amphibious as seals, sporting about in the deep sea for many hours, sometimes for nearly a whole day together.
No sooner does a ship approach a large island, than the inhabitants swim off to welcome her; and long before she begins to take in sail, she is surrounded by human beings of both sexes, apparently as much at home in the Ocean as the fishes themselves.
The children are taken to the water when but a day or two old, and many are able to swim as soon as they are able to walk. In coasting along the shore, it is a rare thing to pass a group of cottages, at any hour of the day, without seeing one or more bands of children joyously playing in the sea.
They have several distinct games which are played in the water, and which are followed with exceeding avidity, not only by children, but by the adult population.
One of these is the fastening of a long board or pole on ...
... a sort of stage, where the rocks
are abrupt, in such a manner that it shall project far over the water:
then they chase one another along the board, each in turn leaping from
the end into the sea.
They are also fond of diving from the yard-arms or bowsprit of a ship.
But the most favourite pastime of all, and one in which all classes and ages, and both sexes, engage with peculiar delight, is swimming in the surf.
Mr. Ellis has seen some of the highest chiefs, between fifty and sixty years of age, large and corpulent men, engage in this game with as much interest as children.
A board about six feet long and a foot wide, slightly thinner at the edges than at the middle, is prepared for this amusement, stained and polished, and preserved with great care by being constantly oiled, and hung up in their dwellings.
With this in his hand, which he calls the wave-sliding board, each native repairs to the reef, particularly when the sea is running high, and the surf is dashing in with more than ordinary violence, as on such occasions the pleasure is the greater.
They choose a place where the rocks are twenty or thirty feet under water, and shelve for a quarter of a mile or more out to sea.
The waves break at this distance, and the whole space between it and the shore is one mass of boiling foam. Each person now swims, pushing his board before him, out to sea, diving under the waves as they curl and break, until he is arrived outside the rocks.
He now lays himself flat on his breast along his board, and waits the approach of a huge billow; when it comes, he adroitly balances himself on its sum ...
THE PACIFIC OCEAN
... mit, and paddling with his hands, is borne on the crest of the advancing wave, amidst the foam and spray, till within a yard or two of the shore or rocks.
Then, when a stranger expects to see him the next moment dashed to death, he slides off his board, and catching it by the middle, dives seaward under the wave, and comes up behind, laughing and whooping, again to swim out as before.
The utmost skill is required, in coming in, to keep the position on the top of the wave; for, if the board get too forward, the swimmer will be overturned and thrown upon the beach; and, if it fall behind, he will be buried beneath the succeeding wave; yet some of the natives are so expert as to sit, and even to stand upright upon their board, while it is thus riding in the foam.
Their sport is, however, not unfrequently disturbed by the appearance of a shark.
This terrific animal is particularly abundant among the South Sea Islands, and remarkably bold and ferocious. The cry of "A Shark!" among the surf swimmers will instantly set them in the utmost terror, and generally they fly with precipitation to the shore; though sometimes they unite and endeavour to frighten him away with their shouting and splashing.
Often, however, the animal is too determined lightly to give up his prey, as was the case in the following instance recorded by Mr. Richards of the Sandwich Islands:"At nine o'clock in the morning of June 14th, 1826, while sitting at my writing-desk, I heard a simultaneous scream from multitudes of people,' Pau i ka mano!' (Destroyed by the shark!)
beach was instantly lined by hundreds of persons, and a few of the most resolute threw a large canoe into the water, and, alike regardless of the Shark ...
Illustration: WHITE SHARK. THE ATTITUDE OF THE FISH IN TAKING ITS PREY.
... and the high rolling surf, sprang
to the relief of their companion.
It was too late; the Shark had already seized his prey.
The affecting sight was only a few yards from my door, and while I stood watching, a large wave almost filled the canoe, and at the same instant a part of the mangled body was' seen at the bow of the canoe, and the Shark swimming towards it at her stern.
When the swell had ...
THE PACIFIC OCEAN.
... rolled by, the water was too
shallow for the Shark to swim.
The remains, therefore, were taken into the canoe, and brought ashore.
The water was so much stained by the blood, that we discovered a red tinge in all the foaming billows, as they approached the beach.
"The unhappy sufferer was an active lad about fourteen years old, who left my door only about half an hour previous to the fatal accident.
I saw his mother, in the extremity of her anguish, plunge into the water, and swim towards the bloody spot, entirely forgetful of the power of her former god."*
"A number of people, perhaps a hundred, were at this time playing in the surf, which was higher than usual. Those who were nearest to the victim, heard him shriek, perceived him to strike with his right hand, and at the same instant saw a Shark seize his arm.
Then followed the cry which I heard, which echoed from one end of Latraina to the other.
All who were playing in the water made the utmost speed to the shore, and those who were standing on the beach saw the surf-board of the unhappy sufferer floating on the water, without any one to guide it.
When the canoe reached the spot, they saw nothing but the blood with which the water was stained for a considerable distance, and by which they traced the remains whither they had been carried by the Shark or driven by the swell.
The body was cut in two by the Shark, just ...
* The Shark was formerly worshipped in the Sandwich Islands. 2C
... above the hips; and the lower
part, together with the right arm, was gone."*
A dreadful instance of the voracity of these formidable animals occurred a few years ago among the Society Islands.
Upwards of thirty natives were passing from one island to another, in a large double canoe, which consists of two canoes fastened together, side by side, by strong horizontal beams, lashed to the gunwales by cordage. Being overtaken by a storm, the canoes were torn apart, and were incapable, singly, of floating upright.
In vain the crew attempted to balance them-they were every moment overturned.
Their only resource was to form a hasty raft of such loose boards and spars as were in the craft, on which they hoped to drift ashore.
But it happened, from the small size of their raft, and their aggregated weight, that they were so deep in the water, that the waves washed above their knees.
Tossed about thus, they soon became exhausted with hunger and fatigue; when the Sharks began to collect around them, and soon had the boldness to seize one and another from the raft, who, being destitute of any weapon of defence, became an easy prey.
The number and audacity of these monsters every moment increased, and the forlorn wretches were one by one torn off, until, but two or three remaining, the raft at length, lightened of its load, rose to the surface, and placed the survivors beyond the reach of their terrible assailants.
The tide at length bore them to one of the islands, a melancholy remnant, to tell the sad fate of their conpanions.
* American Missionary Herald.
THE PACIFIC OCEAN.
With such simple vessels as were
used by these people, it is surprising that such accidents did not more
When we consider that, before their intercourse with Europeans, they possessed no metal tools, that their work was performed wholly by the eye, without line, rule, or square, and that the seams were closed merely by, as it were, tying the planks to each other with cinet, it does seem surprising that their canoes could even live in a sea.
Yet they were strong and secure, and many of them remarkably dry and comfortable, leaking very little, for they were accustomed to insert between the seams the cocoa-nut husk, which always swells when wetted; and the expansion of this substance closed the crevices neatly.
Their craft, though varying much in size and minor points, according to the purposes for which they were intended, were built nearly on the same model; the stem and stern generally being curved upwards, so as to project out of water.
As they were much higher than wide, they needed some contrivance to obtain uprightness; and this they secured, either by lashing two together by cross-beams, making the double canoe just now alluded to, or by means of an outrigger, which is a stout plank or spar, parallel to the side of the canoe, and fixed at some distance from the larboard side, by two horizontal poles, which connect it with the vessel.
The outrigger floats on the water, and while it remains fast, there is no possibility of capsizing.
They were furnished with masts, sails made of the leaves of thee pandanus, woven into a sort of matting, and ...
rigging made of cocoa-nut fibre, which makes good rope.
The mode in which these scattered isles were peopled is a subject of interesting discussion, as the physical character of the inhabitants, their lan. guage, and many peculiarities in their customs, seem to indicate their Asiatic origin; while, on the other hand, it was deemed highly improbable that the progress should have been made in a direction opposed to that of the trade-wind, and in such feeble craft as they possessed.
But the trade-wind is occasionally exchanged for violent and continued gales in other directions; and instances have come to our knowledge, in which voyages of several hundred miles have been performed by native canoes, directly to windward.
Thus, Captain Beechy found at Byam Martin Island a native of Tahiti, named Tuwarri, who, with a few companions, had sailed from Chain Island on a voyage to Tahiti; but after being out some time, he was met by a violent storm, which drove him far out of his course and knowledge.
At length, after very severe privations and sufferings, he arrived at Byam Martin, four hundred and twenty miles distant in a windward direction from the point of embarkation.*
Such involuntary emigrations as this, when we consider how intimately the various groups are connected with each other, and with the Indian Archipelago, seem sufficient to warrant the conclusion, that the tide of population has flowed in a direction from west to east.
*Voyage to the Pacific, &c.
Gosse, P. H.: The Ocean
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London 1845.
Gosse, P. H.: The Ocean
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London 2nd Edition, 1854.
Gosse, P. H.: The Ocean
Parry & Mcmillan, Philadelphia (1856) from last London ed., 1856.
Gosse, P. H.: The Ocean
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1860.
Gosse, P. H.: The Ocean
Paperbackshop.Co.UK Ltd Echo Library. 2005