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wilkes : us expedition, 1845 

Charles Wilkes : Narrative of U.S. Expedition, 1833-1842. 

Wilkes, Charles, U.S.N.:
Narrative of the U. S. Exploring Expedition during the Years 1833-1842.
Whittaker, Philadelphia, 1845.
Volume IV, pages 44 to 47, 54, and 207.
Volume V, page 100.

While Wilkes notes the lack of sports amongst native Hawaiians in Volume IV, which he attributes to the influence of Christian missionaries (page 54) but indicates that surf-riding still retains its attraction.
The report from the Kingsmill Group (Volume V, page 100) demonstrates that the use of the surfboard was widespread across the Pacific.

In the 19th century the Kingsmill Islands applied to all of the Gilbert Islands, it now refers only  to the southern group.
While Wilkes' most probably observed the islanders surfing, it is possible that his accounts may have been supplemented from other sources :
The American narrative, for which he (Wilkes) claimed copyright, borrowed shamelessly, often without acknowledgement, from the journals of his subordinates.
Wads of material were lifted from earlier writers to pad out the histories of countries visited.

- Mawer, Granville Allen: South by Northwest- The Magnetic Crusade and the Contest for Antartica.
Wakefield Press, 1 Parade West, Kent Town, South Australia, 2006, pages 133 and 134.


Page 44?
In their navigation they never, if they could avoid it, subjected themselves to get out of sight of land, and were never so except by accident.
When they found this to be the case, they made use of the heavenly bodies, if visible; and being accurate observers of the weather and atmospheric changes, they were enabled to find their way back again; for the various changes of weather about the Hawaiian Islands, and the appearance these changes brought about in the clouds over and in the vicinity of the land, afforded them a sure guide.
From all accounts, it is supposed that but few persons have been lost, by being driven or sailing off (through mistake) from the land.
Many disasters, however, have arisen, from the frailty and smallness of their canoes, although their good management of them was proverbial (?), particularly in the surf.
Of late, and since they have possessed foreign vessels, they have lost much of their skill.
These vessels they manage after their own way, and although many have been lost by wreck on the islands, I did not hear of any having been blown off.
Some amusing anecdotes were told me of their negligence and inability to keep awake during the night.

They are quite fearless on the water; all swim, and have little fear of loss of life by drowning.

They appear quite as much at home in the water as on land, and many of them more so.

Many remarkable instances of their patience under this kind of fatigue, were mentioned to me.

One of them, which happened the year of our arrival, is well authenticated, and will also tend to show very great attachment and endurance in the female sex.

As the Hawaiian schooner Kiola, commanded by an American
Page 45

named Thompson, who was married to Kaiha, a female chief, was going to Hawaii, having on board many passengers, on getting into the straits between Maui and Hawaii the schooner foundered, and all on board, forty-five in number, were obliged to take to swimming for safety.
Thompson could swim but little, but his wife was quite expert in the art; she promptly came to his aid, placed him on an oar, and swam for the shore.
The accident occurred on Sunday about noon, when she with many others began to swim for the nearest land, which was Kahoolawe.
She continued to support her husband until Monday morning, when he died from exhaustion, and she did not succeed in reaching the shore until that afternoon.
She clung to him to the last, at the imminent risk of her own life, and was thirty hours in the water; she was met by some fishermen on landing, who took charge of, and brought her back to Maui.

Page 46
Having little motive for industry, they expend their physical energies in various athletic sports.
A favourite amusement of the chiefs was sliding down hill on a long narrow sled: this was called holua; it was not unlike our boys' play, when we have snow.
The sled was made to slide on one runner, and the chiefs prostrated themselves on it.
For this sport they had a trench dug from the top of a steep hill and down its sides, to a great distance over the adjoining plain.
This being made quite smooth, and having dry grass laid on it, they were precipitated with great velocity down it, and, it is said, were frequently carried a half, and sometimes a whole mile.
Diamond Hill and the plain of Waikiki was one of these localities for this pastime.

Playing in the surf was another of their amusements, and is still much practised.
It is a beautiful sight to see them coming in on the top of a heavy roller, borne along with increasing rapidity until they suddenly disappear.
What we should look upon as the most dangerous surf, is that they most delight in.
The surf-board which they use
Page 47
is about six feet in length and eighteen inches wide, made of some light wood.
After they have passed within the surf, they are seen buffeting the waves, to regain the outside, whence they again take their course, with almost the speed of an aerial flight.
They play for hours in this way, never seeming to tire; and the time to see a Hawaiian happy, is while he is gambolling and frolicking in the surf.
I have stood for hours watching their sport with great interest, and, I must say, with no little envy.
Page 54
I was much struck with the absence of sports among the boys and children.
On inquiry, I learned that it had, after mature deliberation and experience, been considered advisable by the missionaries to deprive them of all their heathenish enjoyments, rather than allow them to occupy their minds with any thing that might recall old associations.
The consequence is, that the Hawaiian boys are staid and demure, having the quiet looks of old men.
I cannot doubt that they possess the natural tendency of youth towards frolicksome relaxations; but the fear of offending keeps a constant restraint over them.
It might be well, perhaps, to introduce some innocent amusements; and indeed I believe this has been attempted, for I occasionally saw them flying kites.

The native games formerly practised were all more or less those of hazard, which doubtless gave them their principal zest.
Page 207
An accident also occurred to the launch, while watering, during our stay. Mr. Vanderford, who had charge of her, was passing out of the Wailuku river, off the point of which the boat entered the breakers, and a heavy roller capsized her: being heavily laden with water, she sunk, and drifted out, leaving those who were in her in danger of drowning.
Mr. Vanderford could not swim, but a native came at once to his assistance, who, however, would do nothing until he was promised two dollars, which of course a drowning man was not long in doing, when he acted promptly and rescued the officer from drowning.
In order to give the native a lesson as to his conduct in demanding money in such a situation, he was told that he would have received twice as much if he had not made the demand.
It is due, however, to this fellow to say, that in all probability he never imagined there was any danger of loss of life; for if these people are at home any where, it is certainly in the surf, enjoying as a pleasure what we from our want of knowledge and confidence in the art of swimming, consider dangerous.


Page 79

The Kingsmill Group consists of fifteen islands, of which the geographical positions have been already given in speaking of them separately.

Page 100

There are many other amusements: among them foot-ball, sailing small canoes, swimming in the surf, and flying kites.
The kites are made of the pandanus-leaf reduced to half its thickness, which renders it lighter than paper; and they are prettily shaped.
In swimming in the surf, they have a small board like that used by the Sandwich Islanders.

Wilkes, Charles, U.S.N.:
Narrative of the U. S. Exploring Expedition during the Years 1833-1842.
Whittaker, Philadelphia, 1845.
Volume IV and Volume V.

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Geoff Cater (2010-2018) : Charles Wilkes : Narrative of U.S. Expedition, 1845.