rev. willian wyatt gill : pacific swimming, 1876
But the supreme
delight of South-Sea Islanders is surf-swimming.
For this sport a thin board of light wood, three feet six inches long, is provided.
The native goes to the outer edge of the reef to await some great wave.
Then pressing the fat end of the surf-board to his chest, and extending his hands over the rounded end, he is borne to
the beach on the crest of the wave amid foam and spray.
Scores of young men will thus innocently amuse themselves for hours together.
The Pacifc Islanders,
both men and women, are expert swimmers and divers.
When approaching Penrhyn in the --- John Williams, I have with wonder seen a number of them rise to the waist out of the water, as though possessed of webbed feet.
A small craft
was one day launched at Mangaia.
Two natural ropes of immense length, composed of strong vines knotted together, were employed to drag her over the reef; one was pulled by women, the other by men.
The islanders accompanied the vessel out to sea until she was clear of the reef, swimming with their feet and pulling the ropes with their hands.
One morning, when
about to breakfast on board our mission barque, a great many canoes came
In their eagerness to come alongside to greet us, a man fell into the sea.
As we saw from the deck the poor fellow floating a long way astern, we became anxious for his safety.
We watched him until he could scarcely be seen.
His companions seemed wholly unconcerned, because they saw a canoe approaching the ship in the direction of their friend, though it was at a considerable distance; and he managed to keep afloat till he was rescued by them.
A schooner was
lost a few years since in a terrifc cyclone off Mangaia.
The event took place about two p.m.; on the following morning at nine a.m. a brother and sister—the survivors of a party of thirteen—swam ashore.
They had been swimming in a fearful sea for about nineteen hours.
The brother was far gone ; but the sister was quite fresh, and walked up to the mission-house and related the sad particulars of the wreck.
In this case, however, the survivors were aided by a portion of the wreck.
Next day a native of
Group from the same vessel was flung upon the coral and killed, while swimming
ashore at avery bad part of the island.
The body was warm when I saw it.
The poor fellow had no extraneous help save a bunch of cocoa-nuts under each arm, and must have been in the water for about forty hours.
In the Pacifc
it is usual for a native sailor, when he has determined to run away from
his ship, to provide himself with two bunches (a bunch invariably consists
of four nuts) of old dry cocoa-nuts as floats, one for each armpit.
If he can only see land in the moonlight, he will noiselessly steal down the ship’s side and strike out for the distant shore, which he rarely fails to reach.
If overtaken by hunger, he will husk a couple of nuts with his teeth, eat the contents, and then strike out with renewed vigour.
The most remarkable
swimming feat I have known occurred in Torres Straits.
A native of Two Brothers, with some others, was put in irons for diving for avicula without a licence.
Horrifed at this new experience, and dreading the worst, the ignorant savage dived into the sea, and was no more seen.
Happily, a bullet sent after him missed.
It seems that, thinking his life in danger, he put forth his utmost strength, and, favoured by the tide, dived on and on, until the muscles of the hand contracted, and the irons fell off.
He then rose to the surface unnoticed, and proceeded leisurely to Turtle Island.
He rested a day or two, and then swam on to Cap Island—a mere rock.
After a brief rest there he swam on to his home at Two Brothers (Kepara), in all a distance of twelve miles.
Life in the Southern Isles;
Scenes and incidents in the South Pacific and New Guinea.
The Religious Tract Society, London, 1876.