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w. wyatt gill  : ellice islands canoes, 1885 

W. Wyatt Gill :  Canoes in the Ellice Islands, 1885.

 Extracts and illustrations from:
Gill, W. Wyatt:
 Jottings from the Pacific
The Religious Tract Society, [London], 1885.

Open Library

PAlong with some information about the importance of canoes for the Ellice islanders, the book has a very dramatic illustration of large waves breaking on a coral reef, page 10.
Chapter II demonstrates the adoption of traditional cultural values by local evangelists in preaching the message of the Gospel.

Page 10


Page 12

[Ellice Islands]
In August of 1872, in company with a valued brother missionary, I spent a pleasant day on this atoll.
Unlike several of the nine islands constituting the Ellice Group, there is no opening in the reef to admit a vessel or boat into the central lagoon.
A fleet of war-ships might sail into the magnificent lagoon of the neighbouring island of Funafuti, and anchor in safety. Approaching the reef of Niutao as near as was prudent in the ship's boat, we were borne one at a time in a canoe on the foaming crest of a huge wave to the external ledge of jagged coral, where the teachers gave us a joyous welcome.
A few moments, and we were soon inside a comfortable mission-house, reflecting infinite credit upon teachers and people.

Page 48 


A fat chief of Atiu, named Akaina, paid a visit to the island of Mauke - a distance of fifty-five miles.
Canoes from Atin first make Mitiaro, and after resting there awhile, start again for Mauke.
For such voyages, instead of a single canoe steadied by an outrigger, it is customary to fasten together two canoes and lay a deck across them.
A mast is then set up ; and with the aid of a large mat sail, plaited from the leaves of the pandanus, they rapidly skim the surface of the ocean.
Guided by the stars only, these islanders have in this manner found their way from island to island from time immemorial. Occasionally, however, they are driven out of their course, and are either lost at sea or fetched up on some distant isle.
It is in this way that the multitudinous islands of the Pacific have become populated.

Page 76


Several years ago the writer gave to the public some illustrations of Scripture truth culled from native sermons and addresses, to which he had listened with delight when resident in Mangaia.
After a long residence in Earotonga - an island one hundred and ten miles distant from that on which he formerly laboured - it has occurred to him to present to the public some recent illustrations, so as to assist in forming a judgment as to the substantial unity of thought on Bible truths amongst native Christians of different islands in the South Pacific.

Page 115

"Our canoe is being launched.

Page 116

She is on the outer edge of the reef.
The surf every  second lifts her higher.
The crew stand around, awaiting the favourable moment to start on their projected voyage.
Shall we launch her?
No; the incoming wave is too short.
Now, perhaps, is the time ?
No; she will capsize.
Look alive; here comes the long billow.
Now is the right moment.
Shove her off; scramble in.
She is shooting through the white foam to the blue ocean beyond !"

To Luka, the impassioned speaker, and to his audience the canoe represented the offers of eternal life made in the Gospel.
Now is the accepted time.
A moment's delay, and it may be too late.

It is a most interesting thing to witness the launching of a canoe, in a rough sea, on a coral island where no opening exists.
The ninth wave is the right one.
An error in judgment involves the swamping of the canoe, and sometimes loss of life.

Page 217

South Sea Island Riddles.

The propounding and solving of riddles is a pleasant pastime for young people at home on long winter evenings.
In the South Pacific it has been from time immemorial the serious employment of bearded and even grey-headed men.
In the following brief collection many are obviously modern, but others are undoubtedly ancient.

Page 218

3. What exceeds all other things in swiftness ?

4. A band of warriors fighting unweariedly day and night?
Billows dashing against the reef.

11. What plant has only one root and one leaf?
A kite; often made out of a single gigantic chesnut leaf.
The tail represents the root.

Page 219

16. Who shows his joy behind ?
A dog wagging his tail.

page 220

23. "Who shouts all day and night ?
The surf on the reef.

29. What beats a drum at one end and dances at the other ?
A dog barking and wagging his tail for joy.

Gill, W. Wyatt:
 Jottings from the Pacific 
The Religious Tract Society, [London], 1885.

Open Library

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home catalogue history references appendix

Geoff Cater (2013) : W. Wyatt Gill : Canoes in the Ellice Islands, 1885.

Samoa 'Uma, where life is different ([1902])

Author: Churchill, Llewella Pierce
Subject: Samoan Islands -- Description and travel
Publisher: London Sampson Low, Marston




the waning moon. There are a dozen ways of as-
suring bad luck in the making of the hook. The
hook is a handsome thing. Its shank is a heavy strip
of pearl shell, which is dull black on the outside and
shades into brilliant pearly lustre on the inner curve.
The barb is carefully carved out of bright pearl shell
and is stoutly lashed to the shank with fibre of cocoa-
nut husks, which will stand any amount of wetting
with salt water, yet take no harm. It is tricked out
with a tassel of gay colored fibre and leaves to at-
tract the great fish. In Samoan eyes the bonito is a
gentleman ; he has a language of courtesy even as
chiefs have, none but gentlemen might fish for him,
his flesh was forbidden to the common man.

In connection with Samoan canoecraft may be men-
tioned the surf riding. In this archipelago there are
none of the surf boards which the Hawaiians employ
in their sport of hccnaht, but the Samoan does quite
as well with his canoe, which he manages to place
just in front of the combing crest of some great roller
and comes dashing shoreward with tremendous speed
and loud shouts of "U-hu-hu," which is the only in-
stance of the use of the aspirate in the language.



To visit Apolima one must employ the usual vehicle
of Samoan travel, an open row boat. In these small
and open craft the trader and the tourist alike put
out upon the very ocean itself for trips from place to
place on each island, and for the more venturesome
voyage across the straits to other islands of the archi-
pelago. Exposed to the sun and the frequent down-
pours of the rain, thrown about by the heaving of
the sea, and not infrequently deluged with the crest
of some lopping wave, such voyaging can never be
comfortable. It is safe enough, however, for the Sa-
moans are good boatmen even though they do have
the terrifying custom of steering as close as possible

to the combing edge of the huge breakers which
sweep like resistless cavalry charges upon the reefs
or crags of the shore. When you go to windward
your reliance is on the strength of the boatmen, who
tug at the oars for incessant hours without wearying.
To leeward you have the swifter and more comfort-
able voyage with a scrap of sail. That's all of the
sense of direction you need in the islands. For all
practical purposes the compass is not needed. The
four cardinal points are windward and leeward, sea-
ward and inland ; this simple equivalent of boxing the
compass is contained in the Samoan jingle, which
your boatmen will insist on your learning,


Still, if you have your boat and a good crew, and



keep the little verse steadily in mind, not even then
are you at all sure of seeing Apolima when you set
out to see it. The first part of the voyage is all plain
sailing. From Apia you run down to west and lee-
ward in the still lagoon of shallow water inside the
barrier reef. You must make your start when it is close
to high water, for the lagoon is shallow. Just back of
Mulinu'u Point, where formerly the Samoan Govern-
ment sat all day and wondered what it was there for,
there is a broad sand bank. A few miles further along
is a sad tangle of rocks, and to get past these difficul-
ties the tide must be high. But once past the rocks of
Faleula, the lagoon is a fairway, and there is nothing
to check the swift run before the wind down to Muli-
fanua, the end of the island of Upolu. In every small
bay which opens on the sight as you go whizzing
from one headland to the next, a Samoan town is to
be seen under the groves of cocoanuts which fringe
the glittering beach. Almost at the end of the island
are the clustered structures of the largest of the Ger-
man plantations. Just past this station the channel
setting close in shore gives opportunity to see the
ruins of some mammoth erections of stone and earth,
of which the history has been lost in the mists of Sa-
moan tradition. Here the lagoon widens out to in-
clude the island of Manono, for which the boat mast
head on its way out. Here one must halt to ask of
the people as to the chance of entering the sister in-
let, which lies a few miles outside the still waters of
the lagoon. Generally they can tell in Manono by
the look of the sea breaking on a certain portion of



their reef whether the Apolima pass is practicable.
If their judgment is adverse you halt at Manono and
wait for a better opportunity. They can always tell
you surely if the pass is impracticable. They are by
no means so certain when it may be run. As to that
you have to take your chances.

After leaving Manono you are quite at sea ; there
is no reef to still the stretch of water, the angle at
which Savaii and Upolu lie with respect to one an-
other creates a sort of funnel to direct the sea into the
ten-mile strait and to magnify the waves. Here you
must take your chances on adjusting the physical
system to the peculiar combination of squirm and
wriggle, which is the motion of a small boat perched
on the crest of the high sea waves, varied only by
dizzy slides down water-sloped and painful climbing
up shifting hills. After some two miles of this sort
of sailing you draw close alongside the rocky outer
walls of Apolima, and the boat boys feel happy to be
able to skirt the sea-beaten cliffs right in the highest
swell of the outer line of breakers. Their choice in
this matter is responsible for. the intimate acquaint-
ance you gain of the rock conformation of the outer
face of the island. In a dull sort of despair you try
to pick out the one particular spot on which you are
about to be dashed in water-torn pieces. While you
are making this round you are sorry you came, it
really seems scarcely worth the while to undergo the
discomfort of coming so far only to be broken and
drowned on a face of rock which nowhere offers even
a crack in which the fingers might take a last hold on



life. A little more of the circuit and you see the out-
lying barrier of the gate of the island and a slim
path of watery tumult between the surf ashore and
the surf just a little way out in the sea. Into this
tumult you steer in a state of mental desperation as to
which you are very honest in the confession that you
really wish you had been content to trust to the pic-
tures of the place. All at once the gateway opens in
plain sight before you ; you can feast your eyes on the
marvelous beauty of such a landscape as is to be found
nowhere else in the world, you pluck up courage and
are now as anxious to get in and see more, as but a
moment ago you were wishing you were well out of it.
Despite your access of courage, the most difficult
part lies before you. Up to this you have been in
discomfort, now you will have to take your chances
of a very real danger. There is plenty of time to
consider all the details of the peril, and the more those
details are looked upon the more distinct do they
become in every item of frowning rock and gnashing
tusk of coral. The first thing is to find the one spot in
the world between the open gateway of the passage
and the smother of surf on the reef outside, in which
the boat can be kept still. There you must wait the
leisurely movements of the villagers of the island, who
will make signals as to whether it is possible to come
in, a matter which it is almost impossible to determine
from the outside aspect of the passage. If their sig-
nals are favorable, they will launch their canoes and
cross their own duck pond of a lagoon to take posi-
tions on the rocky jaws of their island's gateway, to



be in a position to give help, for there is always a
bright prospect that help will be needed. There is
presented a sharp contrast. Outside the gate your
crew are rowing with long, steady strokes, merely to
keep the boat in one place, in a smooth eddy of foam
and whirling suds within a wild jabble of waves ; as
you are lifted from the depths high into the air you
look down upon the canoes on the lagoon within
moving as smoothly as paper boats of children in a
tub of water.

Between the tumult and the peace is a narrow and
a crooked passage between the rocks, through which
you must make your way. It can be done only on
the last two hours of the flood tide ; even then it is
always dangerous, from outside it seems an impossi-
bility. As each wave recedes it lays bare the whole
stretch of the rocky barrier, and discloses the twists
of the narrow passage between lagoon and raging sea.
This barrier is only fifty feet across, that is, from the
sea to the still waters beyond. When the wave re-
cedes the channel is seen to be no more than eight or
ten feet wide, and partially blocked in places by coral
formations. Through this lane, where there is not
room for oars, it is necessary to run with the utmost
precision of fine steering, and the crew will seldom
intrust that part of the operation to any white man
unless they have learned that he is skilled in the quick
handling of small boats. Only a few white women
have ventured to shoot the passage, and certainly
none has been allowed to handle the rudder at the
critical moment, for the lives of all depend on the



man at the helm. As the pass is far too narrow for
cars, and as they would anyway be useless in the mag-
nificent velocity of the wave stream, the sea is relied
on to furnish the motive power. The boat is kept
in the smother of the eddy under the off shore ledge
of rock while the crew and helmsman watch intently
the way in which the sea breaks on and over that
barrier. Sea after sea passes by and tumbles into
banks of fine spray on the threshold of the island gate.
Not one of those seas has promised to carry the boat
through in safety. At last a higher roller is seen to
rear itself far out beyond the outer barrier, and to
come rolling shoreward with a magnificent stretch
of perpendicular face. All are intent upon its prog-
ress as it sweeps grandly inward with ever accelerat-
ing velocity, for it may prove the wave so long waited
for. If it is seen to pass unbroken over a pinnacle
outlying in front of the main ledge by a small inter-
val, it is known that that is indeed the wave to use.
As its wall face sweeps on the boat is rowed shore-
ward out of the eddy, the oarsmen put then their
every pound of muscle and courage into the oars as
they back water into the very cliff of water which is
swooping down upon the boat. There is the thump
of wood and water as the wave hits the stern of the
boat and begins to heave it in the air. The crew pull
now like men possessed, for the few boat lengths
which intervene they must keep the boat on the ad-
vancing face of the giant wave. The speed is some-
thing terrific, the prospect is something appalling to
view from the lifting stern of the boat, coasting with



tremendous velocity down the steep slope of a hill of
water, which is itself careering onward with far more
than the speed of a railroad train. Just in front lies
the wall of the gateway, dripping yet with the foam
of the last wave, tense figures of the islanders clinging
to the rocks in readiness to reach out into the com-
motion and snatch the shipwrecked from drowning
in case of disaster. With a last struggling effort the
crew bend to the oars and draw them inboard and out
of the way of the rocks between which the boat must
pass without a check, for even the slightest check
would mean prompt destruction. The ears are deaf-
ened with the roar of the breaking of the tons of water
on the rock, the eyes are all but blinded with the salt
cloud of mist into which the water is hammered by
the impact. The boat must be just one single instant
ahead of that thunder and that breaking of the water,
it must be headed exactly into the narrow rift in the
rock just a foot before the crest of the propelling
wave shatters over upon the immovable obstacle.
Then as the water boils into the constricted channel
it seizes on the boat and hurls it onward until it seems
that the might of giants would not avail to direct it
away from the fangs of rock and coral which beset
the way. But answering the steering oar the boat is
directed through those fifty dangerous feet, avoiding
a danger on the right only to be confronted by an-
other on the left, sliding past rocky perils with so
close a margin that it looks as if a sheet of paper
would be torn to rags between the boat and the rock.
With every minute fraction of an instant the still



lagoon is nearer. Still the peril is not yet past. Just
as the boat clears the walls of rock and is on the very
instant of passing in and floating peacefully on quiet
waters, the boys throw out the oars and pull as hard
as ever. With all their strength they can do no more
than keep the stern of the boat just barely clear of
the channel out of which on its inner side it has just
escaped, into which the outward rush of the waters
is seeking to drag it. There by dint of hard rowing
the boat just succeeds in standing still until the efflux
is past, and the turn of the waters with the startling
advance of the next incoming breaker allows of escape
into the lagoon. Then, as the crew, exhausted by the
excitement, takes leisurely strokes across the smooth
water, and to the landing place, the Apolima people
set up a shout of welcome to those who have ad-
ventured so much to see the island.

They gather around and proffer that hospitality for
which they expect so generous a reward ; they ask
the crew whether the lady was frightened when the
boat came through the pass, and when they get the
answer that she was courageous they turn to congratu-
lations and say how very few ladies have ever vent-
ured on that trip, and how it often happens with white
men who have come through the gap that they were
too weak to take a step for a long time afterward.

Such is the getting into Apolima. The getting
out is even harder, for, as the boat is sucked out
through the narrow channel, it meets just outside an
incoming wave, up which the crew must row hard in
order to get on the seaward face in time and slide



down hill before it begins to break. It can be done
only on the first two hours of the ebb tide, seldom is
it possible to go in and to come out on the same day ;
often visitors are held for a week at a time waiting
the chance to get out.