Source Documents
oscar naphtha : hawaiian sketches, part 2, 1889 

Oscar Naphtha : Hawaiian Sketches, Part 2, 1889.
Naphtha, Oscar: Hawaiian Sketches, Part 2.
 : University of California
, Berkeley.
 Volume 17 Number 3, 18 October 1880.

Hathi Trust

Following a short account of surfboard riding, Naphtha gives several accounts of swimming remarkable distances by Hawaiians.

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The Hawaiians were so fond of swimming that they took this means of throwing off the responsibility of rearing their children. The practice of infanticide in former times accounts for the rapid decrease in the native population.
But those children who were allowed to live became almost amphibious, learning to swim before they could walk and expert beyond description.

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“In former years, when the waves ran high, after a storm, a whole native population would sometimes put their surfboards under their arms and go out for an afternoon’s frolic.
The surf-board is a heavy plank about six feet long and a foot or two in width.
It is used in the water very much as a coasting sled is used in snow.
With this board under him, the swimmer dives under the crests of the large breakers, and emerges beyond them where he waits, board in hand, for a large, incoming wave.
Quickly the swimmer jumps upon his board, and rides on the crest of the wave, borne toward the shore with increasing speed. Sometimes the more expert stand delicately balanced on their boards, as they fly shoreward with the speed of a race-horse.
It would be fatal to the ordinary swimmer to attempt such a feat; either the undertow would suck him under, or, if he escaped this peril, he would be in great danger of slipping on the board and injuring himself severely.

The Kanakas are not only skillful, but very powerful swimmers.
Leander swam the Hellespont and people have been talking about it ever since; I know two or three Kanakas, now in this garden, who would undertake an equal task and consider it only a pleasant plunge before dinner.
Captain Webb's great swim from Dover to Calais has often been surpassed by natives.
That brings to mind an incident of the early government of these islands.
The king, as advised by his council, resolved to make use of a certain small island some twenty miles from the mainland by converting it into a prison.
A score or more of prisoners were placed on the island with provisions and all means of escape removed.
When an opportune time arrived, the prisoners girded up their loins and swam ashore.
When the officials returned to find the island deserted, they gave up the project in disgust.

Another incident shows how perfectly at home the Hawaiians are in the water.
Some time ago, a schooner with a few natives on board and a drunken captain was wrecked three miles or so from any possible landing place.
In stead of the usual frenzied conduct incident to a ship- wreck, the whole company calmly jumped over-board as the vessel was sinking, watched her disappear, and then, gathering together, they held a short prayer-meeting in the waves, commending themselves to God's protection and praying for their safe delivery.
The meeting then adjourned to the nearest shore, three or four miles off, where they all arrived in safety.

Another, a more heroic example of what Hawaiians can accomplish in the water, is the story of Nowed's great swim.
In a beautiful valley of Molokai, shut in by precipitous volcanic cliffs, draped with the most delicate ferns, I once found an old native woman, Nowed, who had been renowned for her strength.
Her son Newene we Maolina, gave me the story, as we sat cross-legged on a mat in the shade of banana trees, surrounded by a noisy brood of grand-children, who had been attracted by the savory odor of roast-dog, and the large calabash of poi.
I contented myself with bananas.
While crossing the rough channel between Maui and Molokai in a canoe, with her aged father and a few others, a squall struck them, and threw the whole party on the mercy of the waves.
They were about twenty miles from land and their only hope was in swimming.
It was a rough sea even for native swimmers.
The aged father was the first to weaken, and he urged his daughter to leave him and to save herself; but she clasped the old man's hands about her neck and bore him on.
Even then, his strength was fast failing.
One by one, the party thinned.
He grew weaker and weaker until he had not strength to unclasp his firmly

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locked hands.
With her dying father on her back she swam many hours.
There were only two other survivors; the rest had surrendered to the waves.
She spoke to him.
No answer.
She felt his grasp grow rigid.
The prolonged exertion began to tell upon her also.
With her father's body on her back, with death’s embrace about her, she struggled on.
As she approached the reef, the fear of sharks added to her horror.
She could not leave her father's remains to those ravenous water hyenas; the dreadful thought put new life into her weak limbs. Only one mile more, but it seemed like twenty to her exhausted frame.
Would she ever reach the coral-reef ?
For her father's sake she must.
What was that shriek far ahead?
Had the others been attacked by a shark?
There was only one swimmer now.
Was she to meet this horrible death after hours of swimming?
The monster was not to be seen.
By main force of will, after her nervous activity was nearly gone, she dragged her charge upon the reef, which was partially uncovered by the tide, and lay there, beaten by the breakers, until the only other survivor had sent a relief party.

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                                                                                                                       OSCAR NAPHTHA.

 : University of California
, Berkeley.
 Volume 17 Number 3, 18 October 1889.

Hathi Trust


Geoff Cater (2017) : Oscar Naphtha : Hawaiian Sketches, 1880. Hawaiian_Sketches_2.html