becke : a noble sea game, 1898
" A Noble Sea Game."
Just as my wild-eyed, touzle-headed Gilbert Island cook brought me my early coffee and hard ship biscuit, Toria and Vailele- brown-skinned brother and sister- peeped in through the window, and in their curious bastard Samoan said 'twas a glorious morn to fahaheke.
Now I had
to fahaheke (use a surf- board), having been
by the youths and maidens of the village individually and
And when you have once learned surf-swimming the game takes possession of your innermost soul like unto cycling and golf.
So I said I would come, and instantly my young friends handed me in a surfing costume, a highly indecorous looking girdle of thin strippings of the leaf of the pandanus palm.
declined, preferring a garment of my own design- a pair of
razeed from the knees down.
Then, bidding me hurry up and meet the swimming party on the beach, Toria and his sister ran back to the village to attend early morning service, to which the wooden cylinder that did duty for a church bell was already summoning the people.
the Pacific Islands surf-swimming is one of the forbidden
things, for many
of the native teachers hold the sport to savour of the po
i.e., the heathen days- and the young folks can only indulge
in the innocent
diversion away from the watchful eye of the local Chadband
and his alert
myrmidons, the village police, among whom all fines are
But in this particular little island we had for our resident missionary a young stalwart Samoan, who did not forbid his flock to dance or sing, nor prohibit the young girls from wearing flowers in their dark locks.
And he himself was a mighty fisherman and a great diver and swimmer, and smoked his pipe and laughed and sang with the people out of the fulness of his heart when they were merry, and prayed for ...
them in their sorrow.
So we all loved Ioane, the teacher, and Eline, his pretty young wife, and his two jolly little muddy brown infants; for there was no other native missionary like him in all the wide Pacific.
was soon over, and then there was a great scurrying to and
fro among the
thatched houses, and presently in twos and threes the young
hurrying down to the beach and shouting loudly to the white
man to follow.
A strong breeze had sprung up during the night, and the long rolling billows, which had sped waveringly along for, perhaps, a thousand miles from beyond the western sea-rim, were sweeping now in quick succession over the wide flat stretch of reef that stood out from the northern end of the island like a huge table.
Two hundred yards in width from the steep-to face it presented to the sea, it ceased, almost as abruptly as it began, in a bed of pure white sand, six feet below the surface of the water; and this sandy bottom continued all the way from the inner edge of the reef to the line of coco-palms fringing the island beach.
At low tide, when the ever-restless rollers dashed vainly against ...
of the reef, whose surface was then bared and shining in the
long strip of sheltered water would lay quiet and
undisturbed, as clear
as crystal and as smooth as a sheet of glass; but as the
tide rose the
waves came sweeping over the coral barrier and poured
noisily over its
inner ledge till the lagoon again became as surf-swept and
the sea beyond.
This was the favoured spot with the people for surf-swimming, for when the tide was full the surf broke heavily on the reef, and there was a clear run of half-a-mile from the starting-point on the inner face of the coral table to the soft, white beach.
Besides that, there was not a single rock or mound of coral between the reef and the shore upon which a swimmer might strike- with fatal effect if the danger were not perceived in time.
was quite a mile from the village, and, the tide being very
high, we had
to follow a path through the coconut groves instead of
walking along the
beach, for the swirling waves, although well spent when they
shore, were washing the butts of the coco-palms, whose
matted roots protruded
from the sand at high-water mark.
In front of us ...
scores of young children ranging from six years of age to
and jostling each other in their eagerness to be first on
Although the sun was hot already, the breeze was cool and blew strongly in our faces when we emerged from the narrow leafy track out upon the open strand.
Then with much shouting and laughing, and playful thumping of brown backs and shoulders, Timi, the master of ceremonies for the occasion, marshalled us all in line and then gave the word to go, and with a merry shout, mingled with quavering feminine squeaks, away we sprang into the sea, each one pushing his or her surf- board in front, or shooting it out ahead, and trying to reach the reef before anyone else.
And now the
regard for the conventionalities that had been maintained
during the walk
from the village vanished, and the fun began- ducking and
horseplay, hair-pulling, seizing of surf-boards and throwing
shorewards, and wrestling matches between the foremost
The papalagi (white man), swimming between the boy Toria and a short, square-built native named Temana, had succeeded in keeping well ...
... in the
when he was suddenly seized by the feet by two little imps,
just as a sweeping
roller lifted him high up.
And down the white man went, and away went his surf-board shoreward amid the shrieking laughs of the girls.
shouted Temana, shaking his black curly head like a
seizing a board from a girl near him, and pushing her under
at the same
time, he shot it over towards me; and then Toria, with a
caught one of the imps who had caused my disaster and,
twining his left
hand in her long, floating hair, pitched her board away
This little incident, however, lost us our places, and amid the merry gibes of some naked infants who were in the ruck, we swam on in face of the slapping seas, and at last gained the edge of the reef, which was now alive with nude, brown-skinned figures, trying to keep their position in the boiling surf for the first grand " shoot " shoreward.
of the freqnent seas the water was only about four feet
deep, and presently
some sort of order was formed, and we awaited the next big
Over the outer reef it reared its greeny crest, curled and broke with ...
clamour, and roared its mile-line length towards us.
Struggling hard to keep our feet on the slippery coral against the swift back-wash, we waited till the white wall of hissing foam was five feet away, and then flung ourselves forward flat upon our boards. Oh, how can one describe the ecstatic feeling that follows as your feet go up and your head and shoulders down, and you seem to fly through the water with the spume and froth of the mighty roller pIa ying about your hair and hissing and singing in your ears?
Half a mile away lies the beach, but you cannot see it, only the plumed crowns of the palms swaying to and fro in the breeze; for your head is low down, and there is nothing visible but a wavering line of shaking green.
Perhaps, if you are adept enough to turn your head to right or left, you will see silhouetted against the snowy wall of foam scores and scores of black heads, and then before you can draw your breath from excitement the beach is before you, and you slip off your board as the wave that has carried you so gloriously in sweeps far up on the shore, amid the vines and creepers which enwrap the sea-laved roots of the coco-palms.
up and down over the seas, diving beneath any that are too
high and swift
to withstand, till you reach the ledge of the reef again and
Not all together do we go this time, for now the swimmers are widely separated, and as we swim out we meet others coming back, flying before the rollers under which we have to dive.
Here and there are those who from long practice and skill disdain to use a board; for springing in front of a curling sea, by a curious trick of hollowing in the back and depressing the head and neck, they fly in before the rolling surge at an amazing speed, beating the water with one hand as they go, and uttering wild cries of triumph as they pass us, struggling seaward.
Others there are who with both hands held together before them, keep themselves well in position amid the boiling rush of waters by a movement of the legs and feet alone.
But, that day, to my mind the girls looked prettiest ot all when, instead of lying prone, they sat upon their boards, and held themselves in position by grasping the sides.
Twice, as we swam out, did we see some twenty or thirty of them mounted slopingly on the face ...
... of a
sea, and with their long, dark locks trailing behind them,
enveloped in mist and spray like goddesses of the waves.
Their shrill cries of encouragement to each other, the loud thunder of the surf as it broke upon its coral barrier, the seething hum and hiss of the roller as it impelled them to the beach, and the merry shrieks of laughter that ensued when some luckless girl over-balanced or misguided herself in the midst of the foam, lent a zest of enjoyment to the scene that made one feel himself a child again.
For two hours we swam out again and again to fly shoreward; and at last we met together on the beach, to rest under the shade of the palms, the girls to smoke their banana-leaf sului of strong negro-head tobacco, and the men their pipes, while the younger boys were sent to gather us young drinking-coconuts.
And then we heard a sudden cry of mingled laughter and astonishment; for, tottering along the path, surf-board under arm, came an old man of seventy, nude to his loins.
" Hu! hu!" he cried, and his wrinkled face twisted, and his toothless mouth quivered, "is old Pakia so blind and weak that he cannot ...
Ah, let but some of ye guide me out and set me before the surf-then will ye will see."
Like an old troop-horse who dozes in a field, and whose blood tingles to some distant bugle call, the ancient, from his little hut near by, had heard our cries, and his brave old heart had awakened to the call of lusty youth.
And so, earnestly begging the loan of a board from one of the swimmers, he had come to join us. And then two merry- hearted girls, taking him to the water's edge, swam out with him to the reef amid our wild cheers and laughter.
They soon reached the starting-point, and then a roar of delight went up from us as we saw them place the ancient on his board, his knees to his chin, and his hands grasping the sides.
Then, as a bursting roller thundered along and swept down upon them, they gave him a shove and sprang before it themselves-one on each side.
And, old and half blind as he was, he came in like an arrow from the bow of a mighty archer, his scanty white locks trailing behind his poor old head like the frayed-out end of a manilla hawser, his face set, and his feeble old throat crowing ...
a quavering, shaking note of triumph as he shot up to the very margin of the beach, amid a roar of applause from the naked and admiring spectators.
Well indeed art thou entitled to this stick of tobacco from the white man to console thy cheery and venerable old pagan soul in the watches of the night.
New Amsterdam Book Company
156 Fifth Avenue, New York.
T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1898.
Chapter : A Noble Sea Game, pages 147 to 157.