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edwin pallander  : surf riding at makemo, 1901 

Edwin Pallander :  Surf riding at Makemo, 1901.

 Extracts from:
Pallander, Edwin:
The Log of an Island Wanderer,
notes of travel in the eastern Pacific
C. A. Pearson, London,1901.

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On leaving Anaa, Pallander is less than impressed by life on tropical coral islands; "the coral polyp is the meanest, the most hypocritical, the most injudiciously lionised criminal extant."

However, on landing on Makemohe, he is sufficently inspired to write a excellent account of the local surfboard riders, in particular noting the dangers of the rocky shoreline, an "iron-bound coast," and sharks.

Makemo, Rangi-kemo or Te Paritua, is one of the larger of the Tuamotu atolls in French Polynesia.
Makemo Atoll measures 69 km in length and 16.5 km in width, giving it a land area of 56 kmē.
- wikipedia

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The ubiquitous Croix du Sud arrived in due course.
I was glad to see her.
I said a pathetic  farewell to my gendarme friend, went on board,  and climbed into my bunk.
I needed a rest, a  genuine Christian one, after that week on mats  and sand, and when the screw commenced to  jog my pillow an hour later, I sternly refused  to come on deck and bid Anaa a last farewell.

Variety, says some barbarian wise man, is the  spice of life and in the Paumotus there is no  variety.

It is life without spice, a glary routine of sand and coral, flat to the taste as a backwoods pancake.
Thus topples to earth another romance of mine, the romance of a "coral island" existence.
What complex fits of thrill I have wasted over that heartless fraud!
How imperfect is a school education and how truly awful the ideas it instils.
The principal sinner in my case was Ballantyne.
He taught me to look on coral islands as paradises.
I shall never forgive him.
To make matters still more offensive, we are urged to admire and applaud the silly polyp who erects

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these nightmares, and to emulate him if possible !
It is incredible how many tons of sentiment the civilised world has wasted over the coral polyp and his work.
If human suffering, boredom, and madness count for anything in the scale of crime, the coral polyp is the meanest, the most hypocritical, the most injudiciously lionised criminal extant.

Next morning I got a practical illustration of the dangers of the archipelago.
Captain Pond called me on the bridge, and, pointing ahead over the bows " Do you see anything there ? " he said.

I strained my eyes in vain.

Yet we were within four miles of land.
Ten minutes later two tiny dots of palm dipped up from the blue.
They were the forerunners of the island of Makemo one of the few islands hereabouts that possesses a passage deep enough to admit large steamers.
The current in the pass was very violent, and it seemed to me that with all the efforts of the machinery we were making little or no progress.
We got ashore towards eight, however, inside the lagoon, where a goodly flotilla of skiffs and outrigger canoes were drawn up to receive us.

I had a letter to one of the residents, a man named Elson, whose house lay some two miles from the inlet, and as I walked I had time to take stock of things in superficial tourist fashion.

Makemo as a centre of culture is a big step

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behind Anaa.
The population is very variable, and just then (February) the majority, I was told, were absent in Hikueru for the pearl-fisheries.
There was the usual church with its home-made coloured windows and mildewed green bell, the level avenue flanked by lilies, the cemetery, and the scurrying army of hogs.
A curious custom prevails here in connection with the dead.
Among the white slabs marking the graves I repeatedly noticed stray piles of bedding, blankets, and rugs.
They were the sleeping-places of natives, who by spending a night among the tombs hope to obtain the privilege of communing with the dear departed.
A gruesome custom and one which the missionaries are labouring to discourage.

There was goodly array of Makemo youth frolicking in the water, some surf-swimming on boards, others merely dabbling.

By rights these ingenuous youngsters ought to have been at school, but I suppose it was a holiday, or perhaps school hours are arbitrary in the Paumotus.
Surf-swimming is an exhilarating pastime and amusing to watch.
The urchins swam out to where the combers were tossing their manes, bestrided their boards and got carried home shrieking at a speed which Perseus in the sandals of Hermes might have envied.
I don't know whether the sport is accompanied by much

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It looked horribly dangerous to me.

On a flat beach cushioned with fine sand cela va bien.
A tumble in the mud is the worst to be anticipated.
But on the iron-bound coast of Makemo it is another affair altogether.
Let one of those youngsters slip or miscalculate his distance by a few yards and his skull would be smashed like an egg.
I suppose the dear things knew what they were at, however, for the sport went on hour after hour in a way that might have struck despair to the heart of a Makemo life-insurance company, if there was one.

Just then, five minutes or so after I had finished admiring the picture of brown limbs flashing in creamy surf, came one of those little rencontres which illustrate the fatalistic island character so thoroughly.
On a level stretch of sand and coral innocent of waves a party of men were busy with baskets and string.
On my asking what they were doing, I was told "fishing for sharks ! "
This turned out to be actually the case, for the sharks in Makemo are a great deal harder up for food than those in Tahiti and bite readily at anything.

" Even at schoolboys," I suggested.

" Sometimes," was the tranquil reply.

I crossed the belt of palms to the lagoon.

Here more fishing was going on, though of a more inoffensive description.
Two men came

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staggering in under the weight of a load of something resembling salmon, though of course it wasn't salmon and more resembled the ulua of the Sandwich Islanders.
In the wood alongside were more curiosities.
Truants picking coco-nuts stealing them I presume for one could hardly admit to oneself that these brown monkeys with straw satchels on their
backs were the owners of plantations.
Shades of Surrey orchards !
I wonder whether these mother's joys will get as soundly birched as we did when
But never mind. I am glad I met those boys.
It is these little touches of home-made poetry that move one's heart in a foreign land.

Pallander, Edwin:
The Log of an Island Wanderer, 
notes of travel in the eastern Pacific 
C. A. Pearson, London,1901.

Internet Archive

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Geoff Cater (2013) : Edwin Pallander : Surf Riding at Makemo, 1901.