Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 8

                    “You can throw your luggage down
                     Lose your cool and stomp around
                     But there's nothin', nothin' you can do
                     Wipe away your girlfriend's tears
                     Go to the bar and have some beers
                     There ain't no way that bird's gettin' through”
                                          Jimmy Buffett, No Plane on Sunday

They sent a dump truck. We certainly hadn’t expected that. Robyn and I were back out at Fua’amotu International airport, on a day when the King had parked his bicycle. We were scheduled to leave Tongatapu, back to Fiji, on to Canada, into the blue again after the money’s gone. It was time for us to ‘get on with it,’ get on with the rest of our lives. But time, as it turned out, was holding us, and holding us back, after all.
No one saw it coming. From where we were, at the ticket counter, more importantly, nothing was leaving. Air Pacific, Fiji’s national airline, had just experienced a wildcat pilot’s strike, and we were aground in the Abode of Love.
The fat Flying Dutchman ahead of us in the queue hadn’t started there. He had pushed his way there, because of his obviously greater importance, relative to ours. He was an important businessman, he said, waving his obviously important arms around the solid head cube of muscle, on the other side of the desk. He needed to get out of Tonga, and he needed to get out today, and what was the solid head cube of muscle going to do about it. The solid head cube of muscle smiled. The fat Flying Dutchman wasn’t flying today. In fact, it wasn’t clear when any of us would fly. The strike could last several weeks. And the only place any of us were going, was the International Dateline. Not the dateline itself, the International Dateline Hotel. The fat Flying Dutchman was angry that he had just come from there. Robyn and I were delighted, that our trip had just been bumped into business class. It still might all be worth the price of the flight cancellation.
And that’s where the dump truck came onto the scene. The fat Flying Dutchman had already secured his taxi back to the Dateline, and he wasn’t in the mood to share his ride. Robyn and I may have been promoted to the best hotel in the country to wait out the flight delay, but no one had told Air Pacific that they owed us a deluxe way to get there. We piled our packs in the back of the dump truck, and roared the 35 kilometers back into and through the vowel-saturated streets of Nuku’alofa, to beat the fat Flying Dutchman, by a hair. It seems that his taxi driver was on a meter, and in no particular hurry, given the fact that there were no passengers at the airport from any incoming flight, whereas out dump truck driver had other places to go, and people to meet. Call it differential motivation. Of course this didn’t matter to the fat Flying Dutchman. He pushed his way in front of us again, at the Dateline Hotel reception, because of his obviously greater importance, relative to ours. He was an important businessman, he said, waving his obviously important arms around the solid head cube of muscle, on the other side of the desk. The solid head cube of muscle gave him back his room, but it wouldn’t be cleaned for several hours, as they hadn’t expected his return. From the look on the face of the solid head cube of muscle, no one was likely to be in a hurry to accommodate him, likely because of their recent experience with him, whereas Robyn and I were brand new appreciative faces, and our room was ready for us, because Air Pacific was paying.
“Up deah.” The solid head cube of muscle pointed. “Turd floah, tree-too-tree.” And we carried our own bags up the stairs.
What Air Pacific was paying for was not only the room, but the meals as well. Which was about to sound the death knell for Air Pacific. For on the menu, among more plebian business fare, was an item that, since my marriage to a beautiful New Zealander, I had come to appreciate as one of the four basic Kiwi food groups. Crayfish. Big, tender, succulent, delicious lemon and butter and sauvignon blanc-compatible crayfish. At the International Dateline Hotel, although crayfish was only listed on the lunch and dinner menus, our first discovery was that, as long as Air Pacific was paying, they would serve it for breakfast as well. Robyn and I ate big crayfish for breakfast at a table by the pool, next to the fat Flying Dutchman, whose breakfast was toast.
If the time in Greenwich was mean time, the time at the Dateline, on the opposite side of the world was not only kind, it was fabulous. Every day, Robyn and I would wake up and have crayfish for breakfast. We would swim in the pool, and lounge around the pool, until it was time for lunch. We had the crayfish. In the afternoon, we would swim in the pool, or lounge around the pool, until it was time for dinner. Then we would have the crayfish. And so it went for us, aground in the Abode of Love. Letting the days go by, letting the days go by, letting the days go by, once in a lifetime.
Every morning we would check in with the front desk staff, to see how the pilot strike was doing. Every day we would find out the pilot strike was going well. And we would retreat back to the seemingly unending pleasures of swimming and sunbathing and crayfish.
One morning we went to the Friendly Islands Marketing Cooperative, to look at their handicrafts. In a country that produced nothing but banana-shaped postage stamps, Protected Persons Passports, and expatriate Tongans, handicrafts were the biggest local business going. The bone and wood carving, weaving, and tapa cloth were finely done, but the baskets were truly amazing, and Robyn and I bought two, to take home. Which was exactly the problem because, after a week of indulgence at the International Dateline Hotel, we were still castaways, and not only becoming shipwrecks, but at risk of becoming truly amazing basket cases. I couldn’t swim another length, check out another beach towel, or look at another crayfish. In Polynesian, Tonga meant ‘south,’ where nothing and everything appeared to be headed. The only fun left was watching the fat Flying Dutchman decompensate slightly ahead of us.
And then, just when we thought we were marooned forever, the word came one evening that Air Pacific was sending a special charter flight next morning, to rescue us from paradise. At dinner we celebrated with crayfish. Next morning we bid farewell to the reception staff, and climbed into the back of our dump truck, for the return journey to the airport. Robyn had suggested that I dress up, ‘in case of an upgrade.’ I told her we didn’t stand a chance, but I was wrong. Beyond the ticket counter, beyond the duty free, was a ramp to business class, and a new beginning.
Things didn’t go too well for the Dateline, or the Abode of Love, after we left. Thirteen years after our salvation, the International Dateline Hotel was sold to the People’s Republic of China. Five new clocks appeared behind the front desk, the biggest one in the center showing Beijing time. The Chinese manager was unavailable, and spoke no English. The swimming pool was closed because of an outbreak of disease. It was apparently bought to introduce the Tongans to the concept of Chinese fishing rights, and anger.
In 2006 riots broke out in downtown Nuku’alofa, killing six people and destroying eighty per cent of the central business district.
Puleʻanga Fakatuʻi ʻo Tonga, a kingdom which had never been invaded, occupied, colonized, immigrated to, or invested in, which had no desire to look beyond its own archipelago of 176 islands scattered over 700,000 square kilometers of remote Southern Sea, was about to have its vowels replaced by glottal stops and palatal glides and alveolar sibilants and tones and retroflex consonants, and its pa’anga currency replaced by renminbi.
Back in the palangi sky-bursting Business Class, Robyn and I were seated across from the fat Flying Dutchman.
“How did you get up here?” He asked.
Almost unconsciously, from my daypack, I pulled out my translucent castaway from the deep, the most spectacular gigantic spotted cowrie.
“Where do you get that?” He asked.
“King.” I said.
We had the crayfish.

                            “No plane on Sunday
                             Maybe be one come Monday
                             Just a hopeless situation
                             Make the best of it's all you can do
                             'til they get through”
                                     Jimmy Buffett, No Plane on Sunday

Tongan Girls Juggling

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 7

As I sang, I thought of the riddles that the princess to which she had demanded Turandot’s answers. The first, ‘What is born each night and dies each dawn?’ could have only been ‘hope.’ The answer to the second, ‘What flickers red and warm like a flame, but is not fire?’ I remembered as ‘blood.’ But then, I never got to the third riddle, did I? Because I also remembered, that, while I was having the most wonderful time of my life singing operatic arias at the top of my lungs inside Mariner’s Cave, everyone on the boat outside Mariner’s Cave was waiting for me to emerge. I had no way of knowing, of course, that Robyn, especially, was flickering red and warm like a flame and, in fact, was afire, up top, and was almost beating the skipper around his head, in her frantic attempt to get him, or anyone else, to swim back into the cave, to see if I was still alive.
I bit into my snorkel, and drank in the only lungful of air I would be allowed to take onboard, for this long day’s return journey into daylight.
“Just hold your breath.” He said. I asked him for how long.
“Until you’re there.” He said. I asked him how I would know.
“You’ll be out of breath.” He said.
I swam towards the light. Just as I thought I was going to suffocate in one large saltwater gasp, my horizons widened out and up, and I surfaced onto an ocean of cursing and screaming. It was a rough ride back to the hilltop.
There was no way that Robyn and I, nor Jean Pierre and Maria, as couples or even collectively, could have afforded to rent a sailboat. The islands around Vava'u were the most pristine examples of idyllic South Pacific paradise that we would ever see. And it almost didn’t happen that we saw them. A wayward Spanish couple fixed that for us. We met them outside the Morris Hedstrom corned beef concession one morning. They told us they had a sailboat and, for fifteen dollars a head, they would take us on a day trip around the islands, and include a fish barbeque in the price. We quickly agreed.
Nothing quite prepared us for the experience, however. They had left Spain some fifteen years earlier, and had been trying for almost as long, to make enough money to sail home. I did the math in my head, and decided they would likely be here awhile. Their sails were original, but now the same Joseph coat of many colors as their frayed and tattered clothing, patched and quilted into a psychedelic rainbow of their nautical and personal history. It was as if Picasso had painted their trip on their canvas. But, as thin and gaunt as they were, they were also as good as their word, and we were once again the pirates, siphoning off Spanish treasure, at two bucks an hour. They sailed us through the most magnificent tropical dreamworld, of palms and frangipanis and clear liquid lagoons, to islands like little pancakes of white sand and whiter surf, where forests and other caves and serenity waited. They juggled coconuts, like the Tongan women used to, and caught parrotfish the same colors as their sails, with their held breaths and spear guns, and grilled them over an open fire on some secluded beach, on an island without a name. We were all deliriously and deliciously happy.
Live like a captain. Play like a pirate.

            “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
             Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
             Into the blue again after the money's gone
             Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground”
                                              Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

'Stories of the Southern Sea' is now available on Amazon


Thursday, 26 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 6

The naked Ha'apai chief who would determine Will Mariner’s fate was Finou 'Ulukalala the First. He called to one of the Hawaiians to fire a musket at one of the Tongans high in the ship’s rigging. The fall broke the man’s legs and fractured his skull. When Will later asked him how he could be so cruel, Finou laughed, and explained that he had been a lowly cook, and that his life or death had been of no consequence to society.
But Will was destined to be of major consequence to society, and to Finou. Over the next three days, the ship was stripped of her iron, had her guns and powder removed, and was burnt to the waterline. The guns would help Finou consolidate his rule over the rest of Tonga, and Will would help Finou accomplish this, for which was ultimately given the name Toki 'Ukamea. Iron Axe.
Over the next four years, Will would teach Finou about his culture, about how taking apart a watch doesn’t guarantee the ability to reassemble it, and about money.

“If money were made of iron and could be converted into knives, axes    and chisels there would be some sense in placing a value on it; but as it is, I see none. If a man has more yams than he wants, let him exchange some of them away for pork. Certainly money is much handier and more convenient but then, as it will not spoil by being kept, people will store it up instead of sharing it out as a chief ought to do, and thus become selfish. I understand now very well what it is that makes the white men so selfish — it is this money!”
For his part, Finou taught Will about his culture, about his love of cooked dog meat, particularly the neck and hind quarters, and the legend of the cave inside which I was treading water in. A young man chasing a turtle observed it dive, without surfacing. He followed it into an underwater cave of considerable size, with no outlet but the one he had entered by. The man forgot about the cave until, some months later, when the tyrannical king, who mistreated his subjects, condemned another chief and all his family to be drowned at sea, for opposing him. The young man was secretly in love with one of the condemned man’s daughters, a maiden who he would otherwise be deemed socially inadequate to marry. Thinking quickly, he declared himself to her, and found that she had also been secretly in love with him. No one knew what had become of her until, one day, a boating party saw what appeared to be the ghost of girl, rising from the heart of the waves, before once again disappearing. The young man had kept her hidden for several months, bringing food, water, bedding for the rough stone couch at one end of the cave, even torches safely wrapped in leaves, until he was able to arrange to be sent on an expedition to Fiji. Outward bound from Vava'u, he stopped his canoes, leaving his men perplexed as he dived into the water, only to reappear with his maiden fair, and off they sailed to Fiji, where they lived happily, until the tyrant’s death.
There was indeed a stone couch at the end of the cave. There was also enough evocative power in the legend, to inspire Byron’s use of it.

                 “The first yet voiceless wind to urge the wave 

                  All gently to refresh the thirsty cave, 

                  Where sat the Songstress with the stranger boy, 

                  Who taught her Passion's desolating joy...

                  The sun-born blood suffused her neck, and threw 

                  O'er her clear nut-brown skin a lucid hue, 

                  Like coral reddening through the darkened wave, 

                  Which draws the diver to the crimson cave. 

                  Such was this daughter of the southern seas...” 

                                                     Lord Byron, The Island

But inside Mariner’s Cave, I wasn’t thinking about Lord Byron. I wasn’t thinking about Will Mariner. I was thinking about the acoustics. Everyone that had come into the cave from our boat had left, including our guide, who told me to come when I was ready. But I wasn’t ready. Inside me, inside the cave, I had a tribute I needed to get out, to the love that inspired the legend. And to Luciano Pavoratti, whose good name required a little rehabilitation, from the beating it received at the hands of the less than good Samaritan American, at the Good Samaritan. And I sent Nessun dorma, from Puccini’s Turandot, ricocheting off the walls of the cave.

      “Tu pure, O Principessa,
       Nella tua fredda stanza... tremano d'amoree di speranza.
       Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me, il nome mio nessun saprà...
       Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà
       Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia...

      “Even you, O Princess,
       In your cold room... tremble with love and with hope.
       But my secret is hidden within me, my name no one shall know...
       On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
       And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine...
       I will win.”

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 5

   “If the blood in the water is light, it is the shark’s blood and the man  
     has won; if the blood in the water is dark, it is the man’s blood, and  
     the shark has won.”                                                                                                                            
                                                                                            Tongan Proverb

“Just hold your breath.” He said. I asked him for how long.
“Until you’re there.” He said. I asked him how I would know.
“You’ll be out of breath.” He said.
I lined up on the pinkish rock in front of me, and the black shadow ten feet below. We had come off our boat on the west wall of the north end of Nuapupu Island, a few miles southwest from our hilltop refuge in Neiafu. Robyn had decided to stay on board. She was always the smart one.
“Don’t worry.” He said. “There’s plenty of time.” But I wasn’t worried about time. I was worried about space, and swimming blind through fifty feet of tunneled darkness, into a cave that was supposed to have air inside. The penalty for failure wouldn’t be pretty.
“What about Captain Luce?” I asked.
“Who?” He said. In 1865 a Captain Luce, of the HMS Esk, had succeeded in entering the cave, but rose too soon on leaving, lacerating his back badly, against the sharp underwater coral spears. It took him a few days to die.
“Swim towards the light.” He said, and jack-knifed down towards the entrance. The instruction was not quite reassuring. I bit into my snorkel, and drank in the only lungful of air I would be allowed to take onboard, for this long day’s journey into night. My own movement followed his fins.
The inside of the tunnel was shot through with schools of tiny blue and black fish, jostling each other, and me. Just as I thought I was going to suffocate in one large saltwater gasp, my horizons widened out and up, onto a pink volcanic opening arching into a high blue and ochre roof. The only light was the filtered cerulean luminosity that had accompanied me through the entrance, like the glow of a nuclear reactor, the most astounding and ethereal radiance I had ever seen. The seal inside the cave was so tight that, when the swells rolled in, the water compressed the air briskly enough to create a fogbank. As the swell retreated, the air clarified to crystal, just as fast. It was sublime.
“Welcome to Mariner’s Cave.” He said. And I thought of him, our castaway. On December 1, 1806, William Mariner was only fifteen years old when he witnessed the captain of his ship, the Port-au-Prince, clubbed to death, stripped, and left lying in the sand. He watched the rest of his twenty-two crewmates outnumbered, overwhelmed, and massacred in the swift and brutal attack, beaten so badly about the head, as to be unrecognizable, before being laid out naked on deck, in regular order, to be counted, and then thrown overboard.
Will was led around unclothed and barefoot under a blistering sun, while the Tongans compared his skin to that of a scraped hog, spat at him, poked him with sticks, and threw coconuts at his head, until he was cut in several places, and led away faster than the soreness of his feet would allow him to walk.
When he finally stopped, it was to looked upon the short squat naked man responsible for the slaughter, seated with a blood-soaked seaman’s jacket thrown over one shoulder, and an ironwood club splattered with blood and brains resting on the other. He appeared to Will to be about fifty years of age on both sides, with one eye blinking faster than the other, above a convulsing mouth.
How he ended up here on the Port-au-Prince, on the sands of Lifuka, the main island of Ha'apai, had been quite different from how Robyn and I arrived on the Olavahu. Will had signed on as a ship’s clerk to the privateer at the age of thirteen, during the war against Napoleon. The commander, Captain Duck, had been given a ‘letter of marque’ from the King, permitting him to seize the cargo of any French or Spanish ship on the high seas, and loot any of their settlements along the way. The Port-au-Prince was 500 tons, with 24 long nine and twelve pound guns, and 8 twelve-pound carronades on the quarterdeck. Her owner, a Mr. Robert Bent of London, had given Duck a twofold commission- to pirate any New World Spanish ships and, failing that endeavor, to sail into the Southern Sea in search of whales to be rendered for their oil. They sailed on February 12, 1805, in a rough Atlantic crossing that brought them off the coast of Brazil by April, and around Cape Horn in July. The captured a number of ships, but little of value, and had a similar lack of success with the whales. When Captain Duck died of an injury, the whaling master, Mr. Brown took over command, and embarked the Port-au-Prince from Hawaii in September, on a heading to Tahiti. He missed it, and instead sailed on westward, toward the Tonga islands, arriving in Ha’apai on November 9, 1806, almost two years since departing England, and leaking badly. It didn’t get any better.
In the evening, a number of natives came on board with a large barbecued hog, and a quantity of ready dressed yams, as a present. With them came a Hawaiian named Tooi Tooi, who knew a little English from his former experience aboard an American ship, and convinced the ship’s company that the locals were favorably disposed to them. Tonga was named the Friendly Islands by Captain Cook, on his first visit there in 1777. He had arrived during the ʻInasi Festival,’ the annual donation of first fruit to the Tuʻi Tonga, and invited to the festivities. What he didn’t know, and what Will Mariner found out only later, was that, beneath their seemingly genial reception, the chiefs had been maturing a plot to murder him and seize his ship, but could not agree on a plan.
The few Hawaiians from the Port-au-Prince were not as reassured that they had weighed anchor in truly Friendly Islands, however, and advised Mr. Brown of their opinion that the Tongans were hostile, and to keep a watchful eye. Mr. Brown, to his ultimate detriment, disregarded this sage admonition. The next day he was invited ashore by the 300 natives that had swarmed the boat. For him, and most of his crew, it was their last voyage.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 4


   “Letting the days go by, letting the days go by, letting the days go by,
     once in a lifetime
     Letting the days go by, letting the days go by, letting the days go by,  
     once in a lifetime...”
                                                       Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime 1981

The crush on Queen Salote wharf was crushing. I suppose Robyn and I could have flown to Vava'u, but at this stage in our lives, we had more time than money, I was letting the days go by, and a trip like this was a unique once in a lifetime cultural experience.
You could barely see the red and white hull of the inter-island ferry, for the boat traffic and human commotion surrounding her. When the boarding ‘process’ was almost over, her name emerged from behind the cargo nets and shouting. Olavaha. She was slow, uncomfortable and ‘bobbed like a cork,’ but she had made the weekly northern trip through the Ha'apai group, and further on to the Port of Refuge, in Vava'u’s principal village of Neiafu, for the previous eight years, in a mostly dependable manner. And she was cheap.
Her replacement nine years later, the MV Princess Ashika, would sink in Ha'apai on August 5, 2009, with the loss of at least a hundred passengers. No one really knew how many were crowded below decks went she went down, before midnight, but they would have had no chance. Cargo had shifted in high seas. The only survivors had been sleeping on deck, as we were.
The Olavahu made several outer island stops, to more crushes of boats five deep, passing cargo and commotion and children, and gigantic upside down coir rope-bound sea turtles, from hand to hand, to upper deck. We stopped in Lifuka, the main island of Ha'apai, for half a day, to unload and reload. It was a garden of glades under a blinding sun, less than a mile wide, and less than ten long, facing west and east, steeped in sunrise and sunset, perfectly flat, and hemmed round with white sands. Lifuka had one little street, bordered with breadfruit and mangoes and coconut palms and feathery iron-bark trees, and a handful of brightly painted shops, all closed on Sunday. Robyn and I encountered an old woman, smiling a Southern Sea smile.
“Ma lo laa.” She said. It is good to be alive. And it was, as it would have been for our castaway as well, in 1806.
Half past us, she turned, and smiled again.
“Afa atu.” She said. Love to you- health.
The sun set to our port side, and rose on our starboard. The night on deck had been cool, almost cold. But Robyn and I had our sleeping bags, and each other, and the ship’s funnels, and two hundred Tongans to keep us warm. We awoke to new islands, with four hundred foot cliffs sprinkled with red soil, and green vegetation where it had managed to find a foothold, above the deep black caves and hollows below. They were like chains of tall cakes, freshly turned out of their tins. We steered through the narrow strips of blue and white spray between them, and the clouds of sea birds about the base of every precipice. In some Asiatic languages, green and blue are one color, and should have been that way here. It was a brilliant day.
“Let’s live here.” I said to Robyn. But of course, we couldn’t.
The cliffs gave way to clumps of trees, running down to the Neiafu’s harbor, the whitewashed church at the top, and a quay thronged with lava-lavas and anticipation. We watched a ghostly white muslin-wrapped body float off the lower deck of the Olavahu, hardly touching the hundreds of swaying arms above which it was suspended in space. The were large numbers of large women crying on the wharf, and it made a hurried retreat into the covered bed of a lorry, to escape their grief.
“What does your shirt mean?” Asked a voice to my right. I turned to find a young Swiss fellow, pointing to my chest.
“AMFYOYO.” I said. “It’s an acronym.”
“What does it stand for?” He asked. I told him it was the parting message that every Critical Care physician had for his replacement, at the end of every shift. “Adios. You’re on your own.”
He started to ask about the other letters, and thought better of it. Which began our association.
Jean Pierre and his wife, Maria, were from Montreux, taking the long way home, like Robyn and I. They knew of a place to stay, with big fresh rooms and ocean views, on the hillside. There were no cars to be seen in Neiafu. We hoisted our packs, and walked it. The thin, nervous middle-aged German who greeted us, had come to paradise to unwind, but it hadn’t seemed to be working out that well for him. He was too hardwired to use the software. Just reading the list of rules on the back of our door would have consumed the entire diversion. There were forces outside his control, however, that would make our stay more interesting. Not the mosquitoes, which we expected, although not in the numbers that filled our dusks and dawns.
Maria’s scream announced the first molokau, writhing on her mosquito net. It was a foot long, the size of a small snake, and jet-black. His head rose off the mesh, before vanishing under their cupboards, like the evil alien he was. He was fast.
“Giant South Pacific centipede.” I said. “They like to hide in dark, wet places.”
“Are they dangerous?” Asked Jean Pierre.
“Very painful bite.” I said. “Leaves two holes. Can cause temporary paralysis. Plus, they eat the geckos that eat the mosquitoes.” Everyone was careful how and where we walked from then on, particularly at night.
It was not the only poison in paradise. Some had been moored in the Port of Refuge for months, avoiding the hurricanes in the Southern Sea; others for years, avoiding the ones in their lives. Bandana’d and barefoot Boat People, on Beneteaus rather than barges, bobbed within the offshore refugee camp at the end of the world, Rolling Stones and rolling cigarettes.
Yachties wanted to be apart and together at the same time, losing speed and social connectivity with each tacking manoeuvre, and futilely beating against the winds of their inevitable extinction. They had set out to become their own Robinson Crusoe, but stopped short of making the commitment, shipwrecked on their fears of becoming shipwrecked. Instead of landing, coveting, claiming, conquering, converting, they stayed in their in their confined cabins in their crossings in their cyclones, counting coins, avoiding the end of the world, which they had gambled would occur somewhere they were not. But there was no neutral ground on or off the water. They would either have to contend with the natives they had fooled themselves into thinking they were seeking, or their own culture, which they had fooled themselves into thinking they were escaping. When they battened down, they were only locking their demons inside. Very painful bite. Leaves two holes. Can cause temporary paralysis.
Still, if there was going to be an end to the world, there would be no more perfect place to meet it, than the Port of Refuge in Vava'u.
Our second day in Neiafu, Jean Pierre and Maria and Robyn and I rented a red Isuzu jeep. We drove out past the refrozen rethawed imported provisioners of Burns Philip and Morris Hedstrom, to beautiful beaches, a church that could have been a Spanish mission except for the Koelaro Holulaumalie koe sirsi o tanga 1929 over the lintel, and a small cove, where we met a Vanilla farmer, and helped push out his small boat, loaded to the gunnels with drums of diesel, out towards his plantation island. And we ultimately came, right on course, to two young boys peeling the shavings of long yams lengthwise with big knives, which led to another kava ceremony, an old man seated in the shade, in shades and frayed pandanus taʻovala cummerbund, who indicated with his loaded cigarette holder, to where the roast suckling pig would come. Same as it ever was. Much later, we performed an impromptu concert on the village wooden slit gong in appreciation, and waved to the pigtailed girls in our rearview mirror, on the way back to our hilltop refuge.

 “If a boat ends up on a reef you don't blame the reef;
 you don't blame
  the boat;
 you don't blame the wind;
 you don't blame the waves;
  blame the captain.”
                                                                                Tongan Proverb

Friday, 20 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 3

Most Tongans went to church three times on Sunday. We thought once would fill us with sufficient spiritual replenishment to last the week.
The Wesleyan Church had been constructed of coral block in 1888. It looked like a rib-buttressed pig thorax, with four gigantic red wax crayon points peeking out of the square stone missile silos at each corner. Inside was a large statue of Christ, crucified on the tapa cloth background above a fiber-optic Christmas tree. Robyn and I dressed as neatly as could be expected, in our sinful itinerancy. The service was long, the choir operatic. We felt pity and scorn in the glances and bellows of the believers. Perhaps I should have worn a tie, or an expression of rapture. Perhaps the faithful had detected my anxiety about our imminent return to the secular materialistic trappings of the middle class working world.
“Where do you go tomorrow?” Asked the big lady beside us.
“We’re heading to the far western point of Tongatapu.” I said.
“Where the Reverend Thomas first landed, and brought us the joyous word of God.” She said. “Where are you staying?”
“A place called the Good Samaritan.” Robyn said.
She was almost blinded by the light.
Letting the days go by, letting the days go by, letting the days go by, once in a lifetime.

                                      *         *        *

              “You may ask yourself, what is that beautiful house?
               You may ask yourself, where does that highway lead to?
               You may ask yourself, am I right, am I wrong?
               You may say to yourself, my god, what have I done?”
                                              Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

At first there was very little to be seen, on the way to the western peninsular promontory, although once we got away from Nuku’alofa, the enchantment began to catch us up- a wonderful variety of foliage, villages, and people. Somehow, there was the eternal sameness of all tropical islands here, the whole light and joyous spirit of diversion, a Forever Young playground where no one had ever needed to work. Every boy, on reaching the age of eighteen, was given a half acre of land, and three acres of bush, in his own earthly paradise, in his own village, and a few coconut trees, a few fowls and pigs.
For the rest, the people danced and sang, and strummed softly on their guitars. They feasted, and played football and cricket on smooth green glades in the centre of every little hamlet. There was a roughly marked-out tennis-court, with a fishing net hung across. As we drove through evening villages, people laughed and sang and called to each other in vowel-drowned words, as though garden parties were forever in session.
But, also on the way West, we came to Kolovai, the place of the gigantic trees of feathery casuarina, where thousands of great sacred Pacific flying foxes quarreled and defecated and dozed upside down in sheets of black drapery, and then, at precisely five o’clock every evening, took wing, and rose in a screaming cloud from the trees, like a cyclone of broken umbrellas. Black banshees with membranous wings extinguished all the light in the sky, until the streams of bats separated into long flowing tributaries, dividing away in the dusk. They would fly forty or fifty miles in the night, to islands and plantations more than twenty miles away, to feed on the bananas and mangoes and pineapples of the unhappy islanders, some of whom would lose entire crops, because only the King was allowed to hunt them. They would return shrieking and squabbling at dawn, to compete for the uppers branches, shoving and biting the toes of those already occupying the choice places they wanted, until they let go.
We turned, through the deepest potholes on the planet, headed for the western coast, and the Good Samaritan.
It was probably just as well that we arrived on sunset. A big rosy peach tumescence, with small silver stars behind, sank like the first stab of love, leaving a bloodstained rag on the long Southern Sea horizon. The white coral beach was stunning, and utterly deserted, but the Good Samaritan was also utterly deserted. It was soon pitch-black, except for the hurricane lanterns. It was just us and the bats, and the ten-dollar Australian filet mignon out of the freezer, which cost the same as our thatched fale, every night. Thirty bucks a day for Paradise, including animal protein.
And that was the other reason that it was just as well that we arrived on sunset. Robyn and I lived to be close to nature. Here, there were more species inside our shotgun shack, than out of doors. We fell asleep to the chirping clicks of a gecko, inches from our heads. He seemed to have a little trouble keeping up with the mosquitoes and ants, but they were assisted with enthusiasm by the gigantic spiders in all four corners of the fale. The cockroaches that came out at night, were only remnants in the morning, recycled by swarms of other insects I had been previously unfamiliar with. But the apex of the food chain, and the major nocturnal celebrants in our hut were the rats above us, who were considerate enough to wait until we were almost asleep, before beginning their roof parties. Good Samaritans.
In the mornings you could have either eggs or pancakes, but the choice wasn’t ours. A horse and cart clip-clopped by, carrying copra. I worked on my shell collection, wading out to the reef, into brilliant pools of vivid purple and green rocks, as clear as jewels, with pink branching corals and feathery green seaweed. Tropical fish and sea anemones, and delicate silk jellyfish puffed out thick with water, were carried out and in by the tremendous roar of jade-throated waves, and then falling into laughing white foam. We had bucket baths, and Robyn did our laundry in the same plastic receptacles under the coconut trees. Let the days go by.
In the evening, costumed Tongan friends arrived, singing and playing their ukuleles, same as it ever was. One evening, we met an American, who, unlike most Americans enjoyed opera, but was, like most Americans, strong of opinion. He told us of his contempt for Pavarotti. I remonstrated. He presented his argument. But this was not the place to argue, as we were all immersed in one last trance before having to awake back into the real world. This was not the place for conformity.  This was only the place to ask the question. How did I get here?
The next morning, after the unpredictable breakfast, I left my beautiful house and my beautiful wife, washing our beautiful clothes in our beautiful bucket under our beautiful coconut palms, and headed south, along the beach. I was alone on a ribbon of white powder, high green symphonic sentinel fronds and ferns on my left, and the turquoise and white foam ocean moving unsteadily under my feet, on the right.
Three beaches and as many rock promontories down, or perhaps it was four, lying on the firm sand, was a translucent castaway from the deep, glistening in the sun. Its Italian name had given us the term for fine bone china, vitrified and resonant.  Porcellana. It didn’t look as if it belonged here, but of course it did, more than I. I picked up the most spectacular gigantic spotted cowrie. The underside looked like a long toothed vulva. As I placed it in my daypack, there was movement in the corner of our eyes.
I turned to find a young boy, sitting at the end of a long shadow from the curved coconut palm protruding onto the sand. He looked like the kind of child they turned into deities or sun kings- big voluminous dark eyes, receding fine hair, poised carriage, serene countenance. Except that he was playing with a metal and plastic toy crane-excavator twice his height, and producing the noise that went along with the real ones. It was emblazoned with the name of the manufacturer. Tonka. Maybe it should have said Tonga, but it didn’t. And then I caught another movement, not far from the first one. A man with sunglasses, khaki shorts, a T-shirt that said sunbuns, armed with a leashed corgi. I must have looked puzzled.
“King’s grandson.” He said. “Prince. Someday king.” And then I realized whose beach I had just committed a capital offense. But no one seemed offended, and I played with the future king of Tonga’s Tonka, and the once and future king.
His grandfather was like a big version of the gecko on the wall of our beautiful home. He seemed slow and impassive, like he was missing thyroid hormone but, behind the heavy eyelids and broad mandible and gravel voice, His Majesty King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV, wore the crown of coconuts and cannibals, on a first-class throne. And it is, it is a glorious thing, to be a Pirate King.
All foreign dignitaries that desired an audience had to wear a striped morning coat and silk hat. He once told a visiting Soviet naval captain that he wanted a ‘titchy guitar from Hawaii.’ The information was recorded on his KGB file, and because every visiting Russian brought one, the King’s titchy guitar collection eventually contained over a hundred specimens.
He stretched the 180 meridian eastwards around his kingdom, enabling Tongan time to be 13 hours ahead of Greenwich, instead of 11 hours behind, allowing his subjects to be the first in the world to greet the new day. Taufa'ahau wore his favorite leather jacket to state events, even though he was over four hundred pounds, and the temperatures were tropical.
Fua’amotu International airport was closed one day a week to allow him to ride his custom-built bicycle up and down the runways. He had a gold watch on each wrist, a pair of glasses in each breast pocket, and two canes on either side of his waddle.
Taufa'ahau was a progressive sovereign, as far as medieval megaton monarchs go. He monetized the economy, and enabled commoner access to increasing material wealth, education, health care, and overseas travel.
But he wasn’t without controversy. Taufa'ahau considered making the country a nuclear waste disposal site, sold Tongan Protected Persons Passports to shady outsiders, including Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, resulting in the naturalization of the purchasers and sparking ethnicity-based concerns within Tonga, with the proceeds deposited in a US bank account; registered foreign ships engaged in illegal activities, including shipments to al-Qaeda; claimed geo-orbital satellite slots from which the revenue went to Princess Royal; held a long-term charter on an unusable Boeing 757 sidelined in Auckland Airport, resulting in the collapse of Royal Tongan Airlines; built an airport hotel and potential casino with an Interpol-accused criminal; approved a factory for exporting cigarettes to China against the advice of Tongan medical officials; imprisoned pro-democracy leaders and imposed press censorship; and lost 26 million dollars to Jesse Bogdonoff, a financial adviser who called himself the king's Court Jester. Two hundred years after Captain Cook’s observation that commoners were required to touch the sole of the chief’s foot as they ambled past, King Taufa'ahau had definitely touched them back.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Tongans were dimwitted bovinoids. Paul Theroux had little respect, considering them big people with flimsy houses and island structures, not really cooperative, bereft of enterprise, slow of speech, casual of manner, indifferent to schedule, unable or unwilling to anticipate, physically clumsy, no manual dexterity, dropped things, forgot things broke promises, a society used to dealing with beachcombers, who had all the time in the world; every other day late, unapologetic, envious, abrupt, lazy, mocking, quarrelsome, sadistic to their children. Spat and swore.
But that wasn’t the way that Robyn and I had found them at all, five years after he had made these pronouncements. The locals we had met, outside the Good Samaritan, were Good Samaritans, and invited us home, for earth oven ʻumus, on festive mats laid out under their mango trees.
It began with a faikava, the kava ceremony presided over by the touʻa, a young single woman server, unrelated to anyone else in our kalapu. She stirred the kava in the kumete, as big as a round sponge bath, legs and all carved from a single tree trunk, enameled by many years of use. The peppery dirtwater that she had poured into polished ipu coconut cups, were passed hand-to-hand to those sitting farthest away, in rounds. We spoke of politics and rugby and traditions, until the jokes and guitars and smiles and Robyn and the big women came out, flowers and maidenhair ferns in their maiden hair.
Then the banana leaves were raked off the ʻumu, and the steam came up off the hot stones, together with the fish and chicken, and taro and yams and breadfruit, and the palusami, my favorite Polynesian dish in the world, made from chopped taro leaves and coconut milk and, here in Tonga, with tinned corned beef imported from New Zealand. There were hot dogs, go figure, because what the men took off the spit, what had originally arrived under white muslin off the flatbed truck, already gutted and stuffed with herbs and lemons, was a tremendous roast suckling pig, or two, or more- not the gaunt hump-backed long-nosed swine brought by Cook, but their thick blubbered porker hybrid descendents that had turned the Friendly Isles into one big big pig farm. One of the men would take the butt end of his large knife and smash the thick orange crackling around the throat of each hog, and we would tear it with our teeth and fingers, and eat it with salt and saliva. We got pig grease all over the back of a truck that we helped push out of the sand, and returned to our mats back under the tree, for papaya and watermelon and the young girls singing and dancing for us, advancing, retreating, beckoning. And the next day was an even bigger feast, with even bigger pigs.
The owners of the Good Samaritan gave us their big car for a day, and Robyn and I made the grand tour of Tongatapu, behind the wheel of a large automobile. Most of what we saw was about what men and water can do to volcanic rock. The waves that crashed into the reef near Houma village drove the Southern Sea up through the natural channels of the Mapu'a 'a Vaea blowholes, high into the air with every surge. The Tongans had two kings, one earthly, who did the hard work of government, and a heavenly king, the Tui Tonga, who was worshipped as a god. They were buried in great rectangular raised enclosures of rough-hewn fitted slabs of coral, 150 feet long by 90 feet wide and three-terraces high. Robyn and I found two of them near the village of Niu toua, hidden in tangled thickets of low bush, and worn by trees and traffic and time. Another structure, the Trilithon, consisted of two massive limestone coral uprights, between 30 to 40 tons each and twenty feet high, linked by a lintel, built by a people who were supposedly unfamiliar with mechanics.
We stopped to ask directions from a large lady holding a blue and yellow and white umbrella, under the white and powder blue vertical wood slatted Friendly Islands Marketing Cooperative Maketa Iki Fish Market. She knew of the location of the monument, but not whose landing it commemorated. Perhaps it was faka Tonga, the Tongan way, the attitude to outsiders reflected in a history of no invasion, no occupation, no colonization, no immigrants, no investors, and no desire to look beyond. We were palangis, sky-bursters, and even the kids I invited and encouraged to listen to the music on my Walkman, did so out of courtesy, rather than any real interest. Still, you would think she might have known.

   ‘Here stood formerly the great banyan "Malumalu 'o Fulilangi" or
    Captain Cook's tree under the branches of which the celebrated
    navigator came ashore on his way to visit Pau, the Tu'i Tonga (sacred
    king of Tonga) on the occasion of the 'Inasi (presentation of the first
    fruits) in the year 1777.’

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 2

We came upon a shaded concrete cricket pitch, covered in an immense spread of ngatu tapa cloth, under grey velvet shadow patches of light falling between the golden green leaves of the trees. Here were the tapa ladies, stripping and pounding paper mulberry bark, wetting and pulping and beating it into square foot flat sheets with four-sided ridged wooden mallets, and then gluing it all together so skillfully with cassava, that no joint was visible. Fifty-two segments, representing the number of weeks in a year, were glued end-to-end, and then expanded in a matrix laterally by thirteen pieces, symbolizing the number of lunar months. The result, an immense white sheet, soft as silk, was stenciled with geometrical and symmetrical designs, in black and brown, using only the point of a triangular scrap of wood as a paint brush.
A fine pattern of ochre emerged along either edge, with a repeating cubist motif of diagonals, diamonds, checks, wings, and zigzags, extending in from the two sides, until they met perfectly in the middle. The promises of the weddings and the birthdays and the funerals of the future would be covered.
Robyn and I took a left on Wellington Road, past the Centenary Church where the king and queen worshipped, to the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga that we would attend the following day.
In between were the Mala’ekula Royal Tombs, containing the remains of all the monarchs from the first king, George Tupou I, who died in 1892 at the age of a hundred, to the much beloved Queen Salote Tupou III, in 1965. Salote became the darling of London during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953, when she rode through the streets in an open carriage in the pouring rain, waving and smiling all the way.
The stucco gave way to wood again, with the shops of Taufa’ahau Road, scantily stocked with oversized clothing, kitsch kitchenware, and cheap perfume and jewelry. We didn’t linger in the sincerity of the Sincere Variety Store, but made for the Maketi Talamahu market, to admire the whopping watermelons, coconuts, banana bunches, sugar cane, papayas, string beans, pineapples, huge taro, and cylindrical yams, each in their special open-woven green pandanus baskets. One of the smiling lava-lava women was weaving something three-dimensional, with several endless celluloid ribbons of old movie film.
Robyn and I checked into a decrepit Southern Sea guesthouse. On a Saturday night, in the capital of the only Island state that had never been colonized, the loud festivities that went on outside our window, were the full feral fights and flights of squealing pigs and barking dogs.
The only thing to do the next day, in fact the only thing one was allowed to do, was go to church. There was a specific clause in the constitution that covered Sundays. The Sabbath Day shall be sacred in Tonga forever and it shall not be lawful to work, artifice, or play games, or trade on the Sabbath.
All commerce and entertainment ceases from midnight on Saturday until midnight on Sunday. Stores are closed, airplanes don't fly, taxis don't operate, and restaurants, other than those in the hotels, don't open. Cheques dated on a Sunday would not be cashed. The penalty for breaking this rule is three months in jail at hard labor. Church people will let the air out of your tires, if you drive.
Ninety-eight per cent of the population was affiliated with one Christian church or sect, or another. But the anothers were making fast inroads on the Wesleyans. Nametags came knocking. We had passed 27 Mormon churches on the way into town from the airport, and some villages had more than one. It was a deadly sin for a Tongan man to be without a shirt, or for a Tongan girl to swim without full metal jacket clothing.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Aground in the Abode of Love 1

                      Aground in the Abode of Love

            “You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
             You may find yourself in another part of the world
             You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
             You may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife
             You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?”
                                             Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime

You know you’ve arrived in Polynesian waters when the vowels begin to drown the consonants. Fua’amotu International airport was 35 kilometers from Nuku’alofa, and Nuku’alofa was a light year away from caring. The Tongan immigration fullback in the blue skirt was totally wrapped up in the frayed taʻovala pandanus mat around his considerable center. Each of his solid knees was the width of my head, and his solid head was a cube of muscle. Robyn and I handed him our declaration forms. No ‘potable spirits...microorganisms...used bicycles...obscene photographs... tear gas.’ These people had taken the missionaries far too seriously.
“Talitali fiefia.” He said. Welcome.
The Southern Sea had been a world of nothing-matters. But I was taking this trip far too seriously as well. We were on our way back to Canada from New Zealand, after finally deciding where we would live and work. It was the work part that was the problem. I wasn’t sure I was really ready to commit to anything other than Robyn. We had been married for three years, and had lived in relative poverty and absolute connubial bliss, while I had finished my medical residency. Only six months earlier we had stopped off in Fiji, on the way to a new beginning in New Zealand. But the signs of a future fulfilled professional life had been inauspicious, and I had sprung our need to return to the frozen north on Robyn, on our anniversary, in a restaurant, in Rotorua. She had cried.
I promised I would make it up to her, by allowing us to stop for a month in the Friendly Islands, on the way back. I think she knew that the delay wasn’t for her. She wanted to ‘get on with it,’ get on with the rest of our lives. Time isn't holding us, time isn't after us. Time isn't holding us, time doesn't hold you back....
I told her that I wanted it too, but that was only wishful. The delay was for me, to get my head around the inevitability of it all. My last kick at the can, my last island, my last diversion was the same that it ever was. Letting the days go by, letting the days go by, letting the days go by, once in a lifetime.
Nuku’alofa, the Abode of Love, seemed to be less comfortable with its appellation, since the arrival of the Wesleyans, and AIDS. Koe ‘eitisi ‘okau’ ma’u Hano faito’o ko ho’o Puke koe mate Kuo pau! Said the sign. Aids is incurable Once you get Death is certain Soon! Malu’I ‘a Tonga.
The annual Red Cross parade marched down Taufa'ahau Road, led by the big white Sousaphones of the uniformed marching band, and followed by floats carrying messages from both the microorganisms and the missionaries. Avoid going for men with many women; One husband one wife; Don’t shoot- see the red cross; Beware of death trap; Wickedness never was happiness.
When the last float vanished, it left behind the most sleep-dusted royal port in the Pacific. Even the most methodical of its Methodists had been losing out to torpor and poverty and chaos. Nuku’alofa, as charming as it could be, was a center of quiet, and of quiet capitulation.
Beyond the Vuna wharf, the town straggled over a good mile of space, with flowery houses of pretty verandas, and pathways of green grass, kept short by the supersized weight of bare Tongan feet. The pork fat had begun to drown the Paradise. Tongans were eating themselves to death. The fattest population on the planet, 92% of it citizens over 30 were obese, and almost twenty per cent suffered from diabetes. The smoky scenes from roast suckling pigs, spinning on their spits through three sumptuous feasts a day, at week-long church conferences, would have given Hieronymus Bosch hallucinations, and Jabba the Hutt heartburn. Twenty-one buffets a week, for people with thrifty genes, eating suckling pig and corned beef and lamb belly ‘flap,’ together with the taro and sweet potato and yam carbs, in the tropical heat, who cart their leftovers home in carrier bags, is not a survival skill of the first order.
Tongans aren’t actually inherently lazy, they’re just not materialistic. Rather, they have more spiritual aspirations- life revolves around the church and family, and a deliberate overindulgence of both. Ten is the magic number for offspring. The bronze statue of the current King, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, was monstrous. The grass never stood a chance.
All along the seafront was a wide double avenue of iron-bark trees and, to one side of it, the visiting facsimile of the HMS Bounty, which had never actually visited the place in her original form.
We came along to the Royal Palace, a white painted wooden Victorian gingerbread hybrid of Milan cathedral and German toy, with scrolled fretwork and pinnacles and gables, under a rust colored roof. It had been prefabricated in New Zealand, shipped to and erected in Tonga in 1867, and surrounded by green Norfolk pines and white orchids. A military band with a silver brass section and big bass drum changed the guard, and then came over to exchange beaming grins.
We ran in the same direction that Vuna Road did, west from the palace, the sea and reef on one side, and the stately old colonial homes on the other, to the old British High Commissioner’s residence, sporting a flagpole surrounded by the four cannons from the Port-au-Prince, the ship captured and burned by the Tongans at Ha'apai in 1806, after they had clubbed to death all its crew, except for the castaway.
Graves of elevated powdered white coral terraces, tiers and tears outlined by pebbled rectangles, rose from the ground inside the casuarina-ringed ‘tragic field’ cemetery of Mala’e’aloa, along with miniature cement chapels painted white and blue and rust, and more modern burial receptacles of colored tile and block. The Tongan graves that Robyn and I would encounter elsewhere were everywhere, sometimes in the front yard, ringed and decorated with what they had- Foster’s beer bottles shoved in the dirt under cloth canopies with embroidered tapestries flying in the wind, Jesus figurines, Last Supper posters, crosses, tinsel, plastic flowers, red banners, and Christmas decorations.

Castaways 15

“I was now landed, and safe on shore, and began to look up and thank
 God that my life was sav’d in a case wherein there was some minutes
 before scarce any room to hope. I believe it is impossible to express to
 the life what the extasies and transports of the soul are, when it is so
 sav’d, as I may say, out of the very grave….”
                                                                      Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Seven years after Rousseau submitted his Second Discourse, he published his neo-romantic novel Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse. Extolling a love for nature, and the ‘mythe du bon sauvage’ hidden in its pages, its release was so popular, that it was rented by the hour in French bookshops. Rousseau’s hero was modeled after George Anson, the English naval commander, who had been contracted by the South Seas Company in 1740, for a mission to disrupt or capture Spain's Pacific possessions. Poorly provisioned, and with impossible orders, his benefactors expected his expedition to live off the pillage of the sea, and the land. By the time he limped into Juan Fernández, at daybreak on the 9th of June of the following year, Anson had lost sight of his five other ships, having taking nine days, and the further loss of an additional eighty men, to even find the islands, because of the mistake in his navigation charts. The delay, however, may have save his life, as he arrived after the last Spanish ship had left. His crew was too weak to lift the anchor, and took several weeks to recover their strength. Their improvement led to questions that eventually helped identify vitamin C deficiency as the cause of scurvy. Anson’s later capture of the Acapulco galleon, Nuestra Señora de Covadonga, off the coast of the Philippines, made him a rich man. His circumnavigation of the globe laid the basis for subsequent scientific and survey expeditions by Captain Cook. Only 188 of his original 1854 sailors had survived the voyage. Anson’s exploits were documented in the 1748 publication of A Voyage Round the World. He served as the prototype for Patrick Obrien’s Aubrey-Maturin series, which in turn provided the inspiration for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. An incident on his round the world voyage was the subject of William Cowper’s famous rhyme of this ancient mariner.

                          ‘They left their outcast mate behind,
                           And scudded still before the wind...
                           No poet wept him: but the page
                           Of narrative sincere,
                           That tells his name, his worth, his age,
                           Is wet with Anson's tear.’

 The poem was called The Castaway.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Castaways 14


                        “The shattered water made a misty din.
                          Great waves looked over others coming in,
                          And thought of doing something to the shore
                          That water never did to land before.”
                                               Robert Frost, Once By The Pacific

On our last day on Isla Robinson Crusoe, Robyn and I met a plant biologist named Luis, in his conservancy greenhouse. He spoke eloquently about how, out of over two hundred native species of vascular plants, found nowhere else in the world, over seventy per cent were on the endangered list. A ray of sunlight landed on an enchanting small flower, stretching strange white petals, out of a small black pot.
“Es el ultimo.” He said. The last one.
At the appointed time, we walked back past the town hall, beside the Emergencia rusted gong, suspended between its two tall metal poles, and timed an entry jump back into the open lobster boat that would take us back around the island to our return flight. As we bobbed along against the waves, one of the crew produced two large local crayfish, and two boxes for the return flight. These men had little, and we were humbled by their gift. Our old pilot greeted us as warmly, and told us how fortunate we were to have left with such a gesture. “Vamos.” He said, motioning for us to find seats, and taking his own. The same erupting cloud of blue smoke from the cowling filed the flight plan. “Tres horas. Seiscientos kilómetros. Tal vez.” Three hours. Six hundred kilometers. Maybe. The same maraschino cherries blood-stained the white bread of the ham and cheese that he handed over his shoulder on our rescue.
Our landing at Los Cerillos felt like Selkirk’s return to Largo. Robyn and I arrived rich with stories and sea plunder, and decided to head for the coastal garden town of Viña del Mar, the same afternoon. We boarded the subway to begin our journey, precariously balancing the large crates in our laps. An elderly woman took the seat beside us, on the outside of our row. The boxes jumped violently on our knees, as we left the station. She looked at us with a mixture of fear and suspicion.
“Langostas.” I said. And the tension in her face relaxed.
An hour and a bit later, we were climbing the stairs to the lobby of a seaside hotel. The concierge greeted us, and I asked him to fetch me the chef. A sturdy white stained uniform emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later. I opened a crack in one the containers to daylight, and asked him if he knew how to cook these crustáceos.
“Ciertamente, Señor.” He said, with obvious admiration for our prizes. I told him we’d be down in an hour.
Robyn and I checked into our room and showered off the Southern Sea. Refreshed, we descended to the floor-to-ceiling glass harbor vista, in the busy restaurant. We were seated at a rare window table and, as few minutes later, a bottle of sauvignon blanc, and two giant red crayfish arrived with a flourish. The clamor of all conversations around us stopped dead. Diners from other tables began pointing in our direction. One group of Santiago businessmen next to us became insistent, and asked to see the chef. He arrived in the dining room, radiating a mischievous grin, as he approached the pinstriped executives. They demanded to know why he was refusing to provide them with the same delicacies that these Gringos were enjoying.
“Son los últimos. Náufragos.” He said, shrugging his shoulders. They’re the last ones. Castaways.
On February 27, 2010, a twelve year-old girl, named Martina Maturana, finally rang the rusted gong, suspended between its two tall metal poles, on Robinson Crusoe Island. A ten foot high tsunami came along right behind it, destroying most of San Juan Bautista, killing eight of her neighbors outright, and causing eleven other to disappear. She had saved the rest with her quick actions, and compassion.

“To-day we love what to-morrow we hate; to-day we seek what to-morrow
 we shun; to-day we desire what to-morrow we fear.”
                                                                       Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

George Anson's view of Juan Fernández

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Castaways 13

Before being complicated by more complex philosophers, Alexander Selkirk’s biographer, Irish politician and Spectator founder, Richard Steele, had summarized its essential lesson. This plain Man’s Story is a memorable Example that he is happiest who confines his Wants to natural Necessities.
This was a direct contradiction of the prevailing belief of the time that, without a strong central political authority to regulate the ‘state of nature,’ people would have a right, or license, to everything in the world, leading to a bellum omnium contra omnes, a ‘war of all against all.’
The theory was the brainchild of a social contract theorist, Thomas Hobbes who, also born prematurely when his mother heard of the coming invasion of the Spanish Armada, had later remarked that she ‘had given birth to twins: myself and fear.’ During his formative writing years, the English Civil War of the time, grew his fear into a forest.
Hobbes had maintained, in the doctrine he outlined in his Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, that the nature of man of the man in nature is inherently evil, and must cede rights to government as the price of peace.

‘In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit
 thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no
 navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no
 commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such
 things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no
 account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all,
 continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary,
 poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’
          Chapter XII: Of the Natural Condition of Mankind As Concerning Their
          Felicity, and Misery, Leviathan

Hobbes left his last words, ‘a great leap in the dark,’ as a metaphoric legacy.
The man that helped undo his influence, had an entirely different view of natural man.
In July of 1750, the Academy of Dijon established a prize competition for anyone who could answer the question, ‘What is the origin of inequality among men, and is it authorized by natural law?’ A Genevan romantic philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, submitted his Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les homes, ‘Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men,’ in which he attempts to discredit Hobbes, for taking an overly cynical view of the species.
Rousseau’s natural man possesses two essential benevolent innate characteristics- ‘amour de soi meme’ love of self, and compassion for the suffering of others. These, he maintains, are the actual properties that have preserved us through time, not a constant fear of death, which we cannot really appreciate, because it moves out of the state of nature. Like other animals, man is concerned with ‘food, a female, and sleep.’ Rousseau’s man is a ‘savage,’ self-sufficient loner, fast, strong, and capable of looking after himself. He only killed for his own self-preservation. The only qualities that distinguish him from the other natural creatures are his libre-arbitre free will, and his perfectibility to develop more sophisticated survival tactics. Rousseau maintains that it is our interaction with those of our own species which transmutes his natural self-love into a state of amour proper, a corrupted love of self deriving from a dependency on the perceptions and favors of others. This results in competition, self-comparison with others, hatred, the urge to acquire power, and a decamping from our state of nature. The true evil, of which man is capable, comes from the institution of property.

‘The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,”
 and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true
 founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders,
 from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved
 mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to
 his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you
 once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth
 itself to nobody.’

Rousseau goes on to define the origin of society as the establishment, by convention, of a moral inequality characterized by enforced differences in power and wealth. He cynically asserts that civil society is anything but, a trick perpetrated by the powerful on the weak, a result of our having strayed from the true nature in man.
Unfortunately for Rousseau, the judges weren’t buying it. The Académie des Sciences, Arts et Belles-Lettres de Dijon still exists, and still offers the prize.
Our original Juan Fernández castaway seems to have inspired Defoe’s own fascinating adventure story, a template for an entire genre of literature, and an ongoing essential philosophical debate about the man of nature, and the nature of man. And still this is not his only accomplishment.
Selkirk’s decision is an embodiment of all the myth and legend and an allegory of life itself. We are all castaways, beautiful innocent natural savages marooned on our own islands of self-love, compassion, self-sufficiency, free will, and perfectibility. We are all awaiting rescue. Robinson Crusoe is not just the first story of the Southern Sea. He is the epic narrative of human experience, the heroic poem of our individual and collective existence. Everything we carry in our hearts followed his first footprint in the sand.

“But all I could make use of, was, All that was valuable. I had enough to
 eat, and to supply my Wants, and, what was all the rest to me? If I kill'd
 more Flesh than I could eat, the Dog must eat it, or the Vermin. If I
 sow'd more Corn than I could eat, it must be spoil'd. The Trees that I cut
 down, were lying to rot on the Ground. I could make no more use of
 them than for Fewel; and that I had no Occasion for, but to dress my
                                                                Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Castaways 12

             “At sea a fellow comes out. Salt water is like wine, in that respect.”
                                                                                         Herman Melville

It was the first story of the Southern Sea.
On 25 April 1719, just over a decade after Selkirk’s rescue, and a year before his death off the African coast, an English merchant, political prisoner, and spy published the first edition of his tale about a marooned sailor, surviving by the goatskin of his wits on a deserted Caribbean island. Daniel Defoe lived in an era when British booksellers, who carried the titles of controversial writers, were hung in public. But this book, The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates, created an eternal myth, a legend so real that, to this day, there are some Tobago islanders, who proudly proclaim one of the world’s most famous fictional characters as an ancestor.
Robinson Crusoe was the first true English novel. Chock full of sailing ships and stormy seas and exotic desert islands, and muskets and wild boars and cannibals, it set the standard for every adventure story that followed.
Far more than exuberant action thriller, set in a faraway locale, Robinson Crusoe was the symbolic narrative of a lone man’s ability to face the ultimate tests of nature, and emerge triumphant over hardship and adversity. Some felt that it was a Christian allegory for the development of civilization. James Joyce described Defoe’s protagonist as ‘the true prototype of the British colonist.’ His enduring faith and steadfastness helped establish and promulgate the myth of colonial supremacy. Robert Louis Stevenson’s assessment of the footprint scene as ‘the most unforgettable in English literature,’ confirmed Friday’s rescue from his cannibal pursuers as the precedential paradigm of the White Man’s Burden. But those grandiose insights and claims still understated the larger significance of the legend that Defoe had created.
In 1731, a decade after Selkirk’s death, and another before Defoe’s, a German writer named Johann Gottfried Schnabel, in the preface of his work Die Insel Felsenburg, The Island Stronghold, coined a term that would become emblematic for the spawn of imitations that would define a renegade literary genre. Robinsonade.
In the classic robinsonade, the hero is suddenly isolated from the comforts of civilization, usually shipwrecked or marooned on a secluded island, often located in the Pacific, tropical, uninhabited and usually uncharted. He must improvise to become self-sufficient from the limited resources at hand. At its essence, the robinsonade is a Man versus Nature conflict, a solitary statement of survivalism.
The infinite number of potential storyline combinations and permutations, are tempered by thematic elements common to them all. There is always isolation, be it on a desert island, a virgin planet, a Lost World, or any other sufficiently remote wild wilderness. The principle characters are making a new beginning. There are encounters with natives, hostile or helpful, which leads to a commentary on the essence of society, and the construction of a new one, for better or worse, depending on the skill level of the castaway. A difficult ordeal, involving conflict, is required for character development, as typifies every hero quest. Elements of technological change and economic advancement, in the context of the assumed innate antagonism of nature, are important. The solitude had to lead back to society, or the ordeal would have no meaning. The natural world in which the castaway found himself could only take one of two forms, nice or nasty.
Thomas More had depicted nature as idyllic, and the Utopian robinsonades range from ingenious recreations of society’s comforts, as in Swiss Family Robinson, to more questionably humorous forms, like Gilligan’s Island. The two other iconic real-life desert island paradise robinsonades arrived on Pitcairn with the Bounty mutineers, and with New Zealander Tom Neale’s An Island to Oneself, the autobiography of his sixteen years on Anchorage Island, in the Suwarrow atoll. Western literature, with its monotheistic estrangement from, and inherent antagonism to, the natural world, has many more dystopian representations of robinsonades as less escapism than requiring escape. Defoe portrayed Crusoe’s remote island as unforgiving and sparse, his Bible-reading, superior cultured, principle character managing to prevail in conflicts with heathens, and survive the elements, by virtue of his virtue.

                             “I am monarch of all I survey,

                             My right there is none to dispute;
                              From the centre all round to the sea,

                             I am lord of the fowl and the brute.”
                                       William Cowper, The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk

Other wild wildernesses are hostile pits of savagery, and the castaways undergo feral regression, best represented in Fielding’s Lord of the Flies, Garland’s The Beach, or a dozen other works of especially United States origin. The Americans are rather more utopian about the powers of human achievement, and definitely more dystopian about the friendliness of nature. They have a special affinity for post-apocalyptic fantasy, in no small measure because they live so removed from Mother Earth, having historically used the U.S. Cavalry and the Army corps of engineers to move her out of the way of their pursuit of progress. The illusion of a secure existence off The Road, in a gated community theme park, is preferable to the reality of sharing their lives with the creepy crawlies, and an armed and paranoid populace. They can watch the latest episode of Survivor from their condo couch comfort, and leave the bugs to the Starship Troopers.
But even the beautifully seductive literary genre of the robinsonade, and the salts it precipitates, sells the significance of Robinson Crusoe short of a bigger impact.
In his quest for survival, the robinsonade castaway not only becomes a perfect study about the man of nature, but the nature of man.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

What do you think of this cover for the next book?

Castaways 11

He exercised his mind and speech and spirit, by singing hymns and reading his daily bible devotions out loud.
‘He was a better Christian while in this Solitude than ever he was before.’ Without the vices of alcohol and tobacco, and salt and society, deep new truths revealed themselves through the cleansing simplicity of the demands of survival. As the volcanic terrain hardened his feet, his heart softened from its intimacy with his natural environment, running like the wind, from thug to Thoreau, blazing with the firecrowns.

‘He ran with wonderful Swiftness thro the Woods and up the Rocks and
 Hills...We had a Bull-Dog, which we sent with several of our nimblest
 Runners, to help him in catching goats; but he distanc’d and tir’d both
 the Dog and the Men.’

But Captain Rogers wouldn’t get to make that observation, until he rescued Selkirk, and he wouldn’t get to rescue Selkirk, until Alex had trekked to his lookout every day, almost sixteen hundred times. The first two ships that came to anchor in Cumberland Bay had been Spanish. The crew that spotted him, ended their pursuit with a collective urination beneath the tree he was hiding in, without detecting the additional heartbeat. Alex knew that, if he had been captured, he would have been enslaved into the South American gold mines. From that moment, he was careful with fires.
Selkirk's long-awaited salvation came on 2 February 1709, on the Duke, a pirate ship captained by Woodes Rogers, and piloted by his old commander, William Dampier.

‘Immediately our Pinnace return’d from the shore, and brought abun-
 dance of Craw-fish, with a man Cloth’d in Goat-Skins, who look’d wilder
 than the first Owners of them.’

After so long without human company, Selkirk was incoherent with joy. ‘So much forgot his Language for want of Use, that we could scarce understand him, for he seem’d to speak his words by halves.’
But they were all impressed with his physical vigor and agility, enough to bring down the two or three goats a day that restored the health of the expedition, and eliminated its scurvy. Rogers was more inspired by Selkirk’s mental tranquility.

‘One may see that solitude and retirement from the world is not such an
 insufferable state of life as most men imagine, especially when people
 are fairly called or thrown into it unavoidably, as this man was.’

As Selkirk’s adamantine soles swelled in his new constraining footwear, his spirit was liberated with Dampier’s story of how the Cinque Ports had indeed foundered off the coast of Colombia. Stradling and the half dozen survivors of his crew were taken to Lima, and left to rot in prison.
It would still take Selkirk almost three more years to arrive back in the Thames estuary. Rogers made him the navigator and second mate of the Duke, and then the commander of one of his prize ships, the Increase. In 1712, with his £800 share of treasure from all the Spanish galleons they had looted along the way, Alex traded his goatskins for elegant clothes of fine lace and gold, and surprised his family as they worshipped in the Largo Kirk. They had long before given him up for dead, and it wasn’t long before their remorse had returned with his ghost.
Alexander wanted little to do with his relatives, preferring the cave-like shelter he built behind his father’s house. He became a recluse, and resumed his drinking and fighting. A year after his grand reentrance, he was arrested for an assault on a Bristol shipwright. Four years later, he eloped to London with a sixteen year-old dairymaid named Sophia Bruce. On a visit to Plymouth, he abandoned her to marry Frances Candis, a widowed innkeeper. In March of 1717, he left them both behind forever, to return to the sea as first mate of the HMS Weymouth, bound for Guinea and the Gold Coast, in search of pirates. A year later, he watched as a yellow fever outbreak on his warship began to destroy three or four men a day. On December 13, 1721, it destroyed Selkirk. ‘North to northwest. Small Breeze and fair. Took 3 Englishmen out of a Dutch ship and at 8 pm. Alexander Selkirk . . . died.’ As with the others, they threw his body overboard. He was 44 years old, and immortal. On New Year’s Day of 1966, Chilean president Eduardo Frei renamed the smaller of the two main Juan Fernández Islands, Alejandro Selkirk Island. It had been called Más Afuera, Further Away. But it was the island that he marooned himself on, Más a Tierra, Closer to Land, the one that archeologists found his copper navigational dividers on thirty-nine years later, the one that Robyn and I had visited, that got the mythical name. Isla Robinson Crusoe.

“He had with him his clothes and bedding, with a firelock, some powder,
 bullets and tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a kettle, a Bible, some practical
 pieces, and his mathematical instruments and books. He diverted and
 provided for himself as well as he could, but for the first eight months
 had to bear up against melancholy, and the terror of being left alone in
 such a desolate place. He built two huts with pimento trees, covered
 them with long grass, and lined them with the skins of goats, which he
 killed with his own gun as he wanted, so long as the powder lasted,
 which was but a pound; and that being almost spent he got fire by
 rubbing two sticks of pimento wood together upon his knee... After he
 had conquered his melancholy, he diverted himself sometimes with
 cutting his name on trees, and of the time of his being left, and
 continuance there. He was at first much pestered with cats and rats that
 bred in great numbers from some of each species which had got ashore
 from ships that put in there for wood and water. The rats gnawed his
 feet and clothes whilst asleep, which obliged him to cherish the cats
 with his goats' flesh, by which so many of them became so tame, that
 they would lie about in hundreds, and soon delivered him from the rats.
 He likewise tamed some kids; to divert himself, would now and then sing
 and dance with them and his cats; so that by the favor of providence,
 and the vigor of his youth, being now but thirty years old, he came, at
 last, to conquer all the inconveniences of his solitude, and to be very
 easy...When his clothes were worn out he made himself a coat and a cap
 of goat skins, which he stitched together with little thongs of the same,
 that he cut with his knife. He had no other needle but a nail; and when
 his knife was worn to the back he made others, as well as he could, of
 some iron hoops that were left ashore, which he beat thin and ground
 upon stones. Having some linen cloth by him, he sewed him some shirts
 with a nail and, stitched them with the worsted of his old stockings,
 which he pulled out on purpose. He had his last shirt on when we found
 him on the island.”
                     Capt. Woodes Rogers, A Voyage Around the World, London, 1712.

           “I am now worth £800, but shall never be so happy, as when I  
            was not worth a farthing.”                                                                                                                                      
                                                                                       Alexander Selkirk

                                     *         *        *

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Castaways 10

No sooner had he waded into Cumberland Bay than Selkirk was overcome with fear and regret. He begged to be allowed back, but Stradling took great pleasure in refusing. Selkirk read his Bible, resigned to waiting for what he thought would be a few days, until another ship sailed by. He was wrong by four years and four months.
He found a cave on the beach, from which he barely moved for the first eighteen months. Frequent tree-snapping gales brought him to ‘a state of terror and dejection.’ He regretted the decision to abandon his ship and crewmates, shackled himself to the hope for rescue, and became ever more
‘...dejected, languid, and melancholy, scarce able to refrain from doing
 himself violence, till by degrees, by the force of reason, and frequent
 reading of the Scriptures, and turning his thoughts upon the study of
 navigation, after the space of eighteen months, he grew thoroughly
 reconciled to his condition.’

He initially survived on fish, which ‘occasion’d a Looseness’ in his bowels, and then turtle meat, ‘till it grew disagreeable to his stomach, except in jellies.’ Despite the fact that he was surrounded by ocean, he craved the inaccessible salt it contained. But he also had shellfish, and learned to boil the giant crayfish with his pepper berries, and managed to kill an occasional seal with his hatchet.
When his beach was invaded by hundreds of mating southern elephant seals, nineteen feet long and weighing up to two tons, their nocturnal wailing, and the approaching winter cold rain and howling winds funneled through the canyons, drove him to his senses, and inland.
In a grove of shade trees beside a stream on high ground, Selkirk built himself two huts out of pimento trees, with roofs of thatched grass. He constructed a crude bed, and covered it, and the huts’ walls, with skins from the feral goats he shot.
When his gunpowder ran out, he learned how to run them down on foot.

‘When he was himself in full vigour, he could take at full speed the
 swiftest goat running up a promontory, and never failed of catching
 them but on a descent... It happened once to him, that running on the
 summit of a hill, he made a stretch to seize a goat, with which under
 him, he fell down a precipice, and lay helpless for the space of three
 days, the length of which time he measured by the moon's growth since
 his last observation.’

The goat he landed on had cushioned his fall, and likely saved him from a broken back. Alex hamstrung some of the captives, and domesticated their kids, to provide him with milk and meat, with which he prepared ‘a hearty goat broth with turnips, watercress and cabbage palm, seasoned with black pimento pepper.’ Goatskins were sewn into garments, with a Cinque Ports nail he had fashioned into a makeshift needle.  When his original ship’s knife finally wore out, he forged new ones from iron barrel staves he had found on the beach. He cut his name into the trees.
The big fierce ships rats that had overrun the island tore at Selkirk’s clothing and feet as he slept. His solution was to tame the feral cats that had arrived with them, into bed companion exterminators.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Castaways 9

By the end of October, the men were sick of dried peas, rock-hard sea biscuits, and salt meat. The occasional shark, dolphin, or weary bird was their only source of fresh food. They slept in wet clothes and mildewed bedding, perfect incubators for typhus, dysentery and cholera. By the time they reached the Brazilian coast, their remaining meat and grain was infested with roaches and rat droppings, the vitamin C deficiency had kicked in, and forty-eight crewmen, including Alex’s Captain Pickering, had died of scurvy. His replacement, a 21 year-old upper class lieutenant named Thomas Stradling, was so detested by the crew that continuous squabbling, and the constant threat of mutiny, became the onboard culture. The two ships had been separated rounding the Horn. Stradling holed up the Cinque Ports in Cumberland Bay, and Dampier caught up to him just in time to put down his crew’s rebellion. Both ships continued up the Pacific coast as far as Mexico, capturing several Spanish ships en route. But by March of 1704, the two captains were in conflict, and Stradling had attacked Dampier as ‘a drunk who marooned his officers, stole treasure, hid behind blankets and beds when it came time to fight, took bribes, boasted of impossible prizes and when there was plunder to hand, let it go.’ In May, they decided to deliberately separate, and Stradling headed back south to Juan Fernández, to reprovision. The Cinque Ports was leaking so badly that the crew was pumping out water around the clock. Selkirk told Stradling that it was so riddled with worms that the masts and flooring were in danger of collapse. He began to argue with Stradling that the ship’s unseaworthiness was a deathtrap, to no avail. In October, loaded with turnips and goats and crayfish, Stradling ordered him to prepare the ship to leave. Selkirk refused, indicating that he would rather be left on Más a Tierra. It was the most important decision of his life. Stradling granted his wish.

‘He was put ashore from a leaky vessel, with the captain of which he had
 had an irreconcilable difference; and he chose rather to take his fate in
 this place, than in a crazy vessel, under a disagreeable commander. His
 portion were a sea-chest, his wearing clothes and bedding, a firelock, a
 pound of gunpowder, a large quantity of bullets, a flint and steel, a few
 pounds of tobacco, a hatchet, a knife, a kettle, a Bible, and other books
 of devotion, together with pieces that concerned navigation, and his
 mathematical instruments.’
                                               Richard Steele, The Englishman 1711