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Extracts from Rambles in Polynesia by Herbert Tichborne -Tokalau Shark Hunters

Tokalau Shark Hunters;
The pig is not much cultivated in the Tokalau groups. But the physical character of the islands, or atolls as they should, perhaps, be more properly called, makes the capture of fish in large quantities an easy matter. Most of the atolls are in shape something like a horseshoe, as they are for the most part tops of extinct volcanic craters, which at one time, according to high geological authority, flourished upon the great sunken continent which the Pacific Ocean now covers. The horseshoe-shaped islet thus possesses a lagoon in its centre, round which it circles, there always being an outlet to the sea, sometimes more than one. The Tokalaus manufacture sinnet from the fibre of the coconut, and with this they are enabled to keep themselves supplied with fishing-nets and lines. They will sometimes make a large net about eight fathoms long, with a depth of perhaps two fathoms. As the tide comes in hundreds of the natives take such a net and carry it bodily out into the water along the sand-spits and shoals. By retaining one end on shore, and bringing the other around by degrees towards the shore again, they enclose the fish and gradually haul the net up on the dry sand. A big haul is sometimes made in this way. Very often, however, a shark happens to be caught, and he will generally work destruction on the net, if he is not allowed a chance of escape or cannot be stuck. As with the Maoris of New Zealand, the shark is a favourite and dainty dish with the Tokalaus. The sport of catching it also affords the Line islander the best form of amusement with which he is acquainted. Sunday is the day generally devoted to hunting the gio, or shark. A party of men and women is formed, and appointed to different posts in the hunt, much as a team of footballers or cricketers are billeted off to different posts in the field. Each hunter is armed with a joint or section of bamboo, which is very useful for the purpose to which they apply it that of a life-buoy in the water. A coconut, which also possesses good floating qualities, is suspended round the neck, to be used as food during the day. A good long knife is then required to make up the full equipment. Clothes are not required in fact, on most of the Tokalau atolls no clothes are ever used by the natives. Thus armed the hunters proceed to sea with the outgoing tide. As a shark is encoun-tered he is surrounded, when it is possible, on the outside, and headed towards the shore. Many times, of course, he succeeds in getting away, for there is nothing to stop him if he goes below water a few feet. While he hangs about the surface, however, the natives, from their different scattered positions, harass and terrify him so much with their shouts and gesticulations that he mostly keeps swimming away from them towards the shore. As the tide comes in the whole fish tribe make towards the land, and hence at this time shark-driving is much more easy of accomplishment.

I have many a time watched these hunting parties swim away to sea till they were out of range of my glass, and have been amused to see them return three or four hours afterwards driving a mob of sharks in front of them towards the reef. Once inside the reef the real fun begins. The shark is then at bay. A small party of special knife hands take one shark at a time, while the main body of the hunters keep the remaining fish under control. The shark is surrounded by the ' knifers,' who attack him pretty much after the fashion of matadors harassing a bull in the fighting arena. Whatever the ferocity and courage of the shark may be on general occasions, he appears to lose all idea of fight when he finds himself surrounded by a crowd of shouting natives. It is generally known of the shark in the South Seas, however, that he will attack a white man in the water much more readily than a coloured one. The explanation of this theory is that the white man, not being much accustomed to the water, and to holding interviews with sharks therein, generally tries to get away as speedily as possible when he encounters one of the monsters. The retreat invariably has the effect of drawing the enemy on. It is only on rare occasions that a South Sea islander will not face a shark. In these shark hunts the ' matadors ' pester their victim to such a degree that he soon falls an easy prey to them. One fair dig with a knife is all that a Tokalau asks for. He would lose caste if he failed at the first thrust to secure his game. I once had occasion to run into the Yuna-lagi
Eiver, on the south-eastern coast of Vanua Levu. I was in a small ordinary sailing boat, and had aboard her three Tokalau islanders and a Kai Solomoni. There was only about four or five feet of water in the river. We threw our anchor down at about ten yards from shore, and the Solomon boy jumped out and commenced hauling the stern of the boat towards the shore, to allow us to land. I was standing up in the stern sheets when I saw a tremendous tiger shark, about 16 feet long, making out from the muddy bank straight in the direction of the Solomon boy. I sang out to Tioni, ' Gio, gio ! ' and he was back in the boat in as short a space of time as I have ever seen a man do the feat. Solomon islanders are proverbially black, but Tioni was more of a white man than anything else for a few minutes afterwards. But the Tokalaus were thoroughly disgusted at the cowardice of the Kai Solomoni. The shark had, unfortunately for himself, turned his head up the river when he passed the boat. The Tokalaus gave him chase without any loss of time. They succeeded in driving him up among the dongo bushes along the banks of the river, where he soon fell an easy prey. I was surprised as much as Tioni was when we saw them towing him down stream shortly afterwards.

From spending so much time in deep-water work the Kai Tokalau is probably the most amphibious of the aboriginals in this part of the world. The extraordinary length of time he can remain in the water, and the distance he can swim, would scarcely be credited by the English people.

Once, when I had occasion to walk down the coast of Vanua Levu, I called at a friend's place to borrow his boat to run across the Somo Somo Straits to Vuna, a distance of about five miles. He lent me a crew with her, and one boy, a Tokalau, he asked me to keep an eye on in Vuna, or he might detain me, as he had a sweetheart on the sugar plantation at that place, and never failed to go and see her when he went over to Vuna. When Paddy, as he was called, got in company with his sable inamorata he was like a good many white people, for he never knew when to knock off and come away. When we landed at Vuna I cautioned him about getting back to the boat in time, and told him the hour when I should be starting home again. The hour came round, but Paddy didn't. I gave him an hour's grace, and at last, as the dark night was coming on, I set sail, and started back across the Straits. The next day was Sunday, and as Paddy would have many opportunities of getting home then, there was not much harm in leaving him behind. My planter friend and I sat up very late on the Saturday night, and shortly after midnight we adjourned to the verandah for a few minutes' smoke before retiring. Presently we saw something black rising out of the water immediately in front of the door. The object came forth on the beach, and began to move steadily towards the labour quarters. The hands generally retired to their bure"s at nine o'clock, and my friend wondered who the stranger could be. We were not long in making up our minds to run after and intercept him. I doubled round the house, and came upon him as he entered the bure. Flashing the bull's-eye upon him, I discovered, to my amazement, the deserted Paddy. He had swum the Straits. He went to bed at once, as he said he felt a little tired.

The Mare Island Chieftain;
Loyalty Islands. When the Kanaka rebellion took place in New Caledonia a few years previously, many of these islanders had poorly justified the title of loyalty conferred upon their forefathers by joining the ranks of the insurgents and assisting in the destruction of several French villages on the mainland. When the rebellion was crushed, many of these people were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment for their complicity in it, and to minimise the possibilities of their being released by the tribes ,to which they belonged, they were transported to Saigon.

The leader of the return party aboard the steamer was a splendid-looking fellow of giant proportions. He made many friends among the Colonial passengers during the short trip from Sydney to Noumea. He had left a wife and family behind him upon Mare Island when he was banished, and, what was still worse, he had left a rival chief, who had been politic enough to side with the Government, and thus save his property from confiscation and himself from transportation. The few years of exile which the Mare chief had spent at Saigon were thus greatly embittered by the thought of his rival's success. And there was also the sickening reflection that it was quite possible that his wife might have grown weary in his absence, and become absorbed in the other chieftain's family.

As we steamed slowly through the passage between He Nou and the southern headland of Noumea harbour, the chief walked the foc's'le deck impatiently. It was known that we should be compelled to lie in the stream for two or three hours before any of the passengers would be allowed to land, and the dusky warrior made up his mind not to wait. We dropped anchor about three hundred yards from the wharf, and the bulwarks were immediately crowded with passengers, watching the lazy tiger sharks as they moved in shoals around the vessel.

There is probably no spot in the world so favoured by sharks as the little harbour of Noumea. The island which stands at its mouth, and almost converts it into a lake, bears on an average the weight of about ten thousand convicts. Being all hard-labour men, they are kept well supplied with beef, and slaughter houses abound all round the shores of the harbour. And whenever you see a slaughter-house upon the sea-shore in a tropical climate, you will always see a large community of sharks. But when a South Sea Islander happens to be in a hurry, he makes no reckoning whatever of the presence of sharks if he requires to travel through the water. Our Mare chieftain had determined upon going ashore early, and a school of fifty thousand sharks was not likely to shake him from the purpose. His portable property was not of very great bulk, and he decided to take it along with him. So, taking a large bowie-knife between his teeth and a short spear in his hand, with his bundle tied upon his head, he swung himself overboard by one of the ropes attached to the companion ladder, and boldly struck out for the shore. All eyes and all available glasses were upon the plucky islander as he cut his way swiftly through the water in the direction of the quay. The excitement on board the steamer was intense when occasionally the dorsal fin of a terrible ' tiger ' was observed to move in the direction of- the swimmer. When he had gone about two hundred yards he rose suddenly from the water, and it was seen that he grasped his bowie. A shark had got under him evidently. He appeared to make a game fight of it for a few minutes, but when a ' tiger ' once draws blood, it is hard to shake him off. The surrounding sharks, too, had scented blood, and the tremendous dorsal fins were moving towards the scene of the encounter from all directions ; and before the boats could reach him the monsters were dragging him all over the place chasing each other for possession of the savoury prize. The boatmen from the shore succeeded in securing various portions of the poor chieftain's body enough, at all events, upon which to hold the necessary coroner's inquiry. Much sympathy was felt for the unfortunate fellow. He had distinguished himself for valour during the war against the French troops, and there were many Caledonian people who, although they were prepared at all times to support the Government in their attempts to put down disorder among the tribes, could not deny a certain measure of justification to many of the rebel chiefs. The expirt convicts had been turned adrift in all directions amongst the Kanakas, and made themselves as great a nuisance to the coloured people as they had previously been to their white countrymen. But an expired convict was a French citizen, and when the natives happened to take the law into their own hands, and maim or kill some of these white cut-throats in retaliation for some glaring offence committed upon the tribesmen, they were, of course, promptly brought to account by the authorities. To the friction caused in this way the now historical rebellion in New Caledonia was entirely due. The Kanakas swept down from the mountains into the settlements at Boulapari and La Foa, massacred the officers and gendarmes in charge of the stations, and then, their blood being fairly up, slaughtered over a hundred convicts belonging to the settlements.

Before leaving Noumea we heard a good deal about our warrior friend who had thrown himself in the way of the sharks. Any suspicions that he may have harboured concerning his wife were, happily, without foundation, as she had remained perfectly loyal to him during his enforced absence from her, and she had been looking forward hopefully for his return. There are no postal arrangements or telegraph cables between Noumea and the island of Mare, and as our trip was extended to the Loyaltys and the New Hebrides, we decided to visit the chief's widow as we passed through the group, and acquaint her with the news of her husband's death.

We arrived off Mare Island one afternoon, and after a considerable amount of trouble succeeded in getting our whaleboat through the coral reefs which fringed the shore. We put up at a village for the night, and next morning set out to walk up the coast in search of the town which was our destination.

Four hours' walk brought us to the place, and we were not long in discovering the house of the late chieftain. A party of dusky children were playing near the door. We stood for a few moments, and watched them through the dense foliage which fringed the pathway and concealed our approach from them. They were busily engaged in a game of tea-party, or cobbyhouse. Shells from the sea-shore were used in the place of those broken pieces of crockery which European children adopt for these purposes. How strange that the same idea for amusement should strike children all the world over, even to the poor little benighted heathen ! Although the jargon of these little ones was Mongolian to us, we could not fail to interpret their gestures. It is true enough that human nature is practically the same everywhere.

And, as if to complete the familiar picture, two or three babies of tender age were lying neglected in the neighbourhood of the little party, left to their own limited resources to amuse themselves. We soon found the widow, and conveyed to her the melancholy intelligence of which we were the bearers. Her grief was keen. The youngsters were called in from their play, and informed that they would never see their father again.

We left the house with very heavy hearts ourselves. The wise student of human nature and character may withhold from the uncultured, naked heathen the credit of possessing feelings as keen as our own ; but the traveller to Polynesia, at any rate, will have the conviction forced upon him that the Great Architect of the universe has moulded human hearts pretty much the same among all peoples. And it might not be altogether a profitless reflection for many Europeans of education and refined surroundings to ask themselves occasionally whether their waistcoats cover hearts as pure and good as are often to be found among these benighted aborigines.

Measles in Fiji;

IN its own small way the old kingdom of Fiji possessed many prominent leaders of men some whose strategic powers and heroic valour in war, and others whose eloquence and politic fore-thought, rendered them famous in their day, and justified the transmission of their names through traditional history to the generations which came after them. The educated Fijian of the present day, who has made a hobby of the study of old Fijian history, is an entertaining oracle, at whose
feet the traveller is delighted to sit and listen to the enthusiastic and fulsome accounts of the brave days of old, when war was a game which every able-bodied man was privileged to play at. Those were the days of massacre and cannibalism, of revolutions and counter-revolutions, when victorious war-canoes returned to their harbours laden with prisoners of war, and trophies in the shape of babies impaled on the mast-heads.

By old settlers who have devoted some attention and study to the subject it is conjectured that within the past century alone the population of the archipelagoes of Fiji has been reduced by 100,000 from one cause alone tribal war. When anything like a census was taken, some 100 years ago, the population of the country was estimated to be 260,000. In the year 1874, when the group was annexed to the Empire, the number was 160,000. Shortly after that period an extraordinary decimation of the people occurred through what is known as the measles scourge.

When Sir Hercules Eobinson (now Lord Kosmead), the Governor of New South Wales, visited Fiji in 1874, to officially accomplish the annexation, he extended an invitation to King Cako-Bau to visit him at Government House, Sydney. The old potentate had never been outside the bounds of the kingdom, and, as may be supposed, he gladly accepted the offer, determined to have a peep at the outer world, especially under such distinguished patronage as that of the Kofana of New South Wales.

Accordingly, in the following year the King visited Sydney, accompanied by a numerous retinue of chiefs, amongst whom were two of his sons, Eatu Joe and Eatu Timoci. The measles were prevalent in Sydney at the time of his Majesty's visit, and just previous to his return, or perhaps as he was returning, the old man caught the disorder. Upon his arriving at home there were, of course, great rejoicings amongst the people. Canoe-load upon canoe load of loyal subjects poured into Bau from all parts of the group to welcome him upon his return. Men, women, and children from all parts embraced the old man, according to custom. And while they freely bestowed upon him their caresses, he was, unconsciously, freely bestowing upon them the epidemic.

No better plan could have possibly been devised for disseminating the measles among the people. Those loyal excursionists who had taken the trouble to journey to Bau to assist in the reception and welcome of the returned monarch went back to their homes, embraced and kissed their relatives and friends all round, and sent the disease at a galloping pace into the most remote recesses of the country.

When the measles cloud subsequently lifted itself from over Fiji, the population, which before the King's return had numbered 160,000, was found to be reduced to 118,000. Thus, in a very simple way, were 42,000 people carried away. On one island Taviuni well known for the vast number of plantations with which it is covered the population was reduced from 20,000 to 4,000. Whole villages were emptied one after the other, and their places taken by graveyards. With a melancholy air, the Fijian guide will point out a graveyard to the traveller on Taviuni as a relic of the scourge of 1875.

Shipwrecked on Guadalcanal

Running down the coast of Guadalcanal once with a mixed crew and passenger company of Tokalaus, Samoans, and Tongans, we got foul of a coral patch, in the middle of a terribly dark night, and were left, as sailors often are in the Pacific, to the mercy of Providence and the waves. I had placed one of the Tokalaus, who swore to a good knowledge of the locality of the dangerous coral patches along the coast, on the look-out aloft, but he had probably gone asleep, and thus let us drive upon the reef. He never had an opportunity to explain his conduct anyhow, for when the schooner bumped, he was catapulted several yards overboard in a manner that amused us very much, notwithstanding the serious turn which our position and his had assumed.

We never saw the poor Tokalau watchman again. The vessel began to break up fast, and the darkness of the night made it almost impossible for us to prospect around with any chance of success for any dry spots of reef on which to rest. We had numbered twenty-three all told. With the Tokalau out we now stood at twenty-two, seven Tokalaus, ten Tongans, four Samoans, and myself. Fortunately, we had a large whaleboat in tow. We gave her plenty of line, and she stood ofi clear of the wreckage, which we considered it advisable to stand by as long as possible. We managed to hold out till daylight, when we discovered land lying away about a mile from us. Misfortunes never come singly. The whaleboat, which was our only hope, had been hopelessly stove in during the morning by being bumped against the coral crags, which began to come nearer the surface as the tide receded. We had nothing for it but to swim ashore, and to start at once, before the sharks came about too quickly. We had seen the dreaded phosphorous flashes around us a good deal during the night, and the neighbourhood of the reefs is at all times the favourite haunt of this sea-monster.

There was an old Australian black in my young days, who worked the ferry-boat at the oyster-beds at Port Stephens, on the coast of New South Wales. Tommy only possessed one arm the other he had lost in a very simple way. Many sporting people frequented the oyster-beds on picnic pleasures bent in those glorious days, taking their other refreshments with them, and buying oysters from the blacks who frequented the place. Rock oysters are, of course, the general favourites. For a few cop-
pers, a black will dive down and bring you up a stone upon which three or four dozen of the coveted bivalves have located themselves. Tommy had been a diver. Tommy went below one day for a stone, and when he stuck his arm under a ledge on the outer reef, something closed on it, and made a prisoner of him for a few seconds. It let go for a fresh grip, the common method of the wobegong, the species of shark which infests those parts of the Pacific, and Tommy being anxious probably to close the interview, came to the surface quicker than he went down. His arm was pulp, and it only hung on by a few shreds. It was eventually amputated by Tommy's wife, who plied her hub with a bottle of rum, and went through the surgical operation for him with an old razor blade, sharpened up for the occasion.

The low tide enabled us to see many points of rock and coral crags, and I advised the people to take things quietly and swim in a body from one spot to another. Bests could thus be obtained, and the precaution of keeping together might have the effect of intimidating the sharks to some extent. Fortune had deserted us, however. We had not proceeded many stages on our journey when we encountered our terrible enemies. The Tokalaus were the only people in the party who did not show signs of faintheartedness. The majority of us certainly felt bad. I carried an old cutlass that had lost about a foot of the blade, and had served me well in the peaceful work of opening coconuts and cutting off bunches of bananas. I had often thought what a suitable weapon it would be if one met a shark when armed with it. In fact, I had sometimes felt as if I should like to have an opportunity of trying it. Now the opportunity was before me, but, strangely enough, my politics seemed to have changed. I didn't like the look of the job at all. It often happens this way in most of our lives. We hanker after and pine for a thing, and then when we get it we don't seem to care for it we would rather have something else.

One of our men, Tommy the Tongan, we used to call him, stuck close to my side, and we determined to push forward as speedily as possible. I considered, and probably with good reason, that to hesitate would be to give the sharks a chance. I asked the others to push along for the shore with me, but they began, at the instance of the Tokalaus, to gather in a sort of square, as it is understood in the army. In time, I reminded them, the tide would soon be coming in again, and take their resting-place from under their feet. They determined to remain. Tommy and I, therefore, started. We soon encountered a terrible looking tiger-shark, who made straight for us. I thought my hour had come. However, Tommy had made a commotion in the water, and accompanied the action
with a roar, which had the effect of turning his shark ship away from us. The brute came along again shortly afterwards however, and watched us sullenly as we made our way from rock to rock, pushing a little towards us every now and then, to our great horror. He eventually abandoned the pursuit, and we had no serious trouble in reaching the shore. A young shark, about 4 feet long, happened to run close past Tommy once, and was chopped almost in two for his indiscretion.

Arriving at last on a safe point of the reef, I looked back to see how our shipmates were getting on. The battle for life had begun. It was a strange and ghastly sight that early summer morning. The Tokalaus were slashing right and left with their knives, but they had met more than their match. A school of ' tigers ' is a daring party for attacking purposes. We could see the great fins gliding round the illfated people, and now and again the splashes showed us that the sharks had commenced their
work.

It was beyond our power to render any assistance from where we were, so we made all possible speed to shore in the hope of getting a canoe to put off to the relief of our mates. But we could find no native settlement, and consequently no canoes or boats were to be had. None of the twenty people we had left behind on the coral reef ever reached the shore. We remained about the beach for many days in the hope of finding some trace of them, and were rewarded eventually by picking up three skulls. The sharks had done their work with terrible completeness.

 

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