THE WONDERS OF PINGALAP
George Westbrook was one of the early traders in the Pacific Islands. His recollections of his experiences on Pingalap were published in Julian Dana's book Gods Who Die by The Macmillan Company in 1935.
I had lived in the Marshalls for eighteen months - from early 1877 until June of 1878. Besides learning the language I had picked up trading, made many friends and had grown somewhat accustomed to the ways of the islanders.
In the meantime George Cozens had returned to Auckland to report his stewardship. The creditors of the bankrupt Farrell had put his business up for sale and it had been purchased by the enterprising firm of Henderson, MacFarlane and Company. If the creditors realized little from the forced sale it is a certainty that the astute Henderson and MacFarlane struck a bargain which was sure to bring them a handsome profit. Already their vessels were running to nearly every group in the Pacific from Pukapuka to Yap and nearly into the Indian Ocean. The firm was sending out ships fitted with trade-rooms in charge of a supercargo to trade directly with islands where there were no resident traders.
The Belle Brandon was an Auckland-built boat owned by this firm. The mate was Peter Theet-one of the few men now living who knew me as a boy-trader and a boy-Prince on Arnho. I saw him last in 1885 while I was on Funafuti in the Ellice group. He was then Captain of the three-masted schooner Buster, a vessel chartered by Henderson and MacFarlane to visit all their trading-stations north and south of the line.
The purpose of that voyage was to photograph and report on these stations with the tentative intention of floating a company in London. On the ship I met F. J. Moss, member of the House of Representatives for Parnell in New Zealand, and afterward Administrator of Raratonga, he is the author of "Through Atolls and Islands of the Great South Seas." The photographer for the expedition was Mr. Andrew, now a storekeeper in Apia. Captain Theet is now retired and living in the beautiful Waitakere Ranges near Auckland.
On our trip from Arnho we touched at Pingalap (McAskill's Island), one of the smaller atolls in the Carolines between Kusie (Kosrae) and Ponape (Pohnpei).
The natives had come on board us miles from shore. They were afraid that we might pass them by without calling in and they earnestly reminded Captain Harris of his promise made six months before - he had agreed to land a trader and open up regular business on the island.
I eagerly volunteered to take the position for a few weeks. Captain Harris had promised to give me such a chance and he was entirely willing that I should have a go at it. The Belle Brandon put in as close as possible to the reef and, instead of returning to civilization, I went again to live at the only white resident on a save island.
It was easy enough to get my goods ashore. Though it would have been impossible to land a ship's boat in that heavy surf it was not a difficult task for native canoes. Full arrangements were made from the ship, even to the securing of a native hut. Everything safely landed, I shook hands with the Captain and crew. They wished me luck and trusted they would see me again in a few weeks "if I was not scoffed by the bloody niggers."
As soon as I went overside into the canoe the ship squared her foreyard and stood away to the westward. She was out of sight almost before I reached the shore. The first thing I noticed in landing on Pingalap was the absence of women; not one was to be seen. This made me feel a bit suspicious, on some of the islands this is a sure sign of treachery.
On going inland a few yards I came to a great barricade of long sticks and coconut leaves. This obstruction stood from twelve to sixteen feet high and ran for seven hundred yards along the beach side of the village. It blended so completely with the vegetation that it was almost unobservable at any distance.
As soon as I entered the boundaries of the barricade and we shut out from the ocean view, the women and children came flocking about from all sides. Persistently they shook hands, rubbed noses, pinched me and acted in a thoroughly friendly fashion. I discovered later that they never allowed their women to visit passing ships. Ships had to keep 'off and on' some distance outside the reef because there was no anchorage, for this reason very few Europeans landed. Most of the women and children had never seen a white man at close quarters and I was a curiosity. If any enterprising native could have gotten me into his hut in that first week and exhibited me at so many coconuts a head he would have cleaned up a small fortune.
The reason for the imposing yet hidden barrier also came later. I land landed about Christmas time, they call December "Karlock" (flying-fish) since it is during that month the flying fish appear. Woe betide any woman who dared look seaward during that month! If such a terrible offense was committed the flying-fish would certainly disappear and not return for several seasons. Hence the barricade-since a woman, no matter her color, is equipped with a wandering eye.
Before many weeks had passed I could make myself readily understood but in the interim I employed an interpreter. He was the only native on the island who could speak even a word of English and he was, frankly, pretty useless. About thirty years old an a clumsy ox of a fellow he nevertheless seemed the smartest of the outfit. His big features were mobile but he could never be described as an impressive savage. No, not even when he wore his dress suit-a sou'wester hat, relic of the two years he had spent with Bully Hayes on the Leonora, an old waistcoat I had given him, one earring, a three-inch belt, and his embroidery of native tattooing.
The village lay on the lee side of the island. The houses were not built on the ground but on posts five or six feet high, this up-in-the-air construction was due to fear of tidal waves. In fine weather the natives lived underneath their dwellings and on bright moonlit nights they took their mats and lay outside, lulled to sleep by the murmur of the surf breaking lazily on the coral reef.
The population of the island was about fifteen hundred. The women out-numbered the men two to one, the reason for this was that some years before the blackbirders (slavers) had captured many of the men and carried them to distant Peru.
Narbusa, King of Pingalap, was every inch a sovereign. Six feet and four inches he stood in his bare feet-half a head taller than any of his subjects. In addition to the usual tattooing he was adorned on neck and face-a sure sign of royal rank. The lobes of his ears had been pierced and gradually stretched until you could have fitted an ordinary saucer into either of them. As the case was, he carried in his right lobe a one-pound flat salmon tin containing his tobacco, the left lobe was the kingly depository for a dirty clay pipe and a paper box of San Francisco parlor matches. His grizzled hair hung nearly to his waist. Though he had nearly lived the span of his life he was still an arresting figure-his splendid body was still as straight as a perpendicular, unbending palm.
As seemed to be the Kingly custom I came under Narbusa's protection; he would have severely punished anyone who tempted to molest me. The monarch had at least twenty wives and innumerable children and grandchildren. They ranged from babes in arms to grown-up men and women. Despite his numerous brown progeny Narbusa treated me with open favoritism-he even wanted to marry me to several old chief-women of very high rank. His intentions were excellent and indicative of his regard for me. According to the custom of the island the more wives of rank and dignified age a man possessed, the higher he rated in the social scale.
Yet I declined his generous offers with thanks. But the old man always looked pained; I fear I must have offended him by refusing these well-meant patents of nobility.
I have mentioned I was the only resident white man. It must not be supposed that the absence of a missionary was due to any lack of zeal on their part. In reality the history of Christianity trying to secure a foothold on Pingalap beggars the wildest flights of fiction. For more than twenty years the American Board of Methodist Missions strove valiantly with the perplexing problem of how to land a missionary on this gem-like, low-lying atoll.
Every twelve-month the able Captain Bray would bring the Morning Star, a fine brigantine of two hundred tons, to visit the island. Each year the white missionary from Ponape was allowed to land. Each year Narbusa would sit in regal state to receive the visitor; he was impressive in his simple dignity as he sat on the malae (meeting ground) near the centre of the village, surrounded by his wives, chiefs, medicine-men and devil-priests, shaded from the tropic sun by dipping bread-bruit trees and coconut palms.
On every visit, after the exchange of elaborate ceremonials, the missionary would get straight to his subject. He needed no interpreter, the dialect was similar to that spoken on Ponape. With earnest vehemence he would point out the advantages of his faith and the enumerated benefits of civilization and immortal existence. In the dramatic ending his plea would be for Narbusa to allow the quartering of a missionary on the island.
At this juncture, in pursuance of an annual rite, His Majesty would consult with his chiefs and devil-doctors. The result was always the same. A very few would favor the innovation, strenuous and emphatic objections would be advanced by the majority. In that majority would be numbered the priests who were afraid of losing their prestige and power. Pupu, the head-priest, would follow up his refusal with a stirring appeal to discount any headway the missionary might have made.
"Oh, Narbusa, our might King, on whom the sun always shines, descendant of the sacred Wai (Turtle), take no heed of the persuasion of the white medicine-man and his friends. For their wickedness they have been cast out from their own land and now they restlessly wander almost the ocean in their big canoes seeking whom they may enslave.
"Hear them not, oh mighty Lord of Pingalap! See what they have done through their cunning and magic spells to Lamato, King of Mokil, and Torkusa, King of Namerick-those kings who in an evil moment allowed these destroyers to set foot on their islands.
"Oh, King, would you be as Lamato, once might King of Mokil? He lives now with one wife only, like a slave. No longer does he allow his skin to be kept clean and fresh by the breath of heaven-his tattoo marks are hidden like a pale-face under dirty clothes. Would you be lie Lamato, who has turned cannibal with all his people, devouring his ancestors, the Sacred Turtles? As Lamato who bows down to the white missionary and white men's Gods? And what of Torkusa, King of Namerick, father of many children? he now cuts his hair like a white man, has become afraid of the sun (Sau) and walks with a roof over his head (an umbrella). Beware, oh mighty King, of the evil spell of the white medicine-man!"
With so strong and so determined a majority against him Narbusa dared not accede to the missionary's wish. The white man would bow his head in mortified submission and depart, hoping for a more plastic turn of mind next year. Thus for twenty long years a missionary called on the King of Pingalap, failed in his purpose, and sailed disconsolately away. . . .
Came one year to Pingalap a new missionary-a man of genius-a man who conceived that stratagem could yet win for the Lord. He enticed two local youths to Ponape and educated them there at the Mission College. Some time later the pair returned to Pingalap via a passing whaler. Immediately upon landing, these products of the Mission College set zealously about the conversion of their fellow-islanders to Methodism.
This caused great ado. The priests were so enraged they only active intervention on the part of their elatives saved the two young men from instant death. However, they were beaten and banished for a time to a small island. There only the devil-priests themselves were allowed to visit them. Time wore on. After deliberation and debate the pair was allowed to return to the island. They were still objects of distrust in the eyes of those in authority and many privileges were denied them. Then the King grew very ill, the royal life hung by a narrow thread. The native priests paraded their medicines, spells and charms-all to no avail. The King, if anything, grew weaker.
As a last resort the wily medicine-man advised the stricken monarch that his condition was caused by the two young converts. It was reported they had been seen on their knees speaking to their God. The devil-priests, under the impression that the King would not recover, thought this would be an opportune moment to punish the native back-sliders. A meeting was held and it was agreed to send for the young men and command them to pray to their God for the King's recovery. It was determined that if the King recovered the entire island should embrace Christianity; if the King died the two converts should be killed and buried with him. An outsider might have opined that it looked like a bad day for Christianity.
The King consented to the plan and the two were brought to pray for him. Long and earnestly they exhorted on their brown knees. Between prayers they administered some simple remedies that the white missionaries had given them. A miracle occurred. Much to the consternation and dismay of the priests Narbusa recovered. They had dug their own pit-and dug it deep. At once the thankful King gave orders that all his subjects must embrace Christianity. The boomerang snapped back to rest-on the heads of the priests. Event they could hold not no longer in the face of the royal decree. The white man's magic had proved a potency greater than their own.
In a short time Pingalap was transformed. Within six months a rough church had been erected that was large enough to accommodate five hundred people. The first two ships to call after the conversion were whalers; these boats were besieged by the natives. They bartered all they had for something to wear-sailor's stockings, sou'wester hats, oilskins and sea-boots. It was most amusing to watch them go to church after that. One native had been informed that a man must not war a hat in church but that it was permissible for a woman to do so. On reaching the church he would gravely hand his sou'wester over to his wife. Just as gravely she would then place it on her head and never remove it during the entire service.
Another would wend his way to devotion clad only in a short shirt and a pair of sea-boots. Sometimes, when there was not enough to go around, a certain distribution would be arrived at. A man would generously share a pair of sea-boots with his wife or a relative, they went to church, each with a boot on one foot. The first hour of Christianity was the last hour for the turtles. They had always been very numerous because of the luxuriant growth of turtle grass-at low water this resembled a salt-water paddock lying between the beach and the reef. The turtles had come and gone without molestation for ages. For were they not sacred incarnations of the native's ancestors? Christianity killed that belief and, incidentally, opened up a new food supply.
At the beginning, it was with fear and trembling that the natives slew their first turtle. It tasted so delicious they were tempted to kill more. Turtle meat in various dishes became the chief delicacy on an awakened Pingalap. Alas, there was the inevitable aftermath. In a few years they became as scarce as whales near the island. A man no sooner acquired a taste for turtles than the supply was curtailed.
Some years later (active conversion did not come during my time on Pingalap), when I revisited the island, I found the natives living in carpentered houses and wearing respectable clothes. They could was and iron as well as any professional laundress. One native who had been to Australia was a very fair tailor; he possessed a sewing-machine and could turn out a good pair of dungarees or even a suit of pyjamas. They had rebuilt the village and erected a landing-jetty of coral. They really appeared to me as being more civilized than most natives are who have had missionaries with them for twenty years longer.
One of the great advantages that accompanied conversion was the re-distribution of wives. Formerly each chief had possessed several, while many of the commoners had none at all. But now the common man had struck a new deal. The King parted with his twenty wives, one at a time. It would have been too great a shock for him at his age to have handed over 19/20 of his harem in one fell delivery.
When but two remained, Narbusa suffered many misgivings. Both were favourites. Letato was tall and angular; Leolege was short and fat. But the King loved them both with an ardency well becoming a full-blooded monarch. Eventually, torn between conflicting desires, he made a hesitating decision. He parted with Letato. Regretfully he handed her over to one of his unmarried retainers. Then he settled back to enjoy the comforts of monogamous felicity. But this was not to be. Trouble reared an ugly head in the royal household almost immediately. Leolege, finding herself sole queen of the roost, began to put on airs. On certain occasions the King was even threatened with deprivation of his legitimate kingly rights. Things looked dark and a scowl grew permanent on the royal brow. Their Majesties quarreled continuously and audibly. Narbusa saw now that his passionate misgivings had been well-founded, bitterly he regretted the lost Letaro. It was then that he dimly began to realize and appreciate the evil that had befallen his neighbour monarchs, Torkusa of Namerick and Lamato of Moki. Driven almost to despair, he sent for Pupu, late head devil-priest. But the clever Pupu was not only a changed man but a person marvellous adaptability. Finding it hopeless to work against the missionaries he had been among the first to join them, he was now head-deacon and lay-preacher and the right arm of the Lord. He had lost no zeal in the interchange at faiths, Pupu severely reprimanded the King for harboring the ugly thought of heathenism in his heart and promptly placed the unfortunate Narbusa under church discipline.
Pingalap, once Christianized, gave birth to new societies and cliques. The old highly-developed aristocratic social fabric, so nicely adjusted over so many centuries to fit native needs and practices, now rotted away. A new and un-understood condition, almost chaotic, came into being. At the head of the most exclusive of the new cliques was one of the lower-class natives, his rise to great importance had been attained by purchasing from a passing ship a faded, blue-lined umbrella and a moth-eaten soldier's coat. He was the envied of all as he proudly marched to church, umbrella held above him. That prized parasol was carried only on very fine days, however-when the heavens opened and the rain fell with tropic intensity the umbrella was left at home, carefully wrapped in banana leaves.
The islanders of my day were ruled by a spirit world of fearful shadows. I do not think that any faith could ever completely wipe out the webs of superstition from the minds and hearts of the natives. Their animistic beliefs were too much a part of them. Everything that happened-accident, sickness, weather, death-was invariably declared to be the handiwork of some devil or resultant from the evil spell of some witch. I remember one incident as an apt illustration. After a few months on Pingalap I began to miss some trifling articles from my trade-room-beads, a comb, matches, fish-hooks, and a cheap looking-glass. My stock was always kept under lock and key; Sunday, my interpreter, was the only native who had free access to the place.
Sunday did not turn up one morning to get my breakfast, as he was always most punctual I inquired where he was. I was informed that he was not only ill but possessed of a devil. With much haste I barged along to see if there was anything I could do for him. At first the attending devil-priests would not permit my entry into the hut, they insisted on finishing their surgery without outside influence ruining the rites. I was familiar enough with their methods to be quite aware they were burning holes in my poor servant's legs and body with miniature torches made of coconut fibre. While this was going on they were chanting in whining crescendo to drown out the shrieks and groans of the patient. As each fresh torch was applied his wailing grew louder and their chanting gathered volume.
When they had finished I went in. Sunday lay on the ground, entirely covered with an old mat and groaning feebly. Stooping over, I pulled the mat from his face. The most grotesque and awful caricature of a face that I have ever seen looked up at me. One of the poor fellow's eyes was drawn down on his cheek, his nose was screwed round to one side of his face and his mouth to the other. It was an unbelievably hideous distortion! For the life of me I could not figure out what sudden and obscure malady had stricken him, he had certainly been all right when we parted the day before. As my eyes wandered inquiringly around the hut I glimpsed the missing looking-glass. The unfortunate Sunday sensed my discovery with his one good eye. In a faint voice he spoke: "Yes, you sabe-me very bad man. I steal from white man-white man's devil he catch me." Then he implored me to cast the devil out of him and began to render an exact accounting of his pilferage-only a trifle, really. I felt very sorry for Sunday but here, also, was a golden chance to make constructive use of native superstition. To those who were gathered about me I issued a brief warning.
"Look well on this man's face! See what a curse has come to him. It is thus that the white man's devil deals with all thieves! If anyone steals from me I shall tell my devil to treat him in the same way."
Then, after doing what I could for him-which was little-I went home. When I arose next morning a surprise greeted me. On my verandah was a great mound of rubbish-old broken bottles, empty salmon and meat tins, old boats, discarded clothes-all things I had thrown away . . . No chances were being taken with the white man's devil. After this, during my year's stay on the island, not a single thing turned up missing. If there was even a suspicion of trouble there was one infallible manner of squelching it in the bud. All I had to do was to screw up my face into a grimace and say: "I shall have your face made like Sunday's." Poor Sunday kept to his hut for some time - I think more out of pure funk and fear of ridicule than physical disability. By the time I left his features were nearly normal again. I never learned the cause of the muscular distortion.
There was only one native, a devil-priest himself, who was a bit skeptical about my warning. This chap had the bad habit of picking up my pipe and smoking it on the quiet. I strongly objected to this on more than one count. Most acute at the moment was the fact that no ship had called for months and I was on my last piece of tobaccol There seemed to me to be a way in which I could convince this fellow, for once and all, that my devil was a man of his word. With great care I half filled my pipe with gun-powder, placed some ash on top to make it appear I had lit it and set it down again. A half-hour later, while in the store-room, I heard a bit of a pot-it seemed to come from the house. I rushed in. My pipe-smoking friend was lying under the table, two wide eyes staring wildly out of a badly-scorched face, minus one eyebrow and his mustache. I up-ended him and with great fervency he swore to the fact that my devil, ably assisted by a sundry host of friends, had knocked him down and began to pull the hair off his face.
I shook my head and told him I thought him very lucky-it was not often my devil was so gentle. After this incident he made an excellent convert and treated me with profound respect. No slight affair in his small world was settled without the cachet of my approval. I had been a Prince of Arobo and now I was a Master of Devils.
On Pingalap the natives caught flying-fish at night by torch-light; they used hand-nets resembling butterfly-nets. Often the catch would be so large that the fish could not be consumed at once. When this happened the surplus catch was split open along the backs-much as herrings are split to make kippers. A small platform of green sticks was then erected about a foot high, the fish placed on top of the platform, and a fire was lit underneath. For several hours these split fish would be gradually cooked. Thus prepared they would keep a long time; if dried in the sun after this first cooking they would keep indefinitely.
This flying-fish is shaped more like a mackerel than a herring. It makes very delicate, delicious eating, the flesh is white, flaky and firm. It was great sport to go out with the natives and hunt these flying-fish. From twenty to thirty canoes usually made up a flotilla; one man was stationed in the prow, another in the stern, each held a long-handled net; another man in the middle of the craft held a bundle of long, coconut-leaf torches. These torches have bands of coconut-leaf wound round them like straps; when burned to this strap they merely smoulder. As soon as the strap is knocked off, loosening the fibres, it flares up again.
The canoes draw in a wide circle about the quarry, torches smouldering. As soon as they achieve the circle an order is given, the torches flare up in every canoe. The circle is full of fish that are attracted or frightened by the brilliance-they fly about in all directions. Others remain quiet in the water as if fascinated by the flaming display. While the haul is being made, voracious sharks are rushing about within the circle of light and bumping against the canoes in their predatory eagerness. However, it is flying-fish, not men, that they are seeking. And the men are seeking flying-fish, not sharks. The only denizen of the sea that the native really fears at this time is the garfish. This ugly customer has a snout something like a swordfish. They fly out of the water and travel some distance with terrific force. The native who is belly-ripped by a garfish is always a goner.
In most of the groups to the Eastward and South of the Line the bonito is caught by trailing a line from a fast-moving canoe. To this line is attached a pearl-shell hook and a few feathers, this decoy gives the appearance of a small fish skimming swiftly over the surface of the water. The bonito rarely manage to get rid of this tasteless bait, even though it is not barbed. The alert natives can see a school of bonito at a great distance. They are aided by the fact that the small fish which attract the bonito also attract flocks of sea-gulls. The natives man their bonito-fishing canoes when a school has been sighted and, by trailing their long bamboo poles with the line and pearl-shell hook attached, will sometimes catch several hundred. I have never seen them try to catch bonito any other way, they evidently believe that they can be caught only when they come to the surface.
On Pingalap, the method of bonito catching was reversed. The natives treated them as deep-water fish and secured them in from twenty to forty fathoms, hooks made of bone or pearl-shell were baited with squid or cuttlefish. They often lost quite a number of hooks by having their catch snapped up by sharks and other ocean pests while hauling the fish to the surface - even while lifting them into the canoe. A man always stood ready with an up-raised club or piece of iron to strike at any greedy shark. There is another fish that is usually caught at night, with very long lines. This is the Tekinapong (night fish). It often weighs from forty to ninety pounds, the flesh is soft and tastes like the best salmon.
It is a great delicacy but one who eats Tekinapong must endure certain after-effects. I have never heard of anyone being poisoned or hurt in any way by eating them; yet, if you do, you must undergo the experience of being severely, though painlessly, purged. After a heavy meal of Tekinapong the natives may be seen lying about while the purging process is going on; patiently they wait until the organs return to normal. Sometimes, after a big haul, I have witnessed that remarkable sight of a whole village being cleansed at the same time. No wonder the white man's name for this finny delicacy is "Castor-oil Fish."
While on the subject of fish-stories I must tell of my first sight of a mermaid. On the voyage out in the Famenoth we spent a day at Aden. Here handbills had been distributed on the ship; these arresting circulars warned us on no account to miss seeing the two mermaids. I went ashore with the landing party, each man very curious. The 'mermaids' were exhibited in the annex of a hotel, I remember that particularly well because, before we went in, they sold us beer at two bob the bottle. Later one of the soldiers of the garrison told me this was only the 'tourist price - that residents could buy the same beer for half our outlay. No one could grumble at the size of the display in question. The exhibits were in huge wooden coffins, when the lids were removed you saw nothing resembling the mermaid of tradition - just a kind of half-fish and half-seal, perfectly bald and with a skin like dark leather. They were Australian dugongs, I later learned.
Garveth Wells in his late book, "Adventure," mentions seeing these mermaids recently in Aden. Since I saw them nearly sixty years ago it would seem the dusty dugongs were slated for immortality and that wide-eyed posterity may have the privilege of viewing all the proof we moderns have that 'mermaids' ever existed - at so much per head.
Once in the Carolines I way an eel-like creature captured that really had a weirdly human look. It was brought ashore in a wicker-work basket-trap about three feet square. These baskets, constructed in such a way that fish may enter but not escape, are baited and lowered into crevices outside the reef in about three fathoms of water. I assure you that some extraordinary fish are caught in them also. On this occasion a native brought up this solitary eel. As soon as the islander neared his home he began to yell, then the whole village began to yowl excitedly. A mat was hurriedly placed on the ground, the fish basket was placed on top, and the devil-priests began their incantations. They surrounded the cage with serious faces, then they dropped suddenly to their knees and began crawling round it. With great ceremony the chief priest drank some milk from a coconut and then spat it over the eel. The creature wriggled and struggled against the wicker-work ... Then came further solemn ceremony and chanting; this the natives joined in at the top of their voices.
While this was going on I took a good look at the creature. Its body was long but so thick that it was probably not a true eel; the eyes had a startling human look - like those desperately unpleasant eyes of a fat man which we call "piggy." Those eyes appeared to move, were of a bluish tint and hair circled them like eyebrows. It had a snout like a trumpet fish rather than a mouth. After the rites, and in conclusion, the chief-priest poured coconut oil over the captive, then every member of the community who could raise a canoe went out to the reefs and the creature was reverently lowered into the depths. It was alive when they returned it to the water and I am certain it was ashore for more than two hours. I never know the name of this freak dweller in the sea, nor have I ever seen its like thereafter. There was no other thing in the basket with it. This was the last time the man used that basket-trap, it was never to be disturbed for fear that some monstrous calamity might befall the island.
Many times I have seen sea-horses washed up on the beach at Pingalap. They were quaint little things not more than four inches long and they had a head like that of the unicorn in the British coat-of-arms, only without the horn. The body had a frame-work of ribs tapering down to the tail. Many years ago at a fair in England I heard a man urging everybody to "Come in and see the o-o-only sea-horse that has ever been caught a-a-alive!" In company with other silly young mugs I went inside and stood with mouth wide-open, gaping at a huge papier-mache or plaster model of one of these tiny creatures. I have never seen one longer than four inches, this model inside the caravan was the size of a mule and its teeth were twice the size of a wicked stallion's! The expression of this fearsome creature was a guarantee that someone was about to be torn to shreds.
To still further impress the gullible, one side of the caravan was painted with the picture of a monstrous sea-serpent about to swallow a boat and its hapless crew. The exhibitor rambled on in stentorian tones, he affirmed that the sea-horse had been captured with the loss of five men in the South Sea Islands. Howling excitedly, he added many more tales of the wild and mysterious denizens that were to be found in that far-off region. . . . With mouth still wide, I thrilled to the adventurous thought that I might one day see these horrid monsters in their native haunts.