Chapter 10

A Little Here

and a Little There

 

Building Supplies

The council had asked the administration for housing loans. The island administrator, Garth Harroway, in Auckland, New Zealand, replied that the provision had been in place since 1967, but no one had made use of it. Instead of loans the administrator suggested the following:

1. The island secretary, or someone so appointed, would order stock items of building supplies, to be kept on hand for those who needed the supplies.

2. The government would pay for the shipping.

3. Island funds from the coffers in Auckland would subsidize the prices-Harroway suggested 1/3rd, but left it open for the council to propose another percentage-so that Pitcairners could purchase building supplies for less than New Zealand prices.

4. The plan provided that beyond the supplies that are kept in stock, Pitcairners could special order materials under the same provisions-no freight, and subsidized.

The only stipulation was that the islanders must pay their share in cash before taking the materials. 12/13/82

 

Vula's Misplaced Shoulder

Steve, Terry, and Brian were not at the shed, where the crew were building the boat, most of the afternoon. It turns out that they were up at the dispensary. Vula had fallen in the morning while chasing the turkeys, and misplaced her shoulder-the same one that had been injured some months before when she fell off the rocks and broke her wrist. (See Stories from Pitcairn Island, chapter 15)

Martha received a call to go up there at about the time I was supposed to go to work. She took several X-rays and managed to get the shoulder back into what she thought was the right place and bandaged it so that Vula couldn't move it until it healed. 10/13/82

 

Gift Bibles for All

I wanted to do something that would stimulate the Pitcairners to read their Bibles more. I also wanted to give Ron, Dean, and Jackie Beth, who were in the baptismal class, something that would help to build a foundation under their desire to unite themselves with God.

So I asked my father to buy and send me a case of NIV Bibles-one for each household-- and they arrived on the ship Essi Gina.

In the afternoon on the following day I delivered all but 4 of the Bibles that came on the ship. I was interested in the reactions of the people as I gave them the Bibles:

Dobrey was pleased.

Charles seemed almost awed, as he was at a loss for words when he finally realized that it was a gift-an odd thing for Charles because, like Peter, he usually has a lot to say;

I met Jimmy on the road above Ben's house. He seemed beside himself with delight, putting down his basket and turned to take it and put it away. I was on my Honda 90 when I met him and I told him I'd run the Bible up to his house for him. He hesitated, and looked at the basket he set on the ground. He rubbed the holy Book lovingly with his hands and tucked it gently under his arm. Forgetting the basket, he smiled. "No," he said, "I'll take it home." And he was gone 2/10/83

 

Christmas Concert

The island has been vibrant for days, preparing for the school Christmas concert. When the day came, we went out to the school at Pulau about 6:30.

All the children were in costume-some of the most original costumes I've ever seen. Martha says it's because there are no ready-made ones available. Raylene was dressed as a Tahitian girl; Trent was a clown; Ron was made up like a lady-and so convincing that I had to look twice to see who it was. Darylene was a farmer; Simon was dressed in a nite shirt and cap; Charlene was Little Bo Peep; Jackie Beth Christian was an Indian lady with a beautiful Sari; Darlene was an American Indian with hand-woven head band; Randy was a turtle-with a genuine turtle shell strapped to his back; Dean was a pirate; Timmy was Robin Hood; Tania was a nurse; Jackie Cox was a cat; Andrew a sailor; Sheri was Little Red Riding Hood; I can't remember what Shaun dressed like.

The program was good, and at times very funny. The children played musical instruments, sang, danced several dances, and put on several skits, among them "Snooperman," and "The Viper" (wiper; they came onto the stage with a roll of toilet paper!). Clarice, Steve, Brian, Terry, Olive, and Dennis played a short play to spoof the National Geographic photographers-David Hiser and Melinda Berg. Steve was camera man, with a black painted box on top of a tripod, with a paper cup for a lense. It had the words "Nashunall Jigrayfic" painted in white letters on the side of the "camera." The thing fell over, and knocked off the "lens," and he put on a plastic cup. Then later he got a paper plate and called it a "wide angle lens." They went through the skit 4 times, each time doing it with different moods. Dennis was a dying man, Clarice his wife, Brian the doctor, and Terry and Olive undertakers. Hilariously funny. Allan played the director.

In one skit Trent, Dean, Ron, and Andrew dressed up like Arabs, all knelt on the stage, bowed with faces to the ground, crying "Allah, bring us some camels." They got up and looked around, but no camels. They knelt again and cried the same. Getting no camels. Then Andrew said, "We need more people." So they dragged Clarice and Meralda out of the audience, and made them do the same. When they got up, Clarice and Meralda stayed on their knees, faces to the floor. Ron said: "I don't see any camels, so we'll have to use these two asses"-he pointed to the two women. 12/83

 

Firewood

The largest share of firewood used by Pitcairners is from the Roseapple tree. This tree is virtually a weed that has overgrown a large part of the island and has killed out many of the older native trees. The islanders burn thousands of trees every year, but the menace grows faster than they can cut it down.

I did my share of cutting trees for firewood. I went up to Flatland where many of the islanders cut their trees. We drove back into the woods on a trail that led to a large open area where hundreds of trees had been cut. Scores of felled trees lay where they were cut-allowed to dry before the "owner" (the one who had cut them down) transported them home.

Using the mission's chain saw I cut logs about 12 inches long from trees I felled some weeks before. Jay arrived on the tractor and helped us fill it's cage (3x3x5 ft) with the wood. I also felled several more trees so they would be ready for the next harvest.

After unloading the tractor at home I gave Jay $5 for his help. This is part of his work, of course. He is paid a monthly salary for driving the tractor on whatever mission it was needed. Any resident could hire the tractor for about $1 and hour, which is paid to the island secretary.

Roseapple tries grow to a good size, some gaining a girth of 8 - 10 inches. This means that, though a large portion of the logs are small enough to use as-is, a goodly number need to be split in order for them to be small enough to fit into the kitchen wood stove.

 

Maynard's Memories 4/25/83

(The facts of his memories may not necessarily be correct, but they give a framework around which the imagination can build a mental edifice.)

Maynard, the father of Vula Young and brother of Jacob's father Christy, told me about the old days. His father was adopted by Robert Buffet, the son of John Buffet. The house Maynard lives in is built of Miro timbers that were taken from the house John Buffet built-originally situated down where the hostel is located. Maynard's grandmother was Agnes Christian who was the daughter of Thursday October II. She was married to Maynard's grandfather on the night before they came back to Pitcairn from Norfolk Island.

He told me that Fletcher Christian, John Adams, and Edward Young had wanted to divide the land equally among the Tahitians as well as the English, but the rest of the white men opposed them. This is what eventually led to the war in which all but John Adams and Edward Young were killed (all the men). These two were spared because of their desire to share the land with the Tahitians. (Maynard failed to mention McCoy and ________ in this particular part of his story.)

He also told me that McCoy had committed suicide down at the place where the present dump is located, which is called "The Rocks." His body fell down into the sea, but was washed up again on the following day. John Adams buried him.

 

Medical History

Charles talked for a while about medical problems when he was a boy and young man-before they started having trained nurses come here.

He told about Jimmy's brother who had his foot crushed off (above the ankle) by an overturning boat. The men had abandoned it to the rocks, but he went back to get his things out of it. The surf drove the boat against a rock with his leg in between. About 6 inches of bone was actually removed at the landing and the foot was hanging by the skin. Charles's mother wanted to cut the foot off, but Elwin-the one who mended broken bodies but having no training-said no.

They didn't do anything to stop the blood, just bandaged it up and put him in his sister Lila's house. He died of gangarene three days later. Charles said that his mother could have saved the boy if Elwin would have let her help. ("I'll help if you'll help me," she said. "If you help him, I won't," said Elwin.)

Charles told of another man who was found lying in his garden and the people took it for granted that he was dead. Charles' mother checked him and found pupil movement in his eye. She said he wasn't dead, but the others said he was. They had a practice of pouring carbolic acid down dead people's throats in those days-"to kill all the germs." when they poured it down his throat, he sat up-wide-eyed-and then fell back . . . dead. "They killed him," said Charles.

He told of Millie's sister who died much the same way-killed by carbolic acid. Millie almost suffered the same fate when she passed out as the result of Typhoid fever. She was conscious but unable to move or respond in any way. She could hear them making the coffin in the yard. Fortunately she awakened before they poured the carbolic acid down her throat.

Charles' mother went to court and got it understood that she was not to have carbolic acid poured down her throat, as she often suffered from fainting spells. Charles said that if you dug up the grave yard, you'd probably find several corpses on their sides. When the nurses came they did away with the practice of pouring carbolic acid down the throat of dead (?) people.

 

Painting the Radio Towers

The radio towers had to be painted every year or two to protect them from their salty environment. Though the pay was exceptional-$1 and hour-there are only 4 people who are willing to work at that height-up to 100 ft.: Steve, Betty, Olive, and Clarice.

So for a couple of days Taro Ground (the site of the radio station) was filled with the voices of painters talking, laughing, and singing. Olive and Clarice enjoyed singing a song the children were learning in school: "The violin singing, so merrily ringing . . . The slide trombone produced one tone . . . the big bass drum . . ." etc.

Some of the painters use a brush to apply the paint to the metal bars of the tower. Others think that brushes take too much time and use their gloved hands instead: they dipped their hands into the paint and then smeared the liquid over every surface presenting itself to them.

At one point, after Steve and Betty had mixed paint and poured it into cans, they set off for a tower they were just starting to paint. The buckets were attached by a chain to a belt worn around the waist. Betty ascended the tower (without a stop) and began painting with a brush the top of the tower, while Steve prepared to ascend after her. He planned to begin work at a lower elevation.

Steve didn't get more than six feet up the tower when his bucket of paint slipped from his belt-hook and plunged to the ground, tipped over, and poured its contents on the ground and on the metal plate at the base of the tower. Steve looked down at the bucket; examined the hook;and then just stood there on the step as though in shock.

"Having trouble?" came an amused voice from Betty at the top.

Steve's answer evinced the mixture of embarrassment, and resignation: "I'll have to coat the bottom anyway."

Martha's work as Medical Officer also called upon her to examine various aspects of island life and work to make sure that safety procedures were followed. So it befell her to examine the safety harnesses the painters wore. The straps were nylon and made to take sudden stress. Martha inquired: "How long have these been in use?"

"We got them about 10 years ago," answered Tom.

"Nylon deteriorates in the sunlight and also as it ages," explained Martha. "These straps should be replaced every 3 years." She made note to see that new ones were ordered so they would be on hand for the next tower-painting episode.

Altogether, the crew spent four days painting the radio antenna towers.

 

St. Paul's Many Moods

St. Pauls is noted for it's water spray when sizable waves come in at just the right angle. I remember a day when 30-ft swells were rolling along from the South, perhaps due to some violent storm in the Southern Seas. Other than the swells, the sea had a smooth surface, no winds to make it choppy. The swells peaked into giant breakers just outside St. Paul's twin 75-ft. rock pillars. The mighty rush of water accelerated toward the gap between the monoliths and struck with a mighty blow, sending spray in a giant flower pattern about 50 ft. across. Again and again the waterworks produced their show dazzling the eyes and ears fully as much as any fireworks extravaganza. When this happens nearly all the inhabitants gather on the cliff opposite the pillars and watch the awesome display of the raw power of the sea.

But today it is very quiet-so much so that I could see almost to the bottom of the pool on the outside of the great, natural stone monuments. I could easily see the great rocks as they rose from their foundation and reached up from the depths to wave their proud pylons to all who pass. Instead of deadly surf, the still water outside the rocks would have been a good place to fish from the boats, or from the rocks. The large pool on the inside of the rocks was a brilliant green and clear as glass--and nearly as smooth. A beautiful sight. 1/31/83


Accidental Deaths

Andrew told me about a nightmare he'd had the previous night.

He and Dobrey [his daughter] and two of his boys from Auckland were hiking up on Shiplanding point. He was out at the knob, when he felt like he was going to fall off. He began flailing his arms and calling to his children to save him, and then he woke up and was flailing his arms and shouting. I told him I'd had similar dreams.

"But I know why I had that dream," he said. "When I was a boy, I saw my cousin fall off the cliff into ginger valley. I saw the whole thing, and saw him land on the rocks below. It was terrible, and I've never been able to forget it."

He then told me that he had been trying to figure out how many people had died of accidents on Pitcairn Island during his life. He had counted 13 when he realized that 3 of those had died of heart attacks and shouldn't be counted as accidents. Then he said that he had discussed this with Jimmy, and he had come up with two others that Andrew had forgotten. "So that means during the past 80 years only 12 people have died of accidents," he said. "It must be a pretty safe place to live," I concluded. 9/14/82

Chapter 11