Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Real "Lord of the Flies"

I'll admit up front that when I was forced to read William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies in high school I intensely disliked the book. Consequently, when I was required to write a book report on it, I mocked it by presenting my arguments why the character "Piggy" was a cannibal. At this distance in time it is difficult to remember exactly why I disliked the book other than the idea that a group of English school boys would so quickly descend into savagery repelled me. 

    So when I came across this article at The Guardian entitled "The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months," I was pleasantly surprised to find that the results were exactly the opposite of Golding's predictions. In June 1965, six boys--all pupils at a strict Catholic boarding school in Nuku‘alofa, Tonga, and between 13 and 16 in age--decided they had enough with school and hatched a plan to sail to Fiji, some 500 miles away. Unfortunately, their voyage turned out much like the journey of fictional Minnow in the show Gilligan's Island. Their sails were ripped apart in a storm and they had brought neither a map nor compass. 

    After 8 days at sea, they spotted an island--‘Ata. "Not a tropical paradise with waving palm trees and sandy beaches," the article relates, "but a hulking mass of rock, jutting up more than a thousand feet out of the ocean." The island was deserted, but had at one time been home to a small population--something that would be significant to the boys.

    By the time the boys were rescued, "the boys had set up a small commune with food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens and a permanent fire, all from handiwork, an old knife blade and much determination." They kept a fire going continuously.

    The kids agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard duty. Sometimes they quarrelled, but whenever that happened they solved it by imposing a time-out. Their days began and ended with song and prayer. Kolo fashioned a makeshift guitar from a piece of driftwood, half a coconut shell and six steel wires salvaged from their wrecked boat – an instrument Peter has kept all these years – and played it to help lift their spirits. And their spirits needed lifting. All summer long it hardly rained, driving the boys frantic with thirst. They tried constructing a raft in order to leave the island, but it fell apart in the crashing surf.

    Worst of all, Stephen slipped one day, fell off a cliff and broke his leg. The other boys picked their way down after him and then helped him back up to the top. They set his leg using sticks and leaves. “Don’t worry,” Sione joked. “We’ll do your work, while you lie there like King Taufa‘ahau Tupou himself!”

    They survived initially on fish, coconuts, tame birds (they drank the blood as well as eating the meat); seabird eggs were sucked dry. Later, when they got to the top of the island, they found an ancient volcanic crater, where people had lived a century before. There the boys discovered wild taro, bananas and chickens (which had been reproducing for the 100 years since the last Tongans had left).

They were rescued on September 11, 1966, when a ship passing near the island spotted patches of burned vegetation--something very unusual for islands in that part of the Pacific--and investigated further. The captain was initially skeptical of the boys' story, but after radioing Tonga, learned that the boys had indeed been missing--in fact, they were presumed dead and funerals had been held.

    The article has more detail so be sure to check it out. 

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