Though material playthings may be limited on the isolated island of Ua Pou, the children’s imagination certainly is not. As the freighter Aranui lay docked, currents pushed its bow from side to side and the hawsers would lower into the water, then slowly heave upward high above the ripples, and then sink back down again. Local children swam out to the hawser to hitch a ride while it was low to the water and then held on as it rose for as long as they could before splashing back into the bay.
I am not sure that such play would be allowed in other parts of the world, but these children knew of the ways of water before they could walk. In the book, Typee, Herman Melville described Marquesan mothers placing their babies, only a week old, on their backs in the water and gently supporting them as they floated on the surface.
On those islands that we visited, even tiny children were seen giggling and bobbing about in the waves that could easily have set me aswirl beneath the breakers. The only sounds of duress arose from the little ones being hauled away from the water by their parents when it was time to go home. It was obvious that they had been born of the sea and as such, were as much at home in the water as they were upon the dry land.
Most of the crew of the Aranui had grown up from such a heritage, and hence, we had no doubt in their ability to keep us safe at sea during our prolonged voyage.
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