IN MEMORY OF PRINCE LEE BOO

A native of the Pelew, or Palos Islands;

and son of Abbe Thulle, Rupak or King of the island Cooraooraas

who departed this life on the 27th of Decembeer 1784, aged 20 years

This Stone is inscribed, by the Honourable  East India Company

as a Testimony of Esteem for the humane and kind Treatment

afforded by his Father to the Crew of their ship the Antelope

Captain Wilson which was wrecked off that Island

in the night of the 9th of August 1783             

 

 

Stop Reader stop!---let Nature claim a Tear

--A Prince of Mine, Lee Boo lies bury'd here.

           tombstone epitaph - St Mary's Church - Rotherhithe- London

 

 

The Prince

by 

Tom Sanders

Chapter 1

 

 

Henry Wilson woke suddenly, instantly alert. Hehad been at sea most of his life, and trusted hismaritime sixth sense. Something was not right with Antelope.

  The Captain sat up in his bunk in the darkness, listening. The wind in the rigging, the sea flowing against the hull, the creak and groan of the ship’s timbers were a familiar chorus. Wilson detected an almost imperceptible change in the sounds, a subtle tension in Antelope’s movement.

  He grabbed his tunic and trousers from a peg on the bulkhead, dressed quickly and was opening his cabin door as Midshipman John Wedgeborough raised his fist to knock.  The sudden movement surprised Wedgeborough.

 “Ooh, sorry to disturb you Captain.” Wedgeborough lowered his hand. “ I see you’re already about.  The Chief Mate sent me to fetch you topside.”  “I’m on my way, Mr. Wedgeborough.  Thanks.” Wilson stepped around the midshipman, ducked through the passageway and descended the starboard ladder two steps at a time to the half deck.

  He was 43 years old, trim and muscular, a tall man with sharp features weathered by the elements. His wife teased that, with his wig, he looked strikingly like George Washington. Etchings of the colonial leader sometimes appeared in the London papers now that peace was at hand.  

 

 Wilson’s son Harry was already on deck.  The youngster wiped the sleep from his eyes and braced himself to take the roll of the ship.  He was keeping out of the way, yet standing nearby to be available quickly if he was summoned.

Christina Wilson had been strongly opposed when her husband proposed that Harry go to sea for the first time as a midshipman aboard Antelope. Henry argued that at fifteen, Harry was a year older than he had been when he first went to sea.   It had taken the Captain and his son weeks of pleading and persuasion before she finally, with a sigh of resignation, gave her consent.

 Harry’s conduct was a source of pride to his father.  Captain Wilson was careful to avoid any inference of favouritism, and Harry was equally vigilant never to ask for nor expect special treatment. He had quickly gained his sea legs.  Under the guidance of the ship’s officers and crew, he was learning navigation and developing seamanship skills. Young Harry was a hard worker, easygoing and was possessed of a ready smile and a mischievous sense of humour.  He had inherited his father’s physique and manly good looks.

    Chief Mate Bender was standing beside the helmsman at the ship’s wheel.  He made no apology for disturbing Wilson’s sleep. The Captain’s presence was not a rebuke.  The two men had sailed together many times before, enjoyed each other’s company, and had a shared confidence in their mutual good seamanship.  Benger had, in fact, turned down an opportunity to command his own ship to come on this voyage with Wilson.

 The Captain nodded to his son, and then gave his full attention to the chief mate. 

“Seas and wind are building Captain. We’re in for a blow.  That squall’s fierce, and it’s moving our way fast.”

 Several miles to the east, storm clouds were growing to ominous size. Lightning lit the horizon and the sea around Antelope. A smell like that of sulphur permeated the air. Thunder interrupted conversation, and a solid wall of rain would soon cross the ship’s path. Winds were gusting, and velocity had increased dramatically in the few minutes Wilson had been on deck.

 Seamen scrambled about securing loose gear and battening down hatches.  Others were climbing about the spars and rigging furling canvas and shortening sail.   These were seasoned sailors, who went about their tasks with precision and an economy of motion,timing their actions in concert with the movement of the ship.

  Most considered themselves lucky to be shipping aboard Antelope.  Wilson had a reputation as a good captain and generally had his pick of seamen seeking berths.  A few ordinary seamen had signed aboard as replacements when Antelope put into Macao. Everyone else had been with the ship since she departed Portsmouth harbour a year earlier. At a time when the death rate from disease and injury aboard most ships plying the East Asia route was two in three, the fact that Antelope had only lost one sailor on the voyage out was considered a good omen.  Captain Wilson was careful to provision his ship with the best quality stores available. He gave equal scrutiny to the selection of officers and crew. John Sharp was among those Wilson had personally recruited.  The ship’s surgeon took pride in maintaining the good health of the crew, and kept abreast of the most advanced medical treatments and cures.  The Doctor was a compassionate and even-tempered man, popular and respected among his shipmates.  Sharp possessed another skill of great benefit to Antelope.  He was a creative sketch artist and was documenting the voyage.

Wilson and his officers had a reputation for firmness tempered with fairness.   Disciplinary actions were seldom necessary.  Antelope was a happy ship. 

Antelope had departed the China coast two weeks earlier on a passage homeward for England. This August night, she was sai

ling through the Western Pacific where only the most basic of charts existed.  Exploring and mapping the remote area was among Wilson’s objectives for his employer and the owner of Antelope, the powerful British East India Company. 

 

The squall was almost upon them.  Chief Mate Benger ordered the helmsman to bring Antelope’s bow around and head up close into the wind.  Sufficient storm sail had been set aloft so that Antelope could maintain steerage and keep from broaching.

 

Benger was worried.  The first ten days of the voyage, Antelope had sailed through stormy seas plagued by continuous wind and rain.  Moisture and mildew damaged stores and provisions. All the cattle died. The foretopmast sprung during an especially strong blow.  On the eleventh day, the weather moderated.  Seas subsided and the sun shone. The mast had been repaired, ports opened, and supplies dried out.

 

Now, the bad weather was back.  Benger hoped the repair to the mast would withstand the storm. 

 

He spoke loudly to the Captain, almost shouting to be heard above the approaching tempest. “I sent Blanchard aloft.   Doubt he’s going to be able to see much when this hits.” 

 

Seaman Madan Blanchard braced himself in the crow’s nest and wedged a hailing trumpet in a corner where it was out of the way but could be reached quickly. Blanchard had excellent vision, good hearing, and a loud voice, which was why he was often ordered aloft as lookout. At the moment, he regretted his reputation and wished he were more soft-spoken.  High up on the foremast, he was pitching back and forth like the weight on a metronome.  Antelope was rolling violently as the ship took the full force of the storm. He tried to see through the darkness and rain.  Visibility was virtually nil except when lightning lit Antelope and surrounding sea with brilliant but brief clarity.

 

Distinct from the sounds of the storm, Blanchard detected a noise he did not immediately identify, a booming sound. He tried to focus his

hearing.  With each successive lightning strike, he scanned the sea ahead.  The noise was getting louder.  The rain was pelting him so hard it stung his face. 

 

A lightning strike allowed him a brief moment of visibility. Waves were pounding against a massive reef directly in the ship’s path.  Even as he grabbed the trumpet, he knew he had seen the danger too late.

 

“BREAKERS!  BREAKERS DEAD AHEAD!” Blanchard screamed.

 

The helmsman was spinning the wheel to port even as Benger barked the order.  Antelope responded to the rudder with painful slowness.  In the crow’s nest, Blanchard braced himself for impact.  Antelope heeled over violently.  Crewmen on deck grabbed for handholds. The ship’s dog, a Newfoundland named Sailor, scrambled for purchase on the reeling deck.  Below, supplies and belongings were tossed about and toppled from shelves.  A cannon broke free from its tie down on the gun deck and crashed into a bulkhead. The ship fought to change direction against the force of the sea.  However, the simple equation of speed and distance sealed Antelope’s fate.

She slammed into the reef almost bow on with violent impact, the sharp coral slicing into the hull and breaking the keel.  The next wave combined with the ship’s momentum to lift the vessel even further onto the reef.

 

 Wilson took command as Benger rushed below to assess damage.  He already knew what Benger would find.  The noise of splintering timbers as Antelope crashed against the reef had been deafening.

 

Captain Wilson concentrated on survival and salvage, shouting orders and moving the crew to action. There was no time to mourn the loss of his ship. They were in grave danger, aground and breaking up on a reef, pounded by a raging storm, with no idea of the distance to the nearest land.

 

Benger returned with bad news.  The hull was stove in from the bow almost to amidships, the damage far too severe to repair. Bilges were flooded, and water was rising to the lower deck hatchways.

 

Boats were lowered into the sea, and crewmen set about transferring gunpowder, small arms, bread, and other provisions.  Sailors were assigned to stay aboard each boat to keep them safe and ready to receive crewmen if Antelope started breaking up.  Only essential supplies were put aboard.  Everything else would have to be salvaged later if opportunity allowed.

 

Harry helped the ship’s surgeon retrieve medical supplies from his cabin, and move them to the quarter-deck where Dr. Sharp set up emergency triage in the driest place he could find. Everyone had survived the crash, but some were severely bruised. One seaman had a fractured arm. Several were cut and bleeding and in need of stitches.  Madan Blanchard was among the lucky. When the foremast snapped on impact, he had been catapulted from the crow’s nest into the bowsprit netting.  Other than a few bruises and scratches, Blanchard was unscathed.

  

It was the foremast that presented the immediate danger.  The broken mast and rigging were hanging over the starboard side, sails submerged in the water. The weight was causing Antelope to list at a dangerous angle.  Quartermaster Godfrey Minx grabbed an axe and set about cutting loose the wreckage. Antelope was in almost constant motion as the waves ground her against the reef. Rain lashed the decks. Minx leaned over the gunwale to chop away the rubble, slipped, lost his balance, and fell overboard. He landed amid the partially submerged rigging, grabbed on to keep from being swept away and became trapped in the debris and surging water. Like many sailors, he was a poor swimmer. His legs were pinioned between the mast and boom. He was drowning, and his efforts to break free entangled him worse.

 

 Harry heard Minx’ cry for help. Pausing only to secure a line around his waist, he jumped into the sea, swam to the quartermaster, and got his arms around Minx.  He started to pull the man free when a cresting wave knocked Minx from his grasp, crushing the boom against his legs. The few lines holding the debris to the ship parted one by one, the last with a resounding crack. The wreckage began to sink, pulling Minx below the surface.  Harry took a deep breath, jack-knifed and dived.

 

With the last of his strength, Minx pushed Harry away then ceased to struggle.  He gave up the battle, and accepted his fate. Bubbles trailed from his lips and nostrils as he disappeared into the dark sea.

 

The safety line saved Harry’s life.  Crewmen pulled the exhausted boy aboard.  He was near drowned and lay on the deck for se

veral minutes heaving seawater and gasping for air. Barnacles had raked Harry’s body when waves smashed him against the hull. Dr. Sharp started to tend the wounds, but Harry motioned him away.

 

“In a few minutes Sir”, Harry choked, his voice breaking.  “I need a few minutes to myself.”

 

Clutching a blanket around his shoulders, the boy stood and limped away.  He found privacy among a stack of supplies and sat   down with his back against a bulkhead. Muffled sobs racked his body.  His eyes glistened with tears he couldn’t hold back.  Captain Wilson waited until he was sure Harry had regained his composure.  He walked over, sat down, and spoke quietly, “You gave it your best Harry”.

 

They remained there for a time, side by side, a father consoling his son, sharing the silence. 

 

The Captain reached out and gave his son’s knee and affectionate pat. He stood up, grasped his son’s hand, and helped Harry to his feet.

 

“Bit of a pickle we’re in Harry.  Thank the lord your mother doesn’t know”.  The Captain’s wry smile was conspiratorial.  “Let the Doc tend to those cuts. Infection’s especially dangerous in the tropics.”

 

  

The quartermaster’s drowning was a sober reminder to officers and crew of the peril they faced. Cold, wet, and miserable, they crowded together on the quarterdeck to await daybreak. The sound of Antelope grinding against the reef was constant and unsettling, a sound eerily like that of an animal in its death throes.  The storm raged at near gale force much of the night, but had blown itself out by the time first light appeared on the horizon.

 

Much to the Captain’s relief, the clearing weather revealed a chain of small islands several leagues to the

several leagues to the east. He knew it was only a matter of time before the sea broke Antelope to pieces and they would have no choice but to abandon ship.

 

He called for the crew’s attention.

 

“Mr. Benger will select a crew, take the gig and have a look-see at those islands.”

 

“Mr. White”, The captain addressed the midshipman, “you and the boatswain organise some men and build a raft.  The rest of you start scouring this ship for everything we can salvage.  Antelope may just hold together long enough to see us through.”

 

Swifty?”  The Captain turned to the ship’s cook with a questioning expression.

 

During the night, at the very height of the storm, James Swift had accomplished a near Herculean feat, the rescue of the enormous cast iron oven from a flooded lower deck.  Swifty treasured the oven as if it was human, and affectionately called it ‘Bessie’.  Enticing his shipmates to help with the promise of a hot meal, they lifted it to the quarterdeck where Swift set up a makeshift galley under the lee of the poop deck overhang.  The sight of the rotund cook and his volunteer helpers wrestling Bessie up the ladder oblivious to the pelting rain, wind and lightning had been a welcome moment of levity in a depressing and miserable situation.

 

Ships’ cooks were usually remarkable for their inability to cook and were often injured seamen no longer able to perform heavy labour. Swift was exceptional in that he had been hired specifically for his cooking skill. A cheerful bald fellow of massive girth, his cooking was testimony to the Captain’s firm belief that fat men made the best cooks.  Wilson met Swifty when he and his family dined at Swift’s little inn while on holiday on the Dorset coast.  Wilson made a point of complimenting the fare.  The two men struck up a friendship over a vintage bottle of port.  Wilson’s sea stories appealed to Swift’s desire for adventure.   He had never travelled more than fifty miles from Lyme Regis, the town where he was born. The next morning, he packed his bags making sure to include his favourite herbs, spices, and kitchenware. Bessie had been loaded onto the bed of the wagon that would take him to Portsmouth Harbour to join Antelope.  Before climbing on to the wagon, he padlocked the inn and nailed a sign on the door.  The message was brief.  ‘Closed till further notice.  Gone to sea!  Swifty’.

  

“Aye Captain”, Swifty beamed.  “I’ve managed to get the stove fired up.  A few more minutes and I’ll have warm grub to fill your bellies!”

 

The news drew applause, and shouted praise from the tired and hungry crew. Wilson waited for them to quiet down. Sailor was at his feet.  He gave the big black hound a scratch behind the ears.  Odd perhaps to get inspiration from a dog, but there was something very reassuring about the look Sailor gave him, as if to ask, ‘so what’s this new adventure?’  

 

The Captain spoke loudly to ensure he had everyone’s full attention. 

 

“We’re in difficult straits, but we’re not the first sailors ever to be shipwrecked.  We can get through this if every man does his share, if every man helps his crew mate.  I want strict attention to orders, and a pledge from everyone to stay away from spirits. Is that clear?”

 

“Aye, Captain.” the response echoed among the men.

 

Wilson opened the Book of Common Prayer.  The men ceased shuffling and became silent.  Those wearing caps removed them and clutched them at their sides. Antelope continued its incessant grinding against the reef.

 

Captain Wilson cleared his throat.

 

“We commit the body of Godfrey Minx to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body when the sea will give up her dead, and the life of the world to come, through our lord Jesus Christ.”

 

The Captain placed the prayer book aside, took a copy of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson from his vest pocket, and opened it to a bookmark.

 

“It matters not how a man dies, but how he lives.  The act of dying is not important.  It lasts for so short a time.”

 

Wilson bowed his head, and the crew followed his example.

 

“Lord we pray to you for our friend and shipmate Godfrey Minx.  Quartermaster Minx was as brave a man who ever went to sea.  He showed great courage, and sacrificed his life trying to help his mates survive. God rest his soul.  Amen”.

 

“Amen,” The crew repeated the benediction.

 

At a signal from the Captain, Gunner John Blanch put the flame to the ship’s cannon.  The boom of the big six pounder echoed across the water.

 

 The sun was starting to peek above the horizon.

 

 


Chapter 2 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was that most beautiful time of morning

 

 

 

 

 

in the tropics.  The first rays of sunrise painted a golden tint to a night sky rapidly dissolving into brilliant crystal blue. A storm had passed through

during the night, and rainwater reflected from puddles like mirrors.  Sunlight sparkled in the moisture clinging to waxy green leaves.

 

  The village of Coorooraa was beginning to stir.

 

Prince Lee Boo woke to the sound of a faint chirping. A gecko was stalking a fly in the thatch above his head. The little amphibian’s head jerked from side to side, its body moving rapidly up and down in perfect tempo to the clicking noise coming from its distended throat.  Lee Boo smiled.  He wondered if the gecko was trying to hypnotise the fly.  He lay still, and watched for a while.

 

Careful not to wake anyone, Lee Boo rolled up his sleeping mat and placed it aside. He ducked beneath the roof overhang, and dropped quietly to the ground.  He yawned, raised his arms over his head, and stretched.  He continued to limber up for a few minutes, breathing deeply, enjoying the fragrant smells in the morning air.

 

Lee Boo was a small man, even for a Palauan.  At the age of eighteen, he was barely five feet tall. His skin was the texture and colour of dark brown silk.  High prominent cheekbones hinted at his Asian ancestry. His eyes were deep set, like black marbles starkly set off by white iris, expressive eyes full of merriment.  His body was lean; his arms and legs muscular but not overdeveloped.  His hands, wrists, and thighs were tattooed in distinctive patterns. There was a special tattoo on his left wrist. He wore a shark’s tooth necklace given to him by his father, the King, and nothing else.

 

As Lee Boo gathered his fishing gear from a storage bin, he saw that his mother Ludee had awakened and was starting a fire in the cooking pit.  He rolled what he planned to take into a bundle, tied it securely, and joined her.

 

“Morning my son,’’ Ludee held a cup of warm liquid out to Lee Boo, dipped a wooden ladle back into a steaming pot, and poured a cupful for herself.  She sat down beside him on a palm frond mat.

 

“And where are you going so early?”  Ludee knew the answer.  She was just enjoying a morning conversation with her offspring.

 

Even for a people whose lives were linked so closely with the ocean, Lee Boo spent an extraordinary amount of time at sea.  His was an exceptional sailor, a skilled fisherman and strong swimmer.  He began learning the names of the stars when he was four, and had listened carefully to the lessons taught by the venerable navigator.  There was no written word, so everything had to be committed to memory.  Lee Boo practised the chants that the elders taught as aids to recall as he sailed among the islands of the Western Carolines.

 

Lee Boo felt no resentment that he was the second son of King Abba Thulle, and therefore unlikely to ever rule Palau. In fact, he liked the fact that it freed him from most of the ceremonial duties that occupied the time of his elder brother, the heir apparent. Lately, Lee Boo had come to realise the unhappy consequences of his royal heritage.

 

Lee Boo had fallen in love.  Remme, the object of his affection, was a commoner from a family of lower rank in the intricate Palauan hierarchy.  For Lee Boo and Remme to marry, his father would have to give his blessing.  That would require a decision contrary to the very customs and traditions Abba Thulle represented as King.  He was steadfast in his opposition.  The conflict had created a rift between father and son.  Appeals on Lee Boo’s behalf by his mother had little influence.

 

“So, where will you sail today?” Ludee rose from the mat and began preparing the morning meal.  Something to eat before you go?

 

“No Mother.  Demai will be waiting for me.  There is a reef near Oroolong we’ve been wanting to fish.  The wind is right.  It will be an easy trip.”

 

 

“Ha! Demai!.  So maybe you will get to see Remme?”   Ludee teased.

 

Demai was Lee Boo’s close friend and frequent companion.  He also happened to be Remme’s brother.

 

“Can all mother’s read the minds of their sons?” Lee Boo laughed.  You will talk to father again?

 

“Yes, Yes, now off with you”, Ludee gave Lee Boo a gentle push toward the path leading down to the sea.  She watched him walk away through the village with pride and sadness.  She feared Abba Thulle would never consent to the marriage. That, she knew, would break Lee Boo’s heart.

 

A few yards before the path disappeared in the foliage, Lee Boo stopped, turned, and waved.  As Ludee raised her hand to respond, Lee Boo executed a back flip, then a somersault as he vanished into the jungle.  Ludee realised that her neighbours had witnessed the performance.  She shook her head and smiled. 

 

“My son, Lee Boo”, Ludee announced to the impromptu audience.  She chuckled to herself, and returned to her chores.

 

Lee Boo agonised over the conflict with his father as he walked along the trail toward the sea. He loved and respected Abba Thulle, and could never defy him.  Yet, he could not give up his love for Remme.  The dilemma was constantly on his mind, a nightmare of a problem that seemed to have no solution.

 

  He shook his head as if to clear it of depressing thoughts, increased his pace and broke into a run.  He was sprinting flat out when he burst from the shadows of the jungle trail onto the white sand beach.  He tossed his bundle aside, reached the water in a few strides, lifted his knees high and continued running until the depth slowed him.  He made a leaping dive into the oncoming swells.

 

When he surfaced, Lee Boo turned on his back and looked toward the beach.  Demai and Remme were walking along the shore waving to him.  He swam back with quick strong strokes, regained his footing in the shallows, and joined his friends.  Lee Boo refrained from embracing Ronnie or showing other noticeable signs of affection.  He did not wish to cause offence or embarrassment for Demai, or Remme, or to encourage gossip should they be observed by anyone else.  Their love was evident simply in the way they looked at each other.  

 

Like Lee Boo, Remme was small.  She was also quite beautiful.  At sixteen, she was shedding the last traces of adolescence and entering womanhood. Remme had full red lips. Her black hair hung down  to her shoulders. Her skirt of coconut fibre dyed different shades of yellow complimented her cinnamon brown skin. Her breasts were full; the nipples dark brown and turned pertly up.

 

 Her only flaw was a pensiveness that, at times, clouded her features.  Like Lee Boo, the lovers’ dilemma dominated her thoughts.

 

 

Remme and Lee Boo’s tryst was, of necessity, brief.  Her mother was expecting her to help with weeding a taro field.  Lee Boo and Demai needed to get underway soon before the outgoing tide made it dangerous to sail across the reef ringing the island.  Lee Boo walked Remme to the trail leading away from the beach.  He reached down took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze.  Remme pulled him into the jungle shadows, and kissed him quickly on the lips.  She giggled at his surprise.  Blushing at her impulsive boldness,  Remme backed away and ran off down the path.

 

 

Well above the high water mark beyond even the worst storm surges, Lee Boo had constructed a  sturdy hut.  Under the thatch roof was his prize possession, a Kaep racing canoe.  Lee Boo built it himself, every single inch, every lashing, every joint. It had taken him almost a year. The canoe was of superb marine craftsmanship, slim-hulled, and built for speed. The hull was asymmetric. Lee Boo could change direction simply by moving the sail from one end of the canoe to the other. He built it under the guidance of the most famous and revered boat builder in Palau.   Tevake was a cranky, difficult old man with a long wispy white beard who demanded excellence from those who apprenticed under him. His wrath  against anyone failing to perform up to his standards was legendary.  The furious elder waving his adz menacingly and shouting obscenities as he chased a cowering apprentice through the village had shattered sedate island life more than once.    He was going blind from cataracts, and compensated with an acute sense of touch.  He could run his fingers down a piece of wood and detect a poorly hewn keel, a seam that was of less than perfect fit, mistakes often not even visible to a person with good eyesight.   “Humph!” he would grumble, his clouded eyes seeming to burn holes through the apprentice.  “You’ve ruined it.  Throw it away.  You got in a hurry, let your adz become dull.  This time be patient.  Cool your adz in The banana tree. Keep it sharp.  BE PATIENT.  DO IT RIGHT”, Tevake would hiss with anger before stomping away.

 

 When Lee Boo first   approached him, Tevake rejected him outright, laughing with derision. It was Lee Boo’s patience that won the old man over.  Each morning he would rise early and stand respectfully outside the entrance of the boat building hut.  He would remain there all day.  Tevake ignored him.  Lee Boo kept his vigil for a month before Tevake accepted that he wasn’t going to go away.  He waved Lee Boo inside, handed him a whisk, and ordered him to clean the floor.  For six months, Lee Boo performed the most menial of tasks, the dirtiest of jobs. One day, Tevake called his name and tossed him a sharkskin rasp. A surprised Lee Boo caught it in the air.  It was the first time the elder had ever spoken his name.  Tevake walked Lee Boo over to an outrigger, placed his arthritic hands over Lee Boos, and began teaching him how to sand the wood. Lee Boo trained as an apprentice for two years before Tevake gave him permission to build himself a canoe.

 Lee Boo and Demai lifted the Kaep and carried it to the water. They secured their gear, jumped aboard, and paddled for the reef.  A stout bamboo pole jammed into the coral marked a declivity where, as long as the tide was right, it was safe to cross without scraping bottom.  They waited for a back swell, dipped their paddles in unison, and surfed across the reef.  The Kaep drifted on the waves while they raised the mast and rigged the triangular sail.  Lee Boo kneeled in the stern, his paddle to be used as tiller and rudder braced against the hull.  Demai perched on the transverse platform where the outrigger was lashed.  They grinned at each other in anticipation.

 

  The sail began to billow pulling the slack from the rigging supporting the mast. The canoe started to move, slowly at first, but rapidly picking up speed as Lee Boo manoeuvred to take advantage of the wind.  Soon the Kaep was slicing through the waves, lines so taut they were humming, the mast bent like a reed, the sail straining with the full force of the wind.   Lee Boo and Demai shouted and whooped in sheer elation.  The Kaep was now racing along, seeming to disappear in the reflected sunlight sparkling on the water. The sea hissed past the hull, the outrigger dipping in and out of the water. They were plunging over the waves, leaping across troughs. Lee Boo was going flat out, hauling full strength on his sail.  Demai leaned far over the side using his body to counterbalance and keep the speeding canoe from tipping over.  When it seemed they could not possibly go any faster, Lee Boo made a slight change in direction, managed to capture even more wind, and the canoe surged forward.

 

  After a while, Lee Boo slowed the pace.  They sailed on toward Oroolong Island at a leisurely cruising speed.  Demai reached inside his pouch, took out a betel nut, and sliced it in half.  He sprinkled it with quick lime, rolled it in a betel leaf, and placed it in his jaw.  He tossed the pouch to Lee Boo who repeated the ritual.  They were enjoying the betel’s stimulating effect, idly chatting, when Lee Boo noticed something jutting above the horizon.  He lost it when the canoe dipped down the trough of a wave, but sighted it again as they crested the next one.  He pointed it out to Demai.  It was unusual in that open ocean was in that direction.  There should be nothing there. They were curious. Lee Boo altered course.

 Lee Boo and Demai debated what they were watching as they sailed toward it.  It appeared as if a tall tree was sticking out of the water. Of course, they knew that was impossible, and that is what made it so intriguing.  The closer they got, the more they came to the realisation they were looking at a ship’s mast.  It was far too big for an island canoe. The Kaep crested an especially high wave, and there before them was Antelope.

 

 Lee Boo and Demai brought the Kaep to a halt, dropped sail, and lowered the mast.  Demai kept the canoe steady while Lee Boo cautiously raised his head above the waves. 

Lee Boo was amazed.  A vessel quite unlike anything he had ever seen was aground on a reef.  Lee Boo could see people aboard.  Their appearance was very strange.  They seemed to have skins of many different colours.  Some of them were rowing a boat away from the ship.  They were heading toward Oroolong Island.

 Lee Boo and Demai started paddling back toward Coorooraa.  When they were satisfied they were well out of sight of Antelope they raised the mast, and sailed as fast as they could go. 

 

Lee Boo jumped from the canoe as soon as the bow touched the sand beach.   Demai would see to the Kaep. Lee Boo knew that his father was meeting with the council of chiefs at a village several miles

inland. He started down the path, running at a good clip, but pacing himself with the reserve and stamina of a natural athlete.  The trail took him past the field where Remme and her mother were working.  Remme saw him approaching and rose from where she had been weeding the taro.  The lovers made eye contact.  It broke Lee Boo’s concentration.  He stumbled on a tree root, quickly regained his balance, and ran on.  There was no time to talk.  He would explain later.

 

 Usually friendly and gregarious, Lee Boo passed his fellow islanders on the trail without acknowledgement.  He was thinking of what he had seen and organising his thoughts so that he would be prepared to give his father a concise account.  He knew that what he had observed was completely alien to his culture.  There had been very limited contact with other Pacific peoples, primarily New Guinea, the Philippines, China, the Malays, Saipanese, and the Yapese.  However, for the most part, Palau in 1783 was an isolated society.  There had been no contact with western civilisation and there was certainly no comprehension of Europe.  Lee Boo’s intuition told him that something profound was happening.

 

 

The abai where the King was meeting with the village chiefs was in Airai on a hill at the edge of the village.  The largest meeting bai in Palau, it was an imposing structure with a high peaked roof of finely woven thatch.  The gables were painted in bright colours with images of warriors, turtles and fish, and scenes depicting heroic events and legends.  Inside, crossbeams were carved with intricate designs. The hard ifil wood floor was polished to a dark reddish sheen, smooth, and cool to the touch.

 

 

King Abba Thulle, his first son Qui, senior advisors, and the village chiefs were sitting on the floor.  There were empty spaces in the circle.  These were sacred.  It was believed they were occupied by the spirits of previous Kings.

 

The leaders had just finished a sumptuous meal of fish, fruit, and taro prepared by the women of the village.  They were debating plans for construction of a dock, but attention spans, the King’s included, were waning.  The food had made everyone sleepy.  The King was thinking that a communal nap in the

heat of the day might be a wise decision, when Qui leaned over and whispered that Lee Boo was outside. 

Lee Boo stood silent and reverent near the entrance to the bai, his body silhouetted in the sunlight. He would not enter without permission. The King knew it was important.  Lee Boo would not interrupt otherwise.

 

Abba Thulle greeted his son and waved him inside.  Lee Boo, sat down before his father, and began to describe what he had seen.  Everyone was suddenly very awake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Masthead Credits:      Village and  fishing paintings  by the late Palauan artist Charles Gibbons

 

 

 

 

Other village scenes by the late French artist Paul Gauguin