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Stories From Kiribati


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Nabetari - Ocean hero (Part 2)

Posted by Amota Eromanga on August 4, 2013 at 8:20 AM

Consider reading Nabetari - Ocean Hero (Part 1)

Years later, Nabetari was selected from his home island Nikunau this time to work at the phosphate mining company on Banaba (Ocean island). While he was on Banaba, World War II broke out. Towards the end of 1942, the Japanese finally came and seized Banaba from the British - the colonial ruler of that time.

There were about two thousand people on Banaba at the time of the Japanese occupation. About half were Banabans while the other half were mostly people from Gilbert (Kiribati) and Ellice (Tuvalu) who came to work in the British Phosphate Company (BPC) established there. There were several IMatang (white people) as well.

Food scarcity caused mainly Banabans and some other phosphate workers to be sent away by the Japanese. Only hundred workers were held behind to work for the Japanese. Among those staying was Nabetari certainly due to his great fishing skills and good health.

Some of the workers were usurped to fish for the Japanese - no doubt Nabetari was one of them. After days, Nabetari and some friends planed to escape on three canoes. They would sail back to Nikunau on those small outrigger canoes. So on the night of the escape, they filled the canoes with coconuts and bottles of fresh water.

It was 4th April when they started sailing away from Banaba - from the Japanese. Their fleet sailed eastward directing the Kiribati Group in hope of arriving safely at Nikunau island. Unfortunately, the winds and ocean currents went strongly against them and finally pushed them southwest. At last, they gave up sailing towards Kiribati - for the winds and the current kept withstanding.

They changed course, this time sailing westward so the winds blew them along from behind. One night, one of the canoes got separated and was never seen again. Now only two were left behind. The nights following, they tied their canoes in order to stay together. Nabetari was with Reuera on one canoe. They drifted on and on. Alas, the other canoe disappeared without knowing why and how.

Nabetari and his friend Reuera were now all alone drifting in the huge ocean on their small-scale outrigger canoe. They in fact had very little food. With their fishing line and feathered bait they fished for food. They sometimes dried the remains of their catch out in the sun. Their sail was obvious for catching rain for their drink.

One day, a storm came and took their sail away. Later, the shark bit Reuera’s hand. Hence they managed to kill that shark and drank its blood. Reuera’s hand got recovered slowly.

Few days passed, then another wicked storm came unexpectedly. It capsized their canoe and threw both of them overboard. Nabetari tried to upright the canoe until succeeded. In his later recall, the last time he saw his friend Reuera was when the storm threw them away from their canoe. For he never saw his friend again - Reuera was gone.

Nabetari was now all by himself in the middle of the ocean. Fear rose up inside him. He prayed to God saying, “Dear God, my Father, help me. Give me strength so I do not fear and please take me back to my home island” Prayer helped and comforted Nabetari in this long journey of his. There wasn’t much he could do. Fear, hunger and thirst were all that he had to face.

He drifted on and on - just letting the current taking him anywhere – westward actually. He also had lost his count of days. He noticed that he was getting weaker each day and night. In one occasion, he grabbed a small shark, held it beside his canoe until he could kill it. He drank its blood and ate its flesh. Most times he neither had anything to eat nor fresh water to drink. His life reckoned on any fish that came closer to his canoe and rain that fell once in a while. Hunger was his extreme problem. Sometimes he could see ships and airplanes, but none saw him. Two of the vessels that went passed him were Japanese ships but so grateful that they didn’t see him.

His canoe kept floating away despite its duration in water. Nabetari was certain that he was getting weaker and still couldn’t figure out where he was heading. He was also sure that he was nevertheless moving away from Banaba and to an unknown destination. Death was very close to him.

In a sudden, and out there in the west, an island appeared! Luckily the current propelled his canoe closer and closer. He finally came very close to the island. He managed to get onto the beach by crawling since his legs were paralyzed. He found coconuts and tins of candies on the beach so he quickly ate the candies. They gave him some strength. He then removed the husk of the coconuts and started drinking and eating. He saw nobody on that particular day.

The next day, he crawled back into the shallow water and just rested there. An old man came and spoke to him in a language he didn’t understand. Three young men arrived and took him to their village where he was given fresh food and drink.

The island was indeed Niningo which was near Manus island in the Almighty Group. It belonged to Papua New Guinea. It was 1500 miles away from Banaba – Nabetari’s starting point. It was November when Nabetari finally washed up onto Niningo island. His trip began in April therefore had really spent seven months out drifting in the vast ocean of the Pacific!

Related articles: Nabetari - Ocean Hero (Part 1)


Categories: True Stories

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Reply Amota Eromanga
3:46 AM on July 23, 2018 
Meeri says...
I heard a lot about this man from my father, there are so many amazing stories my father told me....he is the best fisherman too, he taught my dad te kabwara..and now his skills runs in my family...thanks to him,,

Thank you Meeri for your comment and for sharing that interesting information.
Reply Meeri
12:21 PM on July 22, 2018 
I heard a lot about this man from my father, there are so many amazing stories my father told me....he is the best fisherman too, he taught my dad te kabwara..and now his skills runs in my family...thanks to him,,
Reply Meeri
12:19 PM on July 22, 2018