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Monday, July 18, 2011

Bowie Knife vs. Shark

From Rambles in Polynesia (1897), by "Sundowner" [Herbert Tichborne], comes this account of a Polynesian native chief taking on sharks with a bowie knife:
As we steamed slowly through the passage between Ile Nou and the southern headland of Noumea harbour, the chief walked the foc's'le deck impatiently. It was known that we should be compelled to lie in the stream for two or three hours before any of the passengers would be allowed to land, and the dusky warrior made up his mind not to wait. We dropped anchor about three hundred yards from the wharf, and the bulwarks were immediately crowded with passengers, watching the lazy tiger sharks as they moved in shoals around the vessel. . . . Our Maré chieftain had determined upon going ashore early, and a school of fifty thousand sharks was not likely to shake him from the purpose. . . . So, taking a large bowie-knife between his teeth and a short spear in his hand, with his bundle tied upon his head, he swung himself overboard by one of the ropes attached to the companion ladder, and boldly struck out for the shore. All eyes and all available glasses were upon the plucky islander as he cut his way swiftly through the water in the direction of the quay. The excitement on board the steamer was intense when occasionally the dorsal fin of a terrible 'tiger' was observed to move in the direction of the swimmer. When he had gone about two hundred yards he rose suddenly from the water, and it was seen that he grasped his bowie. A shark had got under him evidently. He appeared to make a game fight of it for a few minutes, but when a 'tiger' once draws blood, it is hard to shake him off. The surrounding sharks, too, had scented blood, and the tremendous dorsal fins were moving towards the scene of the encounter from all directions; and before the boats could reach him the monsters were dragging him all over the place -- chasing each other for possession of the savoury prize. The boatmen from the shore succeeded in securing various portions of the poor chieftain's body -- enough, at all events, upon which to hold the necessary coroner's inquiry. Much sympathy was felt for the unfortunate fellow.

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