Ben Paga Ngaloko's Story

My name is Ben Ngaloko and I want to tell you about the time that my two children and I were adrift at sea for thirty two days. On June 5 [1996], I was working as the Village Court Clerk and attended a court held at Kaliai Mission. When the court was over I planned to return home to Kandoka village. I dropped off an official, his wife and two other women in the village. Then I planned to take the boat to Lauvore village and up the Vanu river to get my family. My wife had taken our baby to the clinic at Salkei to get some medicine. I intended to go for them, and two of my children, a boy three years old, and a girl age five, wanted to go with me. As we got in the boat, one of the women to whom I had given a ride gave me a one-kilo bag of rice.

So we took the rice, left the village, and went out to sea intending to go up the Vanu. We were out from Lauvore when I saw a flock of birds running a school of fish. "All right!" I had a trolling line inside the boat, so I headed out to sea hoping to catch a big fish. Before we caught anything, a heavy rain started. It obscured the beach and the mountains. I could see nothing. Then the wind picked up and blew from a direction that confused me. The wind had been blowing from the land, but it turned and came from the sea. I thought that by turning my boat into the wind I would reach the village. But No! When I went into the wind I wasn't going toward the village. I was going out to sea.

We went for some time, and when the rain stopped and I looked around, the beach and the mountains were far behind us. I had gone the wrong direction. I shut off the engine and looked around. Then I realized I had made a serious mistake. I was running short of petrol. When I opened my gas tank to look inside, I saw there was almost none left. So I turned the dinghy around, started the engine, and headed toward land. It was not long before the tank was empty. The children were alarmed and my son asked, "Papa, why are we drifting? The wind is strong. Start the engine and let's go to shore." I didn't answer them. I knew that we were out of fuel and I was unable to speak.

They kept asking me what was happening. Finally I told them, "We have no more fuel. I don't know what we're going to do. It's a long way to shore and the wind is strong." The wind then became stronger, and so I said, "You sit down, I'm going to try to swim and pull the boat towards shore." And I did try, but I was not strong enough to pull the boat. The wind was too strong, it was an aluminum boat, a metal boat and I tried but I could not pull it. So I got back in.

It was late afternoon - about five o'clock -- and the sun was going down. We could only sit there as we drifted further and further from shore until we passed the big reef far out to sea. I saw a large canoe out there trolling for fish, so I stood up and waved, hoping they would see me and help us. But they didn't see me, and then the sun went down and it was dark. So I sat down and we just sat there. Finally the children fell asleep. There was no cabin or anything to cover us in the boat, and we had nothing stored in the boat; no clothing, no shelter, nothing! I was wearing only trousers and a shirt, and as it got later I used my shirt to cover my son. He had a little bit of cover, but my little daughter had nothing at all. She lay in the bottom of the boat with no protection at all. We continued to drift and I realized that I had a handbag, one of the green ones. So I tore it open and covered her with it, and then she slept.

While the children slept I worried. What would happen to us? What could we do? I could find no solution and finally, exhausted, I fell asleep. I slept for a little while and then awoke suddenly. I sat up and looked around and saw a light moving toward the shore. The light was on a ship, a barge, going to Iboki [a former plantation, located not far from Ben's village], serving at that time as the headquarters for a Malaysian timber company] to drop off supplies for the Malaysians there. I was very excited and shouted for help over and over again, but it was the middle of the night and nobody heard me. It continued on, in toward shore, and I just sat there while we drifted. Finally it was morning. I stood up to see where we were, and saw the island of Bali [Unea island of the Vitu group, also called Bali-Vitu]. We were about half way between New Britain and Bali.

Tuesday passed and we drifted for hours. Finally a ship that appeared to be headed toward Lae passed close by. I stood up and waved at it, but nobody saw me. It passed us and we continued to drift until, by late afternoon - about five o'clock - we approached an island near Bali. It was not really close by, but we were nearing it. I was heartened and said to myself, "Oh, we have to get to this island. If we don't we have no hope because without fuel we may die." Then I said to the children, "Let's try to swim to the island. If we can reach it we'll just let the boat drift away." So I helped my daughter down into the water beside the boat, and then I went overboard and tried to coax my son into the water so we could swim to the island. But he was frightened because of the strong wind, and he cried and held tightly to the boat and refused to leave it. I couldn't force him overboard, so finally I gave up and climbed back into the dinghy. I helped my daughter in and told them, "It's alright. Never mind. We'll stay with the boat."

This happened Tuesday afternoon. I knew that we had lost our chance to reach the island because of the strong wind and because I had nothing in the boat to help us reach it - no paddle for rowing - so that night we just slept. Part of the bottom of the dinghy was wet, so the children lay on the dry section and I slept sitting up. The next morning I saw that we had drifted past the [Vitu] islands and were far out at sea.

When I saw that I thought, "Oh, we have no hope now. Who will find us now? Nobody!" Then I stood up and looked around. I saw some mature coconuts that had drifted out to sea and I began to collect them. I swam to them and, one by one, threw them toward the boat. Then I tossed them into the dinghy. There were twelve of them.

Wednesday passed and we ate nothing. Thursday morning I opened the packet of rice and studied it. Then I said to the children, "We're going to eat this. It doesn't matter that it is uncooked. We're going to eat it." I ate a bit of it, and then I told them, "Look, we aren't going to be saved by reaching an island. The islands are behind us now. So, you must eat whatever I can find in the sea. If I can eat it, then you must eat it too, whether it tastes good or not." They understood, and watched while I ate a bit of the rice. We didn't have any fresh water, so I scooped up salt water with my hand, drank it, and then swallowed the uncooked rice. Then I poured a bit of rice into their hands and told them to swallow it. The little girl did as she was told, but the boy gagged on the dry rice and threw it up. So I forced it down him, and commanded him, "You eat it!" Then I scooped up some sea water and poured it into his mouth. When he had swallowed the rice and sea water, I gave him some more and then did the same to my daughter. This is what we had to do in order to eat.

When I judged that we had enough to eat I told them, "OK, that's enough," and we waited for a while. Then I took one of the dry coconuts and I shelled it with my teeth. I took a small piece of sharp metal that I found in the bottom of the boat and made a hole in the eye of the nut so that we could drink the liquid inside. Then I broke the nut into two pieces. We ate one half in the morning and saved the other half until the late afternoon. There was a bottle in the boat, and I broke it and used it to scrape out the coconut meat for us to eat.

So we ate those coconuts for twelve days. We ate and drank half of one in the morning and half in the late afternoon. We also ate the rice, and when it was gone we had only the coconuts to eat. Meanwhile, I watched the sea for floating logs or anything drifting in the water and if the wind brought a floating log near us, I swam to it towing the boat. There were small crabs on the driftwood, and I put those in the boat, killed them, broke them open, and then we ate them. We ate the poor things raw. I told the children again, "Whatever I find in the water, whether it tastes good or not, even if it's raw, I will eat it and you have to eat it too. That's the only way we can save ourselves."

My son did not eat well. He ate very little, and from Tuesday morning through Wednesday he cried. He was crying for all his favourite foods his mother prepared. Every time he thought about it he cried more.

I was worried and miserable. Even though I did what I could to keep us going, I was sick with worry. I just sat in the boat and held my son, and tried to cheer him up but he just kept crying. I think he cried for an entire week, and during this time he ate almost nothing. He refused to eat the things that I found in the water. One morning, after a week of this, when he awoke he sat down in the bottom of the boat and began to play with his sister. They used coconut shells to bail out the dinghy. I saw them playing at bailing out the boat, and I realized that he was no longer grieving for his mother. He was no longer homesick and was content to play in the bottom of the boat. I was relieved and thought, "Good. He's accepted the situation now. We will all three look for ships now."

However, the wind did not stop - it blew day and night -- and it was taking us further from land and out to sea. We saw no ships, none at all. We just drifted alone. Finally our coconuts were finished and we had nothing at all to eat. I watched the sea for anything that might provide us with food: floating logs, rotten wood that we could eat. Anything! We ate anything even marginally edible that we could find.

Time passed in this way. When we got tired of being in the boat, I lowered the children into the ocean where we could swim and wash. When we were tired of that, I put them back into the boat and we sat there. It rained only once, at night from dusk until about nine o'clock the next morning. We didn't sleep at all that night. We drank as much rainwater as we could collect.

When we started this trip we had on board one plastic bottle, and I picked up another one out of the sea. During the night I filled these two bottles with rain water and put them aside. The next morning the rain stopped, and I hid the bottles so that the children would not see them and drink all the water too quickly. When we were without water for a long time and very thirsty, I gave the children sips of water, but we finally emptied both bottles.

Eventually we came upon a large pile of floating logs and other debris. We drifted right to it, and I was able to climb on top of the pile and tie the dinghy to one of the logs. Then I looked through the pile of debris for something that we might be able to eat. When I found something I put it inside our boat. During my search I found a small sea turtle sunning on a log. I crept up to it, caught it, and put it in the dinghy. I also found some small crabs and barnacles - the little white shells that you see attached to logs in the water, and I collected them for us to eat, too.

I put all these things in our boat, and it wasn't long before some large sharks smelled me and began to circle our boat and the pile of logs. I thought about the fact that they will eat almost anything, so I loosened the rope, climbed back into the boat, and pushed us off to drift away from the logs.

The children were excited and said "Papa, cut up this turtle so we can eat it!" I had no knife, so I took the piece of broken bottle I had used to scrape the coconut meat and tried to cut the turtle with it. At first I was unsuccessful because turtles are tough and the bottle wasn't sharp. Finally I was able to cut its throat and then cut its head off. Then I took three of the coconut shells from the nuts we'd eaten, that were lying in the bottom of the boat, and I held them out of the boat and filled them with turtle blood. Then I told the children, "Drink it." They saw me drink mine, and so they drank too. When we'd finished drinking the blood, I removed the shell and we ate the meat. Raw!

When we'd eaten, I removed the intestines and internal organs, emptied and cleaned them, and laid them in the sun to dry so we could eat them later. We dried the offal for two days, and then ate some of it. The next morning the children wanted to eat more, and I joined them. We ate it even though it stank because we knew that we must. That afternoon we ate the rest. We ate the whole thing!

We continued to drift, but I found no more floating logs or anything else that might provide us with food. We ate nothing for three days, and I realized that I was losing my strength. We were in great distress and I knew I would soon be too weak to do what might be required to save us. So I prayed, asking God to let us die because we were in pain and had no hope of surviving. That's the way it was. For the next two nights, because we were suffering, I carried the children onto the prow of the boat and held them there so that we could be washed overboard. But God did not want us to die.

We drifted for another night. The next morning I saw what I thought was a little island. The wind was strong and carried us in close to it, and I could see a mountain. The island current was also strong and carried us in closer. The island was inhabited. There were houses and cars. We were close, but I was too weak to swim and we had no paddle. We watched, hoping the wind and current would take us to the island, but the wind changed and blew us back out to sea. My daughter begged, "Papa, please try to swim to the island." I had to tell her, "Oh, I'm no longer strong. If I try to swim to shore I'll not make it." So we just sat there and watched.

We drifted away from the island, and two days and three nights passed. Then I saw something in the distance that looked like an island covered with kunai. As the boat took us closer I said to myself, "Oh, we are going to reach a little island." But it was not an island. It was a pile of vegetation. It was a kind of wild sugar cane [ pitpit (tp) saccharum spontaneum] that grows along the rivers. The tide had carried it out to sea, and I thought it was a small island. The wind blew us to this pile of vegetation and I said, "Oh, this must be sugar cane or something like it." However, when I tried to pull some into the boat, I discovered that it was very long. There were three bunches, and the roots were deep in the water. When I got it inside the boat, I realized it was wild sugar cane. My daughter thought it was domesticated sugar cane, but it was not. I tried to peel it with my teeth so we could drink the liquid, but it was too tough. So I took the little piece of iron in the boat and pounded the stems until they were soft and mushy, and then I squeezed a bit of water out of them. I told my little daughter, "Take this and drink it. Get a little liquid to clear your throat." I did the same for my son. I softened a plant, and then laid him across my lap so that I could squeeze some liquid into his mouth.

By now my little girl was weak, but she still had some strength left. My son was unable to sit up or talk. He was faint and very weak. All three of us had boils and sores on our skin from the salt water, and we were all dehydrated. So we ate the wild cane and slept. The next morning my little girl saw mountains, snow-covered mountains. She woke me. "Papa, come and look. I see what looks like mountains." I got up and saw mountains, some with their peaks in the clouds. She asked me, "Are they really mountains?" and I told her that, indeed, they were.

We continued to drift closer to land all day and all night. The next morning when we arose we were close enough that we could see houses clearly. I exclaimed, "Oh, the wind is taking us to land." By afternoon the coast was about as far away as from here to Atiatu [about 16 kilometres]. We were close enough to land to see details. For example, we could see the smoke from peoples' fires and I was happy and excited. "Oh, the wind is carrying us straight to shore." We continued to drift closer to shore until we were about as far as from here to Ketenge [about 6 kilometres], and then the direction of the wind changed. It was blowing us parallel to the coast, and we got no closer to shore. We continued to drift along the mountainous coastline that looked like the area around Wewak. We drifted past Atiape. At the time I did not know that we were in the area near Wewak and Aitape. By this time my little boy had lost consciousness. We drifted all day and all night and the next day, and I was afraid that my son was dying.

We continued drifting along near the shore, and I saw three mature coconuts in the water. I got all three of them and hurriedly removed the shell with my teeth and opened the eye of one. Then I lay my son on my lap and tried to get him to swallow some of the liquid. I didn't even think about my daughter because I was so anxious to get some liquid in my little boy. When I had emptied the first coconut I shelled the next one with my teeth, opened it, and gave it to my daughter. When she had finished drinking, I opened one of them and scraped the inside of the nut to get some of the edible flesh. I gave some to my son first and then to my daughter. I was more concerned to get liquid and food into the boy than I was about my daughter because I saw that he was very weak and near death. I held him and fed him, and he retched, so I told him, "No. You eat. You must not vomit. Try to keep the food down." Finally he was able to swallow a bit of food, and he and my daughter fell asleep. Then I opened the last coconut and drank and ate, but I only ate half of the nut. I set the other half aside.

We continued to drift past a long point, a peninsula. We passed it about four o'clock in the afternoon and I saw that beyond it was another point and a passage, and I saw modern houses on the point. I looked at these modern houses on the mountain and on the beach and I wondered, "Where are we?" I continued to look and to wonder, "What place looks like this?" The wind took us along the beach, but we were still too far out. If we had been close to the beach I would have tried to swim to shore. But it was too far, so we continued to drift.

We drifted past the next point and passage and we were still out to sea. We drifted close to another point at about six o'clock just as the sun was going down. When it got dark I made my son comfortable. My daughter sat in the front of the dinghy, and we watched the lights come on. We could see the lights from the town, and from all the modern houses as well.

As we watched, we drifted closer to shore until I could see cars on the roads and a light on the mountain, a red light that blinked on and off. Then I knew were we were. I said "I have never seen Madang, but I have heard about it. I've heard about the big tower and the revolving light of the Madang lighthouse." I drifted off to sleep and at about 7 or 8 o'clock we passed the point and drifted past the town to an area where no one lived. There was only beach, and Vanimo prison was located on the point.

I put my daughter to bed in the bottom of the boat and, being exhausted, I held my son and tried to sleep. I was worried about him. He had no strength and I thought he was dying. I was worried about him and I sat holding him. Then my little girl smelled the breeze from the land that carried the smell of cooking food. She said, "Papa, get up. I smell food cooking." I went up to where she was and sniffed the air and I, too, smelled food cooking. "Oh! It's true. You're right." So I put the boy down, and stood up trying to hear voices, but the sea breaking on the reef was too loud. Then I realized that the shore was very close, so I took off my trousers and said to my daughter, "Sit here with your brother while I try to find the reef. The sea is breaking nearby so the reef must be close."

Then I removed my trousers and went naked into the sea. It was completely dark, about half past10. I held the dinghy's rope in one hand and swam with the other. I did not have to swim far, only two or three strokes, and I was on the reef. I did not realize it until a big wave came and pulled the boat's rope out of my hand, carrying the boat - and my children - away. I had no idea where the boat had gone, but when I found it, it was as though someone had pulled it right up on the beach.

I was still in the sea. I swam only a few strokes before my foot touched stones. I swam a few more strokes and I was in the grass that grows in the shallow water. So I stood up and looked around. I was worried about my two children, afraid that they and the boat would be swept away by the sea, the boat would be capsized, and they would be drowned. When I looked around and could not see them I was anxious for them. "Where have they gone?" I swam further toward the shore and looked for them again. Then I stood up and looked for the dinghy, but I could not see it. I swam toward shore, and when I got close to the beach I saw a big tree, a callophyllum, on the beach, and I could see by the moonlight that the dinghy was there. I thought "Oh, the boat's on the beach. How did it get there? What if it's just an empty boat and the children have been lost?!" I walked in the sea up to my chest, trying to get a good look at the boat. The tide was out and the reef was dry, so I went ashore but I could not keep my balance. I could walk in the water, but when I tried to walk on the shore I could not. I fell down as though I were drunk. I got up and walked a few steps and fell again. I was not strong enough to walk, so I crawled on my hands and knees to find my children.

Now, when the children were washed ashore, my little girl sat looking out to sea, trying to see what had happened to me. She worried, "Oh, where is my papa? We have made it to shore but where is Papa?" She sat there looking into the dark trying to see me. When I got near the boat she saw me and called, "Papa!" Then I knew where they were.

I answered, "Ahhh, here I am."

"What happened?"

"It's all right. I've been looking for you and I've found you. I'm coming."

When I reached them I said to her, "You stay in the dinghy. I'm going to rest a while."

So I lay down in the sand and rested for about fifteen minutes, until I had regained some of my strength. Then I climbed into the boat and consulted her. "What should we do now? Should we sleep here? Or should I put the dinghy in the water so I can pull it along the beach to the place where we saw the light?"

I considered our options and then, as I started to pull the dinghy back into the water, I saw a light flash. There was a man on the beach with a flashlight and I was worried. I said to myself, "Oh! I don't know where I am. What if the people who live here, and who don't know us, decide to kill us?" I was afraid so I pulled the boat under a branch of the callophyllum tree that dipped into the sea. I fastened the front of the dinghy securely to it, and then I lifted the two children down onto the sand.

My little son was no longer able to sit up. When I put him down on the sand he just lay there, unable to speak. I tried to get him to sit up. I called his name and tried to awaken him, but I couldn't. I was alarmed and told my little girl, "Let's go further inland tonight and wait until morning. Then we can look around and. But for now we don't know what place this is. We don't know where we are."

So we went inland to hide, and my little daughter said to me, "There are coconut palms on this beach." But the palms on the beach didn't have any nuts. They only had immature sprays and fronds. There was nothing to eat on any of them. Then my daughter said, "Papa, I'm very hungry. Can you look around to find some dry coconuts for us?" I replied, "You two rest here." Then I went over to the coconut trees. It was dark, so I felt around the base of the palms, but I found only one shell. I felt under the other trees and found nothing, so I tried to return to the children. But I became confused in the darkness. "Where did I leave the children?" I couldn't find them so I began to whistle to them, but my daughter couldn't hear me. She waited a long time looking for me. Then she called, "Papa!" I heard her and followed the sound of her voice. I still couldn't stand up. I didn't walk into the bush like a man. I crawled.

So I crawled back to them and my daughter asked, "Did you get some coconuts?" I replied, "No, I couldn't find any." "Look," she said, "this tree has some." I looked up and saw that there were three young nuts in a tree close by where I had left the children. These were the nuts that my daughter had in mind. They were immature and contained only water, no nutmeat, but they were fairly large. So I stood up and picked them. I didn't have to climb the tree. The palm was so short that all I had to do was put out my hand and pick them. I sat down, removed the husk and made a small hole in the eye of the nut. I then held my son up and poured the coconut liquid into his mouth. He drank until he finished it, so I husked another nut, made a hole in it, and gave it to my daughter who drank it all. Then she said, "Papa, break it open." I did so and told her, "It's not ripe yet. There's no meat inside it." She replied, "Never mind. Give it to me. I don't care. I'll eat the jelly. That's good too." So I broke open the two nuts and they both ate the jelly inside.

It was nearing dawn and I asked, "Are you two full now?" My daughter replied, "I've had enough. I'm full now." So I husked the last nut, drank the liquid, and ate the jelly inside. When I finished I said to the children, "OK, let's find a place to sleep." I looked around, thinking of the people who live here, the ones whom I saw with the flashlight, and I was still fearful. I was not strong enough to carry the children, but held their hands - one on each side - and crawled, dragging and pulling them, inside the bush where we could hide. The dragging irritated the children's skins and they began to cry, but I hushed them: "Be quiet! Don't cry." So we sat there, and I wondered where we could sleep. I had no idea, so I told them to stay where they were while I crawled very quietly down to the beach. I looked at the big callophyllum tree and realized that, while it dipped down into the sea, the area underneath it was completely dry. I said to myself, "Oh, that's a good, safe place for us to sleep." I went back and pulled the children into the shelter under the tree. Then I began to dig out the sand to make a deep hole where I could hide them. When the hole was big enough, I put the children in it and covered them with sand up to their necks.

After I covered the children with sand they both quieted and went to sleep, and I sat and watched over them. I could not sleep; instead I prayed, thanking Father God for saving us and bringing us safely ashore here. I also asked God, "What will happen to us? Will the people who find us realize who we are and help us, or not?" I prayed all night, asking God to save our lives, the lives of all three of us.

So I prayed until morning came. I did not sleep well that night and, at about half past five in the morning, I looked toward the point of land near the reef and saw a man and two children in their small canoe net fishing on the reef and coming my way. My children were still asleep, so I left them and went out in the open and sat on the beach watching them come.

They were casting their net and coming straight toward the place where we were sleeping. They saw our dinghy and the man said to the kids, "Hey! Look at that dinghy! What sort of boat has drifted here? You, go check it out." So the two boys left their father in the canoe, waded ashore, and hurried down the beach. I sat and watched as they looked the boat over. They looked inside it and found no one, and then turned it over to look underneath. I called to them quietly, "Hey! You two. Come here." They turned toward me, looked at me, and stood still. Then they turned around and ran. I called to them, but they were afraid of me. They didn't go back to the canoe where their father was waiting. They ran down the beach, leaving their father to wait for them in the canoe. They ran until they found the man whose flashlight I had seen during the night. He had a fishing shack nearby, and he had been out fishing during the night, but they all had real houses up in the kunai.

When the children ran away I thought, "Why didn't they come so that I could explain things to them? I don't know where they've gone now. I hope they don't alarm people so that they come and kill me or kill me and the children." So I got up and uncovered my children, and we went into the bush to hide. My daughter went back out on the beach to pee, and as she relieved herself she looked out underneath the tree branches and saw the two boys talking to their uncle and leading him back to where we were. They were coming toward us and he was carrying a long machete.

My daughter said, "Papa, some people are coming down the beach." I took her by the hand and pulled and carried them further away, to the base of a tree. Then I told my daughter --my son was too weak to respond -- "Sit down and stay here. If these people who are coming want to fight with me or kill me, don't make any noise. You must not cry. You just stay here and be quiet." She understood what I was saying and sat down quietly beside her unconscious brother.

Then I went and waited. They kept coming, but went to the dinghy first and looked it over. While they were looking at it I sat and called to them. It wasn't far, no more than twenty-five metres, so I called "Hey, Brother!" They didn't hear me so I called again, "Brother!" The man looked around but he still didn't see me. I called to him a third time, and this time he looked around and saw me. When he saw me he shouted aggressively "Hey! What are you doing here?"

I replied, "Come here. That's my dinghy. Come here so I can explain."

He shouted at me again, "You! What are you doing here?" He shouted at me and I replied in Tok Pisin, "Come here and I'll explain."

He became agitated and shouted at me, and I was afraid. I thought "He is armed with a knife and a machete and he's shouting and threatening me. He's going to attack me."

So I sat quietly. He and the two little boys stood looking at me and I did not respond. He shouted again, "You! What are you doing here? Who are you?" I replied, "If you'll come closer and listen, I'll tell you." He came nearer and I said, "That's my boat. I've drifted here from West New Britain. I've been adrift at sea. I was washed ashore here last night and I slept here.

He stood and looked at me, then he asked again, "Why were you adrift? What happened?" He was still aggressive. I repeated, "Come closer and I'll tell you." So he came a bit closer, and I said, "Look, I've been adrift at sea. I had no fuel. My engine ran out of petrol and I drifted here all the way from West New Britain. Just last night I came ashore here and slept here with the boat."

He stood there looking at me for a long time, and then he said, "You and who else? Who is with you?" When he asked me this I was terrified because his voice was harsh and angry, and I did not want to tell him about my children. I didn't want to reveal their presence to him. He asked me again, "Who is with you?" and I just sat there. I did not respond. He waited a few minutes and then asked a third time. This time I replied, "My little children are with me."

"Where are they?"

"They're inland, under a tree."

At this he came closer and looked me over. He said again, "Where are they?" I told him, and he went straight to them and stood looking down at them for a long time. Then he came back and stared at me again. He put his knife on the tree branch where his towel was and went back to get my little boy. He carried him and put him by me, and then went back and got my little girl. He put her down too and stood there looking at them.

By this time it was about seven o'clock and the sun had risen. We were on the beach, and as the sun grew hotter the flies were attracted to the sores that covered our bodies and began to bite and sting us. They fed on us as though we were rotting. I tried to wave them away from my children, especially from my little son because he was so weak. The man also broke a branch and began to shoo the flies from the children, and he said to me, "Get up so we can go to the house." When he said that I was relieved because I knew it would be all right. He picked up my little boy and carried him against his chest and put my daughter on his shoulders. He carried both of them and said to me, "Brother, let's go. Let's go to the house."

So we started down the beach. When we got about half way to his house I asked him, "Where are we? What is the name of this place?" When I asked him that, he responded, "Oh Brother! Let's not talk about that yet. Let's go to my house first and get you some help. Then you can tell me more about yourself." So we went to his little beach house and we shook hands. His young boy came down from his mother's house to meet us. The man told his son, "Go up and tell your mother that I've found a man and his two children who have been adrift at sea. I found them on the beach and I'm going to bring them up. Then get on your bicycle and go to town, to the police station and the hospital, and tell the police and the doctors what has happened." So the boy ran and told his mother, "Papa said to boil three pots of water."

After he had sent off his son, we went up into his beach house and they made a big fire and put down a mat for us to sit on. Then they cut a ripe papaya into three pieces. They gave one piece to me and spoon- fed the children the others. When the children had been fed, he said "Let's go up to the house now. He carried both of the children and I walked. Half-way there we met his two daughters who ran down from the house on the hill to meet us and to help carry the two children.

When we got to the big house, they poured hot water into three buckets so we could bathe. The man's daughters and their mother bathed the children. We washed with soap and cleaned our skin and our sores and scabs. The children and I had only the clothing we were wearing, so we threw them away and the family gave us their clothing to wear. The man gave me a new pair of trousers and a shirt, while the woman gave my daughter a dress and gave my son a pair of pants and a shirt. When we had bathed and dressed, we sat down and they boiled water and mixed some hot milk for us to drink.

Meanwhile, the police were coming from town. The boy had reported to them, and they and the ambulance came looking for us. Now none of this man's neighbours, even those who lived close by, knew about us. So when the police asked the people who lived nearby if they knew where they could find the man and his children who had drifted onto the beach, they were confused. Nobody knew what to tell them. Some said, "Go try that house," When they came to the door the man said, "They're here. The man and his two children are here. I found them on the beach." Both the police and a doctor had come, and when they saw us they said, "Ehhh!" They asked me if I felt alright, and I said, "Yes, I'm ok, but I have little strength." The doctor examined us and said, "The two children are in poor condition. They should go straight to the hospital, but you are well enough to go with the police first." So I went with the police while the children and the doctor went in the ambulance to the hospital.

The police said, "Let's go back to the beach and look at your boat." So the ambulance and the doctor took the two children to the hospital, and the police and I took the road down to the coast. When we got there the police asked me, "Where are you three from? When did you get washed out to sea?" "What happened, what was the problem?" "Did your engine fail or were you out of fuel?" They asked for complete information, and as I talked they wrote it down. When I had finished my account they said, "Do you know the date when you were washed out to sea?" I told them June 5th, and it was then that I learned that we had been adrift from June 5 until July 7, when we were washed ashore at Vanimo. I didn't know the date when we came ashore, but when I told them that we had been at sea since June 5th the police told me, "Oh! You were at sea for a month and two days." This was in 1996.

After I'd given the information to the police they took me to town, to the hospital. The doctors had already examined the children and admitted them to the ward, so they checked me over. They admitted me too, and we were kept there and given medication for three weeks. We were three weeks in the hospital!

On Thursday, our third day there, my body and my face began to swell. My entire body swelled up. The nurses took a look at me and called the doctor who examined me, and he said, "Oh! There's nothing to worry about. It's alright. His skin is saturated with salt and that has caused the swelling. There's medication for this, so we'll treat it." So the nurse gave me medication, and within a week I was back to normal.

The two children were very sick. My son was unable to walk. It was as though his legs were dead. My daughter could walk, but not well. When she tried to walk she would fall down, as though she were just a baby who was learning to walk. The nurses worked with them. They held the children and walked with them up and down the halls of the hospital. Eventually the girl could walk a bit but the boy could not. Their bodies had swollen again, so they changed their medication and they gave both of them fluids intravenously. When we had been there two weeks, at the beginning of the third week, the doctor came to see me. He told he thought we were well enough to leave the hospital.

So we went to stay with some people in town. I think we stayed in Vanimo for two more weeks. Everyone in town wanted to hear the story of our ordeal. They wanted to know what we ate and what we drank. I dedicated one whole day, from eight o'clock in the morning until it got dark, to telling them about how we survived our time at sea. People even came at night and asked me to tell what had happened. There were even some white people who came to hear my story. They wanted to know, what did the children do? What kind of things did we have to eat? Where did we get water? These people made generous contributions of clothing and food to us. They came in the morning, at noon, and in the afternoon with gifts.

We spent several days answering questions. Police officers and church groups, even people from out of town came, to hear our story. The big stores contributed things to us too. They gave money and clothing for all three of us. Finally, after two weeks, we booked a flight to return home. Then the entire community of Vanimo had a feast for us. They brought rice and killed pigs and chickens, the women of the town cooked all the food, and we feasted. A dance group from my mother's area in the New Guinea Highlands also gave a traditional performance of singing and dancing in our honour.

Then all of our people -- those from New Britain, Manus, Bougainville, and Kavieng [on New Ireland] who worked in the town of Vanimo -- decided to show their appreciation to the man who had found us on the beach, the man who had saved us. They talked it over and decided, "Let's do it in the traditional way. Let's give money and a pig." So they collected 500 kina, and they bought five bags of rice, and cartons of tinned fish and meat. The stores contributed too. Then, as is traditional practice in Kavieng, they killed a pig, cut off its head, and put the head on top of all the food. Then they called for the family of the man who had found us to come forward. So the man and his wife and family were seated, and presented with all these things, and there was a short speech: "This head is for you. You were the one to find these three on the beach. You saved their lives, and now they are ready to return to their home and family." So they honoured him, and we feasted all night and until dawn.

When it was morning we went to the Vanimo airport to catch our plane. At our leaving, people cried as though we had died, and the family who had saved us asked that my daughter remain with them. I agreed, but the other Islanders disagreed with this arrangement and they told the police to go back and bring her to the plane so she could return home with us.

We caught the plane in Vanimo and landed in Wewak. I don't know how they learned about us, but the plane waited for an hour while a government car took us around the town of Wewak. Everyone wanted to see us because they had heard on the radio about the man and his children who had drifted at sea from Hoskins to Vanimo.

Then we got back on the plane and flew to Mount Hagen where the same thing happened. We toured around the town for an hour. Then we flew to Port Moresby, where we were to change planes, but they kept us in Moresby for three hours. Again we were taken all around the city so that people could see us. Finally, at four o'clock in the afternoon, we boarded the plane and after a one-and-a-half hour flight landed in Hoskins [where the airport of Kimbe, the capitol of West New Britain is located].

When we landed at Hoskins, Auram [Francis Auram, an elected member of the Provincial legislature who is from Kandoka Village] and members of the West New Britain provincial government met us and took us to Kimbe. We were driven to Auram's house, Auram was at that time the Minister of Health. There was a feast at his house: pork, taro, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Two men from Vanimo had escorted us from Vanimo to Kimbe, so we honoured them in the customary way. Auram gave them a pig, taro, shell money, and kina and then they returned home. We slept at Auram's house that night, and the next day we boarded his boat at Garu and came back here to our village. When we got here there was a celebration in the customary fashion to welcome us home.

When we arrived people from Kandoka and Lauvore were waiting for us at the mouth of the Kaini river, and they accompanied us to our house. They also removed the black widow's weeds that Ludwina [Ben's wife] had been wearing and dressed her in new clothing. Then we had a feast where I told everyone, "When these children and I do die, there will be no mourning or customary ritual for us because that has already been done and it need not be done again."

That's all.