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The Voyage of Francois Pyrard of Laval to the East Indies, the Maldives, the Moluccas and Brazil
Francois Pyrard de Laval
translated into English in 1887 from the third French edition of 1619 by Albert Gray assisted by H.C.P. Bell

Vol.1 Chapter 6

What happened to the men who were saved from the Corbin, and the miseries they endured.

I have related in detail, as far as I have been able, the circumstances of our shipwreck and our misfortunes down to our reaching land, when it appeared that we had escaped the dangers of the sea; but those I have now to tell of, were no less. Bad luck, when long continued, ends in bad health: so those who were rescued from the midst of waves and floods found no alleviation of their ills on land. We numbered about forty persons.

Hear now what followed. While we were still on board, we decided to get out all the silver we had, and all our most precious merchandise, and to take on shore most of it, to the end that we might be recognised as good merchants, and not pirates and robbers, and so might get a more favourable reception. This was our captain's advice; but we could not get at any of it, as it was in the 'soutes' (which are close-fastened bunkers where the merchandise and victuals are stowed), and right at the ship's bottom, where the sea was so deep that it was all we could do to hold on to the ship's sides.

So it remained in the ship with the rest of the merchandise, and in default we took what remained of the silver belonging to the ship's crew, which amounted to about 500 crowns, and what individuals had brought in their chests, which amounted to another 500 crowns. All this was secreted in the men's waistbands. Most of us had these waistbands, but others not, for there were not enough for all. This was not for a present to the king, which it might have been, had we been able to bring away all the silver, but to meet the necessities of us all. Nevertheless, the event showed that it became the occasion of the greatest trouble, and those who took the money turned out the greatest sufferers.

The first night we spent at Fulhadhoo we buried this silver, for fear that we should be searched and it be found upon us, and we resolved not to unearth it except for the needs of the whole body. But at length, when our comrades who were left at Fulhadhoo found that they got nothing to eat and were dying of hunger, they were constrained to unearth it and offer money for food, and the people indeed gave them food for the silver. The mischief was that the smallest piece of money they had was the twenty sols piece of Spanish money, and the islanders, seeing our men's ignorance, never gave them any change: so that for a thing of the value of two 'liars' (less than two cents) they had to give one of these pieces, so that at this rate for five or six pieces a man sometimes hardly got a meal.

Had our men had the cunning to do as they use at the islands and all over India (where money of every kind and mint is accepted so long as it is of good metal) that is, to clip it in small pieces, and then to weigh it out when required - their silver would have lasted them much longer. But, as I said, for the smallest commodity, they gave a whole piece. So by this waste, the silver lasted but a little while to most of those who had it; and to them the natives would give nothing except for money, so they endured all manner of discomforts. Others who had more (for it was not given in equal shares, but handed to individuals for the common use) hid it from their comrades and did not in any way assist them. From this cause, many died of hunger, getting no help either from the islanders or even from their fellows, and this was deplorable indeed.

On the other hand, those who had money, and who by this means could obtain food, filled their bellies without discretion; and being in a country where the air is very unhealthy for all strangers, even for those of a similar climate, they fell ill and died one after another; nay more, in place of receiving aid and consolation from their fellows, those who were without money and in great need came and stripped them, and took their money before they were dead; and for that which was found upon the dead, the healthy who survived fought one with another who should have it, and banded themselves two against two, and finally messmate against messmate, with so little charity, that they would see their comrades and fellow countrymen die before their eyes without giving them any assistance or succour. I have never seen a sight so pitiable and deplorable.

Pyrard in Fehendhoo
As for me, I was taken by the king's brother-in-law, as I have said above, to the island Fehendhoo, with two others. We had not taken belts of money and had nothing in the world. This caused us some trouble at first, but later we found we were better off for having nothing. The others who had money were better supplied for a short time, but afterwards experienced the greatest hardships. At first the natives of Fehendhoo gave us some food, little by little; but when they saw that our companions in the other islands had so much money and spent it so profusely, they resolved to give us no more subsistence, being concerned that our arrival had brought no profit to their island, as to the others.

So, in order to try us whether by extremity of hunger we should not be constrained to give them some of that which they believed we had concealed, they took them with their boats to the island of Fulhadhoo, to sell to our companions their fowls, fish, fruit and other provisions. This, however, was in secret, for they are strictly prohibited from selling anything to strangers saved from shipwreck, and from taking money or merchandise of them, as all that belongs to the king when once the ship is wrecked (they may, however, give them provisions, and treat them with such humanity as seems good to them): and, in fact, some time after, a strict inquiry was made of those who had taken anything - as I shall tell.

By this conspiracy of the islanders against us, which was to give us nothing more, my two companions and I were reduced to the most terrible straits imaginable. All we could do was to seek for the sea-slugs on the sand and to eat them; and sometimes perchance we found a dead fish cast up by the sea, which we boiled with diverse sorts of herbs unknown to us, salting our food with a little sea water; and if by chance we got hold of a lime we put it in, and days passed sometimes before we got any such thing.

We were in this extremity a good while, until the natives, concluding that we had no money, and having, as may be believed, some pity in them, began to be less shy and barbarous; for before, most of them, and all the women and children, hid themselves from us, fleeing us as though we were monsters, and did not allow us to enter their villages or their houses. They even used us to terrify and frighten their little children.

At length, discovering that they were becoming less distant towards us day by day, we began to accost them and to offer our services for any job in which they would employ us, which services they accepted. They often took me in their boats to sea and to the neighbouring islands to help them in getting coconuts and in fishing, in return for which they gave me a share of fish, and coco-nuts, rice, millet and honey for other work.

My companions did their best to win something in the same way, for they took me only to the fishing - for what reason I know not - and then we brought all we got into a common stock and lived on it. Thus were we brought so low, that for fish and coconuts we were having to do the most vile handiwork and the most painful labour - in a word, work which slaves would not or could not do. All this was without force or compulsion: we went ourselves and begged them to employ us; otherwise we should have died of hunger, for they would give us nothing unless we worked for it, and then so little, that we were but ill-sustained by what we got; for they fish only in calm weather, their sails being composed of coconut fibre, which they wish not to spoil; and their bodies being naked while at this exercise, they fear the rain, and when they are having a day's fishing they do not return sometimes for eight days or more. Such was our condition as regards food.

As for lodging, during rain by day and for sleep by night we retired to a wooden hut on the seashore, which had been put up a while ago for building a boat. We had thus sufficient cover overhead; but at the sides all was open. As it was then winter there - that is, during the months of July and August, when the rains are continuous and heavy - I leave you to imagine the distress we suffered from the wind, the rain, and sometimes the big waves, which were only ten paces off our hut.

Owing to these great and grievous discomforts, my two companions fell ill. As for me, thanks to God, not having been ill during all our voyage, I held out for a good while. While I was thus working for my living, I was obliged to learn the language of the country as well as I could, though my companions despised it, saying there was no need to learn the language peculiar to these islands, for that they hoped to be sent at length to Sumatra to the General (the commander of the Croissant), as the king had promised our captain, and as the islanders told us. I did not despair; but the fear I had that this would not come to pass made me resort to every expedient. I saw, too, the misery in which we were, and I essayed to learn the language to serve my purposes, and got great assistance from it.

With this purpose in my mind, an occasion presented itself of learning the language quickly and easily: for the lord of the island Fehendhoo, where we three were, called Ali Fehendhoo Takurufan, who was a great chief and a relative of the king through his wife, seeing that I was trying to learn their language, thought more highly of me, and took a liking to me: and in truth I did my best to make myself agreeable to him and his wife, and to all the people of the island, by obeying them in all things.

He was a man of great honour and courtesy, knowing and inquisitive. He was also a good navigator, and had possessed himself of the compasses and marine charts of our ship, the use of which he often inquired of me, theirs being made of another fashion. In short, he was at all times well pleased that I should be of his company to entertain him, and to answer all the questions he put to me about our manners and customs. This casual conversation, with the trouble I took, soon made me understand much of the language; and on that account the lord became more and more well disposed towards me, and I began to be not quite so wretched as before, and often received additional provisions through his kindness.

To return to our people who were at Fulhadhoo. When their money was spent they were worse treated, and more afflicted with famine than we, inasmuch as their number was greater than ours. The lord of our island, Fehendhoo, went often to Fulhadhoo to visit the lord of that island, who was his relative. One day, after I made his acquaintance, he took me with him to give me the satisfaction of seeing my companions. By this means I became aware of the miserable condition to which they were reduced and the afflictions they had to suffer. When I was with them, we all together searched the seashore to see if we could chance to find something to eat; for they were dying of hunger, and had to do as we had done at first at Fehendhoo.

Poisoned by turtle meat

loggerhead turtle photo by Alan Rees
Loggerhead Turtle
Photo: Alan Rees

We found a very large turtle (for in the Indian Sea they grow to a prodigious size) turned upon its back; it had 500 or 600 eggs, each as big as the yolk of a hen's egg. We were well pleased at our discovery; we cut it in pieces, and boiled it with fresh water in a boiler which they lent to us, and then ate it. The flesh was extremely fat and tasty, like veal, and the eggs were very good; but afterwards we had all such a stomach disorder that we thought we should die, and I was the first seized. I suspect it was because we were famished, and having nothing else, ate that to excess. (It is likely to have been an inedible 'loggerhead' turtle, known in Dhivehi as 'musimbi' and named in Latin as couanea olivacea, according to the footnotes).

We had forgotten, too, to cook it in sea water, and so to season it; for, as I afterwards learnt at the Maldives, fish cooked in sea water is more wholesome, and does not go bad so soon, and will keep a long time after being dried. The natives always cook it in sea water. I then learnt the fearful misery to which my comrades, and especially the sick, were reduced by famine, and that they gave no assistance to one another. I slept at this island; next day, the lord of Fehendhoo took me back with him, and when he returned on another occasion, took me again with him.

Meanwhile, the king's people came day after day to take what they could from the ship, chiefly the lead with which it was bottomed: this they prize highly in that country. They took even the nails, and as much of the timber as they could. And as they came and went they took from time to time some of our men, who were glad enough to go; and those who had silver gave it, to be taken. We were told that the king was to give a ship to our captain, and when it was got ready we should all be taken. Our people died one after another, clinging to this hope. Our captain, chief clerk, second mate, and many others were already dead.

Crew members escape
The mate had been the first to pay his respects to the king; but he asked leave to return to the ship to get some clothes, which was readily granted to all of us, as the natives had no use for such things. So, when the mate saw that they did not come and look after us, and that the captain was dead, he formed a design to escape, which he long revolved in secret and unknown to some of us, to whom he would not discover his mind. The second time I saw him, he communicated his design to me, and regretted that he could not include me, as he had not sufficient means.

I told him I did not believe that he would succeed, for that the natives were very suspicious of us, and on that account had left at the island neither boats nor barques; nay more, the king's people had sent some soldiers, as well to keep watch over us, as to discover what people of the island had received silver from our men, and to make them give it up; nevertheless, the mate conducted his enterprise so dexterously that at length he seized the ship of the lord of Fehendhoo while he was at Fulhadhoo seeing his relative, as on the two occasions when he took me with him. He had well chosen his opportunity, which was just after midday, when the people of the island least suspected anything. So, having stored the ship with fresh water and coconuts, of which he had previously hidden a good supply in the wood, he embarked with eleven others, leaving eight of our men (four sick and four sound), without whose knowledge he set sail.

Torture of remaining crew
The inhabitants soon perceived it, but they had no boats to pursue him. They came to give the news to the men of our island on a raft called 'kan'dufati' (of which I shall speak in its place), so that our people had plenty of time to get beyond the reefs before the people had found their boats, and they were already a long way off out of view and of danger, when the islanders were embarking to pursue. This enterprise was a success so far as they were concerned, but it was the cause of a sea of troubles to the eight who remained; for the soldiers, out of revenge, exercised upon them all imaginable severities.

They bound those who were in health, and beat them savagely, and then took from them all the money and victuals they had; then they came to the sick, compelling the healthy to carry them to the shore, and so close to the sea, that when the tide came their legs were soaked, while at the same time they were exposed to the inclemencies of the sky, the sun, and the rain, which was incessant at that season. Moreover, they held them so rigorously that the healthy were not even permitted to carry them fresh water to drink, the only thing which the healthy themselves obtained. So the poor sick fellows died of hunger, and were then thrown into the sea, as the islanders did to all our men who died, not giving us even permission to bury our dead friends. This, however, was done without the knowledge of the king, for he caused some to be buried at the sea-shore, chiefly those who died at the island where he resided.

But to return to Fulhadhoo. Those who were left told me that the poor sick crawled about in great agony, and lay on their faces, so as to eat the grass beneath them, and so were frequently found with grass in their mouths. The lieutenant of our ship, a man of good family at S. Malo, died in this condition. Of the others who kept their health, there was one who, constrained by hunger to climb a coconut palm by night to try to get some fruit, fell from the high tree top and was killed, though he had several times before climbed it without accident.

His remaining comrades suffered severely; they even ate rats when they could catch them. As for us three who were at Fehendhoo, the escape of our friends brought us no other harm than our own fears. The natives of the island assembled together with sticks in their hands (for arms they are not allowed to wear except they be of the gendarmerie, and while they are in the king's service), and came to us in our hut by the sea-shore. There they insulted and threatened its; they even gave us some blows; but as they had never seen us with money, they did not go beyond that, and treated us better than our friends at Fulhadhoo. The lord of the island, too, a very humane man, prevented them from maltreating us, and gave me proof of his kindness, as did his wife and the elders of the island.

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