National Geographic : 1948 Jan
The National Geographic Magazine Kwajalein, a Minute Dot in a Watery Waste, Lies in the Center of the Marshalls Total land surface of the 34 atolls and islands is estimated at 74 square miles, about one-sixteenth of the area of Rhode Island. Total sea area is roughly 375,000 square miles, or about one and one-half times the size of Texas. Spaniards discovered the archipel ago in 1526, and in 1885 it became a German pro tectorate. Japanese rule began in 1914 and ended early in 1944, when American forces landed. Like the Marianas and Carolines. the Marshalls are now under United States Navy civil affairs trusteeship. Our immediate tasks were to select a camp site and to reconnoiter. Accordingly, Lynch and I (John) set out to explore, while Goniske, Merle, and Frank determined where we could construct our palm beds and shelters. Selecting a Camp Site An hour of easy walking took us around the island, enabled us to cross it twice, and gave us ample time to wade the reef. When we returned to the raft, Frank and Goniske were busy cutting palm fronds. Their camp site was a good one-shaded from the noon sun and open to the trade winds. Coconut trees, our main source of food, water, and shelter material, were directly behind. The lagoon lay close to the left, while off to the right were the tidal pools. Firewood of old coconut husks and dry guettarda limbs was easily available. Our site was a beautiful spot between the palms, but more important, its nearness to all the essentials would lighten our work and enable us to conserve energy. Conservation of energy is essential to sur vival under primitive conditions. The task of supplying oneself with food and water, constructing shelter and needed utensils is a full-time exhausting job under the best of conditions. Hard work requires adequate fuel for the body, and in the primitive life the attainment of food and water is tiring. It is a vicious circle that never relents. The "lazy native" has by necessity learned to satisfy his basic needs in what appears to be an easygoing way. First rule in survival is to take it easy and make tasks light. We described the results of our hurried survey to the others. As we had surmised, there was no breadfruit, one of the food staples of the Marshallese. For plant food we could depend on the coconut, the starchy tubers of the tacca plant (Polynesian arrowroot), the golden keys of the pandanus (screwpine) "cone," and if necessary the hard kernel of the ochrosia fruit. We found an ample supply of sprouted coconuts, which prepared in vari ous ways would be our plant staple. Evidence of Coconut Crabs Small piles of coconut husks among the coral boulders indicated the presence of giant coconut crabs. There were no signs of any mammals and we had expected none, as bats are the only mammals indigenous to these oceanic islands. The little white terns and the noddies were nesting. Their eggs would be edible, but we had no intention of using them for food. The lagoon was full of reef fishes and giant clams. The reef contained various types of edible mollusks. In the tide pools we had seen green parrotfish, needlefish, milkfish, mullet, and a small shark. There was no ration on meat, but we had to catch it.* Food had not been our only concern. On the ocean side of the island, back of the frontal beach, we had found a sandy depres sion that appeared to be a promising spot to dig a beach well. We needed fresh water to supplement the green coconut juice and to use in cooking. Rain would help out, but it was an uncertain source. We had likewise observed the various plants, for in one way or another almost every one had a special use. The narrow-leafed pemphis along the lagoon shore had ex tremely hard wood that made excellent spears and, like our oak, burned to hot coals. We could use it for broiling fish or lobsters. The pandanus leaves and prop roots con tained tough fibers for lashing shelters. Dry dead limbs from the guettarda tree could be used in making fire by friction (Plate VIII). The velvety leaf of the tournefortia could be used to wrap food for cooking in earth ovens. * See. in the NATIONAL GE(;C:(R'III( MA(;AZINi:, "Net Results from Oceania," by Walter H. Chute, March, 1941.