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Ch. 9: Pearl Fisheries of the South Sea Islands

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ISLANDS OF THE PACIFIC
197
cember 28, 1892, it was interdicted altogether with a view to preserv­ing the industry to the natives, as it represents their principal means of livelihood. The suit commonly employed at Penrhyn consists of a helmet and a jumper, neither boots nor trousers being worn. Owing to the absence of weights on the feet, it rarely but nevertheless some­times happens that a diver turns upside down, and the unwieldy helmet keeps him head downward while the air rushes out under the bottom cord of the jumper and he is suffocated. Also, when a good patch of shells has been located, the temptation to remain down too long is great, and paralysis often results. On the whole, these diving-suits have proven very dangerous to the light, graceful swimmers of these southern seas, to whom they are about as much of an impediment as was Saul's armor to the shepherd lad who slew the giant with the simple pebble from a sling.
And there are dangers also in nude diving, even to those who have spent a lifetime about the water. Sharks and sting-rays and devil-fish there are in abundance, and many of them know the taste of diver's flesh ; on the other hand many a daring South Sea Islander could tell of a fierce combat more thrilling than even those pictured by Victor Hugo. One of the chief advantages of the diving-suit is that in case a shark comes along, the diver can bide his time until the fish is ready to leave, or he can frighten it away by ejecting air bubbles from the sleeve of his suit or by other demonstrations ; whereas a nude diver is obliged to seek the air without delay, and in the retreat is seized by the fish who, human like, has his appetite increased by the visible retreat of the object of his desire.
Not Schiller nor Edgar Allan Poe ever conjured up a picture more ghastly than that of a Penrhyn diver caught like a rat in a trap by some huge, man-eating shark or fierce kara mauua, crouching in a cleft of the overhanging coral, under the dark green gloom of a hundred feet of water, with bursting lungs and cracking eyeballs, while the threatening bulk of his terrible enemy looms dark and steady, full in the road to life and air. A minute or more has been spent in the downward journey ; another minute has passed in the agon­ized wait under the rock. . . . Has he been seen? . . . Will the creature move away now, while there is still time to return? The diver knows to a second how much time has passed ; the third minute is on its way ; but one goes up quicker than one comes down, and there is still hope. . . . Two minutes and a half; it is barely possible now, but—the sentinel of death glides forward; his cruel eyes, phosphorescent in the gloom, look right into the cleft where die wretched creature is crouching, with almost twenty seconds of life still left, but now not a shred of hope. A few more beats of the laboring pulse, a gasp from the tortured lungs, a sudden rush of silvery air bubbles, and the brown limbs collapse down out of the cleft like wreaths of seaweed. The shark has his own. (Beatrice Grimshaw in the "Graphic")
Ch. 9: Pearl Fisheries of the South Sea Islands Page of 650 Ch. 9: Pearl Fisheries of the South Sea Islands
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