Imagine yourself sailing in the Pacific Ocean some two hundred years ago. To be more precise, in a ship called Brilon and in 1814. You see a smudge on the horizon. Excitement. There is nothing on the charts there. You will for ever be remembered as the discoverers of a new island.
That was not to be. The island was on the charts after all, but misplaced. Misplaced by as much as three degrees longitude.
Not knowing this, at the time the question on everyone’s lips was ‘Is it occupied?’ And that question was answered soon after they had anchored offshore by the sight of a canoe with two men in it approaching them. But it was what happened when the canoe drew near that staggered those in the Brilon. One of the men called out: ‘Throw us a rope.’ Not in some Pacific Island dialect. In English, and without a trace of accent.
How at that stage of history when the Pacific was still being discovered could the inhabitants of a small previously (as they thought) undiscovered island nowhere in particular speak English?
Some twenty or so years earlier there had occurred something which was as famous then as now. The mutiny on the Bounty. (How many other mutinies do you know?) A frigate had been sent out from England to find and arrest the mutineers. Ten of them had been taken back to the UK and tried. But the others had never been discovered. That included the ringleader, a man called Christian. Nor would he ever be discovered because he was by now dead. But the man who had now called out from the canoe proved to be his son, by a native woman.
When the two canoeists had been brought on board, they told that all except one of the remaining mutineers were dead, and that that one was looking after some 35 descendants of the others on this island, and that included teaching them English.
Also the Christian faith. There was soon an example of this. For when the young men were given a meal, they first clasped their hands together and the older said: ‘For what we are going to receive, the Lord make us truly thankful’, to which they both answered ‘Amen’.
Christian’s son was called Thursday. This brings me forward two centuries. In recent years I have given help at a refugee camp for Burmese tribespeople fleeing from the cruelties of the country’s military. One young man whom I met was called Tuesday. Over some two hundred years and I don’t know how many hundreds of miles, two Mothers have answered in the same way the question: ‘What name shall I give my baby son?’ Both had answered: ‘I shall call him by the day he was born.’