The houses in the town to which they welcomed us are of a beehive shape; the sides open during the day, but closed at nights by blinds made from the leaves of the coconut tree. The floor is formed of powdered white coral, and is very clean. The town was built in a semi-circle facing the beach. In the centre was the king’s house, a building of the same construction as the others, but of larger size. Beautifully-made mats and wooden bowls formed the only furniture in these dwellings, some of the mats being trimmed with red feathers, while others resembled shaggy white wool rugs, which, on closer inspection, proved to be made from the bark of a dwarf hibiscus, with which the islands abound, bearing a bright red flower. The food of the islanders consists of fish, coconuts, taro, yams, and breadfruit, of which there is a plentiful supply.
In return for their hospitality, Hartog distributed among the natives pieces of bright-coloured cloth, beads, knives, and other trifles, which, in the eyes of these simple savages, were so many wonders hitherto undreamed of.
When we had been some days upon the island Hartog expressed to the king his desire to obtain the pearl shells of which we could see an abundance at the bottom of the bay, within easy reach of an expert diver, and as these islanders were as much at home in the water as upon land, we soon had a pile of shell upon the beach which some of the crew set to work to open; but although we opened a great number of shells very few pearls were found, and none of any special value.
When the king observed what we were in search of he offered Hartog for his acceptance a number of pearls, some of large size and perfect colour, which from time to time he had collected.
“’Twill be enough to satisfy the merchants,” said Hartog to me when he had safely locked up this treasure on board the “Endraght”, “but nothing over, unless we can add to the collection by our own exertions.” But although we continued to open shells for several days no great haul of pearls was made. The pearl shell we shipped, knowing that it would fetch a good price at Amsterdam.
Hartog was so relieved at having secured something that would repay the expenses of the voyage that he recovered his natural buoyancy of spirits which had lately been oppressed by the prospect of returning home empty-handed.