On a strictly
good-will mission, our destroyer, the U.S.S. Isbell visited several
of the remote islands of the Philippines including one in particular
called Cebu. The tribes living in the highlands of this island mostly
followed the Islamic religion. At that time some of them also still
practiced the art of skull shrinking and hanging the skulls on a belt
around their waist. They honestly believed that every Christian they
killed would be a servant to them in the hereafter. Their definition
of a Christian was, loosely, any white person.
The island looked peaceful enough when we went ashore; I happened
to be with Ensign Hotchkiss. When the two of us were introduced to
the governor of the port city, the governor made a little joke about
Ensign Hotchkiss name. He said, Hot Kiss, thats
a good name! The governor went on to advise us to look around
as much as we wanted, but it would be a good idea to stay near the
Ensign Hotchkiss was engaged to be married as soon as he returned
to the States, so he was always on the lookout for a present for his
fiancée. He noticed a lot of oyster shells on the beach and
realized this might be a good place to get some pearls. He asked around,
and sure enough, a fisherman showed up with an envelope holding some
small, but very lovely pearls. Hotchkiss felt he was on to something,
so he excitedly asked for bigger pearls; he made a little fist to
indicate a much bigger pearl.
The fisherman seemed to understand and came back with a friend who
had a sack of somewhat larger pearls. Hotchkiss excitedly said, No,
no, much larger. and he showed his fist again. And he added
And I dont want loose pearls, I want a string of pearls.
He traced a line around his throat with his forefinger to signify
a string of pearls.
The fisherman smiled a gold-tooth smile and signaled up the trail
leading up the mountain. Hotchkiss was excited, and we charged up
the mountain trail. Halfway up the mountain, a large dark-skinned
man stepped out; he was wearing sandals, sort of a loin cloth, and
had a giant machete on his belt. It looked sharp and ready for business.
Hotchkiss asked this man for pearls, and sure enough, out came a little
pouch with a few beautiful pearls, a little larger yet than the ones
he had seen down on the coast. You cant imagine Hotchkiss
enthusiasm; he said Yeh, yeh, thats more like it, now
I want more of these, and on a string. He grabbed the little
pouch of pearls and gesticulated with his forefinger again making
a line around his throat. At this point, there must have been one
giant language problem.
The tribesman jerked up his head and in one swoop pulled out that
giant machete. In a flash, we remembered the warnings we had received
from the governor. Hotchkiss dropped the little bag of pearls like
a hot potato, and we flew down the mountain before the tribesman had
a chance to show us what he could do with that machete.
Later in our voyage, Hotchkiss bought a string of cultured pearls
in Japan for his fiancee.