String of Pearls

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, that’s 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 coastal region.

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 don’t 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 can’t imagine Hotchkiss’ enthusiasm; he said “Yeh, yeh, that’s 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.


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