In the 1954 novel, “Lord of the Flies,” a group of British boys found themselves stranded on a deserted island. The book focused on their disastrous attempt to take charge of the situation in order to survive under impossible circumstances. But what happened to six real-life teenagers on an island in the South Pacific was very much real, and what they were forced to go through was far more shocking than anything that Nobel Prize-winning British author William Golding could have ever written on the pages of his iconic book.
He Didn’t Want to Live in His Father’s Shadow
Peter Warner had lived in his wealthy father’s shadow all of his life and he was sick of it. Everyone expected him to follow in his footsteps and even take charge of the family business. But Warner didn’t care about any of that.
He did however care about something else and it was calling to him like a siren luring a sailor out to sea.
The Sea Was Calling to Him
The sea had a special place in Warner’s heart. So, whenever there was an opportunity to head out into the water, he took it. And one of his many sea adventures took him to the small Polynesian island of Tonga.
But on his way there, he made a pass by an uninhabited island called ‘Ata and noticed something that caught his interest.
He Heard Something in the Distance
Warner was about to make a shocking discovery, but he didn’t see it at first; he heard it. It sounded like people shouting, which was impossible because the island of ‘Ata had been uninhabited for decades. But he needed to be sure so he took out his binoculars to see if he could spot the source of the shouting.
Almost immediately, he noticed smoke and fire. Was it man-made or a fluke of nature?
A Figure In Distress Approached the Shoreline
Warner had assumed that what he saw was nothing more than a bush fire since it was normal for them to start spontaneously. But then he saw the silhouette of a man emerge onto the shoreline. The figure had his hair down to his shoulders and he was completely naked.
But what shocked Warner the most was that the man appeared to be running towards the water as if he was afraid for his life.
It Was Coming Towards the Boat
He had heard rumors that the island was cursed but he didn’t pay much attention to such nonsense. He assumed the figure wasn’t a ghost, but it was possible that it was some sort of indigenous person whom he upset when he sailed too close to the island. Then he started fearing for his life when the man jumped in the water and started swimming towards his boat.
The Swimmer Brought a Few Friends Along
Having one person swim towards his boat was scary enough, but to make things weirder, five other people dove into the water and started heading towards his vessel, too. Warner couldn’t stop wondering what their intentions were. Were they going to hold him hostage or would they throw him off the boat once they got there?
They Boarded Warner’s Boat One By One
As the first boy paddled his way to the boat, he cried out “My name is Stephen,” in perfect English. Then he added, “There are six of us and we reckon we’ve been here for 15 months.” Then Stephen climbed up the side of the boat and the other five boys soon followed. They were all ecstatic to be onboard, but how did they end up on a deserted island?
They Were Students from a Boarding School
Once the boys got the chance to catch their breath, they explained to Warner that they all attended a boarding school in Tonga’s capital. But what would a bunch of students be doing this far from home? Something didn’t add up, so Warner radioed the Tongan capital for assistance. But he didn’t get the response he expected.
The Radio Operator Went Radio Silent
“I’ve got six kids here,” Warner told the radio operator at Nuku’alofa, the Tongan Capital. But all they said was, “stand by,” and then they went silent. He waited a whopping 20 minutes and still no one replied.
What would happen if they never got back to him? Then, the radio operator came on and he was very excited.
Everyone Thought They Were Dead
The radio operator shouted, “You found them! These boys have been given up for dead. Funerals have been held. If it’s them, this is a miracle!” Warner looked at the six boys that were right in front of him and wondered what had happened to them.
But something about all this sounded so familiar.
Their Story Paralleled the “Lord of the Flies”
The story of what happened to these boys was eerily similar to what happened to the characters from William Golding book “Lord of the Flies.” But according to the book, “Humankind” by Rutger Bregman, the story of the young men Warner encountered started in June 1965. That’s when Mano, Stephen, Sione, Kolo, David, and Luke made a serious mistake that nearly ended their lives.
They Were Bored and Went Looking For an Adventure
The youngest in the group was 13 and the oldest was 16, but while they varied in ages, they all had one thing in common. They had gotten extremely bored in the Tongan town and were looking for a new adventure to spice up their lives. So, they came up with a plan to set sail towards Fiji which was over 500 miles away, but something went wrong along the way.
They Needed a Boat
The boys had originally planned to go to Fiji, but they also considered sailing to New Zealand, too. But their planned sailing trip had a rather huge problem. None of them had a boat.
Fortunately, they knew someone who had one, but the idea of asking this person to lend them their boat made them cringe, so they decided to do something really extreme.
A Fisherman Gave Them a Glimmer of Hope
There was a fisherman who lived nearby by the name of Mr. Taniela Uhila. But most of the boys didn’t like him, which would have made asking him for the boat extremely awkward.
But this didn’t stop them. So, one day, the boys packed “two sacks of bananas, a few coconuts, and a small gas burner,” according to “Humankind.” But how did they wind up on Uhila’s boat?
They Didn’t Pack the Right Supplies
The boys didn’t pack for an emergency. Then again, they had no idea what fate had in store for them. So, they stole Uhila’s boat at night and set sail.
But there were a couple of things that they wish they would have taken with them on their trip like a compass and a map, but they didn’t and later regretted it.
They Sailed in the Dead of Night
The boys had set sail at night to avoid being seen taking the boat, and it worked. The first night of the journey went well. The water was calm and the boys were finally excited to be free of their regular boring lives.
But as time passed, the teens made a mistake that was nearly fatal. They hadn’t planned a sleeping schedule, so they all accidentally fell asleep. But they didn’t stay asleep for very long.
Their Boat Started Falling Apart
The boat continued to drift at sea while the boys slept. But then, a powerful wave rocked their tiny boat, waking them instantly. Unfortunately, they couldn’t see because everything was pitch black.
Still, they tried to regain control of the ship, but all of a sudden, the sail ripped and the rudder broke. “We drifted for eight days,” Mano told Bregman for his book. “Without food, without water.”
They Used Coconut Shells to Collect Rain Water
To survive, the boys had to get creative, so they cut a coconut in half and used the shells to collect rain water. But the rain water contained within the shells only allowed the boys to take two sips per day and these boys spent all day in the sun. There was no way of knowing how long they would survive in this condition.
The Spotted a Small Island in the Distance
The boys from Tonga continued to drift at sea without a compass or any other instrument to tell them which direction they were heading. But on the eighth day, they saw a small island in the distance. They thought they were safe, but it didn’t take them long to realize that this remote piece of land was anything but a saving grace.
The Island Was Anything But Paradise
In the book, Bregman described the land mass as, “Not a tropical paradise with waving palm trees and sandy beaches, but a hulking mass of rock, jutting up more than a thousand feet out of the ocean.” The boat had drifted 102 miles southwest of Tonga before stumbling onto the shore of the island of ‘Ata. And things only got worse from there.
The Island Was Unsuitable for Life
The last indigenous people left the island of ‘Ata in 1863. Since then, the island has been deemed unsuitable for human life. But these six boys were stuck here and they had to figure out how to survive.
So, the first thing they did was explore the island but all they found were steep cliffs and no shelter, so they were forced to live on the shores.
They Had to Work as a Team
The boys delegated responsibilities amongst each other like kitchen and guard duty. They figured that the only way to survive on the island was to work as a team. But it was the middle of summer and the boys were struggling to find drinking water.
They were very hungry, too. On top of that, it was so hot that they needed to find a way to create a makeshift shelter using whatever they could salvage, but soon, feelings of hopelessness and despair crept in.
They Feared No One Would Find Them
The boys worried that no one would find them and they had no idea how long they would be able to survive on the island. But they refused to give up. They continued to explore the island, and eventually, they made their way to the top of a volcanic crater and that’s when they discovered some temporary salvation.
The Top of the Mountain Was More Habitable
The boys were able to hunt wild birds and find coconuts at the top of the mountains. They even found “treasures” left long ago by the people who once called ‘Ata their home over a century ago. But these treasures weren’t made of gold.
There were banana plants and wild taro that were once cultivated and even old knives that the inhabitants had used. But the boys weren’t out of the woods just yet.
They Found Access to Fresh Water
The boys had found a way to adjust to their new way of life on the island. And when they bore holes into trees, they discovered a source of fresh water. As far as food was concerned, the boys went on hunting expeditions, but one day, as Stephen was chasing a wild bird, he slipped and fell on the rocks.
His leg was broken and the boys had to use branches to make a splint. Then Sione joked that Stephen could live like a king since he couldn’t hunt. But soon the boys would have a reason to stop laughing.
Nights on the Islands Were the Worst
Despite the terrible circumstances, the boys had managed to make the best of it. Kolo was able to create a makeshift guitar that they all used during their daily prayers. But they couldn’t sleep at night because of the rain.
If that wasn’t bad enough, every time it rained, rats would rush into their shelter to stay dry and warm. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
The Island Felt Like a Life Sentence
One night, they were woken up by a 40-foot tree that came crashing down. It missed their heads by a few inches. But was it an omen of things to come? As days became months, the boys started to fear that they would spend the rest of their lives trapped on the island like prisoners serving a life sentence behind bars.
This 9/11 Was A Happy One
The boys had spent 15 months trapped on the island, but on September 11, 1966, they spotted Warner’s boat heading their way. Stephen told the others and then headed towards salvation while the other boys followed his lead. But just when they thought they were off the island, they found themselves right back where they had started.
Warner Asked to See Their Campsite
Warner was curious to see how the boys had survived, so he asked them to show him where they had stayed. “By the time we arrived, the boys had set up a small commune,” Warner wrote in his memoir. He added that the boys had built ““a food garden, hollowed-out tree trunks to store rainwater, a gymnasium with curious weights, a badminton court, chicken pens, and a permanent fire, all from the handiwork of an old knife blade and much determination.” But when the boys were finally rescued, some people weren’t exactly happy about it.
Everyone Had Mourned and Moved On
The boys were presumed dead in Tonga. They even had funerals where family member and even girlfriends paid their last respects. Some of them even had new family members who were born during their 15-month exile.
But there was one particular man who was very peeved with the boys.
They Had to Face the Music at Home
Mr. Uhila was still upset that the boys had stolen his boat. After all, he made a living as a fisherman, and what they boys did put his livelihood at risk.
So, he pressed charges against them and by the time the boys reached the shores of Tonga, authorities were waiting to take them into custody.
Warner Struck a Deal With the Government
The boys had survived the impossible and Warner wasn’t about to let their story end with them going to jail. So, he contacted some people in the TV and film industry to get the film rights to the story, and then he presented his idea to the local government. He offered to pay for the boat if the boys were released so they could be involved in the movie.
But did it work?
The Boys Were Welcomed With Open Arms
It was touch and go there for a second, but the government finally agreed to Warner’s plan and the boys were released. This gave them the freedom to go home and reunite with their families who welcomed them with open arms. But they weren’t the only ones who were celebrating.
The Entire Community celebrated Their Return
Tonga had a population of 900 at the time and almost every member of the community came out to celebrate the return of the six boys everyone had declared dead months ago. There was music and a mouth-watering feast. And naturally, Warner, who had stuck up for the boys, was invited and hailed as a hero for rescuing the boys.
Even the King of Tonga requested his presence, but what did he want?
The King Granted Him His Life Long Wish
After a day of celebration, Warner was taken to the capital to meet King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV of Tonga. He recalled the King thanking him for rescuing the boys. Then, according to Warner, the king asked, “Now, is there anything I can do for you?” And there was.
Warner asked the king for permission to start a business and trap lobster in Tonga. This was his dream and the king approved. But there was one more thing he needed to do.
He Hired Some Familiar Faces
Warner quit his father’s company and set off on a new adventure aboard the ship the boys had originally stolen. But he needed a crew. So, he asked the six boys if they’d become fishermen and they all agreed.
Warner Taught the Boys All About Sailing
For years, Warner and the Tongan boys worked together and, in that time, he taught them all they needed to know so they would never again go sailing without a compass or a map. But then they decided to return to the last place anyone expected them to go.
The Boys Returned to the Island
The boys went back to the island to film their documentary about what they had to endure during those 15 unforgettable months. Sadly, the documentary never made it off the ground and their story was forgotten. Left with no other choice, everyone involved moved on and the boys eventually disappeared from the public eye.
Friendship and Support Was What Saved Them
In the “Lord of the Flies” novel, the boys stranded on the island had to contend with power struggles and chaos. But the Tongan boys’ experience was different. They came together as friends to support each other.
Without these things, they would have never been able to create a shelter and help each other survive as long as they did. But what do they think of the renewed interest in their story?
Warner Is Still Close With One of the Boys
With Bregman’s book “Humankind” published in 2020, people have been taking an interest in the decades-old story. And Bregman himself shared on Twitter that Warner and Mano Totau, one of the Tongan boys, were both happy with the story’s popularity. He also shared that the two men have remained best friends for the past 50 years.