Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a real-life castaway? Narcisse Pelletier was a French cabin boy on a ship headed from Hong Kong to Australia then back to France when a series of shipwreck catastrophes led to the 14-year-old being left in Australia and adopted by aboriginal people. He spent nearly two decades with a group of aboriginal people on Cape York Peninsula in Australia.
During that time he learned their language, their customs, and their beliefs. They adopted him as one of their own. After he was forcibly removed from his adopted tribe by English seamen, he spoke about his time with aboriginals. He also revealed that he never wanted to leave them in the first place. And while he was open about his experiences, he kept some things secret, including their spiritual and sacred beliefs.
This is not something the tribe shared with outsiders, and Pelletier remained loyal to the tribe even after he left them. In the wide world of stories about castaways and the tribes they encounter, few are quite so poignant and touching.
Pelletier Became The Tribe's Adopted Son
Years later, a French doctor documented Pelletier's story and wrote,
"From this moment, the alliance was made. It was never to be broken. These men adopt him into his clan. They become family and friends for the next 17 years."
The tribe called themselves "Macadamas" in their language. They taught the young man what to eat and how to hunt. Before long, Pelletier identified himself as an aboriginal man. They were his family and he was their's. This foreign land was his new home.
He Learned To Fish For Dugong And Became A Warrior
Since Pelletier was abandoned during his formative years, it took very little for him to entrench himself into the tribe's culture. He forgot how to speak French and learned the language of his rescuers the Uutaalnganu. His skin browned to a copper color, allowing him to blend even further with the indigenous people.
He hunted, made spears and built outrigger boats. He and one of his cousins would fish together at a reef 45 kilometers out to sea. They caught shark, grouper, and dugong, a skill attributed to warriors.
He Was Kidnapped By The English
For quite a while after he was abandoned, Pelletier often thought of his family in France, specifically his parents and younger siblings. But Pelletier had made a life for himself among the Sandbeach People and never planned on leaving. In 1875, 17 years after he was abandoned, he was spotted by a group of traders on an English schooner, the John Bell, en route to Brisbane.
The captain saw Pelletier with his tribesman and assumed he was being held against his will. He launched a rescue operation and lured Pelletier away from the aboriginals. Pelletier later explained that the captain had completely misread the situation and his inability to speak English kept him communicating with the men. He felt like he was kidnapped and some have referred to him as being one of the earliest victims of Australia's "stolen generation."
Pelletier Had Plugs In His Ears & Scars All Over His Body
When Pelletier was removed from the Sandbeach People, he looked just like them. To outsiders he resembled the "savage" with whom he kept company. He was completely naked. One of his ears was malformed due to the presence of a 4-inch-long wooden plug. His chest and shoulders were covered in ritual scarring. The scars were made by a sharp object, such as a seashell or broken bottle, and possibly marked his status in the tribe.
While he was of average height, his broad shoulders showed that he was very strong. And because he spent so much time in the sun, his skin was red.