Living isolated on the island

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Living isolated on the island

Postby mirjana » Tue Feb 02, 2010 2:34 pm

I have always been fascinated with the Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner. The idea of somebody who spends 28 years on a remote tropical island near Venezuela, encountering Native Americans, captives, and mutineers before being rescued, seemed to me as a challenging thought looked from the comfortable way of living we usually have. As a child I was thinking of him as a brave man. But more fascinated was for me the fact how he managed to make life all alone in the mid of nowhere.
It seemed that the story was influenced by the real-life Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived four years on the Pacific island called "Más a Tierra". The name of that island changed in 1966 to Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile.
There are some speculations that Defoe was inspired by the Latin or English translations of Ibn Tufail's Hayy ibn Yaqdhan, an earlier novel also set on a desert island. Some sources say that Defoe‘s novel was based on Robert Knox's account of his abduction by the King of Ceylon in 1659 in "An Historical Account of the Island Ceylon".
For the purpose of this little article I prefer to stay by Alexander Selkirk.


Alexander Selkirk (1676 – 1721), was a Scottish sailor who spent four years as a castaway when he was marooned on an uninhabited island. In his poem The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk, William Cowper immortalised him by the following verses:

I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute;
From the centre all round to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
Life on the island
The Juan Fernández Islands.

The idea of an island


In 1703 Selkirk joined in with the expedition of famed privateer and explorer William Dampier serving on the galley Cinque Ports, as a sailing master under Thomas Stradling.

The Cinque Ports was brought by Stradling to the uninhabited archipelago of Juan Fernández for restocking of supplies and fresh water. Selkirk was concerned by this time about the seaworthiness of the Cinque Ports, what later foundered, as Cinque Ports lost most of its hands. He tried to convince some of his crewmates to desert with him, remaining on the island. He obviously hoped to be taken by another ship. No one else agreed to come along with him. Stradling, who didn‘t admire Selkirk's troublemaking attitude, granted his wish and leave him alone on Juan Fernández. Later, after salvation, Selkirk explained that he had promptly regretted his decision. So, Selkirk lived the next four years and four months without any human company. All he had brought with him was a musket, gunpowder, carpenter's tools, a knife, a Bible and some clothing.

Life on the island

Selkirk remained at first along the shoreline. During this time he camped in a small cave, ate shellfish and scanned the ocean daily for rescue, suffering all the while from loneliness, misery and remorse. He later explained that hordes of raucous sea lions, gathering on the beach for the mating season, drove him to the island's interior where his life turned for the better. More foods were now available: feral goats, introduced by earlier sailors, provided him meat and milk; wild turnips, cabbage, and black pepper berries offered him variety and spice. Although rats would attack him at night, he was able, by domesticating and living near feral cats, to sleep soundly and in safety.
Fascinating part is how he proved resourceful in using equipment from the ship as well as materials that were native to the island, building two huts out of pimento trees. He used his musket to hunt goats and his knife to clean their carcasses. As his gunpowder dwindled, he had to chase prey on foot. During one such chase he was badly injured when he tumbled from a cliff, lying unconscious for about a day. During this and other hard time he explained that by reading from the Bible frequently, he could find a comfort for his condition and a help to keep his English alive.
The lessons he had learned as a child from his father, a tanner, helped him greatly during his stay on the island.
When Selkirk's clothes wore out, he made new garments from goatskin, using a nail for sewing. As his shoes became unusable, he had no need to make new ones, since his toughened, callused feet made protection unnecessary. He forged a new knife out of barrel rings left on the beach.
He has been rescued on 2 February 1709 by way of the Duke. Selkirk was discovered by the Duke's captain, Woodes Rogers, who referred to him as Governor of the island. The agile Selkirk, catching two or three goats a day, helped restore the health of Rogers' men, who later eventually made Selkirk his mate, giving him independent command of one of his ships. Rogers' a cruising voyage round the world: first to the South-Sea, thence to the East-Indies and homewards by the Cape of Good Hope was published in 1712 and included an account of Selkirk's ordeal.
Journalist Richard Steele interviewed Selkirk about his adventures and wrote a much-read article about him in The Englishman.
This whole story well explained the whole logic of influencing Daniel Defoe and his Robinson story.

Questions

Do you have any thoughts about the possibility of having sustainable life on some island?
What would be your fears and what your challenges in such a scenario?
Is it possible to have such an island and not to be on the island? If yes, what is the way?


Mirjana
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Re: Living isolated on the island

Postby Sabina » Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:26 pm

Mirjana wrote:1. Do you have any thoughts about the possibility of having sustainable life on some island?
2. What would be your fears and what your challenges in such a scenario?
3. Is it possible to have such an island and not to be on the island? If yes, what is the way?


1. The possibilities for sustainable life on an island would probably largely depend on the island itself.
For example, if there is fresh water on the island, then that would take care of one of the bigger challenges. If it is has enough trees, then take takes care of a number of challenges as well.

2. Assuming that there is fresh water and enough vegetation, the next major question would be accessibility. How far off it is from civilization... that is, unless you want to be completely cut of. I would probably choose a place which is secluded, but still accessible.

3. I don't understand the third question. Why would you want to have such an island and not be on it? What would be the point?

Sabina
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Re: Living isolated on the island

Postby mirjana » Fri Feb 19, 2010 1:37 pm

Sabina wrote:
Mirjana wrote:3. I don't understand the third question. Why would you want to have such an island and not be on it? What would be the point?

Sabina


Actually it was a driving question. If we take a concept of the island symbolically, as the idea, as I take it, then it is possible to realize this idea on some other place as well.
My thought was that every place we personally make our own world, could be our island. Further exploration of this idea opens questions like
"What are conditions that you would love to have on the place you consider your island?"
Or, maybe you have some more questions in this direction?
If we answer questions of this kind, maybe we shall open another perspective to the concept of living on the isolated island...
This is somehow connected with a topic The Tranquility Project in this forum.


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Re: Living isolated on the island

Postby Sabina » Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:32 pm

Ok... well then the question is, at least for those that are fascinated with the idea of living on a secluded island, like myself, what exactly the fascination is.

So I will start by answering my own question...
One, I always imagine a tropical island of sorts, so a warm climate is part of the fascination.
Then again, I can - under certain circumstances - imagine living in the opposite extreme as well.

The other thing is seclusion... I think anyone who has ever considered an island as an option did so for the aspect of seclusion. The next question then is why there is a desire to be secluded.
It isn't a desire to not be with people at all, I think. It is rather a desire to not be part of a machinery, the automatic life.

And now if I continue I will drag this out into a philosophical essay... so I will stop (for now). :)

Sabina
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