The Tongan Castaways of Ata Island | Surviving with one of the six boys

Apr 10, 2020 · Castaways

 

A few years ago I had one of the best experience of my life. I marooned myself on a desert island with Kolo Fekitoa one of the six castaways of Ata. And one of the last real castaways alive. You can watch this teaser of the documentary we will launch this summer. Kolo and me made a guitar from coconuts as they did in 1965. We sang the songs they used to sing (Kolo was the musician of the six), I found in the jungle the pot where they used to cook….

Kolo-Fekitoa-with-Alvaro-Cerezo-Docastaway

Ata is an uninhabited island located in the middle of the ocean near the remote archipelago of Tonga. Ata is one of the few real desert islands where human doesn’t get even close.

Kolo Fekitoa with Alvaro Cerezo from Docastaway

The survival of six Tongan teenagers boys back in 1965 became a hit in Australia news reports. Here you can watch the old documentary from 1966.

 

 

 

An strordinary story of human survival. Six boys stole a 25 foot whaling boat and the first night at night lost the sails and rudder in a storm. They lost the little food they carried. And they had to survive adrift for days without water.

Ata Island Tonga

On the 8th day they saw an island at the distance. They were smashed against the rocks and swam to the beach. They had no idea where they were on that night. The name of the island was ATA. One hundred nautical miles from Tonga. They had to survive for 15 months until they were discovered by chance. An Australian fishing boat, the Just David, was looking for new crayfish grounds. They put down some traps without much success. To the crew surprise six naked boys screeming for attention swam straight to the boat and they told the story.

 

 

 

Ata Island Tonga

 

The skipper Peter Warner send a message to a media contact in Sydney. He thought this would make a good story. So the reunion with their families were recorded to cameras.  They were rescue by Australian fishing boat, Just David.

 

After recovering our empty cray pots, we decided to have a closer look and investigate the burned out patches on this stark “steep to” island. We approached first the eastern face and then rounded the northern corner to investigate the western lee side. Everywhere thick clouds of screaming seabirds of all types swirled around the cliffs and over our small vessel. From the crows nest, our look out cried

 

“I can hear a human voice yelling”. 

“Nonsense “

said I “it’s only screaming seabirds,” as we steamed slow ahead. Next moment we

 Ata Island Tonga

spotted a brown body hurtling down a cliff path and diving into the surf. He looked

wild and screamed loud bloodcurdling noises. With no clothes at all, and hair grown into a huge black top-heavy “gollywog” bush, the healthy youngster swam towards us using the style of the Australian crawl. I ordered the crew to load the rifles below and stand by to repel boarders because now a few more brown figures were seen swimming towards us. My first thoughts were, that this place must be some be some sort of prison island for desperate Tongan thugs and outcasts. Exile was a common practice in Polynesia, sometimes in a leaky canoe.

 

After his Olympic winning swim from the shore, a big pearly white smile from the kid alongside with the exploded hair do, calmed my nerves.  We lowered the boarding ladder and the 18-year-old heaved himself aboard, stark naked, and announced in perfect aristocratic English

 “My name is Steven. There are 6 of us and we estimate we have been here between one and two years”.

 

 

Good story thought I but I don’t believe it. By this time the others had boarded and

introduced themselves we continued to drift and I continued to think. Even if they

were all young jailbirds, we did not wish to scare them. Their explanation

continued. They alleged that 5 of them came from the Haapai group of islands in

Tonga, where fish is a staple daily diet, but had all been sent as boarders at St

Andrews Anglican high School in Nuku’alofa the capital of Tonga. The food at the

school was so horrible, that they had “borrowed’ a long boat one evening and sailed out to catch some fish.

 

Captain Peter Warner & Alvaro Cerezo in AustraliaThis was the official story that they all stuck to for the time being. Details of this 8 day survival trip were explained to us during the first night they slept on ‘Just

David”. But first we had to consider what to do with 6 dripping and very healthy

boys in the after cockpit. We figured that if their story was indeed true, they had

spent about 18 months on the island. Still suspicious, I wrote down the names of the

6 with spelling help from them. Then I raised Nuku’alofa Radio on short wave and

after sorting out a working frequency, asked the shore operator to contact St

Andrews college by phone and ask the staff if they had the 6 named boys as students

18 months ago.   The Tongan operator asked me to stand-by whilst he investigated. Meanwhile our

cook had prepared our daily meal, which the boys shared with us and immediately

vomited up, not being used to European style food for so long.

 

A very emotional and tearful Nuku’alofa Radio operator came back on the air and announced

That St Andrew’s College confirmed that 5 of the 6 named boys were students at the

school but they all had been given up as dead long ago when, the open boat,  missing from

its anchorage, never returned. One father had spent months looking for them on uninhabited islands but finally resigned himself to their disappearance. Funeral services for all 6 boys had been held, but miraculously we had found them alive and very healthy.

 

We all relaxed, unloaded the firearms, and gave some clothes to our new friends.

A temporary anchorage was found and we resolved that next day, we would sail to

Nuku’alofa. But first we were to be given a guided tour of the Island tomorrow and tonight listen to the story of the 8 day drift. the board, and many more to come.

Explained Peter Warner in his memories.

 

MORE DETAILS COMING SOON

 

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Walker May 10, 2020 at 12:39 pm

A fascinating story, almost unbelievable that the castaways survived!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 11, 2020 at 9:45 pm

Yes. But the Island was plenty of food and coconuts. It was very hard to live there but once you reach to the top its like a paradise 🙂

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Momea Tolu Tuifua May 12, 2020 at 11:29 pm

I agree, a very touching story as I watch and read through. My ancestors were from this island of ‘Ata and they were evacuated from the island after the 1863 Kidnapping incident when some of their people as part of the Slave trades. Their village was named Kolomaile to which their relocated village is named after their ‘Ata settlement, Kolomaile. I assume, coconuts, bananas and other crops was plenty since then!!! I ‘m most interested on any stories that would take me closer to my dream-island , ‘Ata. Thank you Alvaro Cerezo!!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 16, 2020 at 9:50 pm

Sure I’m aware of that! You would like to know that while I was on the island I found digged in the jungle an old pot from your ancestors and gave it to New Zealan museum 🙂 Have a look at this article https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/04-01-2018/summer-reissue-part-1-of-the-strange-story-of-tongas-lost-island-of-ata/

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Alphonzo May 10, 2020 at 7:34 pm

You got me!! I want, no need to know every detail of their life on the island. What process worked and what failed. How their perception of time was skewed or not.. Camaradarie or no. Thank you very much!!!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 11, 2020 at 9:46 pm

Thanks to you 🙂 All those details will be in the documentary and the book that will be launched very soon 🙂

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Edwin B Ditto May 10, 2020 at 8:49 pm

Great stuff!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 11, 2020 at 9:46 pm

Thanks 🙂

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Michael Loveridge May 11, 2020 at 11:33 am

Is there any way of finding out when this film’s going to be released?

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Alvaro Cerezo May 11, 2020 at 9:48 pm

Very soon 🙂 You can follow the Docastaway Youtube channel or the Facebook page of Docastaway

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Lachlan Burleigh May 11, 2020 at 5:06 pm

I’m looking forward to seeing your documentary

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Alvaro Cerezo May 11, 2020 at 9:48 pm

Thanks 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Nadine Zollner May 11, 2020 at 5:12 pm

Looking forward to watching this documentary! Thank you!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 11, 2020 at 9:48 pm

Thanks to you 🙂

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Scott Wilson May 12, 2020 at 12:08 am

Wow. Looking forward to the documentary and book.

Awesome stuff.

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Alvaro Cerezo May 12, 2020 at 9:14 pm

Thanks Scott 🙂

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Tioni Siolaa May 12, 2020 at 2:15 pm

One of those men is my fathers brother (my uncle) Tevita Siola’a. My father told me bits and pieces about this story and also my grandmother Kolini Cook Siola’a (R.IP) she said she was lost and thought she lost her son for good, until 15months later they returned. Just wanted to know how soon is this documentary coming out. I’m sooo excited to watch every little detail.

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Alvaro Cerezo May 12, 2020 at 9:29 pm

Tevita Siolaa was the youngest of the six. He lived in New Zealand the last years of his life. Had shops and even a taxi right?

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Marilyn Rapp May 12, 2020 at 4:02 pm

Being interested in everything related to sea lore, this story really captures my interest. My husband learned about it on the radio, here in Medford, Oregon. I can’t wait to see the documentary and read the book.

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Alvaro Cerezo May 12, 2020 at 9:18 pm

Thanks Marilyn! We will post everything on our Youtube channel and our Facebook page 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiFlrbewfyWE7fui7W_OCww

https://www.facebook.com/Docastaway/

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Losaline Veikoso Tupoumalohi May 26, 2020 at 4:58 pm

Luke Veikoso is my first cousin. Sione Fataua, Mano Totau, Tevita Siola’a are my relatives and we come from Ha’afeva. Kolo Fekitoa was my neigbor at Pahu and Fatai Nu’uhiva Latu Kula was my best friend’s husband’s uncle and their eldest son is named after Fatai Nu’uhiva Latu Kula of Ma’ufanga. I am very happy that their story of survival got to be told. God bless!

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Jason May 12, 2020 at 6:00 pm

What’s the name of the book?

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Alvaro Cerezo May 12, 2020 at 9:16 pm

Not decided yet 🙂

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Alvaro Cerezo May 12, 2020 at 9:15 pm

Hello Stuart. The documentary will be launched in 1 or 2 months 🙂

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Kirk Lang May 12, 2020 at 10:47 pm

Few things more interesting then a real survival story. Looking forward to the doumentary!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 12, 2020 at 11:55 pm

The story is very touching! It was Kolo’s last wish to see his island before he died

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Csilla May 13, 2020 at 8:45 pm

Hello,

It’s fantastically interesting. Do you know anything about the film that was made back then after their survival in which they appeared themselves? Do you know the title and if it can be watched?

Thank you,
Csilla

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Alvaro Cerezo May 16, 2020 at 9:46 pm

Sure! Here you go 🙂 https://youtu.be/qHO_RlJxnVI

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Anne Furman May 15, 2020 at 4:34 pm

We all love this real story !!!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 16, 2020 at 9:45 pm

Yes we do 🙂 Thanks a lot 🙂

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Gerald Sydney Thorner May 16, 2020 at 9:14 pm

I was deeply moved to hear the leaders story about the 6 lost Tongan boys,on a RNZ Documentary.The leader who became a minister said that it was their consistent prayer ritual that enabled them to survive as a group. They used prayer even to resolve their differences and to mediate.A truly remarkable story of Lord of the Flies in reverse.

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Alvaro Cerezo May 16, 2020 at 9:45 pm

Yes. Its a very remarkable story. If you want to get to know more today I have ‘rescued’ the old documentary of Channel 7 here 🙂 https://youtu.be/qHO_RlJxnVI

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Kat Tyler May 19, 2020 at 8:04 pm

I can’t wait for the documentary!!!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 19, 2020 at 10:32 pm

We will upload a new short video this week. In the meantime you can watch the old documentary of 1966 of the reunion with their families 🙂

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHO_RlJxnVI

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Richard Welch May 20, 2020 at 7:03 am

What an incredible uplifting story: and the world really needs to hear it!
I know it was a extremely difficult situation, but it is what these young men did to make the best of it that is so inspiring. Very much looking forward to the book and documentary – and I hope a Hollywood blockbuster follows!

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Alvaro Cerezo May 24, 2020 at 12:45 am

Thanks Richard! Yes This was one of my favorite castaway stories and being with Kolo surviving on his island was one of the best experiences of my life. I think it was just unbeatable 🙂

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Roger Tagholm May 21, 2020 at 12:27 pm

Alvaro – It is fascinating and inspiring to read this story. It is one that deserves to be widely known. Can I ask who is publishing the book? I am a journalist in London writing for book industry magazines. The book should be with a major, global house because it will interest everyone. Do you have a literary agent? I know many people in the industry. My email is rogertagholm@btinternet.com

Best from Lockdown London. Roger

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Alvaro Cerezo May 24, 2020 at 12:46 am

Thanks Roger 🙂

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Sara Lane May 25, 2020 at 6:06 pm

Hi Alvaro

What an amazing story. Thanks for researching it. What fantastic young men they all were and well done to their families who had brought them up with faith, resilience and all the skills they needed to survive. I’m not sure how well today’s youth would cope in the same situation! Look forward to hearing more-thanks
Sara Lane England (but I lived in PNG for some of my youth so I can picture the scene)

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Alvaro Cerezo June 4, 2020 at 10:01 am

Thanks to you for watching 🙂

The fact that they were Tongans was a big help for their survival. They are surprisingly strong people 🙂

We just launched new video today. Hope you like it 🙂
https://youtu.be/0CbyVNUuDYw

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Lucas Kitchen July 14, 2020 at 2:36 pm

Hello, I am an American Author. I’m interested in writing a book about the six castaways on Atá, if no one has done that yet. In my research, I’ve only found books that talk about the story. I’ve read Peter’s book, and Scott Hamilton’s (which talks about you). What I’m interested in doing is writing a book that reads like a novel, rather than a reference book. If this has already been done, and I’m just not finding it, I’ll leave it alone. I’m convinced the story deserves treatment like this. I’d love to chat with you about this. Is that possible?

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Lewis August 18, 2020 at 5:45 pm

Buenísimo artículo y vídeos, ¿hay noticias sobre el lanzamiento del documental? Gracias!

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