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Case of Shipwrecked Boys Was Nothing Like Lord of the Flies

Historian Rutger Bregman tells the amazing story of 6 boys stranded more than a year
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2020 1:30 PM CDT

(Newser) – Chances are you're familiar with Lord of the Flies, either in novel or movie form. It's the story by William Golding about a group of British schoolboys shipwrecked on an island, a tale that descends into brutality and imparts a bleak message about human nature. But in an excerpt of his own book Humankind in the Guardian, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman has a much different story to tell. He became skeptical of Golding's dim worldview and wondered if a real-life Lord of the Flies ever happened. Lo and behold, he stumbled across the incredible story of six Tonga boys, between the ages of 13 and 16, who became stranded on the remote island of 'Ata in 1965. They were there about 15 months before an Australian sea captain named Peter Warner sailed near the island and noticed odd-looking burn patches on the island's hills.

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"Then he saw a boy," writes Bregman. "Naked. Hair down to his shoulders. This wild creature leaped from the cliffside and plunged into the water. Suddenly more boys followed, screaming at the top of their lungs. It didn't take long for the first boy to reach the boat. 'My name is Stephen,' he cried in perfect English. 'There are six of us and we reckon we've been here 15 months.'" Their story is the polar opposite of the fictional castaways. They worked together on chores—including tending the all-important fire—built shelters, stored rainwater, set up a rudimentary gym, corralled wild chickens, and began each day with song and prayer. Five teamed up to set a broken leg of the sixth, and doctors were amazed at their health upon discovery. Read the full story, which explains how they ended up on the island (they "borrowed" a boat) after eight days adrift at sea. (Read more Longform stories.)

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