One of the interesting little side stories that happened on our voyages is about whale vomit. Highly priced and thought after by the perfume industry and worth more than gold per gram, a lump of about 800 grams of something resembling ambergris has been caried on board of Dona Catharina for a while now.
On our second visit to one of the very remote islands in the South Pacific we are approached, under great secretcy, by a local man. He wants to show us something. Inside his hut, he unwrappes a 15kg lump of undefinable something, and tells us, that according to his elders, this is of great value, as they think it is ambergris.
On this island with no airport, no regular shipping, no tourism or internet, with virtually no money in circulation, what is he to do with it , how can he possible get it valued , and potentially cashed in . He can’t pay for a ship to bring him to the capital of his country as he has no money, and even if he could, how is he then going about to try to evaluate his find without the risk of being robbed of it. His world does not know greed or even individual property.
So he makes the decision to cut of a large bit and give it to us, so we can have it evaluated and potentially sold on his behalf.
Now we have two problems. The first one is to find out what this stuff realy is. This is realy not so easy, as there seems to be no one who can give us a clear answer to what we have on board. And then, if it would turn out to be ambergris, how do we deal with its value. Are we just to help our island friend to enormous riches, and risk thereby to destroy , what we think , is a functioning harmonious comuity. Are we to break his secret to his chiefs, so they can make a decision. Can we trust the chiefs not to become corrupted. This, I think we can. But would this not mean we misuse the trust our friend put into us. Do we lift us on the morale high pedestal and think we can recommend to the finder how to spend his potential riches. Our hope is that his cultural ties are strong enough to use a potential windfall for the benefit of his island community . Even if we come to a conclusion, how can we communicate our thoughts with our friend on his remote paradise.
Maybe this is why our attempt to verify this lump have been rather halfhearted and we are still not realy sure what it is that is hidden on board. ( or is it on board?).
pS, after sending a sample to a England to have it tested by an ambergris expert , we can now report that our worries where for nothing. The sample can not be specified, but it is not ambergris.