Mafatu's name means "Stout Heart".
In the Polynesian village of Hikueru where Mafatu lives, the people worship courage. It is with pride that Tavana Nui, the Great Chief of the tribe, christens his son "Stout Heart". But when he is a toddler, Mafatu and his mother are caught in a great hurricane. The two are swept out to sea, and as he clings to his mother's neck while the valiant woman uses all her strength to hold on to a piece of wreckage until it brings them back to shore, the little boy experiences a sense of terror that colors the rest of his life. After a long night in the frigid ocean, surrounded by sharks, Mafatu and his mother finally reach land, and Mafatu's mother dies as she presses the meat of a coconut to her son's lips as a last act of love. Mafatu still dreams, as a youth, of that experience, and is terrified of the ocean, which is especially significant in a society where courage is so valued, and the people make their living solely by fishing, daily challenging the powerful sea. Because of this, Mafatu's name takes on a bitter irony - the child who should have been known for his "Stout Heart" is instead nicknamed the "Boy Who Was Afraid" (Chapter 1 - "Flight").