Mafatu's mother's final action upon finally reaching shore was to reach for a cracked coconut and "to press the cool, sustaining meat to her child's lips before she died".
Three-year-old Mafatu had been out in a canoe on the barrier reef with his mother, searching for urchins in the reef pools, when a fierce hurricane came upon them. When Mafatu's mother turned back to shore, a swift current gripped the canoe and swept it out into the open sea. Mafatu's mother grabbed her child as the canoe capsized, and held tight to a pole from the shattered vessel in the freezing water throughout the night, with little Mafatu clinging to her neck. At daybreak, with sharks circling around them, she began the long, desperate swim toward shore, fighting doggedly forward to the limits of her endurance. At last they were cast upon a "pinnacle of coral", and with her last bit of strength, the loving mother took a coconut, put it to the lips of "the little boy (who) was too weak even to cry", and died (Chapter 1 - "Flight").