Why does Mafatu plan on going to Hikueru?
On the surface, Mafatu chooses to return to Hikueru because he is in grave danger alone on the remote island. The "savages" discover him, and he must run for his life. One might mistake this for the act of a coward, but in fact, the opposite is true. Mafatu's journey is a journey of courage, and when he chooses to return, it is because he has conquered his fear.
Mafatu left Hikueru in the first place because his personal values do not match those of his culture. His people "worshipped courage," especially the type that had "urged them across the Pacific in their sailing canoes." And yet because of the trauma of his mother's death, Mafatu is terrified of the sea. He is ashamed, and "the girls laughed at him, and the boys failed to include them in their games." Mafatu leaves his home island in an attempt to conquer his fear so that he might fit in among his people.
And it is while he is away from Hikueru—on his own but for his yellow dog, Uri, and an albatross he calls Kivi—that Mafatu conquers his fear and finds the courage so important to his culture. He overcomes his fear of the unfamiliar forest that "seemed to close in upon him with reaching arms." He kills a wild boar and a shark. He plunges into a pool inhabited by the dreaded octopus in order to retrieve his lost treasure. And he remains on the island, despite discovering that there are savages afoot, until his work is done. He only leaves when he has conquered his final fears.
One might think that Mafatu ran away from the remote island to return to Hikueru in shame, but in fact he returns a hero, having finally found courage.
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