The Island of Truth
A Symbolic Story About the Future of Mankind
George P. McCallum
It is not easy to get to the territory of
sincerity, and many find it difficult to live there
An Editorial Note:
“The Island of Truth” seems to constitute a popular version of the tale “The Islands of Mind-Readers”, by Edward Bellamy, which the reader will find in our associated websites.
The 1964 story by George P. McCallum was first written to students of English as a second language, and can be read as a metaphor.
The theosophical movement is invited to become an occult, ungeographical Island of Truth and inspire the whole of humanity along the path of truthfulness. Theosophical lodges and other associations of good-willing souls can emerge in due time as an Archipelago of Sincerity that dismantles the clouds of illusion and hypocrisy in human Karma.
There is no religion higher than truth or honesty. The idea of a future humanity that abstains from every deliberate falsehood is also consistent with the theosophical article “A Society for Speaking the Truth”, which we have published in our websites.
In McCallum’s story , the geographical difficulty of access to the Island of Truth is a symbol of the mystery surrounding the higher levels of consciousness. The dangerous road to wisdom requires absolute sincerity of thought, among other factors.
(Carlos Cardoso Aveline)
The Island of Truth
George P. McCallum
The waterfront café was crowded with sailors waiting for the weather to clear up. At a corner table in the noisy smoke-filled room, three young men looked out the window at the thick fog moving in over the busy San Francisco harbor. Their ship wouldn’t sail until the fog lifted. They prepared themselves for a long wait.
“You’re all going to sea for the first time, aren’t you?” the older man asked as he sat down in the empty chair at the corner table.
“Yes. How did you know?”
The gray-haired man laughed at the surprised look on the faces of the three young men. “You look exactly as I did when I made my first trip over thirty years ago.”
“You mean you’ve been a sailor for thirty years?” asked another of the young men.
“I’ve been sailing on the Pacific Ocean ever since I was eighteen. I don’t think there’s a country on this side of the world I haven’t visited.”
At that moment, another sailor came by the table. “Well, Billy David! I haven’t seen you for a long time. Still looking for the Island of Truth?” He laughed, then turned and left the café without waiting for an answer.
The sound of a foghorn from the harbor filled the air for a minute or two. When it stopped, one of the young sailors continued the conversation with their older companion. “You were saying that you sailed only on the Pacific Ocean. Didn’t you want to visit other parts of the world?”
“You heard what that fool said just now, didn’t you?” asked the older man.
“Yes, but I don’t understand. What is the Island of Truth?”
“Listen, young sailor, and I’ll tell you the whole story.” The older sailor began his amazing account.
I spent my childhood near the sea watching the ships, large and small, go in and out of the harbor. At the age of eighteen I left home to take a job on a passenger ship that sailed between San Francisco and Yokohama. I was excited about my new adventure and a little afraid, too.
For over a year, I sailed the Pacific on the Rosa Lee from Seattle to Rangoon, Manila to Sydney, Bangkok to Guayaquil. The brilliant blue waters were beautiful in the sunlight; under stormy skies the angry waters became dark, dangerous, and exciting. I loved the sea in all its glorious beauty - both when it was quiet and when it was violent. From the beginning, I knew it was the life for me.
That second year, during a trip from Melbourne to Honolulu, I had a very strange experience. I’ve never forgotten it. We couldn’t get out of the way in time and were hit by a violent storm. The wind grew stronger and stronger - up to fifty miles an hour, and mountains of water pushed the Rosa Lee over on its side. The ship rolled back only to be attacked again by the next wave. All during the rain-filled night, we worked in a frantic attempt to save the ship, but there was a breakdown in the engine room and the motors stopped. We knew that there was nothing more we could do.
At dawn the Captain gave the order to leave the ship. A few minutes later the Rosa Lee went down beneath the angry sea. All that could be seen were a few lifeboats here and there among the waves.
I shared one of the lifeboats with the chief engineer, Tom Fenton. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but the storm continued into the second night. In some way, we were able to avoid being thrown into the sea. Then, as quickly as it had come, the storm passed. The wind died down and the stormy sea became quiet; the clouds drifted away, and the stars came out in the clear sky above. We didn’t know where we were or what would happen to us - but it was a marvelous feeling, just being alive.
All night the little boat drifted in the open sea while Tom and I slept soundly. We were both exhausted. The next morning, I was awakened by brilliant sunshine. At first the bright sun made it impossible to see, but as my eyes became accustomed to the light, I was able to look around. There was nothing but the deep blue water of the Pacific in all directions. The other lifeboats were gone.
Now that the danger of the storm was over, I began to worry about our other problems. All our supplies were gone. We had no food, no fresh water, and we were somewhere in the South Pacific, possibly hundreds of miles from land. Perhaps we would drift here in the quiet ocean for weeks. It was a frightening thought.
My companion was still sleeping. I was about to wake him up when I saw something in the distance. Looking away from the sun toward the west, I thought I saw the blue shape of land in the distance. “Fenton!” I called. “Wake up!”
Fenton jumped up, wide-awake. Years of experience as a sailor had taught him to sleep soundly under any circumstances, but to wake up immediately at the sound of his name.
“That’s an island, Billy”, he said as he looked toward the west. “I can’t believe it! I never imagined we’d find land so quickly.”
A gusty breeze helped us guide the little boat in the right direction. The island grew larger and larger as we moved quickly through the water. In a few hours, we could see a dark green mountain against the sky ahead of us. By noon we could see the tall palm trees along the white beach and hear the noise of the ocean waves crashing against the rocks in the waters around the island.
Fenton realized the danger immediately. “We’re in trouble”, he said to me. “It’s impossible to avoid that reef.” The little boat was pulled in and out by the ocean waves which grew higher and more violent as it got closer to the gray-green rocks.
“Here we go!”
The boat was breaking into pieces as it hit the rocks, drifted back, and then crashed again. But finally a large wave lifted us high out of the water and threw us over the reef into the quiet waters of the lagoon on the other side. The danger was over! Once inside the lagoon, Fenton and I had no difficulty getting to the shore of the island. We jumped out of the broken lifeboat and ran across the beach to a shady place beneath a group of palm trees. It had been a terrible experience, but we were safe. Too exhausted to talk, we both fell asleep.
Just a few minutes later I awakened with the peculiar feeling that I was being watched. I was almost afraid to open my eyes.
A moment later, I sat up and looked around. The beach was no longer empty. “Fenton”, I called. “Fenton, we have visitors!”
“Visitors!” repeated Fenton, wide-awake at once. He sat up and looked around. A short distance away, a group of natives stood quietly watching us. One of them began walking toward us. We both jumped to our feet not knowing what to expect.
“There is no need to be afraid”, the tall young man said. “You will find our people friendly and kind. We want to welcome you to our island.”
I was too astonished to say a word. But not Fenton, So many strange things had happened to him during his travels around the world that nothing surprised him.
“We’re very happy to see you”, Fenton said to the strange young man, “but we have no idea where we are. What is the name of your island? Do many ships stop here? When can we leave?”
“Just a moment”, the young man said, laughing. “You’ve just arrived and you already, want to leave! All your questions will be answered in a little while, but first let’s go to the village where you can get food and fresh water and clean clothes. Come! It’s not very far.”
I was still a little nervous, but Fenton didn’t hesitate for a moment. He didn’t seem worried about our situation, and since he was older and more experienced, I decided not to worry, either.
We followed the natives through the trees to their village, a group of small grass huts. The roofs were made of the large green leaves from the palm trees which grew all around the island. We could see little vegetable gardens behind the huts.
The village was crowded with curious natives waiting to see the two shipwrecked strangers which the ocean had deposited on their beach. One of the grass huts was larger than the others and the young man who had guided us to the village went inside. He came out again with an older man at his side.
“Welcome, friends, to the Island of Oiaio”, the old man said to us. “My name is Pao. I am Chief of these people”, he said, introducing himself.
“We are very happy to be here”, Fenton said.
“And to find you friendly”, I added, finally able to join the conversation.
“Of course we are friendly, and we are generous, too, to all who come to our island. So now let us have food and drink. Later we’ll talk about our wonderful island. And you must tell us about your land, your life there, and how you happen to be here now. We have very few visitors.”
Fenton and I went with the old man into his house. The interior looked clean and comfortable, but there were very few pieces of furniture. A small table in the middle of the room was filled with food. We sat down on the grass carpet which covered the floor and were given a delicious meal. We had fish baked in coconut milk, sweet potatoes, native vegetables served in coconut shells, and a variety of fresh fruit: oranges, bananas, pineapples, and the white fruit of the coconut.
“That was the best meal I ever ate”, Tom Fenton said an hour later.
A look of surprise crossed the Chief’s face as he spoke.
“Pardon me, Mr. Fenton, but I don’t agree with you. Surely, somewhere, at some other time in your life, you have eaten a better meal.”
“No, Chief Pao”, Tom insisted. “That was the best. I can remember no other time when food tasted so good to me.”
“Ah! That is quite different.”
“Of course. Today you were saved from the sea after two long, hard nights in the storm. You were extremely hungry. Anything you ate would taste good to you now. But in your country, where you have almost anything you want to eat, I am sure you have had food that was better than this. Our food is very simple, as you can see.”
“That’s true, but…”
“On the Island of Oiaio it is traditional to speak only the truth. For centuries, this has been our way of life. Our people have become accustomed to this way of thinking and speaking. They would not be able to understand how you could decide so quickly and easily that this was ‘the best meal you ever ate in your life’. First, you would have to recall all the details about every meal you ever had. Then you would have to remember the exact taste of each dish and finally after considering every meal you ever ate - one by one - you would be able to decide which one was the best. It would take a long time.”
Tom was upset, “I… I only wanted to be polite.”
“In your country, Mr. Fenton, is it polite to say things which are not true?”
“Well, no, of course it isn’t.” He couldn’t find the words to explain what he wanted to say. “I mean, well, sometimes we exaggerate a little when we are pleased with something. I didn’t really mean it was the best meal I ever ate in my whole life, but just a very, very good meal, and that is the truth!”
“Well, then you should say so. That is quite good enough. I would be happy to know that you think so. I’m sorry we had to argue about this, but you must understand that the exact truth, nothing more, nothing less, is the most important tradition of the Island of Oiaio.” Chief Pao turned to me. “Do you understand what I’m trying to explain, Mr. David?”
“Yes, I think so”, I answered.
“In the beginning it may be difficult”, the chief explained, “but after a while you will find that the truth comes quite easily.”
“But I’m fifty years old”, Fenton argued. “I can’t change my way of life now. Look what happened. I wanted to be polite and say something nice, and so I said something that to you is not true. In my country anyone would know that I was exaggerating just to be polite.”
“And that’s the difference, Mr. Fenton. The people of Oiaio would understand only that you meant exactly what you said.”
“What can I do, then?”
“When you start to speak, think first about what you intend to say. No one will mind waiting.”
At that moment the young native returned to the house and our conversation was interrupted.
The elderly Chief stood up. “But I’m sure you have had enough talk by now. This is my son, Tamu”, he said, introducing us to the young man who had found us on the beach.
“Tamu”, he said to his son, “our guests are tired. Take them to the house which has been prepared for them. Good afternoon, my friends”, he said to us. “I hope you will find your house comfortable.”
We followed the young native to a hut which was almost as large as that of Chief Pao. Inside on the grass carpet were two beds made of leaves. We were amazed at how comfortable they were. Too tired to talk about our strange experiences, we fell asleep immediately.
It was dawn when I woke up. In the other bed, Fenton continued to sleep. We had slept since mid-afternoon the day before! I couldn’t remember when I had slept such a long time. But then I couldn’t remember ever experiencing anything like these last two days. This would certainly be something to tell the other sailors when I returned to a ship.
I looked over at Fenton. Telling the exact truth would not be easy for him. He had traveled around the world for so many years, and had experienced all kinds of adventures. He enjoyed telling stories about the sea and the many places he had visited, but like so many sailors he made the stories of his adventures more exciting than they had actually been. If, while in the Mediterranean, he was attacked by a shark, Fenton made it two sharks and a whale, not letting it bother him that there are no whales in the Mediterranean Sea. Yes, it was going to be difficult for him here on the Island of Truth!
“Good morning”, Fenton said, when he awoke a few minutes later. “I suppose it’s all right to say ‘good morning’ on Oiaio, isn’t it?”
“Not if it’s raining”, I argued, and we both laughed.
Our conversation was interrupted by Tamu, the Chief’s son. “Good morning”, he said, and we looked at each other and smiled as we answered, “Good morning.”
“My father has asked you to join him for breakfast. You will meet my brothers and sister. Come with me, please.”
“Good morning, gentlemen”, called Chief Pao as we came in his hut. “Come in and enjoy the morning meal with my family and me. I hope you slept well.”
Fenton opened his mouth to say that he had never slept better in his life, then, remembering yesterday’s conversation, he said simply, “Yes, thank you.”
The Chief introduced his family next. He had six sons, and an 18-year-old daughter, Lita. Her beauty was extraordinary. I couldn’t stop looking at her.
We were served a delicious breakfast of island fruit of all kinds, as well as coconut milk, bread and honey. But I wasn’t interested in the food, and I didn’t listen to the conversation. I just watched Lita. When the meal was over, Lita cleared the table while the men went out of the house to sit beneath the shade of the palm trees in front.
“I hope you enjoy your stay here, my friends”, the Chief said. “Our life is very quiet and very simple. Our island is away from the main waters of the Pacific and few ships come here. You are the first visitors in eleven years.”
“What happened to the other visitors?” Fenton asked, almost afraid of the answer.
“I don’t know. I am sorry to say they became tired of the quiet life on Oiaio and left for the nearest island, about fifty miles away. They made a sailboat and the last we know of them they were sailing west. I hope they made it. The waters between here and the other island are dangerous.
“It wasn’t just the quiet life, Father”, Tamu said.
“You’re right, Tamu”, the old man said. “There was something else…”
“What was that?” Fenton and I asked at the same time.
“The truth”, answered Chief Pao in a quiet voice.
“The truth?” repeated Fenton.
“How could that be a reason for leaving the island?” I asked.
“Speaking the exact truth can be exhausting if you’re not used to it”, the Chief told us. “Our visitors could not get accustomed to our way of life.”
He was looking towards the sea as he spoke, but then he turned to us and said, “Both of you are welcome to stay here until a ship arrives. But if you cannot wait, we will be happy to direct you to another island where ships stop more often.”
The Chief stood up. “Now I have work to do so I must leave you for a while. Each morning at this time I teach at the village school. Meanwhile, Lita will show you our island. I think you will find it surprisingly modern for such a small, out-of-the-way place. Until later, gentlemen.”
During the next few weeks, Lita and I took long walks around the little island of Oiaio. I was amazed at what I saw. Of course everything was simple, because only those materials found on the island could be used, but there was a school, a church, a hospital, and the huts were clean and comfortable.
I was in no hurry to leave Oiaio. I had fallen in love with Lita, the daughter of Chief Pao. Her father seemed to like me, but he absolutely refused to permit Lita to leave the island with me. “She has known nothing but the simple life of Oiaio”, he said. I don’t think she would be happy in the more complicated outside world.” He insisted that we wait one year before getting married. He wanted me to have plenty of time to think before deciding to spend the rest of my life on Oiaio. But I didn’t need time to consider anything; I had already made up my mind. I wasn’t interested in the sea anymore.
I urged Tom to stay on the island, but he refused. He was having problems with the natives. He was very friendly and enjoyed talking about his adventures at sea, but all his stories were exaggerated. Everyone on the island was kind to him, but when he started to talk, the people would begin to ask questions. Tom would soon become angry and walk away. Before long, the people began to avoid him.
One evening, when we were in our hut, Fenton said, “I can’t wait much longer, Billy. If a ship doesn’t arrive soon, I’ll have to go find one. I’ll build a sailboat and go to the next island, like those people did eleven years ago.”
“No one knows if they ever arrived at the other island.”
“That doesn’t matter to me. Do you want to come with me?”
“No, I’m happy here”, I insisted, “In a few months I’ll be able to marry Lita. She is my whole life now.”
“But, Billy”, Fenton argued, “this is no life for you! How can you even consider such a dull life on a small island?”
“I don’t find it so difficult. It gets easier every day.”
“That’s only because of Lita.”
“Think it over”, Fenton advised. “Maybe you’ll change your mind.”
“I won’t ever change my mind. You’ll have to forget about going to the next island. You couldn’t possibly attempt it by yourself.”
During the next few weeks Tom begged me again and again to leave Oiaio with him.
“Billy”, he argued, “I can’t live this way. I can’t talk to anyone except to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ I can’t even say, ‘I’m fine’, unless I really am fine, I tell you, Billy, I have to leave here. Please come with me. You must! Together we could make it to the next island easily. I know we could. Please, Billy!”
“I’m sorry, Tom”, I said.
For the next few days Fenton had little to say to me. He would go away right after breakfast and not return until night. I assumed Tom had been investigating the other side of the island, something he had wanted to do ever since we arrived on Oiaio. Then, one morning just at dawn, I was awakened by Fenton. “Wake up Billy! Quick!”
“What is it?”
“Lita! Something has happened to her. She wants you right away.”
“Lita? But how? What? What’s happened?” I asked, getting out of bed quickly.
“No time for questions. Put your clothes on and come with me. Hurry!”
Not quite awake, I did as I was told. Following Fenton through the early morning fog, I asked, “Where are we going? Where’s Lita?”
“Just follow me. I’m taking you to her.”
We walked quickly through the trees to the beach. Fenton seemed very nervous and excited and kept looking behind him as he hurried along.
“But what is Lita doing out on the beach at this hour of the morning?”
“Don’t ask questions. You’ll know everything in a minute”, Fenton said as we came to the open beach.
“But that’s our boat!” I was astonished. The boat had been completely repaired. It had never occurred to me that Fenton had been spending all his time down at the beach fixing the lifeboat.
“That’s right”, was the last thing I heard.
When I woke up I found myself far out at sea. Looking out of the boat I saw that we were already many miles from land.
“I’m sorry, Billy”, Tom said from the other side of the boat. “I didn’t want to hit you, but I had no choice. I only want you to help me get to the other island. Then, if you insist, you can return to Oiaio.”
The lifeboat was in perfect condition. Fenton had repaired all the leaks, and then had scrubbed and painted it. There was even a good supply of food and water in the boat. The sail which Fenton had made was filled with wind and was carrying us quickly through the water.
I was so angry, I couldn’t talk. All I could think of was Lita. “What will Lita say? She’s going to think nothing I told her was true. I must return to her as quickly as I can.”
Fenton interrupted my thoughts. “Look!” he called out. “A storm is coming this way.” I looked up at the black clouds in the darkening sky. The wind was growing stronger. A half hour later the storm hit us. The violent wind broke our sail and the waves poured gallons of water into the little boat. Fortunately, the storm lasted only a few hours. But when it was over, we realized we didn’t know where we were. Afraid to talk about our situation, we drifted along silently in the quiet waters.
“What happened then?” one of the young sailors asked as Billy David hesitated for a moment.
“Oh, sometime later we were picked up by a ship which took us to Honolulu. There I joined another ship. I’ve been sailing the Pacific Ocean ever since, but no one has ever heard of the Island of Oiaio. One day, though, I’ll get a ship that stops there. Then I can marry Lita. I’m certain she’s waiting for me. She knows I was telling the truth when I said I loved her and wanted to spend my life on the island with her.”
A ship’s bell sounded the hour. Billy looked out the window. “Time to go. The fog is lifting and my ship will sail in a few hours. Good-bye, boys. Good luck to you”, he said as he joined the other sailors leaving the waterfront café.
The three sailors sat silently for a moment, thinking about Billy David’s extraordinary account. Finally, one of them spoke.
“What a strange story. I just don’t know….”
“About what?” asked his two companions.
“… if he was really telling us the truth!”
 We reproduce the story from the book “The Island of Truth”, George P. McCallum, Collier-Macmillan International, a Division of The Macmillan Company, Collier-Macmillan Limited, London, 122 pages, 1964, pp. 1-15.
 Oiaio (pronounced oh-ee-eyé-oh) is the word for ‘truth’ in Hawaiian and other native languages of the islands in the Pacific. (George P. McCallum)
In September 2016, after a careful analysis of the state of the esoteric movement worldwide, a group of students decided to form the Independent Lodge of Theosophists, whose priorities include the building of a better future in the different dimensions of life.
E-Theosophy e-group offers a regular study of the classic, intercultural theosophy taught by Helena P. Blavatsky (photo).
The Island of Truth