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Baptism on the`Line`

Baptism on the`Line`

Native Traditions, Traveling Solo

Mundane to the novel.   In my mind, the greatest reward and `luxury` of travel is to be able to experience the mundane everyday things for the first time.  My greatest love is to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar that it is take for granted.

To many that sail across the equator, this rite of passage is so familiar and ordinary.  Not so for the first time `polliwogs` sailing across the equator.   The Baptism on the line, also called the equatorial baptism, is an initiation ritual often performed as a ship crosses the Equator.   It involves the water baptism of passengers and crew who have never crossed the equator before.  The ceremony is explained as an `initiation` into the court of King Neptune.

When I was on board the MS Paul Gauguin, which was on route to Semarang, a notice went out to all passengers that had never crossed the equator to report to the mid-ship deck by order of the Captain and crew.  If you did not report to the captain, you would have to suffer the punishment that King Neptune, ruler of the seas, would decide.

I had heard about the Line Crossing Ceremony from my parents who had participated a few years ago.  They said that the punishment for not participating in the ritual baptism was far worse than I could ever imagine.  The tradition started as an initiation rite in the British Merchant Navy, the Royal Navy, US Coast Guard , US Marine Corps and US Navy and other navies that commemorates a sailor’s first crossing of the Equator.  It became a tradition that was said to boost morale or as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure that their new shipmates were capable of handling long, rough times at sea.  Some say that the ritual dates back over 400 years and it observes a mariner`s transformation from slimy `Pollywog` to a trusty Shellback.

Could the captain of the MS Paul Gauguin carry out a punishment as was done in the 19th century for those who refuse to participate in the Baptism?  I highly doubt that beating the passenger “pollywogs” with boards and wet ropes, throwing us over the side of the ship or dragging us in the surf from the stern would promote good public relations for the cruise line!!!  I really did not want to imagine the punishment, so I dutifully signed in and awaited my fate.

At high noon, an announcement over the public address system urged all “pollywogs” to assemble and await the arrival of King Neptune.  At the moment the ship crossed the Equator, King Neptune (aka Captain Toni) and his royal court, assembled on the mid-ship deck and addressed us…”Prepare for your initiation into the Court of King Neptune”….take your place on the plank and await your fate”.  Those words conjured up images of walking the plank into a special, mucky, smelly ooze which was not for the faint of heart.

One by one the “pollywogs” lined up before King Neptune and the court.  We were asked our names, to close our eyes and if we were afraid of what was to transpire.  We all shouted “YES” and proceeded to close our eyes.  The next thing I felt was a light powdery substance being thrown all over me, followed by something being poured all over me……what the heck?  Marinara sauce????

Fearing the wrath of King Neptune, I dared not to open my eyes especially when something cold…..fishy smelling ….was put up to my lips.  EWWWW  Not a fish – yuck!!   I was ordered to turn to my right and kiss the fish.  I complied and with that, King Neptune confirmed that the initiation was almost complete.  What next? Nothing could be as bad as what had just transpired so I breathe a sigh. It was short lived , when from above a shower of COLD ICY water!!!  Of course a baptism of water to seal the initiation. 

“Pollywog Alicja, welcome into the court of King Neptune”, stated Captain Toni.  With that proclamation, I was now a Shellback.  I opened my eyes to see the mess all over me – flour, red marinara sauce and cold water.

“When you travel, it is a new silence that goes with you.
And, if you listen, you will hear what your heart would love to say”
–  John O’Donahue

This was certainly a novel experience to me.  It will never be mundane to see this initiation performed when I cross the Equator once again. It will remind me of the “hardship” that I had to endure as a transitioned from Pollywog to Shellback!!








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