21 December 2003

His Majesty O'Keefe

The Micronesian Seminar is an incomparable resource on all things Micronesian. Among its many projects is a compilation entitled Beachcombers, Traders, and Castaways in Micronesia. Here's what it has to say about His Majesty O'Keefe, the subject of a thoroughly forgettable 1953 movie starring Burt Lancaster, Benson Fong (who had starred in several Charlie Chan films), and Philip Ahn (a Korean American who often played Japanese villains).
David Dean O'Keefe was born in Ireland in 1828 (or 1824). He immigrated to the US in 1848 and made his home in Savannah. He captained ships in the off-shore trade. In 1871, he set sail on the "Belvedere" for Manila. In 1872, he first arrived on Yap aboard the junk "Wrecker". He worked in Yap until at least 1875 for Webster & Cook of Singapore. After this he began trading on his own. O'Keefe established a string of trade stations on Yap, Palau and Mapia. He acquired several small vessels during this period which he used to visit his stations and bring his copra to Hong Kong. He came to dominate the copra trade on Yap through his strategy of providing Yapese with transportation to Palau for the quarrying of the stone cylinders that were used as money. O'Keefe was married to a woman on Mapia, but his second wife (Dalibu) lived with him on Yap and ran his home and headquarters at Terang Island in Yap Harbor. O'Keefe, always the center of controversy, was charged by other traders with a vast array of crimes, but most of the charges were dismissed by British authorities. O'Keefe had several children, who lived with him on Yap. He died while at sea in a typhoon in 1901, leaving a fortune of at least half a million dollars.

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