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In 1870, a mutinous crew on the South Seas sets adrift Irish-American Capt. David Dean O'Keefe . Barely alive when his dory washes ashore on the island of Yap, O'Keefe is revived by German trader Alfred Tetens and medicine man Fatumak. Seeing abundant coconut trees growing on the island, O'Keefe dreams of making a fortune by harvesting coconut meat, called "copra," from which a highly sought oil is extracted. Tetens, who has lived on Yap for several years, tells O'Keefe that the natives cannot be induced to harvest the fruit, as they are uninterested in trade. O'Keefe remains confident that he will convince the islanders to help him, and learns that they greatly value "fei," a sacred stone they risk their lives to quarry on a distant island. Every year, the head chief, Boogulroo, challenges Tetens to a ritual combat. Although the German always declines by publicly acknowledging the chief's authority, O'Keefe accepts the challenge. Impressed by his prowess as a warrior, Boogulroo grants O'Keefe one "favor" and O'Keefe asks that coconuts be delivered to him. When a steamer arrives, bearing officials from the German company employing Tetens, O'Keefe sells his coconut meat and arranges for passage to Hong Kong. Before he leaves, O'Keefe bids a special goodbye to the native woman Kakofel, and Fatumak gives him a whale's tooth for remembrance, predicting they will meet again. In Hong Kong, O'Keefe looks for investors to buy him a ship, confident that he can make them rich from copra, but the big Spanish and German companies do not want him cutting into their trade. After O'Keefe refuses a partnership with slave trader Bully Hayes, Sien Tang, a wealthy dentist, offers O'Keefe a junk to sail. With a new crew and Sien Tang's nephew Chou as first mate, O'Keefe sails toward Yap. When bad weather slows them down, O'Keefe and his men are forced to stop at an island for provisions, but hostile natives attack, injuring O'Keefe. At the next island, Palau, the sailors spend several days with the hospitable natives and Australian trader Bart Harris. When Harris mistakes O'Keefe's courtship of his half-caste daughter Dalabo for seduction and threatens to shoot him, O'Keefe, who is in love, asks to marry her. Although the inexperienced Dalabo is unsure of her love, she agrees to be married after O'Keefe explains that the best kind of love grows slowly. When Fatumak and other men from Yap show up in their small crafts, O'Keefe realizes that Palau is the island where fei is collected. Using explosives, he helps them quarry the stone more quickly, then carries the unusually large load back to Yap in his ship. However, O'Keefe refuses to unload the fei until his ship and several storehouses are filled with copra. After accusing O'Keefe of trickery, Boogulroo returns with his men to Palau to gather more fei, claiming that only what is gathered in the old way has value. Inifel, a lesser chief, has his men supply the copra, and O'Keefe is soon sailing back to Hong Kong. There, Sien Tang provides an elaborate Chinese wedding for O'Keefe and Dalabo, but the next day, when they embark for the islands, Dalabo realizes that O'Keefe's mind is filled with visions of fame, riches and power, leaving little room for her. Meanwhile, Hayes and his men attack Yap and capture the villagers. O'Keefe returns in time to free them, retake the village and capture Hayes, but convinces the islanders to let Hayes's crew leave to spread the story of his defeat, so that future bullies will be deterred. Acknowledging his wisdom and leadership, the villagers crown O'Keefe as king. During the ceremony, Boogulroo returns from Palau and attacks O'Keefe, but the people believe that the gods are with O'Keefe, and the chief and his men are banished. Dalabo, who is aware of O'Keefe's greed and his on-going dalliance with Kakofel, is unimpressed with his rise to power, and sarcastically calls him "his majesty O'Keefe." When the Germans return, they refuse to accept O'Keefe as head of the island. After luring him off the island, they circle back, and with Boogulroo's help, take over the village. Tetens is killed in the skirmish, and while O'Keefe fights to reclaim the village, a German officer dies. Realizing that the islanders divided cannot survive, O'Keefe, with Fatumak's help, tells Boogulroo and Inifel to choose a new king to reunite the people. Because the manner of gathering fei has also become a dividing issue, O'Keefe announces that Boogulroo was correct in saying that only fei gathered in the old way has value. Then, expecting to be hanged, O'Keefe gives himself up to the Germans. However, as they try to arrest him, Boogulroo, speaking for all the villagers, asks, "Where are you taking our king?" The Germans give up and O'Keefe, who has regained Dalabo's respect, remains on the island.