It is more trouble to make a maxim than it is to do right.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
On the seventh day out we saw a dim vast bulk standing up out of the
wastes of the Pacific and knew that that spectral promontory was Diamond
Head, a piece of this world which I had not seen before for twenty-nine
years. So we were nearing Honolulu, the capital city of the Sandwich
Islands--those islands which to me were Paradise; a Paradise which I had
been longing all those years to see again. Not any other thing in the
world could have stirred me as the sight of that great rock did.
In the night we anchored a mile from shore. Through my port I could see
the twinkling lights of Honolulu and the dark bulk of the mountain-range
that stretched away right and left. I could not make out the beautiful
Nuuana valley, but I knew where it lay, and remembered how it used to
look in the old times. We used to ride up it on horseback in those days
--we young people--and branch off and gather bones in a sandy region
where one of the first Kamehameha's battles was fought. He was a
remarkable man, for a king; and he was also a remarkable man for a
savage. He was a mere kinglet and of little or no consequence at the
time of Captain Cook's arrival in 1788; but about four years afterward he
conceived the idea of enlarging his sphere of influence. That is a
courteous modern phrase which means robbing your neighbor--for your
neighbor's benefit; and the great theater of its benevolences is Africa.
Kamehameha went to war, and in the course of ten years he whipped out all
the other kings and made himself master of every one of the nine or ten
islands that form the group. But he did more than that. He bought
ships, freighted them with sandal wood and other native products, and
sent them as far as South America and China; he sold to his savages the
foreign stuffs and tools and utensils which came back in these ships, and
started the march of civilization. It is doubtful if the match to this
extraordinary thing is to be found in the history of any other savage.
Savages are eager to learn from the white man any new way to kill each
other, but it is not their habit to seize with avidity and apply with
energy the larger and nobler ideas which he offers them. The details of
Kamehameha's history show that he was always hospitably ready to examine
the white man's ideas, and that he exercised a tidy discrimination in
making his selections from the samples placed on view.
A shrewder discrimination than was exhibited by his son and successor,
Liholiho, I think. Liholiho could have qualified as a reformer, perhaps,
but as a king he was a mistake. A mistake because he tried to be both
king and reformer. This is mixing fire and gunpowder together. A king
has no proper business with reforming. His best policy is to keep things
as they are; and if he can't do that, he ought to try to make them worse
than they are. This is not guesswork; I have thought over this matter a
good deal, so that if I should ever have a chance to become a king I
would know how to conduct the business in the best way.
When Liholiho succeeded his father he found himself possessed of an
equipment of royal tools and safeguards which a wiser king would have
known how to husband, and judiciously employ, and make profitable. The
entire country was under the one scepter, and his was that scepter.
There was an Established Church, and he was the head of it. There was a
Standing Army, and he was the head of that; an Army of 114 privates under
command of 27 Generals and a Field Marshal. There was a proud and
ancient Hereditary Nobility. There was still one other asset. This was
the tabu--an agent endowed with a mysterious and stupendous power, an
agent not found among the properties of any European monarch, a tool of
inestimable value in the business. Liholiho was headmaster of the tabu.
The tabu was the most ingenious and effective of all the inventions that
has ever been devised for keeping a people's privileges satisfactorily
It required the sexes to live in separate houses. It did not allow
people to eat in either house; they must eat in another place. It did
not allow a man's woman-folk to enter his house. It did not allow the
sexes to eat together; the men must eat first, and the women must wait on
them. Then the women could eat what was left--if anything was left--and
wait on themselves. I mean, if anything of a coarse or unpalatable sort
was left, the women could have it. But not the good things, the fine
things, the choice things, such as pork, poultry, bananas, cocoanuts, the
choicer varieties of fish, and so on. By the tabu, all these were sacred
to the men; the women spent their lives longing for them and wondering
what they might taste like; and they died without finding out.
These rules, as you see, were quite simple and clear. It was easy to
remember them; and useful. For the penalty for infringing any rule in
the whole list was death. Those women easily learned to put up with
shark and taro and dog for a diet when the other things were so
It was death for any one to walk upon tabu'd ground; or defile a tabu'd
thing with his touch; or fail in due servility to a chief; or step upon
the king's shadow. The nobles and the King and the priests were always
suspending little rags here and there and yonder, to give notice to the
people that the decorated spot or thing was tabu, and death lurking near.
The struggle for life was difficult and chancy in the islands in those
Thus advantageously was the new king situated. Will it be believed that
the first thing he did was to destroy his Established Church, root and
branch? He did indeed do that. To state the case figuratively, he was a
prosperous sailor who burnt his ship and took to a raft. This Church was
a horrid thing. It heavily oppressed the people; it kept them always
trembling in the gloom of mysterious threatenings; it slaughtered them in
sacrifice before its grotesque idols of wood and stone; it cowed them, it
terrorized them, it made them slaves to its priests, and through the
priests to the king. It was the best friend a king could have, and the
most dependable. To a professional reformer who should annihilate so
frightful and so devastating a power as this Church, reverence and praise
would be due; but to a king who should do it, could properly be due
nothing but reproach; reproach softened by sorrow; sorrow for his
unfitness for his position.
He destroyed his Established Church, and his kingdom is a republic today,
in consequence of that act.
When he destroyed the Church and burned the idols he did a mighty thing
for civilization and for his people's weal--but it was not "business."
It was unkingly, it was inartistic. It made trouble for his line. The
American missionaries arrived while the burned idols were still smoking.
They found the nation without a religion, and they repaired the defect.
They offered their own religion and it was gladly received. But it was
no support to arbitrary kingship, and so the kingly power began to weaken
from that day. Forty-seven years later, when I was in the islands,
Kainehameha V. was trying to repair Liholiho's blunder, and not
succeeding. He had set up an Established Church and made himself the
head of it. But it was only a pinchbeck thing, an imitation, a bauble,
an empty show. It had no power, no value for a king. It could not harry
or burn or slay, it in no way resembled the admirable machine which
Liholiho destroyed. It was an Established Church without an
Establishment; all the people were Dissenters.
Long before that, the kingship had itself become but a name, a show. At
an early day the missionaries had turned it into something very much like
a republic; and here lately the business whites have turned it into
something exactly like it.
In Captain Cook's time (1778), the native population of the islands was
estimated at 400,000; in 1836 at something short of 200,000, in 1866 at
50,000; it is to-day, per census, 25,000. All intelligent people praise
Kamehameha I. and Liholiho for conferring upon their people the great
boon of civilization. I would do it myself, but my intelligence is out
of repair, now, from over-work.
When I was in the islands nearly a generation ago, I was acquainted with
a young American couple who had among their belongings an attractive
little son of the age of seven--attractive but not practicably
companionable with me, because he knew no English. He had played from
his birth with the little Kanakas on his father's plantation, and had
preferred their language and would learn no other. The family removed to
America a month after I arrived in the islands, and straightway the boy
began to lose his Kanaka and pick up English. By the time he was twelve
be hadn't a word of Kanaka left; the language had wholly departed from
his tongue and from his comprehension. Nine years later, when he was
twenty-one, I came upon the family in one of the lake towns of New York,
and the mother told me about an adventure which her son had been having.
By trade he was now a professional diver. A passenger boat had been
caught in a storm on the lake, and had gone down, carrying her people
with her. A few days later the young diver descended, with his armor on,
and entered the berth-saloon of the boat, and stood at the foot of the
companionway, with his hand on the rail, peering through the dim water.
Presently something touched him on the shoulder, and he turned and found
a dead man swaying and bobbing about him and seemingly inspecting him
inquiringly. He was paralyzed with fright. His entry had disturbed the
water, and now he discerned a number of dim corpses making for him and
wagging their heads and swaying their bodies like sleepy people trying to
dance. His senses forsook him, and in that condition he was drawn to the
surface. He was put to bed at home, and was soon very ill. During some
days he had seasons of delirium which lasted several hours at a time; and
while they lasted he talked Kanaka incessantly and glibly; and Kanaka
only. He was still very ill, and he talked to me in that tongue; but I
did not understand it, of course. The doctor-books tell us that cases
like this are not uncommon. Then the doctors ought to study the cases
and find out how to multiply them. Many languages and things get mislaid
in a person's head, and stay mislaid for lack of this remedy.
Many memories of my former visit to the islands came up in my mind while
we lay at anchor in front of Honolulu that night. And pictures--pictures
pictures--an enchanting procession of them! I was impatient for the
morning to come.
When it came it brought disappointment, of course. Cholera had broken
out in the town, and we were not allowed to have any communication with
the shore. Thus suddenly did my dream of twenty-nine years go to ruin.
Messages came from friends, but the friends themselves I was not to have
any sight of. My lecture-hall was ready, but I was not to see that,
Several of our passengers belonged in Honolulu, and these were sent
ashore; but nobody could go ashore and return. There were people on
shore who were booked to go with us to Australia, but we could not
receive them; to do it would cost us a quarantine-term in Sydney. They
could have escaped the day before, by ship to San Francisco; but the bars
had been put up, now, and they might have to wait weeks before any ship
could venture to give them a passage any whither. And there were
hardships for others. An elderly lady and her son, recreation-seekers
from Massachusetts, had wandered westward, further and further from home,
always intending to take the return track, but always concluding to go
still a little further; and now here they were at anchor before Honolulu
positively their last westward-bound indulgence--they had made up their
minds to that--but where is the use in making up your mind in this world?
It is usually a waste of time to do it. These two would have to stay
with us as far as Australia. Then they could go on around the world, or
go back the way they had come; the distance and the accommodations and
outlay of time would be just the same, whichever of the two routes they
might elect to take. Think of it: a projected excursion of five hundred
miles gradually enlarged, without any elaborate degree of intention, to a
possible twenty-four thousand. However, they were used to extensions by
this time, and did not mind this new one much.
And we had with us a lawyer from Victoria, who had been sent out by the
Government on an international matter, and he had brought his wife with
him and left the children at home with the servants and now what was to
be done? Go ashore amongst the cholera and take the risks? Most
certainly not. They decided to go on, to the Fiji islands, wait there a
fortnight for the next ship, and then sail for home. They couldn't
foresee that they wouldn't see a homeward-bound ship again for six weeks,
and that no word could come to them from the children, and no word go
from them to the children in all that time. It is easy to make plans in
this world; even a cat can do it; and when one is out in those remote
oceans it is noticeable that a cat's plans and a man's are worth about
the same. There is much the same shrinkage in both, in the matter of
There was nothing for us to do but sit about the decks in the shade of
the awnings and look at the distant shore. We lay in luminous blue
water; shoreward the water was green-green and brilliant; at the shore
itself it broke in a long white ruffle, and with no crash, no sound that
we could hear. The town was buried under a mat of foliage that looked
like a cushion of moss. The silky mountains were clothed in soft, rich
splendors of melting color, and some of the cliffs were veiled in
slanting mists. I recognized it all. It was just as I had seen it long
before, with nothing of its beauty lost, nothing of its charm wanting.
A change had come, but that was political, and not visible from the ship.
The monarchy of my day was gone, and a republic was sitting in its seat.
It was not a material change. The old imitation pomps, the fuss and
feathers, have departed, and the royal trademark--that is about all that
one could miss, I suppose. That imitation monarchy, was grotesque
enough, in my time; if it had held on another thirty years it would have
been a monarchy without subjects of the king's race.
We had a sunset of a very fine sort. The vast plain of the sea was
marked off in bands of sharply-contrasted colors: great stretches of dark
blue, others of purple, others of polished bronze; the billowy mountains
showed all sorts of dainty browns and greens, blues and purples and
blacks, and the rounded velvety backs of certain of them made one want to
stroke them, as one would the sleek back of a cat. The long, sloping
promontory projecting into the sea at the west turned dim and leaden and
spectral, then became suffused with pink--dissolved itself in a pink
dream, so to speak, it seemed so airy and unreal. Presently the
cloud-rack was flooded with fiery splendors, and these were copied on the
surface of the sea, and it made one drunk with delight to look upon it.
From talks with certain of our passengers whose home was Honolulu, and
from a sketch by Mrs. Mary H. Krout, I was able to perceive what the
Honolulu of to-day is, as compared with the Honolulu of my time. In my
time it was a beautiful little town, made up of snow-white wooden
cottages deliciously smothered in tropical vines and flowers and trees
and shrubs; and its coral roads and streets were hard and smooth, and as
white as the houses. The outside aspects of the place suggested the
presence of a modest and comfortable prosperity--a general prosperity
--perhaps one might strengthen the term and say universal. There were no
fine houses, no fine furniture. There were no decorations. Tallow
candles furnished the light for the bedrooms, a whale-oil lamp furnished
it for the parlor. Native matting served as carpeting. In the parlor
one would find two or three lithographs on the walls--portraits as a
rule: Kamehameha IV., Louis Kossuth, Jenny Lind; and may be an engraving
or two: Rebecca at the Well, Moses smiting the rock, Joseph's servants
finding the cup in Benjamin's sack. There would be a center table, with
books of a tranquil sort on it: The Whole Duty of Man, Baxter's Saints'
Rest, Fox's Martyrs, Tupper's Proverbial Philosophy, bound copies of The
Missionary Herald and of Father Damon's Seaman's Friend. A melodeon; a
music stand, with 'Willie, We have Missed You', 'Star of the Evening',
'Roll on Silver Moon', 'Are We Most There', 'I Would not Live Alway', and
other songs of love and sentiment, together with an assortment of hymns.
A what-not with semi-globular glass paperweights, enclosing miniature
pictures of ships, New England rural snowstorms, and the like; sea-shells
with Bible texts carved on them in cameo style; native curios; whale's
tooth with full-rigged ship carved on it. There was nothing reminiscent
of foreign parts, for nobody had been abroad. Trips were made to San
Francisco, but that could not be called going abroad. Comprehensively
speaking, nobody traveled.
But Honolulu has grown wealthy since then, and of course wealth has
introduced changes; some of the old simplicities have disappeared. Here
is a modern house, as pictured by Mrs. Krout:
"Almost every house is surrounded by extensive lawns and gardens
enclosed by walls of volcanic stone or by thick hedges of the
"The houses are most tastefully and comfortably furnished; the
floors are either of hard wood covered with rugs or with fine Indian
matting, while there is a preference, as in most warm countries, for
rattan or bamboo furniture; there are the usual accessories of
bric-a-brac, pictures, books, and curios from all parts of the world,
for these island dwellers are indefatigable travelers.
"Nearly every house has what is called a lanai. It is a large
apartment, roofed, floored, open on three sides, with a door or a
draped archway opening into the drawing-room. Frequently the roof
is formed by the thick interlacing boughs of the hou tree,
impervious to the sun and even to the rain, except in violent
storms. Vines are trained about the sides--the stephanotis or some
one of the countless fragrant and blossoming trailers which abound
in the islands. There are also curtains of matting that may be
drawn to exclude the sun or rain. The floor is bare for coolness,
or partially covered with rugs, and the lanai is prettily furnished
with comfortable chairs, sofas, and tables loaded with flowers, or
wonderful ferns in pots.
"The lanai is the favorite reception room, and here at any social
function the musical program is given and cakes and ices are served;
here morning callers are received, or gay riding parties, the ladies
in pretty divided skirts, worn for convenience in riding astride,
--the universal mode adopted by Europeans and Americans, as well as
by the natives.
"The comfort and luxury of such an apartment, especially at a
seashore villa, can hardly be imagined. The soft breezes sweep
across it, heavy with the fragrance of jasmine and gardenia, and
through the swaying boughs of palm and mimosa there are glimpses of
rugged mountains, their summits veiled in clouds, of purple sea with
the white surf beating eternally against the reefs, whiter still in
the yellow sunlight or the magical moonlight of the tropics."
There: rugs, ices, pictures, lanais, worldly books, sinful bric-a-brac
fetched from everywhere. And the ladies riding astride. These are
changes, indeed. In my time the native women rode astride, but the white
ones lacked the courage to adopt their wise custom. In my time ice was
seldom seen in Honolulu. It sometimes came in sailing vessels from New
England as ballast; and then, if there happened to be a man-of-war in
port and balls and suppers raging by consequence, the ballast was worth
six hundred dollars a ton, as is evidenced by reputable tradition. But
the ice-machine has traveled all over the world, now, and brought ice
within everybody's reach. In Lapland and Spitzbergen no one uses native
ice in our day, except the bears and the walruses.
The bicycle is not mentioned. It was not necessary. We know that it is
there, without inquiring. It is everywhere. But for it, people could
never have had summer homes on the summit of Mont Blanc; before its day,
property up there had but a nominal value. The ladies of the Hawaiian
capital learned too late the right way to occupy a horse--too late to get
much benefit from it. The riding-horse is retiring from business
everywhere in the world. In Honolulu a few years from now he will be
only a tradition.
We all know about Father Damien, the French priest who voluntarily
forsook the world and went to the leper island of Molokai to labor among
its population of sorrowful exiles who wait there, in slow-consuming
misery, for death to cone and release them from their troubles; and we
know that the thing which he knew beforehand would happen, did happen:
that he became a leper himself, and died of that horrible disease. There
was still another case of self-sacrifice, it appears. I asked after
"Billy" Ragsdale, interpreter to the Parliament in my time--a half-white.
He was a brilliant young fellow, and very popular. As an interpreter he
would have been hard to match anywhere. He used to stand up in the
Parliament and turn the English speeches into Hawaiian and the Hawaiian
speeches into English with a readiness and a volubility that were
astonishing. I asked after him, and was told that his prosperous career
was cut short in a sudden and unexpected way, just as he was about to
marry a beautiful half-caste girl. He discovered, by some nearly
invisible sign about his skin, that the poison of leprosy was in him.
The secret was his own, and might be kept concealed for years; but he
would not be treacherous to the girl that loved him; he would not marry
her to a doom like his. And so he put his affairs in order, and went
around to all his friends and bade them good-bye, and sailed in the leper
ship to Molokai. There he died the loathsome and lingering death that
all lepers die.
In this place let me insert a paragraph or two from "The Paradise of
the Pacific" (Rev. H. H. Gowen)--
"Poor lepers! It is easy for those who have no relatives or friends
among them to enforce the decree of segregation to the letter, but
who can write of the terrible, the heart-breaking scenes which that
enforcement has brought about?
"A man upon Hawaii was suddenly taken away after a summary arrest,
leaving behind him a helpless wife about to give birth to a babe.
The devoted wife with great pain and risk came the whole journey to
Honolulu, and pleaded until the authorities were unable to resist
her entreaty that she might go and live like a leper with her leper
"A woman in the prime of life and activity is condemned as an
incipient leper, suddenly removed from her home, and her husband
returns to find his two helpless babes moaning for their lost
"Imagine it! The case of the babies is hard, but its bitterness is
a trifle--less than a trifle--less than nothing--compared to what
the mother must suffer; and suffer minute by minute, hour by hour,
day by day, month by month, year by year, without respite, relief,
or any abatement of her pain till she dies.
"One woman, Luka Kaaukau, has been living with her leper husband in
the settlement for twelve years. The man has scarcely a joint left,
his limbs are only distorted ulcerated stumps, for four years his
wife has put every particle of food into his mouth. He wanted his
wife to abandon his wretched carcass long ago, as she herself was
sound and well, but Luka said that she was content to remain and
wait on the man she loved till the spirit should be freed from its
"I myself have known hard cases enough:--of a girl, apparently in
full health, decorating the church with me at Easter, who before
Christmas is taken away as a confirmed leper; of a mother hiding her
child in the mountains for years so that not even her dearest
friends knew that she had a child alive, that he might not be taken
away; of a respectable white man taken away from his wife and
family, and compelled to become a dweller in the Leper Settlement,
where he is counted dead, even by the insurance companies."
And one great pity of it all is, that these poor sufferers are innocent.
The leprosy does not come of sins which they committed, but of sins
committed by their ancestors, who escaped the curse of leprosy!
Mr. Gowan has made record of a certain very striking circumstance. Would
you expect to find in that awful Leper Settlement a custom worthy to be
transplanted to your own country? They have one such, and it is
inexpressibly touching and beautiful. When death sets open the
prison-door of life there, the band salutes the freed soul with a burst
of glad music!