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 Site Map > Electronic Library > Mark Twain > Following The Equator > CHAPTER III: Honolulu - Reminiscences of the Sandwich Islands - King Liholiho and His Royal Equipment - The Tabu - The Population of the Island - A Kanaka Diver - Cholera at Honolulu - Honolulu; Past and Present - The Leper Colony

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Following The Equator

by Mark Twain

previous: CHAPTER II: Change of Costume - Fish, Snake, and Boomerang Stories - Tests of Memory - A Brahmin Expert - General Grant's Memory - A Delicately Improper Tale

CHAPTER III: Honolulu - Reminiscences of the Sandwich Islands - King Liholiho and His Royal Equipment - The Tabu - The Population of the Island - A Kanaka Diver - Cholera at Honolulu - Honolulu; Past and Present - The Leper Colony

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 restricted.

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 expensive.

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 days.

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, either.

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 values.

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 cloudrack 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 brilliant hibiscus.

"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 11 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 husband.

"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 mother.

"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 burden.

"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 prisondoor of life there, the band salutes the freed soul with a burst of glad music!

Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER IV: Leaving Honolulu - Flying-fish - Approaching the Equator - Why the Ship Went Slow - The Front Yard of the Ship - Crossing the Equator - Horse Billiards or Shovel Board - The Waterbury Watch - Washing Decks - Ship Painters - The Great Meridian - The Loss of a Day - A Babe without a Birthday

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