Under the Southern Cross
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Both sexes of the natives much affect bright colors upon their persons, such as scarlet turbans wound about their heads; and sky-blue scarfs and yellow gowns predominate, producing a very picturesque if somewhat anomalous effect. When the head is bare their jet-black hair is sleek and glistening with cocoanut oil. The women wear but one garment, usually of French calico, close at the throat and extending from the yoke to the ankles. The gown is quite free and flowing, not confined at the waist, the wearer being generally bare-legged and bare-footed, – thus adding to the diaphanous nature of the costume, which after all is well adapted to the climate. It was noticed that the foreign-born ladies often appeared in the same style of dress, adding slippers and hose. To be very fleshy is considered as adding a charm to the Hawaiian ladies; and however this is brought about, it certainly prevails, affording the individual possessor of such a plethoric condition evident satisfaction. As a people the Hawaiians are very courteous and respectful, rarely failing to greet the passing stranger with a pleasant smile and a softly articulated "oloha," equivalent to "my love to you." The drinking of kava, the native spirituous liquor, is no doubt conducive to the immoderate accumulation of flesh, or at least to a bloated condition of the body; but as a rule the natives are not intemperate drinkers, except perhaps on Saturdays, when, as we have already intimated, the town is half mad with all sorts of excesses.
One statue only was noticed in Honolulu, – a bronze figure representing Kamehameha I., which was decked with a gilded robe and helmet, producing a tawdry and vulgar effect. There are four bronze tablets in bas-relief upon the pedestal, representing emblematical scenes relating to the first discovery of the island by Captain Cook and of his early intercourse with the barbarous natives. The whole monument is crude and inartistic, but doubtless it was an expensive affair. This Kamehameha I. must have been anything but a nice sort of person. When the missionaries first came hither he was living with his five sisters as wives; and when told how outrageous this was in the light of Christianity, he compromised the matter by selecting his oldest sister as his favorite wife and discarding the rest. He died in 1819, at the age of eighty-three years, and was a polygamous old rascal or a patriotic Alexander, according to the standpoint from which he is judged. If we can credit the Hawaiian legends, he was a man who possessed great physical strength as well as skill in the use of weapons, and was undoubtedly brave. He was the father of his people in more than one sense, having as many children as the late Brigham Young.
A drive of three or four miles from the city brings one to what is called the "Pali," which signifies in English the precipice. The route thither is straight up the Nuuanu Valley over a very uneven and only half-passable road, rocks and stones disputing every foot of the way with the vehicle, until by a not very abrupt ascent a height of three thousand feet above sea-level is reached.The last part of the distance is accomplished on foot, and presently the visitor finds himself standing upon the very edge of an abrupt precipice at the head of the valley, affording one of the most remarkable views to be found in any part of the globe. Lying fifteen hundred feet below the brow of this cliff is an outspread area of thirty or forty square miles embracing hills marked by winding bridle-paths, level plains, small rolling prairies, groves of cocoanut, of bananas, and sugar-cane plantations, small herds of cattle on grazing ranches, and rice-fields extending to the verge of the ocean. This large area is bordered on either side by mountains of various heights, composed of lava-rock so formed as to give the appearance of having been cleft in two, the precipitous side left standing, and the other half lost in the ocean; coral reefs form the seaward boundary marked by a long, white, irregular line of surf breaking over them. As one regards this view from the top of the Pali, there arises on his immediate right a steep mountain four thousand feet heavenward, forming the highest point on the island of Oahu, recorded as being at the apex seven thousand feet above the level of the sea.
The valley of Nuuanu opens with a broad entrance at the end nearest to the city, but contracts gradually as one ascends, until at its head it is a narrow gap or mountain-pass through which is a bridle-path leading over the range to the country below. Through this pass the wind draws with such power and velocity as to compel the traveller to grasp securely the iron barrier which has been erected to enable one to approach the verge of the cliff in safety. This narrow opening forms the gate through which Honolulu gets its daily taste of the refreshing trade-winds.
In ascending this beautiful valley one is constantly charmed by the discovery of new tropical trees, luxurious creepers, and lovely wild-flowers. The strangers' burial-ground is passed just after crossing the Nuuanu stream, and close at hand is the Royal Mausoleum, – a stone structure in Gothic style, which contains the remains of all the Hawaiian kings, as well as those of many of the high chiefs who have died since the conquest. Some shaded bathing-pools are formed by the mountain streams lying half hidden in the dense foliage. Here one also passes the residence of ex-Queen Emma, widow of the late king, pleasantly located and flower-embowered, having within its grounds some notable examples of fine tropical trees from other lands. Its mistress was educated in England, and has here surrounded herself with many European comforts and elegancies. She may be seen almost daily driving out in a pony-carriage, to which a nice pair of showy though small island-bred horses are attached.
This valley is classic ground in the history of these islands, being the spot where the fierce and conquering invader, King Kamehameha I., fought his last decisive battle, the result of which confirmed him as sole monarch of the Hawaiian group. Here the natives of Oahu made their final stand, and fought desperately, resisting with clubs and spears the savage hordes led by Kamehameha. But they were defeated at last, and with their king, Kaiana, who led them in person, were driven over the abrupt and fatal cliff by hundreds, bravely ending the struggle for liberty with the sacrifice of their lives. The half-caste guide tells the stranger of this battle and its issue with a sad air and earnestness of feeling not akin to the humdrum stories of European guides, who recite their lesson by rote, like parrots.
No person should land at Honolulu and go away without visiting the Pali. It can easily be accomplished in three or four hours by vehicle, or if one is pressed for time it can be done more quickly, and to the author's mind much more agreeably, on horseback. In our eagerness to see and enjoy every aspect of the valley, breakfast had been forgotten, and it was already high noon, so that a preparation of wild bananas, bruised into a paste and stewed in cocoanut cream, was partaken of with much relish at a native hut. The dish was new to us, and was rendered still more acceptable by a cup of native coffee, which had not been adulterated by the cunning trader's art.
On the way to the valley, and indeed all about the environs of the city, one passes large patches, measuring an acre more or less, of submerged land, where is grown the Hawaiian staff of life, – the taro, a root which is cultivated in mud, and mostly under water, recalling the rice-fields as we have seen them in Japan and China. The article thus produced, when baked and pounded to a paste, forms a nutritious sort of dough, like uncooked flour, which is called poi, constituting the principal article of food with the natives, as potatoes do with the Irish or macaroni with the Italians. The baked taro is powdered and mixed with water, after which it is left to ferment; and when this process has taken place it is ready for eating. It is then placed in a large bowl about which the natives squat on their hams, and thrusting their fingers into the blue liquid mass they adroitly convey a mouthful at a time to their lips and rapidly swallow it. It is served in various degrees of thickness; if very thin, it is called two-finger poi, because in order to convey sufficient for a mouthful to the lips two fingers must be used; but if thick, it is one-finger poi. As the lazzaroni of Naples pride themselves upon their expertness in conveying the cooked macaroni to their mouths and down their throats, so the Kanakas become experts in the transmission of poi to satisfy their hunger. These Sandwich Island natives eat a small species of fish resembling our smelts, quite raw, with their poi.
The environs of the city in any direction are composed of well-irrigated gardens, plantations of bananas, clusters of cocoanuts, figs, mangoes, melons, and various tropical fruits. The cocoanut-grove of Waikiki, about four miles from Honolulu, contains many of these prolific trees, and well repays a visit. Single cocoanut-trees are always graceful and interesting, with their tall wrinkled stems, but a small forest of them is a sight worth going miles to behold. The weight of the nutritious fruit supported in the branches can only be computed by the hundreds of tons.
Palolo Valley is some ten miles from Honolulu, and is best reached on horseback. Here the crater of an extinct volcano forms the principal object of interest. Leaving the horses at the head of the valley, the visitor climbs up a precipitous slope some five hundred feet to the oblong opening, which is now filled with a great variety of peculiar ferns, quite unlike any to be found elsewhere. Many blooming wild-flowers also beautified the spot whence the fiery lava poured forth its molten stream long ages ago. Nearly a hundred marked varieties of ferns can be gathered here in the briefest period of time by an expert botanist. On the way thither one passes through gulches, forests, and fields of the rankest tropical verdure, at times enjoying glimpses from the heights, of scenery indescribably grand and beautiful, like all that appertains to this picturesque island group, the puzzle of geologists and geographers. Though Oahu is very mountainous, like the rest of the Hawaiian islands, still none of these ranges reach the elevation of perpetual snow.
The delight and favorite amusement of the natives is to get into the saddle, galloping hither and thither in a break-neck fashion, without any fixed purpose as to destination. Some are seen riding bare-back, some with bridles, and some with only halters; but all are astride. The women and young girls are particularly conspicuous in their high-colored costumes flowing in the wind, and supplemented by streaming wreaths and strings of flowers, while they manage their horses with consummate skill and masculine energy.
Having observed among the natives a certain type of features and general aspect which struck us as decidedly European, and which if genuine would seem to be traceable far back to early generations, the idea was expressed to a resident American, who had an interesting explanation promptly ready for us. It seems, according to our friend's story, that the Spaniards are accredited in the legends of Oahu with having discovered these islands, and with several times visiting them as early as the year 1500, thus rendering the first visit of Captain Cook no new discovery. It is further held that Spanish galleons on their way to and from Manila in the sixteenth century stopped at these islands for water and fresh fruits. Of course all this is but legendary, and based on the faintest shadow of proof. Furthermore, according to these traditions, a couple of Spanish ships from Mexico were wrecked on the Hawaiian islands about the year 1525, having, as was the custom in those days, a numerous crew as well as some passengers, who mixed with and married native women. Naturally the descendants of such unions have inherited a certain distinctiveness of features and complexion which is still traceable. We give this report as we heard it, though it may be all a myth.
The ubiquitous Chinamen are found here as gardeners, laborers, house-servants, fruit-dealers, and poi-makers. What an overflow there has been of these Asiatics from the Flowery Land! Each one of this race arriving at these islands is now obliged to pay ten dollars as his landing fee, in default of which the vessel which brings him is compelled to take him away. This singular people, who are wonderfully industrious notwithstanding their many faults and effeminacies, are despised in these islands alike by the natives, the Americans, and the Europeans; and yet we were told that the Chinese increase annually, slowly but surely, and it is believed here that they are destined eventually to take the place of the aborigines. The aggregate number now resident upon the group is placed at ten thousand. It was manifest that many branches of small trade were already monopolized by them, as one sees to be the case at Penang, Singapore, and other Pacific islands. On Nuuanu Street every shop is occupied by a Chinaman, dealing in such articles as his own countrymen and the natives are likely to purchase. It certainly does appear as though the native race would in the near future be obliterated, and their place be filled by the Anglo-Saxons and the Chinese, – the representative people of the East and the West. The taro-patches of the Hawaiians, will ere long become the rice-fields of the Mongolians and the places that now know the aborigines will know them no more forever.
The pertinacity which enables these Asiatics to get a foothold and maintain themselves in various countries in the face of such universal oppression and unpopularity, is a constant source of surprise to one who has seen them established and prospering in so many foreign lands. Nothing seems to discourage a Chinaman; he encounters rebuffs, insults, oppression, taxation, with entire equanimity, toiling on, suffering in silence, accumulating and hoarding his dollars with the fixed purpose of finally returning to his distant home. He is sober, painstaking, patient, and provided you do not have too much of him, is by no means a bad servant, laborer, or mechanic.
The general fish-market, situated at the northern extremity of Queen's Street, affords a most interesting exhibition of the marine products of these shores. Here all was life, bustle, color, and oddity, vividly recalling a similar scene in another hemisphere, at Havana. The berries, fish, and fruit which one purchases are delivered in a broad, fresh green leaf which forms the wrapper. This is much nicer, as well as more appropriate, than is the use of rough, ill-smelling brown paper. Here we saw devil-fish, dolphins, bonitos, flying-fish, ocean mullet, crabs, and a great variety of sea-mosses which the natives dry and eat with their poi. Among the rest a plenty of gold and silver fish were noticed, such as are kept in glass globes as pets with us. Here they are larger, and so plentiful that the natives catch and eat them as they would any other of the finny tribe. Some of the fishes displayed here are spotted like a leopard, and some are striped like a tiger, – dark brown lines on a buff ground. Besides these there was an abundance of rose-colored medusa. The variety and beauty of colors exhibited by the fishes of the tropics is quite confusing when they are arrayed side by side upon a white marble counter fresh from their native element. The natives eat very little meat, but keep in excellent physical condition upon poi and fish, supplemented by the abundant natural fruits which a bountiful Providence so liberally supplies. Chief among these is the banana, which seems to grow larger and finer here than elsewhere, being permitted to ripen on the parent stem. Like oranges which are allowed to mature in the same manner, the flavor is far superior to those ripened off the trees.
The steep conical hill which overlooks the city presenting its dull, brick-red fa?ade when viewed from nearly any direction is a ceaseless reminder of the volcanic origin of the place. It contains a large extinct crater, and is called on account of its peculiar formation the Punch Bowl. Its apex is about five hundred feet above the level of the harbor. At the top one looks down into a large concave, – a scooped-out, bowl-like cavity, partially filled with a d?bris of stones and cinders over and about which vegetation has freely grown, the earth being mixed with decomposed lava. A few goats were browsing over this sleeping crater, which has been enacting the part of Rip Van Winkle for a score or more of centuries. We enjoyed a perfect view from the summit, which was high enough to form an admirable picture of land and sea combined. On the side which overlooks Honolulu are the remains of an old fort, which commands the Hawaiian capital.
Speaking of fruits, we were informed that on the neighboring island of Maui, one of the most spacious and mountainous of the group, is the largest apple-orchard in the world. The natives call this fruit ohias. The forest of apple-trees stretches from sea to sea far up the mountains. The trees vary from forty to fifty feet in height, yielding their harvest from July to September, during which period they are laden with a fair-sized, wild, white apple, which is not unpalatable to the taste, though not equal to the cultivated fruit. This orchard is estimated to cover an area of over ten miles wide and nearly twice as long. The trees, we were told, will average over twenty-five barrels of apples each. No commercial and little domestic use is made of them, but the fruit ripens, falls off the trees, and there decays annually. One peculiarity of the product is that when ripe the apples will keep sound but for a few days, as is the case with ripe bananas. The natives eat them to a moderate extent, but make no great account of them. We took the liberty of suggesting the possible advantage of a cider-mill, but our informant said, with a shrug of the shoulders, that there was not sufficient local enterprise to start the business.
The six inhabited islands of the Hawaiian group are Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Maui, and Hawaii, the last containing the largest active volcano on the globe; namely, that of Kilauea, to visit which many persons cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, besides the continent of America, which lies between the two. Oahu, of which Honolulu is the capital, was chosen as the principal harbor because it is the only one presenting all the marine necessities, such as sufficient depth of water, space, and a secure anchorage for ships. In the olden days of Hawaiian history, Lahaina, on the island of Maui, was the city of the king, and the recognized capital. This was in the palmy days of the whale fishery. It has a sheltered roadstead, but will not compare with the present capital in this respect. The settlement is now going to ruin, the palace tumbling to pieces by wear and tear of the elements, and all the surroundings are a picture of decay. Should the Panama canal ever be completed, it would prove to be of immense advantage to these islands, as they lie on the direct course which a great share of navigation must follow. The aggregate population of the group is now about sixty thousand, of whom some thirty-eight thousand are natives. History tells us that Captain Cook estimated these islands to contain over three hundred thousand inhabitants when he discovered them. Perhaps this was an exaggeration, though it is a fact that they are capable of sustaining a population of even much greater density than this estimate would indicate. Until within fifty or sixty years the natives of the several islands made war upon one another, principally for the purpose of securing prisoners, whom they roasted and devoured. Indeed, cannibalism has existed in some of the islands even to a more modern date than that referred to. Of latter years the natives have shown a hearty desire to affiliate and intermarry with Europeans and Americans, discarding their idolatrous worship and professing Christianity; but those who read well-meant missionary reports can hardly realize how little this profession of Christianity generally signifies among semi-barbarous races. The manners, customs, and dress of the whites have been very generally adopted, so far as external appearances go; but as in the case of all other aboriginals who inhabit the Pacific isles, large or small, wherever the white man appears in numbers, the black disappears.
The crater of Kilauea on the island of Hawaii is still in a semi-active condition. Twice within our memory it has burst forth briefly but with enormous power, and at this writing it sends forth ceaseless vapor, smoke, and sulphurous gases, with occasional bursts of stones, lava, and crude metallic substances. The fiery opening is four thousand feet above the base of the mountain, the orifice having an estimated diameter of eight miles; that is to say, it is that distance across the opening. The height above sea-level is placed at six thousand feet.
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