Under the Southern Cross
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One would surely think that such an enormous orifice on the earth's surface ought to be sufficient to relieve all the smouldering subterraneous fires and explosive gases confined beneath the crust of the habitable globe, saying nothing of Vesuvius, Etna, and a dozen other active volcanoes. In the year 1840 an eruption took place from the crater of Mauna Loa on the same island, which lasted nearly thirty days, and was of such body that the flood of lava ejected, running a destructive course of fifty miles, reached the sea, and added one quarter of a mile of territory to the area of Hawaii, raising also several hills of two hundred feet in height near the shore. Three subsequent eruptions occurred from this mountain, a few years intervening between them, the latest of which was in 1868. Were it not for this and other volcanic vents in the group, these islands in mid-ocean would doubtless be suddenly swallowed up by some great convulsion of the restless subterranean forces.
Some portions of the coast of Hawaii are indented by large and curious caves, which are the homes of thousands of sea-birds; but very little is known about them, as they have never been explored. It is natural, considering its active volcanoes, that earthquakes should be more common on this island than upon any other of the group. The population lives almost entirely near the coast; but where this people first came from not even cunning scientists pretend to know.
Leprosy is still prevalent among the natives, the victims of which dreadful disease are promptly isolated upon the island of Molokai, where there are now about a thousand sufferers confined. The island is in formation so mountainous that the natives call it Kaaina pali, – a land of precipices. Some portions can only be reached by water, and that in fair weather, the mountains being impassable. That portion occupied by the unfortunate lepers is a plain naturally cut off from the rest of the island by the pali of Kalae. Fully realizing the necessities of their case these people submit to their isolation without a murmur, and seem, as we were informed, comparatively content. A ration of five pounds of meat and twenty pounds of vegetables is issued to each person weekly, besides which they have garden-plats that they cultivate for such fruits, vegetables, and flowers as they choose. The supply of food furnished to them gratuitously is so much better than any Hawaiian gets under ordinary circumstances, that many persons are actually willing to make themselves lepers and be taken into this death-stricken community, in order to share its abundant provisions. There is here a little church wherein all the lepers congregate on Sundays, to listen to the preaching of a leper minister, and a day-school where the leper children are taught by a native schoolmaster afflicted with the same disease. We heard of a Roman Catholic priest who has devoted his life to these poor unfortunate outcasts, and who lives with them to comfort and aid them in their trials, though he is not himself a leper.This is indeed heroism, to brave the horrors of such an exile in the fulfilment of what he conceives to be his religious duty. If we knew the priest's name we would record it in this connection.
Like tropical regions generally, Honolulu does not lack for annoying insects and disagreeable as well as poisonous reptiles. That the mosquito reigns here goes without saying, and exhaustive measures are taken in every domestic establishment to afford protection against the ubiquitous pest. Our steamer, on the passage toward America, took on board five hundred packages of bananas, each bunch wrapped up in a covering of banana-leaf husks. The night after we sailed for San Francisco quite a commotion was created among the lady passengers, reinforced by the gentlemen, on the finding of huge roaches, scorpions, centipedes, and elephantine spiders meandering in and about the berths and the cabins. That the sensation experienced on awaking from sleep to feel a damp, slimy creature creeping slowly over one's face is excessively disagreeable, may be readily supposed. These reptiles and insects were brought on board in surprising numbers in the fruit packages, where they were securely hidden until they chose to come forth. The chief engineer of the ship prepared a number of bottles with proof spirit, in which a lot of these scorpions and centipedes were preserved, and which were secured by passengers curious in such matters. A young child was bitten by one of the mammoth spiders, causing its arm to swell up alarmingly, but the doctor treated the wound promptly with ammonia, and gave the little sufferer some internal medicine which seemed to act as an antidote to the poison.
We must not close these notes touching the Hawaiian group without a few words relating to our intimate national relation therewith, which at the present time is assuming special political importance.
The relation of the United States with the Hawaiians is in a somewhat peculiar state at the present writing. For ten years past there has existed a reciprocity treaty between us by which their sugar crop is admitted free of duty into the States, and a certain liberal concession on their part is made as to admitting the products of this country into the islands. The operation of this treaty has been to stimulate the production of sugar in the islands from about thirty thousand tons per annum to one hundred thousand tons and over, all of which comes to this country except a small amount used for domestic consumption. The incidental trade with us which has grown out of the treaty is very large, especially in machinery of several kinds, mills, engines, horses, hay, and grain. It has virtually brought the people of the Sandwich Islands under the wing of this Government, and concentrated her foreign trade almost entirely upon this country. The youth of the islands, of both sexes and in large numbers, are sent for educational purposes to our institutions. Forty of such persons were passengers on the "Zealandia" on the outward voyage, going home for a vacation trip. The luxuries as well as most of the necessities of the Hawaiians are now purchased in our markets. All of this business, or certainly nine tenths of it, is the natural outgrowth of the treaty referred to. There is no other foreign port in the world where the American flag is so often seen as in that of Honolulu, the carrying of this great amount of sugar being mostly done in American vessels. While England and Germany are watching for chances to "annex" coaling-stations, and small groups of islands in the Pacific, we virtually have the most admirable one in our own hands, – a fact which should not be lost sight of. Therefore when it is proposed, as it has been and will be again, to abrogate the treaty of 1877, let our statesmen carefully inform themselves of the entire bearing of so serious a matter. We have but casually enumerated a few of the items which bear more especially upon the subject, but perhaps it is enough to awaken intelligent interest therein.
Three quarters of all the money invested in the sugar-raising business of the Sandwich Islands is furnished by American capitalists who draw their annual dividends therefrom. The late revolution was a bloodless one, brought about by the conservative and intelligent element of the islands, composed largely of Americans. In order to retain his seat upon the throne, the king was obliged to grant some liberal concessions as to the laws of the realm and his own powers, still leaving him, however, with all the authority which should rest in the hands of a constitutional monarch of the nineteenth century. The very fact of this concession being promptly granted by the king is sufficient evidence of its most reasonable character.
Once more it was Saturday, the gala-day of the Hawaiians, when we bade adieu a second time to Honolulu; and the tableau which then fixed itself upon the mind will long remain. The brief stay had been full of interest and enjoyment; it was, indeed, only too brief.
Our good ship the "Alamada" got up steam in the early morning and was under way by nine o'clock, steering through the coral reef seaward. The king graciously sent his military band to play for us some parting airs, while a thousand spectators consisting of mingled races and equally of both sexes, gorgeously wreathed in flowers, thronged the capacious pier. It was high tide, so that the "Alamada" loomed up high above the heads of the motley assembly. In the middle foreground lay the tropical city enshrined in palms, cocoas, and flower-bedecked trees, beyond which the picturesque valley of Nuuanu formed a long perspective reaching into the volcanic hills. To the right and left the mountain range extended for miles, forming a series of valleys, gulches, and abrupt precipices, with here and there a plateau of table-land, all clothed in exquisite verdure. The shore was dotted by native huts, cocoanut-groves, and banana-orchards, adding infinite variety to the whole scene.
We had taken on board as passengers some native residents, whose friends had come to bid them good-by with all the earnest demonstrations of a tropical race. Amid the waving of handkerchiefs and the reiterated farewells came the hoarse command from the bridge to cast off the shore lines. Then the grand old flag – the Stars and Stripes – was run up at the peak, and the waiting band played "Hail Columbia," followed by "Home, Sweet Home," responded to by many moistened eyes and quickened pulsations of the heart. As we glided away our forecastle gun barked forth a sharp, ringing farewell which was echoed back a score of times by the mountain gorges.
In our course southward we made the islands known as the Samoan, or Navigator's group, and stopped to land the American and European mails at Tutuila, which is about two thousand three hundred miles from Honolulu. The six islands which form this group of the South Pacific lie between the Society and Feejee groups, three of them being among the largest in Polynesia. Their names are Savaii, Upolu, Tutuila, Manua, Manono, and Apolima. Savaii has a circumference of a hundred and forty miles, and is literally covered with forests of tropical trees from shore to mountain-top. Upolu measures nearly fifty miles from east to west, and is the most fertile and populous of the group. Apolima is the most remarkable for its cones and craters, giving unmistakable evidence of former volcanic action, by clearly-defined vents and fire-shafts among its hills. There are few rivers on these islands, but Upolu and Savaii have several crystal lakes among their mountains. Gales, cyclones, and earthquakes occur quite often enough to vary the monotony. We have said that there are six of these islands; there are also others, scarcely more than islets, however. The highest land in the group is on Savaii, – a lofty peak in the middle of the island, the top of which is nearly always hidden in clouds.
Tutuila was the island which was first sighted, and as it lay sleeping upon the bosom of the southern ocean it presented a beautiful picture of tropical verdure, – an oasis in the great desert of waters. And yet it did not present a very inviting aspect by its wave-lashed and rock-bound shore. It was calm weather, – that is, comparatively so; but there is always a long swell in these latitudes, which when it meets the impediment of shore or reefs is sure to express its anger by a wild display of force.
The island is remarkably mountainous, but the foliage rose to its lofty sky-line, and came down to where the breakers chafed the coast with tremendous fury. There was the azure of the sky, the deep green of the vegetation, the light blue-green of the shoal water, and the snow-white spray tossed high in air, to vary the richness of the coloring, which was finer than that of Oahu. We were told of a safe landing-place in a sheltered cove, and made out the slender spire of a wooden church, but could not see any opening in the long line of dashing spray which leaped twenty feet high as each successive swell broke upon the rocks. Just behind them the palm-groves, bananas, and cocoanut-trees formed a dense breastwork, flanked here and there by low native huts, grass-thatched and brown. In no other region does the cocoanut-tree thrive in greater luxuriance and fruitfulness than here; and were it not that the natives are so lacking in enterprise, this product alone might be made a very large source of profit. The deep green foliage of the bread-fruit all along the shore indicated the abundance of this natural food-supply of the islanders. Together with the yam and taro it forms their main support. The last named is called the daily bread of the Samoans, just as the poi forms the main sustenance of the Hawaiians.
The Samoans are fine-looking specimens of the savage races of the South Pacific. The men are broad-shouldered and athletic, the women by no means ugly, and certainly graceful. They have very little if any of the flat nose and protruding lips of the African race. Their complexion is a light brown, "the livery of the burnished sun," the women exhibiting a warm rosy hue upon their smooth, well-rounded faces. The bodies of both sexes are more or less elaborately tattooed in blue.
If tattooing constituted costume, of which in fact it takes the place here, the Samoans would be gorgeously clad, as they certainly excel in this respect the Maoris of New Zealand. This sort of savage ornamentation with the latter people is more confined to the face, which the Samoans neglect only to be more elaborate upon the limbs and body. It is really surprising to what pain and inconvenience the barbaric races of the Pacific Islands put themselves in order to gratify their vanity and conform to local fashion. The process of tattooing is a slow agony; but the laws of fashion are as imperious in the Cannibal Islands as upon the Parisian boulevards. The tedious and painful operation of tattooing is performed by professionals, who make a paying business of it. The skin is punctured by an instrument made of bone, or by spines of the shaddock-tree, while the dye injected is usually obtained by boiling the candle-nut. Among some of the Pacific tribes tattooing is considered religiously binding; by others it is adopted purely for fancy's sake.
The men wear their hair twisted up in little spiral horns, reminding one of the natives of the coast who meet the steamers at the mouth of the Red Sea, and who exhibit the same aptness in diving for silver coins. The women wear their hair rather short, and are given to dressing their heads and necks with flowers, – a similar fancy to that already described as connected with the Hawaiians. The missionaries have taught the women when they are on shore to wear a small strip of cloth with a hole in the centre for putting over the head, and which hanging down back and front partially covers the otherwise exposed bosom. About the loins they wear a breech-cloth like the men, and sometimes a short skirt reaching half-way to the knees. We were told that the women are fond, on all gala occasions, of painting their faces with any pigment that is obtainable. Our observation of both sexes was obtained chiefly as they came off in their boats to the ship, which they always do in scores; and those we saw were nearly in a state of nature. The yellow and abundant hair of the men must be colored by some process known only to themselves; for though they wear nothing to protect their heads, the sun could not so bleach it. At one time our decks were crowded with these savages, offering for sale curious shells, fruits, native-made ornaments, especially necklaces formed of a dried scarlet berry.
Apia, the capital town of Upolu and the metropolis of the group, presents an inviting prospect from the sea, and the whole island in its general conformation is the most notable of them all. The foot-hills lie quite back from the shore, rising one green elevation behind another, until the great central mountain range is reached, which has an elevation of some four thousand feet above the level of the surrounding waters. All of these hills and the top of the highest elevation are clothed in ever green vegetation, flanked here and there by exposed and abrupt cliffs, bare, rugged, and grand, standing like giant sentinels defying the power of the elements. In the distance, upon a mountain side, is seen a thin silver thread, sparkling in the sun's rays, stretching downward from the heights, which we were told would prove to be a clear, never-failing cascade of water could we approach near enough to discover its real character. It forms the source of a small river, which courses its way to the sea. Many a ship comes hither and anchors, to fill her water-casks from this crystal spring. The town, including its two meeting houses and many European cottages, was half-hidden by the trees, while the water between the ship and the shore was alive with small native boats full of naked islanders, men and women, ready to sell carved clubs, spears, and canes of native wood.
Of the many boats that came off to meet our ship two contained some remarkable swimmers and divers. The most expert among them all was a young woman, who by her rapid movements in the water managed to secure fully half of the sixpences and shillings which were thrown overboard for the divers, though there were numerous competitors of the other sex. She always came to the surface smiling, with the silver between her teeth; and after shaking her head like a Newfoundland dog, and wiping the brine hastily from her eyes, she was quite ready for another plunge, having in the mean time stowed the silver coin away securely in her cheek, as monkeys do nuts and candy. The water alongside the ship was probably thirty or forty fathoms deep, but no piece of money got half-way to the bottom before it was overtaken and secured by a native diver. Though all were as nearly nude as was admissible in the presence of civilized people, they evinced not the least consciousness of personal exposure. And after all, when we paused to think of the matter, it was they who were naturally covered and we who were artificially clothed.
A bunch of fresh, glowing, scarlet hibiscus was observed in one of the boats lying quite neglected, being evidently considered of too little value to offer for sale, but which we secured for a sixpence. This flower grows in wild luxuriance in the Samoan Islands, and forms the most common ornament worn in the hair of the women. The men pass much time in dressing their hair in the little spiral columns as already described, while the women cut theirs short, leaving only sufficient length in which to affix the flower-stems.
When articles of food, such as cake, meats, or candy, were given to the natives they invariably smelt of them before tasting, and if they proved palatable they expressed their satisfaction by a smile and a grunt, more animal than human. They had some few words of English, of which they made incessant use. Their unconscious manners and thoughtless by-play somehow recalled that of the monkey tribe, even to the way they curled their lower limbs under them in the boats, or when sitting upon our deck. Some of the spears and war-clubs which they offered for sale showed much delicacy and skill, both in the design and carving.
The German Government has for a considerable time carried matters with an arbitrary hand in these islands, showing a covert but determined purpose, shamefully oppressing the native race, of whom there are about thirty-five thousand, appropriating their lands, and under various pretences robbing them in every possible manner. While we were there four German ironclads lay off Apia, having come with the purpose of gaining possession of Samoa either by diplomacy or gunpowder. The pretext made use of was oppression of German citizens on the part of the native government! Unfortunately the natives were in a state of partial anarchy, quarrelling among themselves, there being two parties desiring to control the throne. The Germans incited a revolution among them a year ago, favoring one of these aspirants in order to take advantage of such a condition of affairs as would grow out of a pronounced revolution. An Englishman who took passage on our ship at the islands was full of indignation at the arrogance of the Germans, and infused a similar feeling among us by relating in detail the course pursued by these interlopers during the past twelvemonth, especially at Apia. The natives, as this gentleman represented them, are generally an inoffensive, frugal people, having few vices, most of which have been taught them by the whites. They are remarkably slow to anger, and bear the oppression of these foreign invaders very humbly.
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