Funeral of the Princess

Mark Twain

Sacramento Daily Union/August 1, 1866

Honolulu, July 1, 1866

At ten o’clock yesterday morning, the court, members of the legislature and various diplomatic bodies assembled at the Iolani Palace, to be present at the funeral of the late Princess. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Mr. Parker, pastor of the great stone church—of which the Princess was a member, I believe, and whose choir she used to lead in the days of her early womanhood. To the day of her death she was a staunch, unwavering friend and ally of the missionaries, and it is a matter of no surprise that Parker, always eloquent, spoke upon this occasion with a feeling and pathos which visibly moved the hearts of men accustomed to conceal their emotions.

The Bishop of Honolulu, ever zealous, had sought permission to officiate in Parker’s stead, but after duly considering the fact that the Princess had always regarded the Bishop with an unfriendly eye and had persistently refused to have anything to do with his church, his request was denied. However, he demanded and was granted the place of honor in the procession, although it belonged properly to the officiating clergyman. The Bishop also claimed that inasmuch as the Royal Mausoleum was consecrated ground, it would be sacrilegious to allow a Calvinistic minister to officiate there when the body was consigned to the tomb, and so he was allowed to conduct that portion of the obsequies himself. However, he explained that it was not the custom of his church to read a burial service or offer up a prayer over such as had never belonged to that church, and therefore the departed Princess was consigned to her last resting place with no warmer or kindlier a recommendation than a meager, non-committal benediction—a sort of chilly funereal politeness—nothing more. But then we should not blame the Bishop in this matter, because he has both authority and example to sustain his position, as I find by reference to a “Review” by W. D. Alexander of one of his “Pastoral Addresses.” I quote from Alexander:

“Only last December, Thomas Powell, near Peterborough in England, wished to have his son buried in the parish church-yard, and a Dissenting minister to officiate. When the friends had gathered around the grave, a messenger arrived from the clergyman of the Established Church, one Ellaby, stating that he was ready to perform the Episcopal service. This was courteously declined, upon which the Rector issued from the church and forbade the burial. Even the right of silent interment was denied them, and when the afflicted father would himself perform the last sad offices at the grave of his child the spade was wrenched from his hand by the sexton.”

In offering this defense of the Bishop of Honolulu, I do so simply with an unselfish wish to do him justice and save him from hasty and injurious criticism, and not through a mean desire to curry favor with him.

The Grand Funeral Pageant

As the hour of eleven approached, large bodies of white and native residents, chiefly on horseback, moved toward the palace through the quiet streets, to see the procession form. All business houses were closed, of course, and many a flag, half-mast high, swung lazily in the Summer air.

The procession began to move at eleven, amid the solemn tolling of bells and the dull booming of minute guns from the heights overlooking the city. A glance of the eye down the procession revealed a striking and picturesque spectacle—large bodies of women, in melancholy black, and roofed over with a far-reaching double line of black umbrellas; troops of men and children, in black; carriages; with horses clad from head to foot in sable velvet; and in strong contrast with all this were the bright colors flashing here and there along the pageant—swarthy Zouaves in crimson raiment; soldiers, in blue and white and other lively hues; mounted lancers, with red and white pennants fluttering from their weapons; nobles and great offices in splendid uniforms; and—conspicuous amid its gloomy surrounding—the catafalque, flanked on either side with gorgeously-tinted kahilis. The slow and measured tread of the marching squadrons; the mournful music of the bands; the chanting of the virtues of the dead and the warrior deeds of her ancestors, by a gray and venerable woman here and there, the wild wail that rang out at times from some bereaved one to whom the occasion brought back the spirit of the buried past—these completed the effect.

The Kahilis

The kahilis are symbols of mourning which are sacred to the aristocracy. They are immense plumes, mounted upon tall poles, and are made of feathers of all bright and beautiful colors; some are a rich purple; some crimson; others brown, blue, white and black, etc. These are all dyed, but the costly kahilis formed of the yellow feather of royalty (tabu to the common herd) were tinted by the hand of nature, and come from the tropic bird, which, as I have said in a previous letter, has but two of them—one under each wing. One or two kahilis, also, made of red feathers from a bird called by sailors the marlinspike bird, had no artificial coloring about them. These feathers are very long and slender (hence the fowl’s name), and each bird’s tail is furnished with two, and only two, of them. The birds of the Sandwich Islands seem uncommonly indigent in the matter of strictly ornamental feathers. A dozen or more of these gaudy kahilis were upheld by pallbearers of high blood and fenced in the stately catafalque with a vari-colored wall as brilliant as a rainbow. Through the arches of the catafalque could be seen the coffin, draped with that badge and symbol of royalty, the famous yellow feather war-cloak, whose construction occupied the toiling hands of its manufacturers during nine generations of Hawaiian Kings.

“Style”

We have here, in this little land of 50,000 inhabitants, the complete machinery, in its minutest details, of a vast and imposing empire, done in miniature. We have all the sounding titles, all the grades and castes, all the pomp and circumstance, of a great monarchy. To the curious, the following published programme of the procession will not be uninteresting. After reading the long list of dignitaries, etc., and remembering the sparseness of the population, one is almost inclined to wonder where the material for that portion of the procession devoted to “Hawaiian Population Generally” is going to be procured:

Details

The “Ahahui Kaahumanu”—a benevolent society instituted (and presided over) by the late Princess for the nursing of the sick and the burial of the dead—was numerously represented. It is composed solely of native women. They were dressed in black, and wore sashes of different colors.

His Majesty the King, attended by a guard of nobles and princes, whose uniforms were splendid, with bright colors and loops and braids of gold, rode with his venerable father in the first carriage in the rear of the catafalque. The Bishop of Honolulu occupied the place of honor in that portion of the procession which preceded the catafalque.

The servants of the King and the late Princess would have made quite a respectable procession by themselves. They numbered two hundred and fifty, perhaps.

Four or five poodle dogs, which had been the property of the deceased, were carried in the arms of individuals among these servants of peculiar and distinguished trustworthiness. It is likely that all the Christianity the Hawaiians could absorb would never be sufficient to wean them from their almost idolatrous affection for dogs. And these dogs, as a general thing, are the smallest, meanest, and most spiritless, homely and contemptible of their species.

As the procession passed along the broad and beautiful Nuuanu street, an innocent native would step out occasionally from the ranks, procure a slice of watermelon, or a pineapple, or a lighted pipe, from some dusky spectator and return to his place and enjoy the refreshing luxury as he kept step with the melancholy music.

When we had thoroughly examined the pageant we retired to a back street and galloped ahead to the mausoleum, two miles from the center of the town, and sat down to wait. This mausoleum is a neat edifice, built of dressed blocks of coral, has a high, sharp, slated roof, and its form is that of a Greek cross. The remains of the later Kings repose in it, but those of ancient times were hidden or burned, in compliance with a custom of the dark ages; some say, to prevent evil-disposed persons from getting hold of them and thus being enabled to pray a descendant to death; others say, to prevent the natives from making fish hooks out of them, it being held that there were superior fishhook virtues in the bones of a high chief. There are other theories for accounting for this custom, but I have forgotten what they are. It is said that it was usual to send a friend to hide the bones (after they had been stripped of the flesh and neatly tied in a bundle), and then waylay him and kill him as he came back, whereby it will be observed that to do a favor of this kind was attended with consequences which could not be otherwise than disagreeable to the party assuming the kindly office of undertaker to a dead dignitary. Of course, as you will easily divine, the man was killed to prevent the possibility of his divulging his precious secret.

The mausoleum is large enough to accommodate many dead Kings and Princes. It stands in the middle of a large grass-clad lawn, which is inclosed by a stone wall.

Arrival of the Procession

As the procession filed through the gate, the military deployed handsomely to the right and left and formed an avenue through which the long column of mourners passed to the tomb. The coffin was borne through the door of the mausoleum, followed by the King and his chiefs, the great officers of the kingdom, foreign Consuls, Ambassadors and distinguished guests (Burlingame and General Van Valkenburgh). Several of the kahilis were then fastened to a framework in front of the tomb, there to remain until they decay and fall to pieces, or forestalling this, until another scion of royalty dies. At this point of the proceedings the multitude set up such a dismal, heart-broken wailing as I hope never to hear again. The soldiers fired three volleys of musketry—the wailing being previously silenced to permit of the guns being heard. His Highness Prince William, in a showy military uniform (who was formerly betrothed to the Princess but was not allowed to marry her), stood guard and paced back and forth within the door. The privileged few who followed the coffin into the mausoleum remained some time, but

The King

Soon came out and stood in the door and near one side of it. A stranger could have guessed his rank (although he was so simply and unpretentiously dressed) by the profound deference paid him by all persons in his vicinity; by seeing his high officers receive his quiet orders and suggestions with bowed and uncovered heads; and by observing how careful those persons who came out of the mausoleum were to avoid “crowding” him (although there was room enough in the doorway for a wagon to pass, for that matter); how respectfully they edged out sideways, scraping their backs against the wall and always presenting a front view of their persons to His Majesty, and never putting their hats on until they were well out of the royal presence.

The King is thirty-four years of age it is said, but looks all of fifty. He has an observant, inquiring eye, a heavy, massive face, a lighter complexion than is common with his race, tolerably short, stiff hair, a moderate mustache and imperial, large stature, inclining somewhat to corpulence (I suppose he weighs fully one hundred and eighty—maybe a little over), has fleshy hands, but a small foot for his size, is about six feet high, is thoughtful and slow of movement, has a large head, firmly set upon broad shoulders, and is a better man and a better looking one than he is represented to be in the villainous popular photographs of him, for none of them are good. That last remark is surplusage, however, for no photograph ever was good, yet, of anybody—hunger and thirst and utter wretchedness overtake the outlaw who invented it! It transforms into desperadoes the meekest of men; depicts sinless innocence upon the pictured faces of ruffians; gives the wise man the stupid leer of a fool, and a fool an expression of more than earthly wisdom. If a man tries to look merely serious when he sits for his picture, the photograph makes him as solemn as an owl; if he smiles, the photograph smirks repulsively; if he tries to look pleasant, the photograph looks silly; if he makes the fatal mistake of attempting to seem pensive, the camera will surely write him down an ass. The sun never looks through the photographic instrument that it does not print a lie. The piece of glass it prints it on is well named a ‘negative”—a contradiction—a misrepresentation—a falsehood. I speak feelingly of this matter, because by turns the instrument has represented me to be a lunatic, a Solomon, a missionary, a burglar and an abject idiot, and I am neither.

The King was dressed entirely in black—dress-coat and silk hat—and looked rather democratic in the midst of the showy uniforms about him. On his breast he wore a large gold star, which was half hidden by the lapel of his coat. He remained at the door a half hour, and occasionally gave an order to the men who were erecting the kahilis before the tomb. He had the good taste to make one of them substitute black crape for the ordinary hempen rope he was about to tie one of them to the framework with. Finally he entered his carriage and drove away, and the populace shortly began to drop in his wake. While he was in view there was but one man who attracted more attention than himself, and that was Minister Harris. This feeble personage had crape enough around his hat to express the grief of an entire nation, and as usual he neglected no opportunity of making himself conspicuous and exciting the admiration of the simple Kanakas. Oh! noble ambition of this modern Richelieu!

A Contrast–How They Did in Ancient Times

It is interesting to contrast the funeral ceremonies of the Princess Victoria with those of her great ancestor Kamehameha the Conqueror, who died less than fifty years ago—in 1819, the year before the first missionaries came:

“On the 8th of May, 1819, at the age of sixty-six, he died, as he had lived, in the faith of his country. It was his misfortune not to have come in contact with men who could have rightly influenced his religious aspirations. Judged by his advantages and compared with the most eminent of his countrymen he may be justly styled not only great, but good. To this day his memory warms the heart and elevates the national feelings of Hawaiians. They are proud of their old warrior King; they love his name; his deeds form their historical age; and an enthusiasm everywhere prevails, shared even by foreigners who knew his worth, that constitutes the firmest pillar of the throne of his son.

“In lieu of human victims (the custom of that age), a sacrifice of three hundred dogs attended his obsequies—no mean holocaust when their national value and the estimation in which they were held are considered. The bones of Kamehameha, after being kept for a while, were so carefully concealed that all knowledge of their final resting place is now lost. There was a proverb current among the common people that the bones of a cruel King could not be hid; they made fish-hooks and arrows of them, upon which, in using them, they vented their abhorrence of his memory in bitter execrations.”

The account of the circumstances of his death, as written by the native historians, is full of minute detail, but there is scarcely a line of it which does not mention or illustrate some bygone custom of the country. In this respect it is the most comprehensive document I have yet met with. I will quote it entire:

“When Kamehameha was dangerously sick and the priests were unable to cure him, they said: ‘Be of good courage and build a house for the god’ (his own private god or idol) ‘that thou mayest recover.’ The chiefs corroborated this advice of the priests, and a place of worship was prepared for Kukailimoku, and consecrated in the evening. They proposed also to the King, with a view to prolong his life, that human victims should be sacrificed to his deity; upon which the greater part of the people absconded through fear of death, and concealed themselves in hiding places till the tabu, in which destruction impended, was past. It is doubtful whether Kamehameha approved of the plan of the chiefs and priests to sacrifice men, as he was known to say, ‘The men are sacred for the King;’ meaning that they were for the service of his successor. This information was derived from Liholiho, his son.

“After this, his sickness increased to such a degree that he had not strength to turn himself in his bed. When another season, consecrated for worship at the new temple (heiau) arrived; he said to his son, Liholiho, ‘Go thou and make supplication to thy god; I am not able to go, and will offer my prayers at home. When his devotions to his feathered god, Kukailimoku, were concluded, a certain religiously disposed individual, who had a bird god, suggested to the King that through its influence his sickness might be removed. The name of this god was Pua; its body was made of a bird, now eaten by the Hawaiians, and called in their language alae. Kamehameha was willing that a trial should be made, and two houses were constructed to facilitate the experiment; but while dwelling in them he became so very weak as not to receive food. After lying there three days, his wives, children and chiefs, perceiving that he was very low, returned him to his own house. In the evening he was carried to the eating house, where he took a little food in his mouth which he did not swallow—also a cup of water. The chiefs requested him to give them his counsel; but he made no reply, and was carried back to the dwelling house—but when near midnight—ten o’clock, perhaps—he was carried again to the place to eat; but, as before, he merely tasted of what was presented to him. Then Kaikioewa addressed him thus: ‘Here we all are, your younger brethren, your son Liholiho and your foreigner; impart to us your dying charge, that Liholiho and Kaahumanu may hear.’ Then Kamehameha inquired, ‘What do you say?’ Kaikiowa repeated, ‘Your counsels for us.’ He then said, ‘Move on in my good way and—.’ He could proceed no further. The foreigner, Mr. Young, embraced and kissed him. Hoapili also embraced him, whispering something in his ear, after which he was taken back to the house. About twelve he was carried once more to the house for eating, into which his head entered, while his body was in the dwelling house immediately adjoining. It should be remarked that this frequent carrying of a sick chief from one house to another resulted from the tabu system, then in force. There were at that time six houses connected with an establishment—one for worship, one for the men to eat in, an eating house for the women, a house to sleep in, a house in which to manufacture kapa (native cloth) and one where, at certain intervals, the women might dwell in seclusion.

“The sick was once more taken to his house, when he expired; this was at two o’clock, a circumstance from which Leleiohoku derived his name. As he breathed his last, Kalaimoku came to the eating house to order those in it to go out. There were two aged persons thus directed to depart; one went, the other remained on account of love to the King, by whom he had formerly been kindly sustained. The children also were sent away. Then Kalaimoku came to the house, and the chiefs had a consultation. One of them spoke thus: ‘This is my thought—we will eat him raw.’ Kaahumanu (one of the dead King’s widows) replied, ‘Perhaps his body is not at our disposal; that is more properly with his successor. Our part in him—his breath—has departed; his remains will be disposed of by Liholiho.’

“After this conversation the body was taken into the consecrated house for the performance of the proper rites by the priest and the new King. The name of this ceremony is uko; and when the sacred hog was baked the priest offered it to the dead body, and it became a god, the King at the same time repeating the customary prayers.

“Then the priest, addressing himself to the King and chiefs, said: ‘I will now make known to you the rules to be observed respecting persons to be sacrificed on the burial of this body. If you obtain one man before the corpse is removed, one will be sufficient; but after it leaves this house four will be requited. If delayed until we carry the corpse to the grave there must be ten; but after it is deposited in the grave there must be fifteen. To-morrow morning there will be a tabu, and, if the sacrifice be delayed until that time, forty men must die.’

“Then the high priest, Hewahewa, inquired of the chiefs, ‘Where shall be the residence of King Liholiho?’ They replied, ‘Where indeed? You, of all men, ought to know.’ Then the priest observed, ‘There are two suitable places—one is Kau, the other is Kohala.’ The chiefs preferred the latter, as it was more thickly inhabited. The priest added, ‘These are proper places for the King’s residence; but he must not remain in Kona, for it is polluted.’ This was agreed to. It was now break of day. As he was being carried to the place of burial the people perceived that their King was dead, and they wailed. When the corpse was removed from the house to the tomb, a distance of one chain, the procession was met by a certain man who was ardently attached to the deceased. He leaped upon the chiefs who were carrying the King’s body; he desired to die with him on account of his love. The chiefs drove him away. He persisted in making numerous attempts, which were unavailing, also had it in his heart to die with him, but was prevented by Hookio.

“The morning following Kamehameha’s death, Liholiho and his train departed for Kohala, according to the suggestions of the priest, to avoid the defilement occasioned by the dead. At this time if a chief died the land was polluted, and the heirs sought a residence in another part of the country until the corpse was dissected and the bones tied in a bundle, which being done, the season of defilement terminated. If the deceased were not a chief, the house only was defiled, which became pure again on the burial of the body. Such were the laws on this subject.

“On the morning on which Liholiho sailed in his canoe for Kohala, the chiefs and people mourned after their manner on occasion of a chief’s death, conducting themselves like madmen and like beasts. Their conduct was such as to forbid description. The priests, also, put into action the sorcery apparatus, that the person who had prayed the King to death might die; for it was not believed that Kamehameha’s departure was the effect either of sickness or old age. When the sorcerers set up by their fireplaces sticks with a strip of kapa flying at the top, the chief Keeaumoku, Kaahumanu’s brother, came in a state of intoxication and broke the flagstaff of the sorcerers, from which it was inferred that Kaahumanu and her friends had been instrumental in the King’s death. On this account they were subjected to abuse.”

You have the contrast, now, and a strange one it is. This great Queen, Kaahumanu, who was “subjected to abuse” during the frightful orgies that followed the King’s death, in accordance with an ancient custom, afterwards became a devout Christian and a steadfast and powerful friend of the missionaries.

Mark Twain.

POSTSCRIPT—THE MINISTERS

Burlingame and Van Valkenburgh, United States Ministers to China and Japan, are ready to sail, but are delayed by the absence of two attaches, who went to Hawaii to see the volcano, and who were not aware how slow a country this is to get around in. The journey to Hilo, which would be made anywhere else almost in eighteen or twenty hours, requires a week in the little inter-island schooners.

Colonel Kalakaua, the King’s Chamberlain, has invited the Ministerial party to a great luau (native dinner) at Waikiki.

Gen. Van Valkenburgh has achieved a distinguished success as a curiosity finder—not hunter. Standing on the celebrated Pari, a day or two ago, and amusing himself by idly punching into the compact lava wall through which the road is cut, he crumbled away a chunk of it, and observing something white sticking to it, he instituted an examination, and found a sound, white, unmarred and unblemished human jaw-tooth firmly imbedded in the lava! Now the question is how did it get there—in the side (where a road had been cut in) of a mountain of lava—seven hundred feet above the valley? a mountain which has been there for ages, this being one of the oldest islands in the group. Burlingame was present, and saw the General unearth his prize. I have critically examined it, but, as I half expected myself, the world knows as much about how to account for the wonder now as if I had let it alone. In old times, the bones of Chiefs were often thrown into the volcanoes, to make sure that no enemy could get a chance to meddle with them; and Brown has given it as his deliberate opinion that “that old snag used to belong to one of them fellows.” Possibly—but the opinion comes from a source which entitles it to but little weight. However, that tooth is as able a curiosity as any I have yet seen in the Sandwich Islands. M. T.

(Source: Project Gutenberg Australia: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks09/0900821h.html#TOC3_467)

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