My Hawaiian Aloha

Jack London

Cosmopolitan Magazine/September, 1916

Editor’s Note: In the Hawaiian language, the word “aloha” (literally, love) is the universal form of salutation. From the Islands, Mr. London sends a greeting to Cosmopolitan readers. And it contains something of great interest. In the months he has spent in the most delightful of our territorial possessions, he has obtained knowledge as to how life is lived there. He has worn through the surface novelty that invariably fascinates the temporary sojourner coming in contact with practically none of the problems of existence. This is the first of a short series of articles on present-day Hawaii.

Once upon a time, only the other day, when jovial King Kalakaua established a record for the kings of earth and time, there entered into his Polynesian brain as merry a scheme of international intrigue as ever might have altered the destiny of races and places. The time was 1881; the place of the intrigue, the palace of the Mikado at Tokyo. The record must not be omitted, for it was none other than that for the first time in the history of kings and of the world a reigning sovereign, in his own royal person, put a girdle around the earth.

The intrigue? It was certainly as international as any international intrigue could be. Also, it was equally as dark, while it was precisely in alignment with the future conflicting courses of empires. Manifest destiny was more than incidentally concerned. When the manifest destinies of two dynamic races move on ancient and immemorial lines toward each other from east to west and west to east along the same parallels of latitude, there is an inevitable point on the earth’s surface where they will collide. In this case, the races were the Anglo-Saxon (represented by the Americans), and the Mongolian (represented by the Japanese). The place was Hawaii, the lovely and lovable, beloved of countless many as “Hawaii Nei.”

Kalakaua, despite his merriness, foresaw clearly, either that the United States would absorb Hawaii, or that, allied by closest marital ties to the royal house of the Rising Sun, Hawaii could be a brother kingdom in an empire. That he saw clearly, the situation to-day attests. Hawaii Nei is a territory of the United States. There are more Japanese resident in Hawaii at the present time than are resident other nationalities, not even excepting the native Hawaiians.

The figures are eloquent. In round numbers, there are twenty-five thousand pure Hawaiians, twenty-five thousand various Caucasians, twenty-three thousand Portuguese, twenty-one thousand Chinese, fifteen thousand Filipinos, a sprinkling of many other breeds, an amazing complexity of intermingled breeds, and ninety thousand Japanese. And, most amazingly eloquent of all statistics are those of the race purity of the Japanese mating. In the year 1914, the Registrar General is authority for the statements that one American male and one Spanish male respectively married Japanese females, that one Japanese male married a Hapa-Haole, or Caucasian-Hawaiian female, and that three Japanese males married pure Hawaiian females. When it comes to an innate antipathy toward mongrelization, the dominant national in Hawaii, the Japanese, proves himself more jealously exclusive by far than any other national. Omitting the records of all the other nationals which go to make up the amazing mongrelization of races in this smelting pot of the races, let the record of pure-blood Americans be cited. In the same year of 1914, the Registrar General reports that of American males who intermingled their breed and seed with alien races, eleven married pure Hawaiians, twenty-five married Caucasian-Hawaiians, three married pure Chinese, four married Chinese-Hawaiians, and one married a pure Japanese. To sum the same thing up with a cross bearing: in the same year 1914, of over eighteen hundred Japanese women who married, only two married outside their race; of over eight hundred pure Caucasian women who married, over two hundred intermingled their breed and seed with races alien to their own. Reduced to decimals, of the females who went over the fence of race to secure fathers for their children, .25 of pure Caucasian women were guilty; .0014 of Japanese women were guilty — in vulgar fraction, one out of four Caucasian women; one out of one thousand Japanese women.

King Kalakaua, at the time he germinated his idea, was the royal guest of the Mikado in a special palace which was all his to lodge in, along with his suite. But Kalakaua was resolved upon an international intrigue which was, to say the least, ethnologically ticklish; while his suite consisted of two Americans, one Colonel C. H. Judd, his Chamberlain, the other, Mr. William N. Armstrong, his Attorney-General. They represented one of the race manifest destinies, and he knew it would never do for them to know what he had up his kingly sleeve. So, on this day in 1881, he gave them the royal slip, sneaked out of the palace the back way, and hied him to the Mikado’s palace.

All of which, between kings, is a very outre thing to do. But what was mere etiquette between kings? — Kalakaua reasoned. Besides, Kalakaua was a main-traveled sovereign and a very cosmopolitan through contact with all sorts and conditions of men at the feasting board under the ringing grass-thatched roof of the royal canoe house at Honolulu, while the Mikado had never been off his tight little island. Of course, the Mikado was surprised at this unannounced and entirely unceremonious afternoon call. But not for nothing was he the Son of Heaven, equipped with all the perfection of gentleness that belongs to a much longer than a nine-hundred-years-old name. To his dying day Kalakaua never dreamed of the faux pas he committed that day in 1881.

He went directly to the point, exposited the manifest destinies moving from east to west and west to east, and proposed no less than that an imperial prince of the Mikado’s line should espouse the Princess Kaiulani of Hawaii. He assured this delicate, hot-house culture of a man whose civilization was already a dim and distant achievement at the time Kalakaua’s forebears were on the perilous and savage Polynesian canoe-drift over the Pacific ere ever they came to colonize Hawaii — this pallid palace flower of a monarch did he assure that the Princess Kaiulani was some princess. And in this Kalakaua made no mistake. She was all that he could say of her, and more. Not alone was she the most refined and peach-blow blossom of a woman that Hawaii had ever produced, to whom connoisseurs of beauty and of spirit like Robert Louis Stevenson had bowed knee and head and presented with poems and pearls; but she was Kalakaua’s own niece and heir to the throne of Hawaii. Thus, the Americans, moving westward would be compelled to stop on the far shore of the Pacific; while Hawaii, taken under Japan’s wing, would become the easterly outpost of Japan.

Kalakaua died without knowing how clearly he foresaw the trend of events. To-day the United States possesses Hawaii, which, in turn, is populated by more Japanese than by any other nationality. Practically every second person in the island is a Japanese, and the Japanese are breeding true to pure race lines while all the others are cross-breeding to an extent that would be a scandal on any stock farm.


Fortunately for the United States, the Mikado reflected. Because he reflected, Hawaii to-day is not a naval base for Japan and a menace to the United States. The haoles, or whites, overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy, formed the Dole Republic, and shortly thereafter brought their loot in under the sheltering folds of the Stars and Stripes. There is little use to balk at the word “loot.” The white man is the born looter. And just as the North American Indian was looted of his continent by the white man, so was the Hawaiian looted by the white men of his islands. Such things be. They are morally indefensible. As facts they are irrefragable — as irrefragable as the facts that water drowns, that frost bites, and that fire incinerates.

And let this particular haole who writes these lines here and now subscribe his joy and gladness in the Hawaiian loot. Of all places of beauty and joy under the sun — but there, I was born in California, which is no mean place in itself, and it would be more meet to let some of the talking be done by the Hawaii-born, both Polynesian and haole. First of all, the Hawaii-born, unlike the Californian, does not talk big. “When you come down to the Islands you must visit us,” he will say; “we’ll give you a good time.” That’s all. No swank. Just like an invitation to dinner. And after the visit is accomplished you will confess to yourself that you never knew before what a good time was, and that for the first time you have learned the full alphabet of hospitality. There is nothing like it. The Hawaii-born won’t tell you about it. He just does it.

Said Ellis, nearly a century ago, in his Polynesian Researches: “On the arrival of strangers, every man endeavored to obtain one as a friend and carry him off to his own habitation, where he is treated with the greatest kindness by the inhabitants of the district; they place him on a high seat and feed him with abundance of the finest food.”

Such was Captain Cook’s experience when he discovered Hawaii, and despite what happened to him because of his abuse of so fine hospitality, the same hospitality has persisted in the Hawaiians of this day. Oh, please make no mistake. No longer, as he lands, will the latest beachcomber, whaleship deserter, or tourist, be carried up among the palms by an enthusiastic and loving population and be placed in the high seat. When, in a single week to-day, a dozen steamships land thousands of tourists, the impossibility of such lavishness of hospitality is understandable. It can’t be done.


But — the old hospitality holds. Come with your invitations, or letters of introduction, and you will find yourself immediately instated in the high seat of abundance. Or, come uninvited, without credentials, merely stay a real, decent while, and yourself be “good,” and make good the good in you — but, oh, softly, and gently, and sweetly, and manly, and womanly— and you will slowly steal into the Hawaiian heart, which is all of softness, and gentleness, and sweetness, and manliness, and womanliness, and one day, to your own vast surprise, you will find yourself seated in a high place of hospitableness than which there is none higher on this earth’s surface. You will have loved your way there, and you will find it the abode of love.

Nor is that all. Since I, as an attestant, am doing the talking, let me be forgiven my first-person intrusions. Detesting the tourist route, as a matter of private whim or quirk of temperament, nevertheless I have crossed the tourist route in many places over the world and know thoroughly what I am talking about.

And I can and do aver, that, in this year 1916, I know of no place where the unheralded and uncredentialed tourist, if he is anything of anything in himself, so quickly finds himself among friends as here in Hawaii. Let me add: I know of no people in any place who have been stung more frequently and deeply by chance visitors than have the people of Hawaii. Yet the old heart and hale (house) hospitality holds. The Hawaii- born is like the leopard; spotted for good or ill, neither can change his spots.

Why, only last evening I was talking with an Hawaii matron — how shall I say? — one of the first ladies. Her and her husband’s trip to Japan for Cherry Blossom Time was canceled for a year. Why? She had re- ceived a wireless from a steamer which had already sailed from San Francisco, from a girl friend, a new bride, who was coming to partake of a generally extended hospitality of several years before. “But why give up your own good time?” I said; “turn your house and servants over to the young couple and you go on your own trip just the same.” “But that would never do,” said she. That was all. She had no thought of house and servants. She had once offered her hospitality. She must be there, on the spot, in heart and hale and person. And she, island-born, had always traveled east to the States and to Europe, while this was her first and long anticipated journey west to the Orient. But that she should be remiss in the traditional and trained and innate hospitality of Hawaii was unthinkable. Of course she would remain. What else could she do?

Oh, what’s the use? I was going to make the Hawaii-born talk. They won’t. They can’t. I shall have to go on and do all the talking myself. They are poor boosters. They even try to boost, on occasion; but the latest steamship and railroad publicity agent from the mainland will give them cards and spades and talk all around them when it comes to describing what Hawaii so beautifully and charmingly is. Take surf-boarding, for instance. A California real estate agent, with that one asset, could make the burnt, barren heart of Sahara into an oasis for kings. Not only did the Hawaii-born not talk about it, but they forgot about it. Just as the sport was at its dying gasp, along came one Alexander Ford, from the mainland. And he talked. Surf-boarding was the sport of sports. There was nothing like it anywhere else in the world. They ought to be ashamed for letting it languish. It was one of the Island’s assets, a drawing card for travelers that would fill their hotels and bring them many permanent residents, etc., etc.

He continued to talk, and the Hawaii-born smiled. “What are you going to do about it?” they said, when he button-holed them into corners. “This is just talk, you know, just a line of talk.”

“I’m not going to do anything except talk,” Ford replied. “It’s you fellows who’ve got to do the doing.”

And all was as he said. And all of which I know for myself, at first hand, for I lived on Waikiki Beach at the time in a tent where stands the Outrigger Club to-day — twelve hundred members, with hundreds more on the waiting list, and with what seems like half a mile of surf-board lockers.


“Oh, yes, — there’s fishing in the Islands,” has been the customary manner of the Hawaii-born’s talk, when on the mainland or in Europe. “Come down some time and we’ll take you fishing.” — Just the same casual dinner sort of an invitation to take pot luck. And, if encouraged, he will go on and describe with antiquarian detail, how, in the good old days, the natives wove baskets and twisted fish lines that lasted a century from the fibers of a plant that grew only in the spray of the waterfall; or cleared the surface of the water with a spread of the oil of the kukui nut and caught squid with bright cowrie shells tied fast on the end of a string ; or, fathoms deep, in the caves of the coral-cliffs, encountered the octopus and bit him to death with their teeth in the soft bone between his eyes above his parrot-beak.

Meanwhile these are the glad young days of new-fangled ways of fish-catching in which the Hawaii-born’s auditor is interested; and meanwhile, from Nova Scotia to Florida and across the Gulf seashore to the coast of California, a thousand railroads, steamship lines, promotion committees, boards of trade, and real estate agents are booming the tarpon and the tuna that may occasionally be caught in their adjacent waters.


And all the time, though the world is just coming to learn of it, the one unchallengeable paradise for big-game-fishing is Hawaii. First of all, there are the fish. And they are all the year round, in amazing variety and profusion. The United States Fish Commission, without completing the task, has already described 447 distinct species, exclusive of the big, deep-sea game- fish. It is a matter of taking any day and any choice, from harpooning sharks to shooting flying-fish —like quail — with shotguns, or taking a stab at a whale, or trapping a lobster. One can fish with barbless hooks and a six-pound sinker at the end of a drop-line off Molokai in forty fathoms of water and catch at a single session, a miscellany as generous as to include: the six to eight pound moelua, the fifteen pound upakapaka, the ten-pound lehe, the kawelea which is first cousin to the “barricoot,” the hapuupuu, the aivaa, and say, maybe, the toothsome and gamy kahala mokidaie. And the bait one will use on his forty-fathom line will be the fish called the opelu, which, in turn, is caught with a bait of crushed pumpkin.

But let not the light-tackle sportsman be dismayed by the foregoing description of such crass, gross ways of catching unthinkable and unpronounceable fish. Let him take a six ounce tip and a nine-thread line and essay one of Hawaii’s black sea bass. They catch them here weighing over six hundred pounds, and they certainly do run bigger than do those in the kelp beds off Southern California. Does the light-tackle man want tarpon? He will find them here as gamy and as large as in Florida, and they will leap in the air — ’ware slack! — like range mustangs to fling the hook clear.

Nor has the tale begun. Of the barracuda, Hawaiian waters boast twenty species, sharp-toothed, voracious, running to a fathom and even more in length, and, unlike the Florida barracuda, traveling in schools. There are the albacore and the dolphin — no mean fish for light tackle; to say nothing of the ocean bonita and the California bonita. There is the ulua, pound for pound the gamest salt-water fish that ever tried a rod; and there is the ono, half way a swordfish, called by the ancient Hawaiians the father of the mackerel. Also, there is the swordfish, at which light-tackle men have never been known to sneer — after they had once hooked one. The swordfish of Hawaii, known by its immemorial native name of a’u, averages from three to four hundred pounds, although they have been caught between six and seven hundred pounds, sporting swords five feet and more in length. And not least are those two cousins of the amberjack of Florida, the yellow tail and the amber fish, named by Holder as the fish of Southern California par excellence and by him described for their beauty and desperateness in putting up a fight.


And the tuna must not be omitted, or, at any rate, the Thunnus thynnus, the Thunnus alalonsa, and the Thunnus macrapterus, so called by the scientists, but known by the Hawaiians under the generic name of ahi, and, by light-tackle men as the leaping tuna, the long-fin tuna, and the yellow-fin tuna. In the past two months, Messrs. Jump, Burnham and Morris, from the mainland, seem to have broken every world record in the tuna line. They had to come to Hawaii to do it, but, once here, they did it easily, even if Morris did break a few ribs in the doing of it. Just the other day, on their last trip, Mr. Jump landed a sixty-seven pound yellow-fin on a nine-thread line, and Mr. Morris similarly a fifty-five pound one. The record for Catalina is fifty-one pounds. Pshaw! Let this writer from California talk big, after the manner of his home state, and still keep within the truth. A yellow-fin tuna, recently landed out of Hawaiian waters and sold on the Honolulu market, weighed two hundred and eighty-seven pounds.



The works of Jack London and other American journalists are freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.