Sacramento Daily Union/April 19, 1866
Honolulu, March, 1866.
We came in sight of two of this group of islands, Oahu and Molokai (pronounced O-waw-hoo and Molloki), on the morning of the 18th, and soon exchanged the dark blue waters of the deep sea for the brilliant light blue of “sounding.” The fat, ugly birds (said to be a species of albatross) which had skimmed after us on tireless wings clear across the ocean, left us, and an occasional flying-fish went skimming over the water in their stead. Oahu loomed high, rugged, useless, barren, black and dreary, out of the sea, and in the distance Molokai lay like a homely sway-backed whale on the water.
The Hawaiian Flag
As we rounded the promontory of Diamond Head (bringing into view a grove of cocoa-nut trees, first ocular proof that we were in the tropics), we ran up the stars and stripes at the main-spencer-gaff, and the Hawaiian flag at the fore. The latter is suggestive of the prominent political elements of the islands. It is part French, part English, part American and is Hawaiian in general. The union is the English cross; the remainder of the flag (horizontal stripes) looks American, but has a blue French stripe in addition to our red and white ones. The flag was gotten up by foreign legations in council with the Hawaiian government. The eight stripes refer to the eight islands which are inhabited; the other four are barren rocks incapable of supporting a population.
As we came in sight we fired a gun, and a good part of Honolulu turned out to welcome the steamer. It was Sunday morning, and about church time, and we steamed through the narrow channel to the music of six different church bells, which sent their mellow tones far and wide, over hills and valleys, which were peopled by naked, savage, thundering barbarians only fifty years ago! Six Christian churches within five miles of the ruins of a pagan temple, where human sacrifices were daily offered up to hideous idols in the last century! We were within pistol shot of one of a group of islands whose ferocious inhabitants closed in upon the doomed and helpless Captain Cook and murdered him, eighty-seven years ago; and lo! their descendants were at church! Behold what the missionaries have wrought!
The Crowd on the Pier
By the time we had worked our slow way up to the wharf, under the guidance of McIntyre, the pilot, a mixed crowd of four or five hundred people had assembled—Chinamen, in the costume of their country—foreigners and the better class of natives, and “half whites” in carriages and dressed in Sacramento summer fashion; other native men on foot, some in the cast off clothing of white folks, and a few wearing a battered hat, an old ragged vest, and nothing else, at least nothing but an unnecessarily slender rag passed between the legs; native women clad in a single garment—a bright colored robe or wrapper as voluminous as a balloon, with full sleeves. This robe is “gathered” from shoulder to shoulder, before and behind, and then descends in ample folds to the feet—seldom a chemise or any other under garment—fits like a circus tent fits the tent pole, and no hoops. These robes were bright yellow, or bright crimson, or pure black occasionally, or gleaming white; but “solid colors” and “stunning” ones were the rule. They wore little hats such as the sex wear in your cities, and some of the younger women had very pretty faces and splendid black eyes and heavy masses of long black hair, occasionally put up in a “net;” some of these dark, ginger bread colored beauties were on foot—generally on bare-foot, I may add—and others were on horseback—astraddle; they never ride any other way, and they ought to know which way is best, for there are no more accomplished horsewomen in the world, it is said. The balance of the crowd consisted chiefly of little half-naked native boys and girls. All were chattering in the catchy, chopped-up Kanaka language; but what they were chattering about will always remain a mystery to me.
Captain Fitch said, “There’s the King! that’s him in the buggy! I know him far as I can see him.”
I had never seen a king in my life, and I naturally took out my note book and put him down: “Tall, slender, dark; full-bearded; green frock coat, with lapels and collar bordered with gold band an inch wide—plug hat—broad gold band around it; royal costume looks too much like a livery; this man isn’t as fleshy as I thought he was.”
I had just got these notes entered when Captain Fitch discovered that he had got hold of the wrong King—or, rather, that he had got hold of the King’s driver or a carriage-driver of one of the nobility. The King was not present at all. It was a great disappointment to me. I heard afterward that the comfortable, easy going King Kamehameha (pronounced Ka-may-ah may-ah) V had been seen sitting on a barrel on the wharf, the day before, fishing; but there was no consolation in that; that did not restore to me my lost King.
The town of Honolulu (said to contain between 12,000 and 15,000 inhabitants) is spread over a dead level; has streets from twenty to thirty feet wide, solid and level as a floor, most of them straight as a line and a few as crooked as a corkscrew; houses one and two stories high, built of wood, straw, ’dobies and dull cream-colored pebble-and-shell-conglomerated coral cut into oblong square blocks and laid in cement, but no brick houses; there are great yards, more like plazas, about a large number of the dwelling houses, and these are carpeted with bright green grass, into which your foot sinks out of sight; and they are ornamented by a hundred species of beautiful flowers and blossoming shrubs, and shaded by noble tamarind trees and the “Pride of India,” with its fragrant flower, and by the “Umbrella Tree,” and I do not know how many more. I had rather smell Honolulu at sunset than the old Police Courtroom in San Francisco.
Almost a King
I had not shaved since I left San Francisco—ten days. As soon as I got ashore I hunted for a striped pole, and shortly found one. I always had a yearning to be a King. This may never be, I suppose. But at any rate it will always be a satisfaction to me to know that if I am not a King, I am the next thing to it—I have been shaved by the King’s barber.
Landsmen on “Sea Legs”
Walking about on shore was very uncomfortable at first; there was no spring to the solid ground, and I missed the heaving and rolling of the ship’s deck; it was unpleasant to lean unconsciously to an anticipated lurch of the world and find that the world did not lurch, as it should have done. And there was something else missed—something gone—something wanting, I could not tell what—a dismal vacuum of some kind or other—a sense of emptiness. But I found out what it was presently. It was the absence of the ceaseless dull hum of beating waves and whipping sails and fluttering of the propeller, and creaking of the ship—sounds I had become so accustomed to that I had ceased to notice them and had become unaware of their existence until the deep Sunday stillness on shore made me vaguely conscious that a familiar spirit of some kind or other was gone from me. Walking on the solid earth with legs used to the “giving” of the decks under his tread, made Brown sick, and he went off to bed and left me to wander alone about this odd-looking city of the tropics.
New Scenes and Strong Contrasts
The further I traveled through the town the better I liked it. Every step revealed a new contrast—disclosed something I was unaccustomed to. In place of the grand mud-colored brown stone fronts of San Francisco, I saw neat white cottages, with green window-shutters; in place of front yards like billiard-tables with iron fences around them, I saw those cottages surrounded by ample yards, about like Portsmouth Square (as to size), thickly clad with green grass, and shaded by tall trees, through whose dense foliage the sun could scarcely penetrate; in place of the customary infernal geranium languishing in dust and general debility on tin-roofed rear additions or in bedroom windows, I saw luxurious banks and thickets of flowers, fresh as a meadow after a rain, and glowing with the richest dyes; in place of the dingy horrors of the “Willows,” and the painful sharp-pointed shrubbery of that funny caricature of nature which they call “South Park,” I saw huge-bodied, wide-spreading forest trees, with strange names and stranger appearance—trees that cast a shadow like a thunder-cloud, and were able to stand alone without being tied to green poles; in place of those vile, tiresome, stupid, everlasting gold-fish, wiggling around in glass globes and assuming all shades and degrees of distortion through the magnifying and diminishing qualities of their transparent prison houses, I saw cats—Tom-cats, Mary Ann cats, long-tailed cats, bobtail cats, blind cats, one-eyed cats, wall-eyed cats, cross-eyed cats, gray cats, black cats, white cats, yellow cats, striped cats, spotted cats, tame cats, wild cats, singed cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, regiments of cats, armies of cats, multitudes of cats, millions of cats, and all of them sleek, fat, lazy and sound asleep; in place of roughs and rowdies staring and blackguarding on the corners, I saw long-haired, saddle-colored Sandwich Island maidens sitting on the ground in the shade of corner houses, gazing indolently at whatever or who ever happened along; instead of that wretched cobble-stone pavement nuisance, I walked on a firm foundation of coral, built up from the bottom of the sea by the absurd but persevering insect of that name, with a light layer of lava and cinders overlying the coral, belched up out of fathomless hell long ago through the seared and blackened crater that stands dead and cold and harmless yonder in the distance now; instead of cramped and crowded street cars, I met dusky native women sweeping by, free as the wind, on fleet horses and astraddle, with gaudy riding-sashes streaming like banners behind them; instead of the combined stenches of Sacramento street, Chinadom and Brannon street slaughter-houses, I breathed the balmy fragrance of jessamine, oleander, and the Pride of India; in place of the hurry and bustle and noisy confusion of San Francisco, I moved in the midst of a Summa calm as tranquil as dawn in the Garden of Eden; in place of our familiar skirting sand hills and the placid bay, I saw on the one side a frame-work of tall, precipitous mountains close at hand, clad in refreshing green, and cleft by deep, cool, chasm-like valleys—and in front the grand sweep of the ocean; a brilliant, transparent green near the shore, bound and bordered by a long white line of foamy spray dashing against the reef, and further out the dead, blue water of the deep sea, flecked with “white caps,” and in the far horizon a single, lonely sail—
At this moment, this man Brown, who has no better manners than to read over one’s shoulder, observes:
“Yes, and hot. Oh, I reckon not (only 82 in the shade)! Go on, now, and put it all down, now that you’ve begun; just say, ‘And more “santipedes,” and cockroaches, and fleas, and lizards, and red ants, and scorpions, and spiders, and mosquitoes and missionaries’—oh, blame my cats if I’d live here two months, not if I was High-You-Muck-a-Muck and King of Wawhoo, and had a harem full of hyenas!” (Wahine [most generally pronounced Wyheeny], seems to answer for wife, woman and female of questionable character, indifferently. I never can get this man Brown to understand that “hyena” is not the proper pronunciation. He says “It ain’t any odds; it describes some of ’em, anyway.”)
I remarked: “But, Mr. Brown, these are trifles.”
“Trifles be—blowed! You get nipped by one of them scorpions once, and see how you like it! There was Mrs. Jones, swabbing her face with a sponge; she felt something grab her cheek; she dropped the sponge and out popped a scorpion an inch and a half long! Well, she just got up and danced the Highland fling for two hours and a half—and yell!—why, you could have heard her from Lu-wow to Hoolahoola, with the wind fair! and for three days she soaked her cheek in brandy and salt, and it swelled up as big as your two fists. And you want to know what made me light out of bed so sudden last night? Only a ‘santipede’—nothing, only a ‘santipede,’ with forty-two legs on a side, and every foot hot enough to burn a hole through a rawhide. Don’t you know one of them things grabbed Miss Boone’s foot when she was riding one day? He was hid in the stirrup, and just clamped himself around her foot and sunk his fangs plum through her shoe; and she just throwed her whole soul into one war-whoop and then hinted. And she didn’t get out of bed nor set that foot on the floor again for three weeks. And how did Captain Godfrey always get off so easy? Why, because he always carried a bottle full of scorpions and santipedes soaked in alcohol, and whenever he got bit he bathed the place with that devilish mixture or took a drink out of it, I don’t recollect which. And how did he have to do once, when he hadn’t his bottle along? He had to cut out the bite with his knife and fill up the hole with arnica, and then prop his mouth open with the boot-jack to keep from getting the lockjaw. Oh, fill me up about this lovely country! You can go on writing that slop about balmy breezes and fragrant flowers, and all that sort of truck, but you’re not going to leave out them santipedes and things for want of being reminded of it, you know.”
I said, mildly: “But, Mr. Brown, these are the mere—“
“Mere—your grandmother! they ain’t the mere anything! What’s the use of you telling me they’re the mere—mere—whatever it was you was going to call it? You look at them raw splotches all over my face—all over my arms—all over my body! Mosquito bites! Don’t tell me about mere—mere things! You can’t get around them mosquito bites. I took and brushed out my bar [mosquito net] good night before last, and tucked it in all around, and before morning I was eternally chawed up, anyhow. And the night before I fastened her up all right, and got in bed and smoked that old strong pipe until I got strangled and smothered and couldn’t get out, and then they swarmed in there and jammed their bills through my shirt and sucked me as dry as a life-preserver before I got my breath again. And how did that dead-fall work? I was two days making it, and sweated two buckets full of brine, and blame the mosquito ever went under it, and sloshing around in my sleep I ketched my foot in it and got it flattened out so that it wouldn’t go into a green turtle shell forty-four inches across the back. Jim Ayers grinding out seven double verses of poetry about Waw-hoo! and crying about leaving the blasted place in the two last verses; and you slobbering here about—there you are! Now—now, what do you say? That yellow spider could straddle over a saucer just like nothing—and if I hadn’t been here to set that spittoon on him, he would have been between your sheets in a minute—he was traveling straight for your bed—he had his eye on it. Just pull at that web that he’s been stringing after him—pretty near as hard to break as sewing silk; and look at his feet sticking out all round the spittoon. Oh, confound Waw hoo!”
I am glad Brown has got disgusted at that murdered spider and gone; I don’t like to be interrupted when I am writing—especially by Brown, who is one of those men who always looks at the unpleasant side of everything, and I seldom do.
(Source: “Mark Twain Newspaper Correspondent,” Project Gutenberg Australia, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks09/0900821h.html#TOC3_460)
The works of Mark Twain and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism. Visit our bookstore for single-volume collections–-ideal for research, reference use or casual reading.