Still in Kona–Concerning Matters and Things

Mark Twain

Sacramento Daily Union/August 24, 1866

At one farmhouse we got some large peaches of excellent flavor while on our horseback ride through Kona. This fruit, as a general thing, does not do well in the Sandwich Islands. It takes a sort of almond shape, and is small and bitter. It needs frost, they say, and perhaps it does; if this be so, it will have a good opportunity to go on needing it, as it will not be likely to get it. The trees from which the fine fruit I have spoken of came had been planted and replanted over and over again, and to this treatment the proprietor of the orchard attributed his success.

We passed several sugar plantations—new ones and not very extensive. The crops were, in most cases, third rattoons. [NOTE.—The first crop is called “plant cane;” subsequent crops which spring from the original roots, without replanting are called “rattoons.”] Almost everywhere on the island of Hawaii sugar-cane matures in twelve months, both rattoons and plant, and although it ought to be taken off as soon as it tassels, no doubt, it is not absolutely necessary to do it until about four months afterward. In Kona, the average yield of an acre of ground is two tons of sugar, they say. This is only a moderate yield for these islands, but would be extraordinary for Louisiana and most other sugar growing countries. The plantations in Kona being on pretty high ground—up among the light and frequent rains—no irrigation whatever is required.

In Central Kona there is but little idle cane land now, but there is a good deal in North and South Kona. There are thousands of acres of cane land unoccupied on the island of Hawaii, and the prices asked for it range from one dollar to a hundred and fifty an acre. It is owned by common natives, and is lying “out of doors.” They make no use of it whatever, and yet, here lately, they seem disinclined to either lease or sell it. I was frequently told this. In this connection it may not be out of place to insert an extract from a book of Hawaiian travels recently published by a visiting minister of the gospel:

“Well, now, I wouldn’t, if I was you.”

“Brown, I wish you wouldn’t look over my shoulder when I am writing and I wish you would indulge yourself in some little respite from my affairs and interest yourself in your own business sometimes.”

“Well, I don’t care. I’m disgusted with these mush-and-milk preacher travels, and I wouldn’t make an extract from one of them. Father Damon has got stacks of books shoemakered up by them pious bushwhackers from America, and they’re the flattest reading—they are sicker than the smart things children say in the newspapers. Every preacher that gets lazy comes to the Sandwich Islands to ‘recruit his health,’ and then he goes back home and writes a book. And he puts in a lot of history, and some legends, and some manners and customs, and dead loads of praise of the missionaries for civilizing and Christianizing the natives, and says in considerable chapters how grateful the savage ought to be; and when there is a chapter to be filled out, and they haven’t got anything to fill it out with, they shovel in a lot of Scripture—now don’t they? You just look at Rev. Cheever’s book and Anderson’s—and when they come to the volcano, or any sort of heavy scenery, and it is too much bother to describe it, they shovel in another lot of Scripture, and wind up with ‘Lo! what God hath wrought!’ Confound their lazy melts! [sic] Now, I wouldn’t make extracts out of no such bosh.”

“Mr. Brown, I brought you with me on this voyage merely because a newspaper correspondent should travel in some degree of state, and so command the respect of strangers; I did not expect you to assist me in my literary labors with your crude ideas. You may desist from further straining your intellect for the present, Mr. Brown, and proceed to the nearest depot and replenish the correspondent fountain of inspiration.”

“Fountain dry now, of course. Confound me if I ever chance an opinion but I’ve got to trot down to the soda factory and fill up that cursed jug again. It seems to me that you need more inspiration—”

“Good afternoon, Brown.”

The extract I was speaking of reads as follows:

“We were in North Kona. The arable uplands in both the Konas are owned chiefly by foreigners. Indeed the best of the lands on all the islands appear to be fast going into foreign hands; and one of the allegations made to me by a foreign resident against the missionaries was that their influence was against such a transfer. The Rev. Mr. _____ told me, however, that to prevent the lands immediately about him, once owned by the admirable Kapiolani, from going to strangers he knew not who, he had felt obliged to invest his own private funds in them.”

We naturally swell with admiration when we contemplate a sacrifice like this. But while I read the generous last words of that extract, it fills me with inexpressible satisfaction to know that the Rev. Mr. _____ had his reward. He paid fifteen hundred dollars for one of those pieces of land—he did not have to keep it long, without sticking a spade into it he sold it to a foreigner for ten thousand dollars in gold. Yet there be those among us who fear to trust the precious promise, “Cast thy bread upon the waters and it shall return unto thee after many days.”

I have since been told that the original $1,500 belonged to a ward of the missionary, and that inasmuch as the latter was investing it with the main view to doing his charge the best service in his power, and doubtless would not have felt at liberty to so invest it merely to protect the poor natives, his glorification in the book was not particularly gratifying to him. The other missionaries smile at the idea of their tribe “investing their own private funds” in this free and easy, this gay and affluent way—buying fifteen hundred dollars worth of land at a dash (salary $400 a year), and merely to do a trifling favor to some savage neighbor.

Nature’s Printed Record in the Lava

At four o’clock in the afternoon we were winding down a mountain of dreary and desolate lava to the sea, and closing our pleasant land journey. This lava is the accumulation of ages; one torrent of fire after another has rolled down here in old times, and built up the island structure higher and higher. Underneath, it is honeycombed with caves; it would be of no use to dig wells in such a place; they would not hold water—you would not find any for them to hold, for that matter. Consequently, the planters depend upon cisterns.

The last lava flow occurred here so long ago that there are none now living who witnessed it. In one place it inclosed and burned down a grove of cocoa-nut trees, and the holes in the lava where the trunks stood are still visible; their sides retain the impression of the bark; the trees fell upon the burning river, and becoming partly submerged, left in it the perfect counterfeit of every knot and branch and leaf, and even nut, for curiosity seekers of a long distant day to gaze upon and wonder at.

There were doubtless plenty of Kanaka sentinels on guard hereabouts at that time, but they did not leave casts of their figures in the lava as the Roman sentinels at Herculaneum and Pompeii did. It is a pity it is so, because such things are so interesting, but so it is. They probably went away. They went away early, perhaps. It was very bad. However, they had their merits—the Romans exhibited the higher pluck, but the Kanakas showed the sounder judgment.

As usual, Brown loaded his unhappy horse with fifteen or twenty pounds of “specimens,” to be cursed and worried over for a time, and then discarded for new toys of a similar nature. He is like most people who visit these Islands; they are always collecting specimens, with a wild enthusiasm, but they never get home with any of them.

Captain Cook’s Death Place

Shortly we came in sight of that spot whose history is so familiar to every schoolboy in the wide world—Kealakekua Bay—the place where Captain Cook, the great circumnavigator, was killed by the natives nearly a hundred years ago. The setting sun was flaming upon it, a Summer shower was falling, and it was spanned by two magnificent rainbows. Two gentlemen who were in advance of us rode through one of these, and for a moment their garments shone with a more than regal splendor. Why did not Captain Cook have taste enough to call his great discovery the Rainbow Islands? These charming spectacles are present to you at every turn; they are as common in all the islands as fogs and wind in San Francisco; they are visible every day, and frequently at night also—not the silvery bow we see once in an age in the States, by moonlight, but barred with all bright and beautiful colors, like the children of the sun and rain. I saw one of them a few nights ago. What the sailors call “rain-dogs”—little patches of rainbow—are often seen drifting about the heavens in these latitudes, like stained cathedral windows.

Kealakekua Bay is a little curve like the last kink of a snail shell, winding deep into the land, seemingly not more than a mile wide from shore to shore. It is bounded on one side—where the murder was done—by a little flat plain, on which stands a cocoa-nut grove and some ruined houses; a steep wall of lava, a thousand feet high at the upper end and three or four hundred at the lower, comes down from the mountain and bounds the inner extremity of it. From this wall the place takes its name, Kealakekua, which in the native tongue signifies “The Pathway of the Gods.” They say (and still believe, in spite of their liberal education in Christianity), that the great god Lono, who used to live upon the hillside, always traveled that causeway when urgent business connected with heavenly affairs called him down to the seashore in a hurry.

As the red sun looked across the placid ocean through the tall, clean stems of the cocoa-nut trees, like a blooming whiskey bloat through the bars of a city prison, I went and stood in the edge of the water on the flat rock pressed by Captain Cook’s feet when the blow was dealt that took away his life, and tried to picture in my mind the doomed man struggling in the midst of the multitude of exasperated savages—the men in the ship crowding to the vessel’s side and gazing in anxious dismay toward the shore—the—But I discovered that I could not do it.

It was growing dark, the rain began to fall, we could see that the distant Boomerang was helplessly becalmed at sea, and so I adjourned to the cheerless little box of a warehouse and sat down to smoke and think, and wish the ship would make the land—for we had not eaten much for the ten hours and were viciously hungry.

The Story of Captain Cook

Plain unvarnished history takes the romance out of Captain Cook’s assassination, and renders a deliberate verdict of justifiable homicide. Wherever he went among the islands he was cordially received and welcomed by the inhabitants, and his ships lavishly supplied with all manner of food. He returned these kindnesses with insult and ill-treatment.

When he landed at Kealakekua Bay, a multitude of natives, variously estimated at from ten to fifteen thousand, flocked about him and conducted him to the principal temple with more than royal honors—with honors suited to their chiefest god, for such they took him to be. They called him Lono—a deity who had resided at that place in a former age, but who had gone away and had ever since been anxiously expected back by the people. When Cook approached the awe-stricken people, they prostrated themselves and hid their faces. His coming was announced in a loud voice by heralds, and those who had not time to get out of the way after prostrating themselves, were trampled under foot by the following throngs. Arrived at the temple, he was taken into the most sacred part and placed before the principal idol, immediately under an altar of wood on which a putrid hog was deposited. “This was held toward him while the priest repeated a long and rapidly enunciated address, after which he was led to the top of a partially decayed scaffolding. Ten men, bearing a large hog and bundles of red cloth, then entered the temple and prostrated themselves before him. The cloth was taken from them by the priest, who encircled Cook with it in numerous folds, and afterward offered the hog to him in sacrifice. Two priests, alternately and in unison, chanted praises in honor of Lono, after which they led him to the chief idol, which, following their example, he kissed.” He was anointed by the high priest—that is to say, his arms, hands and face, were slimed over with the chewed meat of a cocoa-nut; after this nasty compliment, he was regaled with awa manufactured in the mouths of attendants and spit out into a drinking vessel; “as the last most delicate attention, he was fed with swine meat which had been masticated for him by a filthy old man.”

These distinguished civilities were never offered by the islanders to mere human beings. Cook was mistaken for their absent god; he accepted the situation and helped the natives to deceive themselves. His conduct might have been wrong, in a moral point of view, but his policy was good in conniving at the deception, and proved itself so; the belief that he was a god saved him a good while from being killed—protected him thoroughly and completely, until, in an unlucky moment, it was discovered that he was only a man. His death followed instantly. Jarves, from whose history, principally, I am condensing this narrative, thinks his destruction was a direct consequence of his dishonest personation of the god, but unhappily for the argument, the historian proves, over and over again, that the false Lono was spared time and again when simple Captain Cook of the Royal Navy would have been destroyed with small ceremony.

The idolatrous worship of Captain Cook, as above described, was repeated at every heathen temple he visited. Wherever he went the terrified common people, not being accustomed to seeing gods marching around of their own free will and accord and without human assistance, fled at his approach or fell down and worshipped him. A priest attended him and regulated the religious ceremonies which constantly took place in his honor; offerings, chants and addresses met him at every point. “For a brief period he moved among them an earthly god—observed, feared and worshipped.” During all this time the whole island was heavily taxed to supply the wants of the ships or contribute to the gratification of their officers and crews, and, as was customary in such cases, no return expected. “The natives rendered much assistance in fitting the ships and preparing them for their voyages.”

At one time the King of the island laid a tabu upon his people, confining them to their houses for several days. This interrupted the daily supply of vegetables to the ships; several natives tried to violate the tabu, under threats made by Cook’s sailors, but were prevented by a chief, who, for thus enforcing the laws of his country, had a musket fired over his head from one of the ships. This is related in “Cook’s Voyages.” The tabu was soon removed, and the Englishmen were favored with the boundless hospitality of the natives as before, except that the Kanaka women were interdicted from visiting the ships; formerly, with extravagant hospitality, the people had sent their wives and daughters on board themselves. The officers and sailors went freely about the island, and were everywhere laden with presents. The King visited Cook in royal state, and gave him a large number of exceeding costly and valuable presents—in return for which the resurrected Lono presented His Majesty a white linen shirt and a dagger—an instance of illiberality in every way discreditable to a god.

“On the 2d of February, at the desire of his commander, Captain King proposed to the priests to purchase for fuel the railing which surrounded the top of the temple of Lono! In this Cook manifested as little respect for the religion in the mythology of which he figured so conspicuously, as scruples in violating the divine precepts of his own. Indeed, throughout his voyages a spirit regardless of the rights and feelings of others, when his own were interested, is manifested, especially in his last cruise, which is a blot upon his memory.”

Cook desecrated the holy places of the temple by storing supplies for his ships in them, and by using the level grounds within the inclosure as a general workshop for repairing his sails, etc.—ground which was so sacred that no common native dared to set his foot upon it. Ledyard, a Yankee sailor, who was with Cook, and whose journal is considered the most just and reliable account of this eventful period of the voyage, says two iron hatchets were offered for the temple railing, and when the sacrilegious proposition was refused by the priests with horror and indignation, it was torn down by order of Captain Cook and taken to the boats by the sailors, and the images which surmounted it removed and destroyed in the presence of the priests ant chiefs.

The abused and insulted natives finally grew desperate under the indignities that were constantly being heaped upon them by men whose wants they had unselfishly relieved at the expense of their own impoverishment, and angered by some fresh baseness, they stoned a party of sailors and drove them to their boats. From this time onward Cook and the natives were alternately friendly and hostile until Sunday, the 14th, whose setting sun saw the circumnavigator a corpse.

Ledyard’s account and that of the natives vary in no important particulars. A Kanaka, in revenge for a blow he had received at the hands of a sailor (the natives say he was flogged), stole a boat from one of the ships and broke it up to get the nails out of it. Cook determined to seize the King and remove him to his ship and keep him a prisoner until the boat was restored. By deception and smoothly worded persuasion he got the aged monarch to the shore, but when they were about to enter the boat a multitude of natives flocked to the place and one raised a cry that their King was going to be taken away and killed. Great excitement ensued, and Cook’s situation became perilous in the extreme. He had only a handful of marines and sailors with him, and the crowd of natives grew constantly larger and more clamorous every moment. Cook opened the hostilities himself. Hearing a native make threats, he had him pointed out, and fired on him with a blank cartridge. The man, finding himself unhurt, repeated his threats, and Cook fired again and wounded him mortally. A speedy retreat of the English party to the boats was now absolutely necessary; as soon as it was begun Cook was hit with a stone, and discovering who threw it, he shot the man dead. The officer in the boats observing the retreat, ordered the boats to fire—this occasioned Cook’s guard to face about and fire also, and then the attack became general. Cook and Lieutenant Phillips were together a few paces in the rear of the guard, and perceiving a general fire without orders, quitted the King and ran to the shore to stop it—but not being able to make themselves heard, and being close pressed upon by the chiefs, they joined the guard, who fired as they retreated. Cook having at length reached the margin of the water, between the fire and the boats, waved with his hat for them to cease firing and come in; and while he was doing this a chief stabbed him from behind with an iron dagger (procured in traffic with the sailors), just under the shoulder blade, and it passed quite through his body. Cook fell with his face in the water and immediately expired.

The native account says that after Cook had shot two men, he struck a stalwart chief with the flat of his sword, for some reason or other; the chief seized and pinioned Cook’s arms in his powerful grip, and bent him backward over his knee (not meaning to hurt him, for it was not deemed possible to hurt the god Lono, but to keep him from doing further mischief) and this treatment giving him pain, he betrayed his mortal nature with a groan! It was his death-warrant. The fraud which had served him so well was discovered at last. The natives shouted, “He groans!—he is not a god!” and instantly they fell upon him and killed him.

His flesh was stripped from the bones and burned (except nine pounds of it which were sent on board the ships). The heart was hung up in a native hut, where it was found and eaten by three children, who mistook it for the heart of a dog. One of these children grew to be a very old man, and died here in Honolulu a few years ago. A portion of Cook’s bones were recovered and consigned to the deep by the officers of the ships.

Small blame should attach to the natives for the killing of Cook. They treated him well. In return, he abused them. He and his men inflicted bodily injury upon many of them at different times, and killed at least three of them before they offered any proportionate retaliation.

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

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