Falling are the Heavens, Part II


With the growth of the sugar industry in the second half of the nineteenth century, Hawaiians found work on the large plantations owned by the descendants of missionary families and early settlers, although the mill workers, boiler tenders, coopers, and carpenters were all haoles (Caucasians) from Honolulu. Between 1852 and 1856, however, thousands of Chinese, most of them Cantonese men from the Pearl River delta near Macao, were brought to the Islands as indentured workers. Laborers from Japan began to arrive in 1868, hired by the plantations against the wishes of the Japanese government (by the end of the century, forty percent of the population of Hawaiʻi was Japanese). The plantation owners were disappointed in the workers conscripted from Asia — they ran away, quarreled with the Hawaiians, smoked opium, protested that the law mandating nine-hour work days was too arduous, fell sick, and most irritating of all, died (plantation managers complained that many of the Chinese were already half-dead when they arrived).


chinese immigrants
Chinese indentured laborers arriving in Honolulu


Although Hawaiians were thought to be good at heavy labor, they did not like the routine of daily field work. They began to find work more amenable to their temperament on the growing number of cattle ranches, where the Hawaiians, already fearless horsemen, were taught by paniolo (cowboys) who had been brought by ranchers from Spain in 1830. Hawaiian cowboys, already adept at riding over lava, became known for their courage, stamina, and skill in running cattle. By 1890, when sugar and pineapple were dominant, Hawaiians were no longer part of the plantation work force.



Miike Maru
Japanese indentured workers disembarking in Hawaiʻi


Throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, the oral history of the Hawaiians, and their music and dance were kept alive with the help of numerous Hawaiian-language newspapers, especially during the reign of King Kalākaua (1874-1891). Intent on preserving his people’s history, Kalākaua encouraged the study of Hawaiian culture. The fire-burning kapu which had once allowed those aliʻi who possessed it to light torches by day, had originated with a high chief whose daughter had been killed by one of his wives, causing him to roam across the island of Hawaiʻi with lighted torches. It was a prerogative long out of use, but Kalākaua, as one of the chiefʻs descendants, insisted on restoring the practice (he did not, however, order that his subjects fall to the ground in his presence, as was also his right), and the torches in his court burned day and night. Despite his efforts at good governance, Kalākauaʻs reign was fraught with ineptitude, compromise, foreign interference, rebellion, and the growing threat of annexation by the United States.


Lūʻau in Waikīkī with Kalākaua at rear. Robert Louis Stevenson sits in front of the woman in the checked muʻumuʻu.

In 1885, Kamehameha School was founded for the education of Hawaiian children (the trust was not challenged until 2003 when a haole resident of Hawai’i sued the school for violating civil rights laws — the dismissal of the lawsuit was appealed, but the plaintiff eventually dropped his suit to accept the school’s settlement of seven million dollars) by Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the niece of one of the wives of Kamehameha II, who inherited an estate that made her the largest private landowner in the kingdom, with ten percent of all Hawaiian land. When it was founded, Kamehameha School mandated that all instruction be in English — a practice that continued until 1924 when the formal teaching of Hawaiian was allowed. The princess, married to the American businessman Charles Reed Bishop, also endowed the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, which collects and preserves the ethnographic and natural history of the Islands.


bpb age 35 ca 1866
Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, age thirty-five, Honolulu


Kalākauaʻs poor health was aggravated by chronic drinking. In 1891, he suffered a stroke at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and died a few weeks later. His sister, Lili’uokalani, became queen, inheriting a kingdom whose chaotic and riven politics were beyond her capacities to control or to mend. One of her first acts was to request the making of a new constitution in which the rights of native Hawaiians would be protected.

Lorrin Thurston, a lawyer and state legislator who was the grandson of Lucy and Asa Thurston, missionaries of the First Company, held that the queen, by demanding a new constitution, was guilty of an act of sedition. He formed a Committee of Safety with a group of friends, which aimed to end the monarchy and to establish a provisional government. The Committee, six of whom were Hawaiian citizens by birth or naturalization, wrote to the United States Minister to Hawai’i, John L. Stevens, to ask for the protection and support of the American forces under his command. Marines from an American warship were posted throughout the town as Thurston and his fellow annexationists took possession of several government buildings.

Liliʻuokalani and her supporters surrendered, certain that once the United States learned the true nature of the revolt, she would be restored to power. The newly-elected American president, Grover Cleveland, was at first willing to support Lili’uokalani, provided she give amnesty to the revolutionaries, which she refused to do. Cleveland then asked Thurston if the provisional government would be willing to relinquish its authority and restore the monarchy, and Thurston answered that it would not. The queen eventually changed her mind, but Cleveland had by then grown tired of the fracas, and left it to Congress to resolve. Sanford B. Dole was made president of the new republic in July 1894, and Cleveland sent a letter of recognition.

That year, the McKinley Act, which had raised protective rates fifty percent for most American-made products and goods and increased tariffs on imports while removing those on sugar, tea, molasses, and coffee, was repealed, restoring to Island planters their favorable trading position and their profits.

A badly organized counter-revolution came to nothing when contraband arms were discovered hidden at the foot of Diamond Head and in the garden of the queen’s house. Lili’uokalani was arrested and detained in ‘Iolani Palace, where she signed a letter of abdication which she later claimed was forced. She was released the following year, and immediately traveled to Washington in an emotional attempt to save her kingdom, as did her heir, the young Princess Kaʻiulani. Sereno Bishop, a son of the Rev. Artemas Bishop, missionary of the Second Company (1823), was the Hawaii correspondent of United Press, and had spent the previous few years undermining the cause of the monarchists, writing, among other things, that Lili’uokalani was under the influence of black-magic sorcerers, and that she made sacrifices to the fire goddess (he also helped to popularize the rumor that Kalākaua and Lili’uokalani were the children of a minor chiefess and a Negro bootblack named John Blossom). Lorrin Thurston published a pamphlet in which he wrote that annexation by the United States would bring an end to the growing danger of a militaristic Japan, and incalculable benefits to commerce, agriculture, ranching, and shipping. In the spring of 1898, the United States, at war with Spain, sank a fleet of Spanish ships in Manila harbor, reminding Americans that the nation’s global hegemony could only be enhanced by strengthening its position in the North Pacific. Three months later, on July 6, the Congress of the United States voted by joint resolution to annex the Hawaiian Islands. The kingdom of Hawaiʻi was no more.


Liliʻuokalani in the garden of her home, Washington Place, Honolulu. 

Falling are the Heavens, Part I



                                 Postcard of I’olani Palace, Honolulu

The high chiefess Kina’u, daughter of Kamehameha I and his wife Kaheiheimālie, bore five children of divine rank, including Lot Kapuaiwa and Alexander Liholiho. With the death of Kamehameha III in 1854, Alexander Liholiho became king (Kamehameha IV). His father was the high chief Mataio Kekūanāoʻa, governor of Oʻahu, but he had been raised as a hana’i (foster) child by Kamehameha II. Along with his wife, Emma Rooke, Liholiho was a student of Amos and Juliette Cook at the Chiefsʻ Childrenʻs School. The Cooks, while strict and austere, were known to be comparatively worldly in their views, and Liholiho dreamed of someday sending a son to Eton. As a young man, he traveled through Europe and Asia with his older brother, Prince Lot, and Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, a doctor and missionary turned government official, and he and his wife were the leaders of a young Honolulu set which included haole and Hawaiian grandees.


KIV and Lot with Gerrit P. on trip to US and Europe.jpg

              Dr. Gerrit P. Judd with King Kamehameha IV and his brother Lot Kapuaiwa (the future Kamehameha V) during their trip to the United States and Europe in 1850

Although Emma, who had been raised by her adoptive father, the Englishman Dr. Thomas Rooke, was educated by missionaries, as well as an English governess, and was one of the founders of the Episcopal Church in Hawaiʻi, she was extremely proud of her Hawaiian blood. In a letter to a cousin confined to a leper colony on Molokaʻi, she wrote that she wished her people to “become acquainted with ancient songs, their origin, object, composers, effects…for that is the way our Island history has been preserved — entirely oral.” As the queen and others encouraged the revival of Hawaiian culture, the once pervasive and often destructive influence of the missionaries from New England was simultaneously coming to an end — even the missionaries did not miss the irony when the beautiful Emma appeared at a masked ball as the pagan goddess Cybele.



                            “Cybele,” queen consort of Kamehameha IV

In 1863, Dr. Rufus Anderson of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (he who had once advised against the teaching of English to Hawaiians), realized that the work of the Mission was finished. The number of missionaries sent in twelve companies to seventeen stations on five of the Hawaiian Islands between 1830 and 1863 was one hundred seventy-eight, almost half of whom had been teachers, doctors, agents, and lay members. The clergymen who had served in Hawaii, many of whom were elderly, if not exhausted by their years of labor, were encouraged to put their pastorates in the hands of native students trained by them or at schools in the United States.



Miriam Likelike, 1851-1887.jpg

Princess Miriam Likelike (1851-1877), wife of W.’s great great grandfather, Archibald S. Cleghorn. Her early death was mysterious, and some believed that a death spell had fallen upon her.

The following is from the book Shoal of Time by Gavan Daws:

By the end of the sixties the retreat of the missionaries had turned into a rout. Their own children, confined to calisthenics (“Presbyterian dancing”) at Punahou, were quick to take up real dancing once they left school…At the opening of a skating rink at Honolulu Queen Emma sat in the royal box and watched the lancers, the quadrille and the grand march performed — all on skates; the elderly wife of the Reverend Lowell Smith…was seen swimming at Waikiki on a Sunday; and the children of missionaries were ‘dancing themselves silly’ at weekend parties in the country.

Alexander Liholihoʻs reign as Kamehameha IV (1854-1863) was marred by scandal, including the king’s own shooting of his private secretary, whom he wrongly suspected of dishonoring his wife. Dead by age twenty-nine, he was succeeded in 1863 by his brother Lot (Kamehameha V), who was the hanaʻi son of Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena.



Princess Nahi’ena’ena, sacred daughter of Kamehameha I, wearing a traditional ‘ahu ‘ula, or feathered cape (gowns ordered from Worth in Paris were not to be fashionable for another fifty years)

A fervent advocate of his people, Lot Kapuaiwa cared little what haoles thought of him. He encouraged the dancing of hula, chanting, and native healing, and repealed the laws that forbade what missionaries called “kahunaism.” He refused to sign a bill permitting the sale of alcohol to Hawaiians, however, as he saw drink as the cause of much death amongst them. He had been betrothed at birth to Princess Bernice Pauahi, but she married instead the American banker Charles Reed Bishop, and he did not speak to her for the rest of his life. A powerful female sorcerer said to be expert in healing and in prophecy lived with him, and was believed by many to be his mistress. Like his brother and cousins, he suffered from ill health, and from an addiction to drink, but despite his melancholia, his concerns were always those of his people. Those lined against him — American business interests, the Protestant church, and the educated, confident, acquisitive descendants of missionary families — had become too powerful. The Islands had become valuable both economically and as a military outpost. Hawaiʻi was no longer a sleepy tropical backwater.



Princess Ka’iulani, heir to Queen Liliu’okalani, the last queen of Hawai’i, daughter of Miriam Likelike and Archibald Cleghorn, who died of a lingering illness when she was twenty-three years old

Lotʻs cousin, William Charles Lunalilo, had been in love since childhood with Lotʻs sister, Princess Victoria Kamāmalu, who was a granddaughter of Kamehameha I, and heir to Kaʻahumanuʻs large estates. Lot, who wished Kamāmalu to be the consort of David Kalākaua, at last gave Lunalilo permission to marry her, despite her long intimacy with Marcus Monsarrat, a married haole auctioneer in Honolulu. Lunalilo surprisingly refused to marry her at the last moment, promising to arrive too drunk for any ceremony to be binding. He wrote the following poem, “The Princeʻs Words to the Princess.”

I loved you once, I believed you.

Even I thought you were true. You made me swear to be loyal and remember.

Remember your own oath and keep it true.

For this body, beloved, brims with my love.

At the thought of your mouth my heart leaps with love remembered in a magic pool.

Now as we climb a winding way at Maʻemaʻe, here where buds of Mauanaʻala shed the fragrance we knew from childhood only too well,

what flower will burn from your body if I, beloved, lie in your arms?


Kamehameha V reigned 1830-1872.jpg

                                                            Lot Kapuaiwa, King Kamehameha V  

During Lotʻs reign, the legislature fell into turmoil, with certain haole members refusing to speak Hawaiian, and Hawaiian senators refusing to speak English. In bad health for some time, he died without children on his fortieth birthday, marking the end of the Kamehameha line of kings. Among his possible successors were Lunalilo, a descendant of a half-brother of Kamehameha I, who was the favorite of both Hawaiian and American interests; and David Kalākaua, the ambitious son of a high chief of Maui (whose grandfather had been hanged for killing Kalākauaʻs mother). The legislature, which had been granted the right to choose a new king under the constitution of 1862, settled on Lunalilo. Isabella Bird somewhat condescendingly described the new king, who lived with his mistress, Eliza Meeks, the part-Hawaiian daughter of a harbor pilot:

The king is a very fine-looking man of thirty-eight, tall, well formed, broad-chested, with his head well set on his shoulders, and his feet and hands small. His appearance is decidedly commanding and aristocratic: he is certainly handsome even according to our notions. He has a fine open brow, significant at once of brains and straightforwardness, a straight, proportionate nose, and a good mouth. The slight tendency to Polynesian overfulness (sic) about his lips is concealed by a well-shaped moustache…His eyes are large, dark brown of course, and equally of course, he has a superb set of teeth…He is remarkably gentlemanly looking, and has the grace of movement which seems usual with Hawaiians.



   My childhood friend, a part-Hawaiian descendant of Dr. Gerrit P. Judd


There is still dispute and controversy as to the identity and origin of the first human settlers in the Hawaiian Islands, although most scholars agree, thanks to recent radiocarbon dating, that the initial voyagers sailed from distant islands, known by Polynesians as Kahiki, in the South Pacific, most likely the Marquesas, in the eleventh century A.D.

Around 1200 b.c., the farmers and fishermen who had migrated over centuries from Asia to Australia, Indonesia, and New Guinea began to move slowly across the Pacific, sailing to Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, which lie only a few days’ sail from one another, where they became the ancestors of present-day Polynesians. After almost two thousand years, the islanders began to venture farther, eventually reaching Hawai‘i to the north, New Zealand to the southwest, and remote Easter Island to the east. Historians once believed that many of the islands in the Pacific were discovered by fishermen who had been blown off course, although the fact that the first voyagers to Hawai‘i carried with them crops, seeds, and animals, as well as women and children, suggests that the journeys were deliberate and well-prepared.

The double-hulled outrigger canoes of the settlers were eighty to one hundred feet long, rigged with masts, and triangular sails woven of lau hala (the dried leaf of the hala, or pandanus tree). A raised platform, screened and roofed with mats, was lashed across the hulls for the women, children, animals, plants, and, not least of all, the images of the gods that the travelers carried with them. When there was no wind, men sitting two to a bench would paddle with the guidance of a master steersman, who, trained since childhood, used his deep knowledge of the sky, wind, clouds, ocean currents, temperatures, and the habits of sea creatures and birds to guide the canoes across the ocean.

The small companies of perhaps fifty men, women, and children brought with them dogs, pigs, and chickens, as well as food and water. They had seedlings of hibiscus, sugar cane, bamboo, mountain apple, coconut, breadfruit, mulberry, and tubers of wild ginger, kalo (taro), yam, turmeric, and sweet potato. They are thought to have first landed on the desolate southernmost tip of Hawai‘i Island, where the land rises gently to the summit of Mauna Loa. The settlers named their new home Ka‘ū, or “the breast that nursed them,” although the leeward coast would have been dry and hot, with little fresh water. Parts of Ka‘ū are now covered with layer upon layer of lava from successive eruptions. At the time of the first settlers, though, it would have been wood and brush land, interspersed with broad prairies of native grass. (The now ubiquitous kiawe tree was introduced in 1828 by Father Alexis Bachelot, the head of the first Catholic mission; the sugi pine arrived in 1880; the Australian bluegrass gum in 1870; and the bagras eucalyptus in 1929.)

The settlers would have known at once that their new home would not give them all that they needed. There was no reef and few beaches and coves, which meant that there were insufficient amounts of shellfish and seaweed, foods essential to Polynesians, but they would have seen, too, that it was a safe place in which to live, where they would not be threatened by enemies, human or animal. In his 1993 book, The Gifts of Civilization: Germs and Genocide in Hawai‘i, microbiologist, historian, novelist, and professor at the University of Hawai‘i, O. A. Bushnell observes: “Only the sea was treacherous, but only occasionally, and Polynesians are accustomed to the moods of Kanaloa [the god of the sea].”

The environment of Hawai‘i Island, owing to trade winds from the northeast, the height of the mountains, and the warmth of the surrounding ocean, can shift within a few miles from bog to rain forest to coastal shrub, all with widely different levels of wind and rainfall. In the north, on the windward side, the earliest Polynesian settlers of the eleventh century would find streams and springs, grasses, and trees. Thanks to the lush inland forests, the island would have been less windy than it is now, and there would have been more rainfall (eighteenth-century travelers describe snow on Mauna Loa in July and August).

The hills of Kohala in the north would have been rolling grassland, much as they are today, with an occasional grove of native ‘ōhi‘a trees. In time, the settlers ventured to other islands in the archipelago. Cultivation began in Waialua Valley on O‘ahu, and Hālawa on Moloka‘i. On Hawai‘i Island, fertile Waipi‘o Valley was settled, and the sloping mauka (inland) highlands of Kona, Ka‘ū, and Kohala, as the settlers sought the verdant valleys where water could be found, spreading across the hills and plains overlooking the ocean to settle on land where soil and rainfall were sufficient for their simple needs. In the beginning, the settlers lived in caves, low rock shelters built on hillsides or near the ocean, and in lava tubes, which are formed when a river of hot lava forces a path under lava that has already cooled and hardened. They built houses of grass in small villages near rich fishing grounds, although bays and inlets amenable to fishing or the use of canoes were few in relation to the length of coastline. To bring their canoes safely ashore, ladders were built with wooden runners or steps to make easier the task of pulling canoes from the rough surf, and over sharp lava. Those living near the shore bartered fish, seaweed, shellfish, and salt for the produce grown by those living in the hills and gulches. The historian Mary Kawena Pukui (1895–1986) described the sharing of food during her childhood in the book The Polynesian Family System in Ka‘ū:

In the days of the horse-drawn vehicle, [people traveling between Hilo and Ka‘ū] often stopped at my aunt’s to pass the night—usually unexpected. There was no market . . . and whatever of fish and meat there was, was salted. The family gave guests poi—paste made from kalo—and the best salted meat, even if it was the last . . . Cowboys came too, tired and hungry, to share the salted fish, or meat with poi. Sometimes, they came with a portion of a wild bullock or pig—then there was fresh meat. But only for that meal.





Portrait of Hawaiian woman with necklace, graphite on paper, George Henry Burgess, 1870


As the settlers began to clear the endemic vegetation to grow the subsistence plants they brought with them, many native plants disappeared from areas of cultivation. The forest was both altered and exploited as trees were used to make canoes, house posts, religious statues, weapons, and utensils. The bird population, with few if any predators before the arrival of the settlers, was reduced by hunting, both for food and later to make kāhili (royal standards) and lei, and the feather helmets and capes worn by the chiefs. More than six hundred species of fish were once found in Hawaiian waters, and fish were farmed in carefully tended ponds built along the shore with sluice gates to allow passage of both fish and clean tidal water. Sweet potato and arrowroot, gourd vines, (the small evergreen Cordyline fruticosa), sugarcane, breadfruit, and coconut were planted. Kalo was tended with reverence, and the preparation and eating of it was an act complex in meaning. A square mile of kalo was capable of feeding fifteen thousand people; forty square feet could support one man for a year. As there were no fireproof cooking utensils or vessels—no iron or clay with which to make them—food, usually eaten cold, was first cooked in lined pits in the ground, or in calabashes into which hot stones had been dropped.

Unlike rice, which causes an acid reaction in the body, kalo is full of vitamins A and B. It was early remarked by Europeans that Polynesian chiefs were unusually well developed in contrast to the ethnic stock from which they most likely descended, and it has been suggested that the switch from an acidic starch (rice) to that of poi was responsible for the robust health and beauty of the ali‘i.



    High chief, wearing a mahiole or feather helmet, painting in oil by John Webber, 1787


Poi, rich in mineral and organic salts, was largely responsible for the large jaw structure of Hawaiians and their exceptionally fine teeth. The uniformity and strength of their teeth were later to astonish foreign sailors (no difficult task given the teeth of eighteenth-century English and Irishmen), as was the size of their bodies, particularly those of the ali‘i, which in both men and women was frequently more than six feet in height. The Reverend Charles S. Stewart, who served as a missionary on Maui from 1823-1825, found the ali‘i, who were not simply local nobility but thought to be avatars of the gods, superior to commoners in their physical appearance. In his Journal of a Residence in the Sandwich Islands During the Years 1823, 1824, and 1825, he wrote:

They seem indeed in size and stature to be almost a distinct race. They are all large in their frame, and often excessively corpulent; while the common people are scarce of the ordinary heights of Europeans, and of a thin rather than full habit . . . although little more than twenty-five years old, [one chief] is so remarkably stout, as to be unequal to any exertion, and scarcely able to walk without difficulty. This immense bulk of person is supposed to arise from the care taken of them from their earliest infancy . . . Many of the common people . . . have a great beauty of person, though of a less noble scale.

The first people to settle Hawai‛i lived secluded and isolated lives until the beginning of the fourteenth century, when, according to Polynesian folklore, legends, and chants, a second migration of voyagers made the journey north from Tahiti, a distance of 2,626 miles. The later migrations are known as the Long Voyages. Like the earlier journeys, they are now thought to have been forays of exploration, rather than a flight from internecine struggle, war, famine, or epidemic. The travelers brought seeds and animals with them, but they also carried new gods, powerful beings who demanded the enactment of a system of strict kapu.


young woman ca 1880 A.A. Montano.jpg

     Young Hawaiian woman wearing maile lei, eight hundred years after the first settlers from Polynesia arrived in the Islands, photograph by A. A. Montano, ca. 1880

For perhaps one hundred years, there was sporadic warfare between the original settlers and the aggressive newcomers from Tahiti. The Tahitians prevailed, and those earlier settlers who did not become assimilated through marriage were believed to be transformed over generations into the elusive nocturnal elves known as Menehune. Whimsically and perhaps guiltily described as our memories of the past, the Menehune are said to have found refuge in the mountains, where some people still claim to hear their plaintive sighs and murmurs, although the ability to see them is denied to all but their own kind. They are thought to creep after dark from the caves and hollow trees where they live, summoned to build in one night a ditch, or a heiau, or a house constructed of the bones of birds.

As the number of new settlers from Polynesia grew, the original inhabitants slipped into servitude. Mary Kawena Pukui believed that the outcast slaves known as kauwā, kept for human sacrifice, may have been the descendants of the earliest people. Kauwā, who were regarded as foul-smelling things, were tattooed on their foreheads and made to hide their heads under pieces of kapa. Like the Untouchables of India, kauwā were scapegoats born into and imprisoned within an abhorred class. Confined to certain districts such as Makeanehu in Kohala, and Kalaemamo in Kona on the Big Island, they were forbidden to marry outside their caste, or even to enter the house or yard of a man who was not kauwā.

“What Pinched-In Bodies!” Part II

Tattooed chief, lithograph after a drawing by Jacques Arago, 1819

The Reverend Hiram Bingham was shocked that Liholiho, who had become Kamehameha II with the death of his father the previous year, wore no shoes, stockings, pants, or gloves, although Thomas Hopu, the young Hawaiian missionary who had traveled with the Americans on the Thaddeus from New England,  had warned the chiefs and chiefesses to dress with modesty when they called on the missionaries. As the aliʻi were accustomed to wearing Western clothes (merchants had long supplied them with shoes and suits, and bolts of cloth for gowns), most of them obligingly appeared for their daily visits in gowns of Chinese silk and striped taffeta, brocade jackets, and heavy velvet waistcoats, which were stifling to wear in the heat. Some of the ali’i, hoping to please the haoles, evoked instead their private ridicule by their odd assortment of clothes — one of many melancholy ironies that was to ensure that the Hawaiians and the missionaries remained unknown to one another.

Over the next week, the missionaries waited patiently for the king’s decision, confident of the sanctity of their mission (to their irritation, the chiefs were easily distracted, at one point by a troupe of musicians) as they made excursions on shore, sailed up and down the coast on the Thaddeus, and visited with the Hawaiians. As the moon rose one evening, Asa Thurston and Hiram Bingham climbed to the maintop of the Thaddeus, and while their wives, the captain and crew, and the ali’i of Hawai’i Island watched in silence, loudly shouted the hymn they had sung at their ordainment in New England and again at Park Street Church when they left Boston.

The Reverend  Hiram Bingham, photograph  from his book, A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands, published in 1848
The Reverend Hiram Bingham, photograph from his book, A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands, published in 1848

Head of the Church Triumphant,
We joyfully adore thee:
Till thou appear,
The members here,
Shall sing like those in glory:
We lift our hearts and voices,
In blest anticipation,
And cry aloud,
And give to God
The praise of our salvation.

The royal women and their chiefs and attendants arrived at the ship each morning, seated under Chinese silk umbrellas on the platforms of large double canoes as they were fanned by a dozen men. The redoubtable Hiram Bingham was impressed by the agility and physical grace of the paddlers, if little else:

Ten athletic men in each of the coupled canoes making regular, rapid, and effective strokes, all on one side for a while then, changing at a signal in exact time, all on the other. Each raising his head erect and lifting one hand high to throw the paddle forward…dipping their blades and bowing simultaneously…making the brine boil and giving great speed to their novel seacraft. These grandees and their ambitious rowers gave us a pleasing indication of the physical capacity, at least, of the people whom we were desirous to enlighten.

View of Ka’awaloa, Kealakekua Bay, drawn by Persis, daughter of Lucy and Asa Thurston, 1835
View of Ka’awaloa, Kealakekua Bay, drawn by Persis, daughter of Lucy and Asa Thurston, 1835

The missionary wives sewed a dress for the queen mother, Keōpūolani, that so delighted her that she ordered more for her attendants and herself, waiting as the foreign women, unused to the dry heat of Kona, dazedly cut and stitched her a wardrobe. The chiefesses and queens were particularly taken with the Chamberlain’s young daughter and decided to adopt her, or hana’i, a practice common in Hawaiian families. To their surprise, the Chamberlains refused, but reluctantly agreed to let the child be taken ashore for the night, a gesture that helped to convince the queens that the missionaries meant them no harm. Lucia Holman, the prettiest of the missionary wives, wrote that one of the queens, “got me into her lap, and felt me from head to foot and said I must cow-cow and be nooe-nooe, i.e., I must eat and grow larger.” When Lucia walked with Nancy Ruggles and Maria Loomis on shore, the Hawaiians surrounded them, touching and poking them with curiosity.

They are white and have hats with a spout. Their faces are round and far in. Their necks are long. They look well.” The Hawaiians’ nickname for the women was Long Necks, in the tradition of awarding people — natives and foreigners alike —- with apt and perceptive names…The women…enjoyed their loudest transports of merriment at our expense, quizzing us without mercy, but never with ill-nature, while the singers honoured us occasionally with a place in their extemporaneous compositions.

“Reine Cahoumanou,” Plate III in Louis Choris’ Voyage Pittoresque Autour du Monde, Paris, 1822. Hawaii State Archives.
“Reine Cahoumanou,” Plate III in Louis Choris’ Voyage Pittoresque Autour du Monde, Paris, 1822, Hawaii State Archives.

When the missionaries learned that Ka’ahumanu had at last returned from fishing, they went on shore to discover the chiefs at a feast to welcome her home. Ka’ahumanu lay on a large mat in a yellow satin pā’ū (skirt of kapa, or barkcloth) with a purple satin kihei (capelet) over her shoulders, wearing a lei of maile leaves, and a band of yellow feathers low on her forehead. Her attendants fanned her and scratched her back, while the chiefs waited in line to greet her. It was the first time that the missionaries saw the hula — hundreds of dancing men and women, shouting and clapping, the men in anklets of rattling dog’s teeth. The women dancers were bare-breasted, wearing pā’ū and feather anklets. Daniel Chamberlain wrote that he had never in his life seen anything so Satanic.

Dancer in kapa skirt, with tattoos and bleached fringe of hair, colored lithograph after Jacques Arago


One Seed Every 30,000 Years

This article appeared on the Op-Ed page of the Los Angeles Times last Sunday:

Each year, I await with dread the federal governmentʻs catalog of the endangered species under imminent threat in the Hawaiian Islands, where I was raised and where I live.

The endangered Hibiscus waimeae, or Kokiʻo keʻokeʻo, found in only two places on the island of Kauaʻi
The endangered Hibiscus waimeae, or Kokiʻo keʻokeʻo, found in two places on the island of Kauaʻi

On its 2015 list, the Fish and Wildlife Office included the ‘ea, or hawksbill turtle, as well as the green turtle, Ridley sea turtle, and leatherback turtle. Four mammals are considered endangered — the Hawaiian hoary bat; the kohola, or humpback whale; the sperm whale; and the endemic Hawaiian monk seal. Among the thirty-four endangered birds are the Hawaiian goose, or nēnē; the Maui parrotbill; the Nihoa millerbird; the red- legged stilt; and the iʻo, or Hawaiian hawk. There were once 99 species of land snails in the Islands; of the 25 that have survived, 9 are under threat of extinction. Fifteen arthropods, including the sphinx moth and the oceanic damselfly, are listed. Among the endangered plants are a white hibiscus found only in Wailau Valley on Molokaʻi; the lovely Hawaiian gardenia or naʻu (although now widely cultivated in an effort to save it, there are only two or three plants remaining in the wild), the mountain silversword of Mauna Loa; the loʻulu, or Pritchardia palm; and one small yellow campanula (Brighamia insignis) last seen on a cliff on the Na Pali coast of Kauaʻi.

Sandwich rail (Porzana sandwichensis), or flightless Hawaiian crake, painted by William Ellis on Captain James Cookʻs third voyage of discovery (1776-78), last seen in 1884.
The Sandwich rail (Porzana sandwichensis), or flightless Hawaiian crake, painted by William Ellis on Captain James Cookʻs third voyage of discovery (1776-78), was last seen in 1884.

There is a certain irony that such adaptive and resilient species as those indigenous (native, but occurring elsewhere) and endemic (occurring nowhere else in the world) to the Hawaiian Islands should be allowed to disappear from the planet. The chance of any species reaching and then surviving on an island as distant as one of the Hawaiian chain is infinitesimal, but despite the extraordinary odds, species found their way ashore, carried by the tide or blown by trade winds; inside birds or in their feathers; in the branches of trees; and in the jetsam of sunken ships. It is thought that such an event occurred only three hundred times in the history of the archipelago, meaning that on average, if one takes 70 million years as the life of the Islands, one seed or sapling was successfully introduced every 20,000 to 30,000 years. Many of those original species have now disappeared. According to the Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 271 species of all indigenous and endemic flora and fauna (introduced by various means) have become extinct in the last two hundred years.

Feather lei, worn around the head or neck, watercolor by Sarah Stone, 18, private collection
Feather lei, worn around the head or neck, watercolor by Sarah Stone, 1783, private collection

Although the decimation of species is due to commercialization, the loss of forests, hunting, the growth of population, pervasive invasive fauna, and now global warming, it began with the first voyagers from Polynesia in the seventh century A.D., who brought to the Islands their own plants and animals, including pigs, chickens, and dogs, which ensured the survival of the settlers, but threatened those native species which were innocent of predators. In the early nineteenth-century, rapacious Hawaiian chiefs were responsible for the disappearance of vast sandalwood forests, the fragrant wood sought by the Chinese for incense, and for the loss of thousands of native birds killed to make the yellow, red, and green feather capes, lei, and helmets of the nobility. Hawaiʻiʻs first king, Kamehameha I, must be held accountable for some of the early loss of plants, thanks to the kapu he placed on the cattle given him in 1793 by Captain George Vancouver. The cattle, and later goats, were allowed to roam wild in the uplands, where they destroyed the delicate ferns, vines, trees, and grasses that had provided generations of Hawaiians with food, fishing lines, nets, vegetable dyes, timber, medicine, barkcloth, and thatch for their houses. European contact, which began in 1778 with the discovery of the Islands by Captain James Cook, brought disease and the further destruction of ecosystems.

IMG_460078027Feather capes, watercolors by Sarah Stone, 1783

Later in the nineteenth century, the spread of sugar plantations ensured that additional acres of native grasslands and forests, and the creatures who lived in them, many of them natural pollinators, were heedlessly destroyed. Large cattle ranches, particularly on the Big Island, meant that the forests and valleys that were once home to numerous species were turned into grazing land.

The ʻio, or Hawaiian hawk, photograph by W. S. Chillingworth, 2014
The ʻio, or Hawaiian hawk, photograph by W. S. Chillingworth, 2015

Despite its rank as the state with the highest number of endangered or threatened species, Hawaiʻi receives less than 5% of the funding allotted by the federal government’s endangered species program — $1.5 million in 2013, out of $32 million given to twenty states, a third of which went to buy 635 acres of forested land on Oʻahu, while the rest was given to Kauaʻi to plan habitats for birds. Private landowners, community watch groups, conservation groups, local government agencies, and even schoolchildren are increasingly aware of the great loss that is underway, but for many species, it will be too late. Many people despair that there is not enough compassion, not enough will, not enough time or money to go around. Is the disappearance of the Hawaiian cave wolf spider, they ask, or the Hibiscadelphus distans, one of the worldʻs rarest trees, that important to most people? Especially in comparison to human lives? History, it appears, indicates that the human ones will be able to survive without honeycreepers and monk seals, but that is a solipsistic view. If the wolf spider is in trouble, we are in trouble, too.