WE have left Honolulu and are traveling about from island to island, now stopping at a sugar or coffee plantation, now spending the night in a grass hut with our brown island cousins, and now going on horse-back or foot through the mountains to look into volcanoes or tramp over craters long since dead.
How delightful it is, and how interesting ! The climate is perfect and the sun is seldom oppressive, for the trade winds temper its heat. Every hour brings a new picture on both sea and land, as we sail along coast after coast. Now we are on the side of an island away from the winds. The country is barren in places and arid bluffs rise up from the sea. Now we have gone around to the opposite shore and all is one dense mass of green, made so by the heavy rainfalls, squeezed from the air as it strikes the cold mountains. In some places the land is low, and upon it are vast sugar plantations of pale green; in others it rises in precipices hundreds of feet high, over which silvery waterfalls pour. Farther back are the mountains, with the clouds chasing one another over them, or playing hide-and-seek in their sides.
We go miles through woods of ferns and palms, bound together with vines even to the tops of the trees there are wild flowering trees, which look like gigantic bouquets. We attempt to gather specimens of the different ferns and orchids, but there are so many we give up in despair. We rest on logs cushioned with moss so thick that we sink into it as on a green velvet sofa; and as we sit there our Hawaiian guides bring us oranges, bananas, and wild apples plucked from the trees not far away. There is spring water almost everywhere, but we prefer the juice of the cocoanut fresh from the tree, and drink it through a hole in the shell.
And then the sugar plantations ! The green stalks are full of sweet juice, and we suck them like candy. The Hawaiian Islands have some of the best sugar lands upon earth. They yield so much that they could give the United States and Europe a taffy pulling every year and still keep enough for themselves. They have more than sixty great plantations, which annually produce sugar worth many millions of dollars.
The sugar lands are along the coast and on the lower slopes of the mountains. They are usually owned by companies with large capital, and are divided up into great estates employing thousands of native or Asiatic workmen under white overseers and managers. Most of the hard labor is done by Japanese and Chinese men and women who have little villages on the estates and live there much as at home.
Each estate has its laboratory where scientific men study the soil to see what fertilizers it needs to produce the most sugar. They know how much juice there is in each pound of cane, and how much sugar it will turn out. The larger plantations have railroads upon them to carry the cane to the mills, and where the land is not too hilly the plowing is done with steam plows. On some such plantations they bring the water from the mountains in great wooden troughs many miles long to irrigate the fields, and men ride on horseback through the ditches that the horses’ feet may pound the earth down and make it water tight. The ditches have to be watched, for they are liable to leak, and are opened and shut to turn the water where it is needed.
On some estates we see men planting cane. They cut the green stalks into pieces a few inches long, each containing one or more joints, and lay them end to end in the furrows. In a short time new canes sprout from each joint and make their way through the earth. They grow rapidly to the height of the highest cornstalk or higher, when they are ready for sugar. They are then cut off close to the ground, for the best sugar water is in the lower part of the cane. After this the cane left in the ground will again sprout of itself, and give a second good crop, but the third year it is planted again.
We watch the men loading the cane, and jump upon one of the cars to ride to the mill where the cane is crushed between rollers to get the juice out. The juice is boiled and clarified by machinery, and when it comes forth it is in the sweet, white grains sold in our stores.
Coffee grows best on the lands five hundred or more feet above sea level. The plants are small trees, many of them no bigger around than our thumbs and as straight as a cane. They have shining green leaves and white blossoms, which load the air with perfume.
We visit the nurseries on the hillsides where the plants are grown from the coffee beans, noticing the care required in raising them. We go with the workmen into the fields and watch the transplanting, now and then helping the Chinese or Japanese laborers dig the holes in the warm, red earth. The little trees grow slowly, and it is not until three years after setting out that they begin to bear fruit. They are in full bearing at five years, when they produce one or two pounds, and sometimes more, to the tree. This amount they will continue to yield for years to come. The coffee fruit grows close to the stalk. It looks like a red cherry, save that, in-stead of a stone, it has or two coffee beans seeds surrounded by pulp. These seeds are the coffee of commerce.
The berries are taken off, leaving skins on it. These shells are broken off by running the beans through machines so made that they do not injure them.
It is interesting to watch the Chinese at work in the rice fields. Rice is grown in the valleys or low down on the sides of the hills where the patches can be flooded with water again and again.
And then the banana groves, the sweet ripe oranges, so tempting as they hang on the trees, and the great fields of pineapples with their rosy faces tinged with yellow !
How delicious they are ! The fruit in our stores does not compare with that fresh from the stalk. These pineapples are full of juice, and the dead ripe ones we can almost eat with a spoon. The pineapple grows on the ground much like a cabbage, save that sharp, sword-like, prickly leaves stand out on all sides of each pine, and a bunch of sharp thorns sprouts out of the head of the fruit. Bananas and pineapples are shipped in quantities to the United States. .
We enjoy ourselves with our little Hawaiian cousins whom we meet everywhere as we go through the islands. Some of them dwell in grass huts, and others are rich and well educated and live like the whites. All are hospitable, and we often stay over night in a hut, having our dinner cooked after the native Hawaiian style, which we resolve to adopt for picnics at home.
The cooking is done in an oven made by digging a hole in the ground and walling it with stones. Stones are placed in the bottom and a stone arch is built over the top.
A fire is then made inside, and when the stones are red hot the oven is ready for use. The arch is now knocked down and the food, having been wrapped in the leaves of banana and other plants, is laid on the red-hot stones. Green grass is spread over the bundles, and above that a layer of earth, a little hole being left in the top.
Water is then poured into the hole and the hole covered up. As soon as the water reaches the hot stones it forms steam, and this cooks the food. Vegetables, fish, meat, and whole pigs are cooked in this way. Hot stones are put inside the pigs and under their shoulder blades to insure their being done through. The banana leaves with which the various viands are wrapped keep in the juices, and the food is fit for a king.
At nearly every native meal we have poi, and learn to like it.. It is one of the chief foods of the natives, and in times past it held the same place among them that bread does with us. Poi is a sort of paste or mush made of the root of the taro, a plant somewhat like the sweet potato or yam. The root is first ground to a paste and left until slightly fermented. It is usually served from a bowl into which each guest dips his hand and thus carries the poi to his mouth. This takes considerable skill, and it is quite a while before we are able to do it in the most polite way.
Our native friends are fond of sport. They like horses, and many of the boys and girls own their ponies. The girls ride astride and are not afraid to dash along the beach and ride far out into the water.
The Hawaiians are fond of the sea. Not only do they ride upon it in boats and swim through it, but they take what might be called sled rides on the breakers as they dash in to the shore. We join in this sport and find it delightful. Our sleds are boards about eight feet long, a foot wide, and turned up at the end. Each of us takes one of these boards and pushes it before him as he swims out beyond the breakers to the coral reef not far from the shore. We take our stand on the reef, carefully watching the billows as they roll in from the ocean, and at just the right time throw ourselves flat on the board on top of the greatest of them. The mighty wave flies like the wind. We rise and we fall ; if we could look back, we should see other waves following behind. In a very few moments, however, we are high on the beach, thrown out upon the soft, white sand. We take our boards, go back, and ride in again, rejoicing in the warm water and in the fact of having had a sled ride in midsummer on the briny Pacific without cold fingers or toes.