Travel: The Hawaiian Islands

Two thousand one hundred miles southwest of San Francisco lie the Hawaiian Islands. No matter at what season of the year they are approached, their slopes always present the same graceful appearance of living green. They are situated just south of the Tropic of Cancer, and twenty degrees north of the equator. Perpetual summer, with an average temperature of about seventy-five degrees, and constant moisture on a fertile soil, are all the conditions required to produce a paradisical scene of foliage, fruits, and flowers. These conditions exist here, and the result is not wanting. To one accustomed to the scenery of the regions of northern winters, a drive through Honolulu is enchanting. Nothing that he sees is familiar, and everything is luxuriant in loveliness.

The Hawaiian, or Sandwich, Islands are as an oasis in the vast desert of waters with which they are for many hundreds of miles surrounded. The islands are eight in number. In approaching that of Oahu, upon which Honolulu is situated, we pass Molokai on the left, where is located the leper settlement. This dread disease has obtained a lamentable foothold in the little country, and as fast as the disease appears, the victims are transported to this colony, where they are supported at the expense of the government.

The islands are of volcanic origin and character. For sublimity and general attractiveness their scenery is very justly celebrated. The volcanoes, both active and quiescent, are the largest in the world. The crater of Kilauea, which forms a part of the mountain called Mauna Loa, offers the grandest spectacle in the shape of an active volcano to be found in all the world. It is situated on the island of Hawaii, or Owyhee, the largest of the group. The main mountain rises to an altitude of 14,000 feet, but the mouth of the crater is only 6000 feet above the sea. This crater is nine miles in circumference, and contains, in the center, an immense bed of lava in a constant state of fusion and commotion. At times it rises and overflows its confines, carrying destruction in its path to the sea. A trip to this crater is attended with inconvenience and some danger, but those who make it will ever after thank the good fortune that led them to behold the most impressive spectacle of the kind to be found in all the world. The real danger of the trip is, however, generally overstated by travelers who like to infuse the heroic into their exploits, for notwithstanding the apparent risk of being swallowed up by the infernal regions, the constant stream of visitors has so far escaped. The outbreaks are preceded by warning sounds, and the flow of lava is sufficiently slow to allow ample time for retreat. The distance by sea from Honolulu to Hilo, the port of Owyhee, is 275 miles, and from there the ascent is made by stage over a very good government road, a distance of thirty miles. The hotels are good, and the expenses of the trip are not unreasonable.

The native inhabitants of these islands are dark brown in color, and partake of the universal indolent temperament which prevails in all warm climates. Nature herself seems to con nive at laziness in these countries, and in a very kindly mood provides the necessities of existence for only a small outlay of labor, and these being supplied, the natives are generally content to dispense with the embellishments and ornamentation which make such demands upon the time and strength of the civilized world. Here the cocoanut palm, banana, plantain, mango, bread fruit, and other food trees and plants, are of indigenous growth, and a11 the fruits of those latitudes grow nearly spontaneously. Fish are to be had for the catching. As for clothing, neither their native customs nor the climate demands much, and even the requirements of an encroaching civilization are easily met, so that in the enervating temperature nature and custom have adjusted themselves to the wants and comforts of the people.

I first visited Honolulu in 1888, again in 1898, and again in 1903. During this time very marked changes have taken place both in the appearance and general spirit of the city. At the first date it was the capital of the Hawaiian kingdom. Though located at the cross-roads of Pacific commerce, business had little charm for the islanders, who preferred a life of simple indolence with such simple comforts as nature provided ready to their hands, and such amusements and employments as cost but little effort. The favorite occupation of the citizens, male and female, appears to be to hang about the streets and wharves adorned with long strings of gaudy flowers called “leys, ” and smoke pipes or cigarettes. If perchance they could sell a ley or two to a stranger, it would furnish money for more tobacco. Otherwise their happiness was not disturbed by any disappointrnent. They certainly had the appearance of being a very “leysy” people.

In 1893 the queen was deposed and a republic established. The republic never had the semblance of stability. It was not long before admission to the United States was sought. Discontent among the islanders was encouraged by designing outsiders, Uncle Sam generously had his eagle spread out her wings, and Hawaii was “taken in.” The islands became part and parcel of the United States in spirit as well as in name. A change came over the sleepy metropolis of the Western ocean. The advent of steam and electricity sent through the dreamy town the quivers of an unknown awakening. New and massive buildings were erected. Splendid business blocks and palatial residences sprang up. Every known vehicle crowded in, and the streets are now crowded with the rush of business. The natives are still there, but they have retired to a back seat, and the Chinaman and the Japanese sit next to the white man in the chief seats.

So far as the natives themselves are concerned, they seem to be of a docile, peaceable nature. They are easily led by designing men, of whom there are not a few scattered here and there over the earth, in Hawaii as well as in other places. Then, too, there are business men whose interests led them to desire a change in the relations and policy of the government, and these desires rested in some cases upon a reasonable basis. It is the custom of our day for the larger to swallow up the smaller fry. Consolidation of interests, – aggrandizement of the great by absorbing the weak, is one of the principal laws of human progress. In the natural drift of events a few decades will witness the disappearance of most of the smaller kingdoms as independent governments, and their absorption by the greater and aggressive nations. It will be admitted that the benefits of the change do not all redound to the absorber. A most remarkable change has come over the social aspect of the islands since the introduction of Christianity. They were discovered by Captain Cook in 1778. This great explorer did not treat the simple natives as he should have done, but was unkind and even cruel to them. They received the impression that he was vested with supernatural powers, and this belief was strengthened by the sight of his ships, which they called floating islands. Captain Cook not only allowed but even encouraged this impression. But upon a subsequent visit he became involved in trouble with them over the loss of a boat. It is said that the natives desired to test his divinity by a prick with a spear. He winced in the ordeal, thus revealing that he was but human, therefore they quickly dispatched him before the boats from the ship could reach the spot.

The first missionaries who visited the islands came from America in 1820. About this time they had voluntarily destroyed their idols and temples, and the whole paraphernalia of heathen worship. The missionaries found the people without a religion. They were kindly received, and the work of education at once began, consequently in a few years the entire kingdom was brought to an acknowledgment of the religion of Christ. But Satan came also. And the strife between vice and virtue, good and evil, still goes on. The people still exhibit a childish susceptibility to the influence of those who have their confidence, and are content to pursue life in an aimless manner, if their present wants are supplied. The most of theta like to smoke tobacco, nor do the men have a monopoly of this habit.

There are many birds of beautiful plumage in these and other islands, yet but few are blest with musical faculties. And saying this we perhaps ought to except the mosquitos, which, on account of their size and active qualities, almost belong to the bird species. They are numerous, musical, energetic, and have an evident relish for the blood of a visitor.

As a stranger contemplates the easy phase which life assumes in these luxuriant regions, he almost wishes that he, too, could live in Honolulu. But if he is looking for paradise, then a short stay will convince him that he must move on. And so we leave the little island country, thankful for the privilege of becoming acquainted with its beauty and for experiencing the kind hospitality of new-found friends.

On the opposite page we present a correct portrait of the last sovereign, Queen Liliuokalani, familiarly called “Queen Lil,” who was deposed in 1893 to make room for the republic.