Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/The Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands

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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Volume XI
The Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands

HAWAIIAN or SANDWICH ISLANDS, The, a group of eight inhabited and four uninhabited islands in the North Pacific Ocean, lying between 18° 54′ and 22° 2′ N. lat. and 155° and 161° W. long. The group has a trend of about N. 64° W., which is nearly the trend of all the Pacific groups. From Honolulu, the capital, on Oahu, the distance to San Francisco is 2100 miles; to Auckland, New Zealand, 3810 miles; to Sydney, New South Wales, 4484 miles; to Yokohama, 3440 miles; to Hongkong, 4393 miles; to Tahiti, 2380 miles. The first of the names by which the group is designated above is taken from that of the largest island Hawaii, and is the name adopted by the inhabitants. The other name was given to it by Captain Cook the discoverer, in honour of the earl of Sandwich, first lord of the Admiralty at the time of the discovery.

EB9 Hawaiian Islands.jpg

History.—These islands, the most important Polynesian group in the North Pacific, were discovered by Captain Cook in 1778.[1] He was received by the natives with many demonstrations of astonishment and delight; and offerings and prayers were presented to him by their priest in one of the temples; and though in the following year he was killed by a native when he landed in Kealakeakua bay in Hawaii, his bones were preserved by the priests and continued to receive offerings and homage from the people, until the abolition of idolatry. At the time of Cook’s visit each island had its chief. On the death of the chief who ruled Hawaii at that time there succeeded one named Kamehameha, who appears to have been a man of quick perception and great force of character. When Vancouver visited the islands in 1792, this chief being desirous of possessing a vessel on the European model, the keel of one was laid down for him. Ten or twelve years later Mr Turnbull found him with 20 vessels of from 25 to 50 tons which traded amongst the islands, and he afterwards purchased others from foreigners. Having encouraged a warlike spirit in his people and introduced firearms, Kamehameha attacked and overcame the chiefs of the other islands one after another, until he became undisputed master of the whole group. He encouraged trade with foreigners, and derived from its profits a large increase of revenue as well as the means of consolidating his power. He died in 1819, and was succeeded by his son, a mild and well-disposed prince, but destitute of his father’s energy. One of the first acts of Kamehameha II. was to abolish tabu and idolatry throughout the islands. Some disturbances were caused thereby, but the insurgents were defeated and the peace of the islands has been scarcely broken since. In 1820 missionaries arrived from America and commenced their labours at Honolulu. A short time afterwards the British Government presented a small schooner to the king, and this afforded an opportunity for the Rev William Ellis, the well-known English missionary, to visit Honolulu, along with a number of Christian natives from the Society Islands. Finding the language of the two groups nearly the same, Mr Ellis, who had spent several years in the southern islands, was able to assist the American missionaries in reducing the Hawaiian language to a written form. In 1824 the king and queen of these islands paid a visit to England, and both died there of measles. For many years the Hawaiians have continued to advance steadily in intelligence, resources, and civilization, but their progress has been at times interrupted by the conduct of the officers of foreign powers. On one occasion a British officer went so far as to take possession of Oahu and establish a commission for its government; and French officers abrogated the laws, dictated treaties, and by force of arms established the Roman Catholic religion in the country. The act of the British officer was disavowed by his superiors as soon as known; and these outrages led to a representation on the part of the native sovereign to the Governments of Great Britain, France, and the United States of America, and the independence of the islands was guaranteed by these powers in 1844. Kalakaua, the reigning monarch (1880), was elected king by ballot on Lunalilo’s death without heirs in 1874. The heir to the throne is a sister of the king, Lelia Kamakacha, and is married to an American.

Inhabitants.—By the census taken in December 1878 the population of the whole group amounted to 57,985 persons, instead of 56,897 as in 1873. The number of natives of pure Hawaiian race was 44,088, of half castes 3420, Chinese 5916, Americans (U.S.) 1276, British 883, Portuguese 430, Germans 272, French 81, other foreigners 666, and Hawaiians born of foreign parents 947.

The natives belong to the Malayo-Polynesian race. Their reddish-brown skin has been compared to the hue of tarnished copper. The hair, usually raven black, is straight or at most wavy; the beard is thin, the face broad, the profile not prominent, the nose rather flattened, and the lips thick. The bulk of the population are of moderate stature, but the chiefs and the women of their families are remarkable for height.

“The inhabitants of these islands,” says Mr Ellis,[2] “are, considered physically, amongst the finest races in the Pacific, bearing the strongest resemblance to the New Zealanders in stature, and in their well-developed muscular limbs. The tattooing on their bodies is less artistic than that of the New Zealanders, and much more limited than among some of the other islanders. They are also more hardy and industrious than those living nearer the equator. This in all probability arises from their salubrious climate, and the comparative sterility of their soil, rendering them dependent upon the cultivation of the ground for the yam, the arum, and the sweet potato, their chief articles of food. Though, like all undisciplined races, the Sandwich Islanders have proved deficient in firm and steady perseverance, they manifest considerable intellectual capability. Their moral character, when first visited by Europeans, was not superior to that of other islanders; and, excepting when improved and preserved by the influences of Christianity, it has suffered much from the vices of intemperance and licentiousness introduced by foreigners. Polygamy prevailed among the chiefs and rulers, and women were subject to all the humiliations of the tabu system, which subjected them to many privations, and kept them socially in a condition of inferiority to the other sex. Infanticide was practised to some extent, the children destroyed being chiefly females. Though less superstitious than the Tahitians, the idolatry of the Sandwich Islanders was equally barbarous and sanguinary, as, in addition to the chief objects of worship included in the mythology of the other islands, the supernatural beings supposed to reside in the volcanoes and direct the action of subterranean fires rendered the gods objects of peculiar terror. Human sacrifices were slain on several occasions, and vast offerings presented to the spirits supposed to preside over the volcanoes, especially during the periods of actual eruptions. The requisitions of their idolatry were severe, and its rites cruel and bloody. Grotesque and repulsive wooden figures, animals, and the bones of chiefs were the objects of worship. Human sacrifices were offered whenever a temple was to be dedicated, or a chief was sick, or a war was to be undertaken; and these occasions were frequent. The apprehensions of the people with regard to a future state were undefined, but fearful. The lower orders expected to be slowly devoured by evil spirits, or to dwell with the gods in burning mountains. The several trades, such as that of the fisherman, the tiller of the ground, and the builder of canoes and houses, had each their presiding deities. Household gods were also kept, which the natives worshipped in their habitations. One merciful provision, however, had existed from time immemorial, and that was sacred inclosures, places of refuge into which those who fled in time of war, or from any violent pursuer, might enter and be safe. To violate their sanctity was one of the greatest crimes of which a man could be guilty.”


In the former state of society the habits of the people were extremely licentious; men were living with several wives, and women with several husbands. Female virtue was an unknown thing, and there is no native word for it. This state of things has, however, been greatly altered by the exertions of the missionaries.

As regards cannibalism, it appears that the heart and liver of the human victims offered in the temples were eaten as a religious rite, and that the same parts of any prominent warrior slain in battle were devoured by the victor chiefs in the belief that they would thereby inherit the valour of the dead man. When, on the death of the great warrior Kamehameha I., the chiefs assembled to deliberate what should be done with his body, one suggested that they should eat it, but this did not find favour with the others.

The Hawaiians are a good-tempered, light-hearted, and pleasure-loving race. They have many games and sports, and the women spend much time in making flower garlands. Both sexes are passionately fond of riding, almost every one being in possession of a horse. They delight to be in the water, and swim with remarkable skill and ease. In the exciting sport of surf swimming, which always astonishes strangers, they balance themselves whilst standing or sitting on a small board which is carried landwards on the curling crest of a great roller.

In spite of moral and material progress—better food, better clothing, improved dwellings, and many other advantages of civilizationthe race is dying out, and, indeed, is threatened with extinction in the course of a few years. Captain Cook estimated the number of natives at 400,000; in 1823 the American missionaries calculated them to be only 142,000; the census of 1832 showed the population to be 130,313; and the census of 1878 proved that the number of natives was no more than 44,088. To account for this it is said that the blood of the race has become poisoned by the introduction of foreign diseases. The women are much less numerous than the men; and the married ones have few children at the most; two out of three have none. Moreover the mothers appear to have little maternal instinct, and there is consequently a neglect of the offspring. Whilst the Hawaiians are decreasing, the Chinese are coming in large numbers, and threaten in time to take their place. To counteract this, as well as to supply the pressing need for labourers, the Government has considered many schemes for introducing other immigrants. Polynesians from other islands have been brought over, and a considerable number of Portuguese have come from Madeira.

The language is a branch of the widely-diffused Malayo-Polynesian tongue; and Hawaiians and New-Zealanders, although occupying the most remote regions north and south at which any of their race have been found, can understand each other without much difficulty. This language is soft and harmonious, being highly vocalic in structure, The only consonants are k, l, m, n, and p, which with the gently aspirated h, the five vowels, and the vocalic w, make up all the letters in use. The letters r and t have been suppressed of late years in favour of l and k, so that, for example, taro, the former name of the Colocasia plant, is now kalo. The language was not reduced to a written form until after the arrival of the missionaries.[3]

In the days of idolatry the only dress worn by the men was a narrow strip of cloth wound round the loins and passed between the legs. Women wore a short petticoat made of tapa (cloth prepared from the inner bark of the paper mulberry), which reached from the waist to the knee. But now the common class of men wear a shirt and trousers, whilst the better class are attired in the European fashion. The women are clad universally in the holoka, a loose white or coloured garment with sleeves reaching from the neck to the feet. A coloured handkerchief is twisted round the head or a straw hat is worn. Both sexes delight in adorning themselves with garlands (leis) of flowers and necklaces of coloured seeds.

The natives derive their sustenance chiefly from pork and fish both fresh and dried, and from the kalo (Colocasia esculenta), the banana, sweet potato, yam, bread-fruit, and cocoanut. The root of the kalo affords the national dish called poi after having been baked and well beaten on a board with a stone pestle it is made into a paste with water and then allowed to ferment for a few days, when it is fit to eat. There was formerly a particular breed of dog which, after being fed exclusively on poi, was considered a great delicacy. The filthy liquor called awa or kawa is still relished by the natives, and though it is only allowed to be made under licence, it is often prepared clandestinely.

The native dwellings are constructed of wood, or more frequently are huts thatched with grass at the sides and top. What little cooking is undertaken is done outside. The oven consists of a hole in the ground in which a fire is lighted and stones made hot; and the fire having been removed, the food is wrapped up in leaves and placed in the hole beside the hot stones and covered up until ready.

Leprosy is prevalent amongst the natives, and the Government has established a settlement on the island of Molokai where all persons found to be affected with the disease are kept entirely isolated from the healthy part of the community. The lepers number about 800.

Agriculture and Commerce.—Large capital has been embarked, chiefly by Americans, in the production of sugar, the soil and climate being well suited to the cane in those localities where the water supply is ample. There are between 60 and 70 sugar estates, and more are being planted. The principal difficulty is the want of labour. The average yield of sugar per acre is 2 tons, whilst in some favoured spots as much as 7 tons has been obtained. In 1878 the exports of sugar amounted to 17,187 tons. Rice is also largely cultivated, 2455 tons having been exported in the same year. Coffee is produced only to a small extent. Arrow-root is prepared from the root of the Tacca pinnatifida. The kalo plant (Colocasia esculenta) is extensively grown in wet places. It is said that a patch of kalo measuring 40 feet square yields sufficient food for a native for a whole year; a square mile of it would therefore support 17,000 persons. Maize and wheat are raised, and flour is manufactured. Pine apples, oranges, mangoes, custard apples, guavas, and many other fruits have been introduced, and flourish in gardens. A silky fibre called pulu, growing on the crown of tree-fern stems belonging to the genus Cibotium, is exported in large quantities to America, where it is used for stuffing cushions.

The owners of sheep are few, but they have large flocks, and the wool exported in 1878 amounted to 523,000 ). Some districts are well suited for cattle raising. The wild cattle of the mountainsa very inferior breed, descended from some left by Captain Vancouver—are shot or taken with the lasso for the sake of their hides, which are exported in large quantities. In one island 11,000 were killed in a single year. The natives used to entrap them by digging pits near pools of water, and it was through falling into one of these pits that Douglas, the botanical collector, met his death by being gored by a bull.

Owing to their geographical position the commercial development of the islands has advanced even more rapidly than the material improvement in the circumstances of the people. A treaty of commerce was concluded in 1876 between the United States and the Hawaiian Islands, under which the manufactures of the former and the chief productions of the latter are reciprocally allowed to enter duty free. This treaty has been of great benefit to the islands, more especially by stimulating the cultivation of the sugar cane. The principal exports are sugar, rice, coffee, hides, skins, tallow, and wool. In 1878 the total amount of exports reached the value of about 3,500,000 dollars, whilst the value of imports amounted to about 3,000,000 dollars. The United States are by far the largest customers for the articles exported, and supply the great bulk of the imported goods. In 1878 there were 54 vessels registered under the Hawaiian flag, of which 11 were engaged in whaling and foreign trades, whilst 43 were coasters, making a total of 8000 tons. In 1878, besides the mail steamers, 216 merchant vessels of various foreign nations entered the Hawaiian ports.

Many good roads have been made, and railways have been projected; a telegraph line was opened in 1878 between Wailuku and Lahaina in Maui (40 miles), and has since been extended; considerable capital has been brought in by foreigners; and the price of land is rising. A Government survey of the islands is in progress.

Climate and Meteorology.—The climate in general is warm but very salubrious. The temperature is equable and the sky usually cloudless. The N.E. trades blow for nine months; and the leeward coast, being protected by high mountains, is refreshed by regular land and sea breezes. During January, February, and March the wind blows strongly from the S.W.; and at this season an unpleasant hot damp wind from the equatorial region occasionally makes itself felt. Very much more rain falls on the windward side of the principal islands than on the leeward. Thus at Hilo, on tha east coast of Hawaii, the usual rainfall is said to amount to 80 inches, and in some years to more than twice that quantity, whilst at Honolulu on the south coast of Oahu, out of the reach of the windward rains, the mean annual rainfall for the five years ending 1877 varied from 32·30 to 46·40 inches, the average being about 38. The mean annual temperature at the same place for the same period was 75° Fahr. The mean temperature of the coldest month during the five years was 62° Fahr., and that of the hottest month 81° Fahr. Strong gales blow once or twice during the winter, but destructive hurricanes are entirely unknown.

Zoology.—When Cook arrived at the islands he found only hogs, dogs, and rats. There is a day-flying bat; a small lizard is found, but no other reptiles. Cattle, goats, and hogs at the present day run wild upon the mountains in the larger islands, and do much damage to the woods. As to the birds, fifty-three species have been enumerated by Mr Sanford Dole in Proceedings of Boston Soc. of Natural History (cf. Sclater’s paper in Ibis, 1871), but it is thought that many more species remain to be discovered in the mountain districts. In former times the chiefs exacted as a tax from the people the gay feathers of certain species (Drepanus and Moho), and employed them to ornament their state robes, only one of which is now in existence, and that is kept with the greatest care for the king’s use on state occasions. Mr Dole’s list includes of Falconidæ 2 species, Strigidæ 1, Promeropidæ 10, Meliphagidæ 4, Turdidæ 2, Ampelidæ 1, Corvidæ 1, Fringillidæ 5, Charadridæ 2, Scolopacidæ 3, Ardeidæ 2, Rallidæ 5, Anatidæ 3, Procellaridæ 2, Laridæ 5, and Pelicanidæ 3. One of the Rallidæ, now nearly extinct, is remarkable for having rudimentary wings, like the moa of New Zealand, hidden in long, loose, hairy feathers. Dr Otto Finsch, who visited Honolulu in 1879, says that the native birds, as well as the native plants, are being ousted by introduced species. The house sparrow from Europe and the maina (Acridotheres tristis ?) and the turtle-dove (Turtur chinensis) from China are almost the only birds to be seen in and about the town; and in order to obtain specimens of indigenous species he had to go far inland. (See Proceed. Roy. Geog. Soc., Jan. 1880.)

Botany.—The ravines and mountain slopes on the windward side of the larger islands contain much forest growth, whilst the leeward uplands and plains are comparatively bare. Amongst the more remarkable forms are a Pandanus, or screw pine, and the Aleurites, or candle-nut tree, so named from the natives stringing together the kernels, which are very oily, and so making a candle. Sandalwood, formerly plentiful, has been exhausted. The cocoa-nut palm grows in abundance on the coast. For the following valuable notes on the flora, we are indebted to Dr William Hillebrand, who for many years studied the subject on the spot with the view of publishing a complete work upon it:—

“The flora of these islands, according to my researches, comprises 829 species of phanerogams and 147 species of vascular cryptogams. These 976 species are distributed amongst 358 genera. There are 144 species of monocotyledons, of which 45 belong to the Cyperaceæ and 63 to the Gramineæ. Only 3 species of orchids have been found. Of the 829 species of phanerogamous plants 94 are known to have been introduced since the advent of the white man, whilst 597 species are peculiar to the islands, leaving only 138 species which are found elsewhere. With few exceptions the peculiar genera are the richest in species, but some of the genera not entirely Hawaiian are also remarkable for the number of their species; for example, Cyrtandra has 29 species, Piperomia 21, Pittosporum 12, and Euphorbia 10. Amongst the peculiar dicotyledonous plants there is not a single annual; and by far the greater number are arborescent or frutescent. There are only two native species of palm, both belonging to the genus Pritchardia. Of ferns there are 130 species, including 35 of Asplenium, 16 of Aspidium, 16 of Polypodium, and 8 of Phegopteris. The tree ferns number 5 species, 3 belonging to the genus Cibotium, and 2 to Sadleria. As to the derivation of the flora a distinction must be made between the lower and middle regions and the upper mountainous region. The two former are manifestly connected with the south-western Polynesian and Malaysian flora, so far as the latter is represented by the Moluccas and New Guinea, and connected by Wallace with the Australian continent. Some of the prevailing forest trees of the lower region are identical with the species found in the localities just mentioned, e.g., Aleurites moluccana, Jambosa malaccensis, Alphidoxia excelsa, Dodonæa viscosa, Thespesia populnea, Cordia subcordata, Artocarpus incisa, Paritium tiliaceum, Broussonetia papyrifera, and Cordyline terminalis. Most of the forest trees of the middle belt, although peculiar as species, have very near congeners in the same direction, as Metrosideros polymorpha, Acacia Koa (with phyllodia), the Peleas, Pseudopanax, Gouldia, Sophora, Elæocarpus, Pittosporum, Bobea, Straussia, Caprosma, Maba, Sapota, Myrsine, Olea, Pisonia, Santalum, Charpentiera, &c. But with regard to the flora of the highest region in the Hawaiian Islands, there are many plants and some entire orders which point to the American continent as the land of their nearest allies,—for instance, the Compositæ with few exceptions, the Rosaceæ, Geraniaceæ, and most of the Labiatæ.”

Geology and Mineralogy.—Though the islands are mountainous, none of the eminences reach the limit of perpetual snow. All the islands are of volcanic origin and are entirely composed of the products of eruption. On one of them (Hawaii) the volcanic forces are still in operation; on all the others they have been quiescent for an indefinite period, and the superficial rocks are in a more or less advanced state of decay. Where volcanic action has long ceased deep ravines have been excavated on the sides of the mountains, and this is especially the case on the windward side of Hawaii, where the rainfall is very large. The headlands frequently terminate in lofty cliffs, sometimes overhanging the sea to a height of 2000 feet; and these afford additional evidence of a prolonged period of repose. The products of the Hawaiian volcanoes are rather scanty. According to Mr Brigham they consist of hydrochloric, sulphuric, and sulphurous acids, native sulphur, pyrites, common salt, sal ammoniac, hæmatite, quartz, palagonite, felspar, chrysolite, thomsonite, gypsum, solfatarite, copperas, nitre, arragonite, labradorite, and limonite. Evidence of slight upheaval is furnished by those parts of the shore where old coral reefs are found, sometimes as high as 100 feet above the sea.

Government and Laws.—The form of government is a constitutional monarchy, with a legislature composed of 20 nobles appointed by the king for life, and 28 representatives elected every two years by the peoplethe two classes sitting together. An annual income of 75 dollars is the qualification of an elector. The king has a cabinet of ministers and a privy council. The Government is regularly organized, its departments are efficiently managed, and the laws are justly administered. Many of the principal offices are filled by foreigners, chiefly Americans, who have become Hawaiian subjects. It is somewhat of a burlesque of the proceedings of royalty in Europe that here, where the whole body of subjects is less than the population of a small English county, we find in full display the titles of majesty, royal highness, prince, excellency, &c., as well as knights grand cross and other grades of two royal orders! A governor is appointed by the king for each of the larger islands. Diplomatic representatives of Great Britain, France, and the United States of America are resident at Honolulu, and also consuls of these and other foreign powers. At London, Paris, New York, and several other foreign cities there are Hawaiian diplomatic and consular agents. An efficient postal system has been established, and there is a standing army of about 70 men. The laws are modelled on those of the United States. There is a supreme court of justice, as well as circuit judges and district justices, assisted by a police force.

Religion and Education.—The ancient idolatrous religion has been abandoned since 1819, and the whole population has embraced Christianity. All forms are tolerated, and at Honolulu there are six churches belonging to the Roman Catholic, Protestant Episcopal, and Congregational communions. The bishop of the Church of England is styled the bishop of Honolulu, and the Roman Catholics have also a bishop. The Congregationalists are most numerous. Originally started by the foreign missionaries, the question of education has been taken up by the Government, who have established a board to superintend the affairs connected with this subject. Nearly every native can read and write. In 1878 there were 222 schools, attended by 3991 boys and 3000 girls. In the majority of these schools the instruction is communicated in Hawaiian; but in some of a higher grade English is employed, and, as the people themselves desire it, that language is more and more introduced.

Revenue and Currency.—The annual revenue of the Government amounts to about 600,000 dollars derived chiefly from custom duties (284,000 dollars in 1878), taxes on real and personal property, and a poll tax. It does not equal the expenditure, and there is a funded debt of from 400,000 to 500,000 dollars. Accounts are kept in dollars, and the coins in circulation are those of American States.

The Capital.—Honolulu (population 14,114), the capital of the island group, stands on the S.W. coast of Oahu, in 157° 51′ 48″ W. long. and 21° 17′ 56″ N. lat., at the mouth of the valley of Nuuann, which runs back between tall cliffs to two peaks about 3000 feet high in the great eastern range of mountains. It is the seat of the central government and the residence of the king. Although consisting largely of one-story wooden houses, mingled with grass huts half smothered by foliage, Honolulu is said to present to approaching vessels more of the appearance of a civilized place with its churches and public buildings than any other town in Polynesia. The streets, laid out in the American style, are straight, neat, and tidy. Water-works supply the town from a neighbouring valley. Among the stone erections are the king's house, a hospital, a large hotel built by the Government, and the Government buildings, in which are a fair library of English books and a museum containing corals, shells, and other natural curiosities, as well as specimens of ancient weapons and other native articles. Amongst the brick buildings are large iron works, a brass foundry, an establishment for working up wood, and rice mills. All the necessaries and most of the luxuries of civilized life can be obtained in Honolulu. There are several hotels for the accommodation of strangers, and numerous agencies of both British and American insurance offices; American and English medical men and lawyers have settled in the town; two weekly newspapers in English and two in the Hawaiian language are published. Honolulu has a good natural harbour, with wharves, a custom house, and warehouses. It is connected by regular lines of mail steamers with San Francisco, Sydney, and New Zealand. There are also lines of steamers to Liverpool and Glasgow, New York and Boston, Bremen, China, and Peru. Small steamers ply between the islands. Business is almost entirely carried on by foreigners, and chiefly by Americans, British, Germans, and Chinese. The last are the most numerous; they are acquiring property rapidly, and some of them are wealthy. The foreigners are very sociable, and have established numerous clubs, benevolent societies, &c. American influence and customs are said to be dominant. In the neighbourhood of the town is a college, where for a small sum boys and girls receive a good English education.

The Separate Islands.—The following description of the separate islands begins with the largest and most easterly, giving the others in the order of their position.

Islands. Length
in Miles.
in Miles.
Estimated Area
in Acres.
Census 1878.

Hawaii 100 90 2,500,000 17,034
Maui 54 25 400,000 12,109
Kahulawi 12 5 30,000 60
Lanai 20 9 100,000 214
Molokai 35 7 200,000 2,581
Oahu 35 21 350,000 20,236
Kauai 30 28 350,000 5,634
Niihau 20 5 70,000 117

4,000,000 57,985

In older English works Hawaii is called Owhyhee and Maui Mowee. The four uninhabited islets are named Nihoa, Kaula, Lehua, and Molokini.

Hawaii has an area nearly double that of all the other islands put together. In shape it is a rude triangle, with sides of 85, 75, and 65 geographical miles in length. Almost the whole of its surface is occupied by the gentle slopes of four volcanic mountains, Mauna Kea on the N., 13,805 feet in height (the highest peak in the Pacific Ocean); Mauna Loa on the S., 13,600 feet; Mauna Hualalai on the W., 8275 feet; and Mauna Kohala on the N.W., 5505 feet.

The highest points of Mauna Kea are truncated cones with craters rising from plains of clinkers and gravel, ashes and sand; but no modern streams of lava are visible, nor is there record of any eruption of this mountain. The slopes on the west side are so gentle that the base of the terminal cones may be reached on horseback. On the windward side cryptogamic vegetation reaches as high as 12,000 feet, but the forest ceases at 6000 feet.

Mauna Loa is the most interesting mountain of the whole group from its being still an active volcano. The circular terminal crater, 8000 feet in diameter, is quite perfect, with nearly vertical walls from 500 to 600 feet high on the inner side; and the bottom between the numerous cones is usually covered with solid lava, from the fissures of which issue steam and sulphurous vapours; but its features change with every eruption. There is no record of any eruption from Mauna Loa before 1832, when lava flowed from the summit crater on several sides. In 1843 a vast flood of lava was discharged, which formed three streams 5 or 6 miles wide and between 20 and 30 miles long. There were eruptions in 1851, 1852, 1855, and 1859, but in none of these did the lava reach the sea except on the last occasion, when the eruption continued for two months, and a winding current 50 miles long, from 1 to 5 miles wide, and from 10 to some hundreds of feet thick, arrived at the west coast in eight days. Its surface is now black, shining, brittle, and very porous. In 1868 occurred another eruption attended by many earthquakes. One of these caused a huge sea wave 40 feet high to break on the shore, occasioning the loss of many lives and the destruction of much property. The wave crossed the Pacific to the Californian coast. Later in the same year, at a time when earthquakes were taking place on the coast of South America and the town of Iquique in Peru was destroyed, a great wave came across the Pacific, struck the Hawaiian Islands, and made itself felt in New Zealand. The last eruption took place in February 1877, when a stream of lava flowed for six hours.

Sixteen miles to the S.E. of Mauna Loa is a hill called Kilauea, with a crater which is the largest active one in the world. The earliest recorded eruption was in 1789, and there was another in 1832. This volcano was first made known to the civilized world in 1823, when Mr Ellis and a party of American missionaries visited it. At an elevation of 4400 feet above the sea they found in the midst of a plain an oval crater 9 miles in circumference with vertical sides 1000 feet deep, covered at the bottom with a lake of liquid lava at one end red and boiling. Around the edge or from the midst of this fiery lake, 51 conical craters sent forth jets of lava or smoke and flame. A stony ledge round the inside of the crater, and 300 or 400 feet above the lake, indicated that the lava had risen to that height and had then run off by a subterranean channel to the sea, where some miles of coast had been filled up with liquid lava a few weeks previously. Since that time many travellers have ascended to the craters of both Mauna Loa and Kilauea, and have given vivid descriptions of the very grand and wonderful phenomena they witnessed.[4] In 1840 the commander and officers of the United States Exploring Expedition spent three weeks on the summit of Mauna Loa and made an accurate survey of the crater. In that year there was a great outburst from a crater 8 miles from the summit of Kilauea, when a stream of lava half a mile broad and 40 miles long reached the sea.

Over the whole summit of Hualalai, another of the four mountains of Hawaii, are scattered many pit craters from 300 to 500 feet deep and from 700 to 1000 feet in diameter, their solid walls being nearly vertical. On the edge of one of the deepest craters there is a mound about 50 feet high, composed of drops of lava and fragments of all sizes, coloured yellow, orange, red, blue, and black. They seem to have been ejected in a viscid state, for they are slightly agglutinated together. In the centre of the mound is a blow-hole 25 feet in diameter and about 1800 feet deep. The inside of this hole is grooved horizontally, but otherwise smooth as if turned. More than 150 cones have been counted on the sides of Hualai. The last eruption took place in 1801, when a copious flow of lava reached the coast, where it filled up a deep bay.

The lavas of Hawaii are distinguishable according to the aspect of their surface into three classes. 1. The pahoehoe of the natives, or velvety lava, is folded and twisted in a manner that shows it was once a viscid fluid. This is the common form when the flow has passed over rocks or dry ground on a gentle slope. 2. The clinkers or scoriaceous lava is rough and covered with fragments. This is found wherever the stream has passed through woods or has been impeded by inequalities of the ground, or where its heat has caused the explosion of caverns beneath the floor of older beds. 3. The a-a or spongy lava, which, on account of its extreme roughness and hardness, is carefully avoided by all travellers. This form is thought to owe its origin to the fact that, just as the lava was granulating, impediments that stood in its course gave way, when the spongy mass rolled over and built up piles from which the liquid portion drained off. The natives are in the habit of making holes in the a-a, and planting in them banana shoots or sweet-potato cuttings, and though the holes are simply filled with stones or fern leaves the plants grow and in due time are productive.

The plain lying between the mountains of Hawaii is many square miles in extent, and is intersected by lava streams which have issued from the three nearest volcanoes. The rocks forming the north point of Kealakeakua bay, where Captain Cook was killed, are part of a flow which maybe traced up the steep ascent and over a precipice where it must have fallen like a cascade, the surface being curiously marked with waves and curves as if the molten stone had been solidified instantaneously. A sheet of copper with an inscription, attached to the stump of a cocoa-nut palm, for many years served as the only memorial of Captain Cook’s death; but in 1874 a monument was erected at the spot by the residents of Honolulu. The east coast of Hawaii from Hilo to Laupahoehoe, a distance of 30 miles, is very remarkable for the streams, 85 in number, running at the bottom of ravines 1800 or 2000 feet in depth which are cut into the side of Mauna Kea, and render travelling along this coast a work of extreme labour. The ridges between the ravines terminate at the sea in precipices from 100 to 500 feet high, so that the road is obliged to run inland into and across the ravines.

At a point midway between the three southern mountains, and at a height of 5000 feet, are the ruins of the ancient temple of Kaili, 92 feet long, which formerly contained many idols.

Hilo (population 4200), the residence of the governor, is a straggling village half hidden in sugar-cane and other vegetation on the east coast. It lies in a bay that is little more than an open roadstead, but is partly protected from heavy seas by a sunken coral reef.

Maui, lying 25 miles N.W. of Hawaii, is composed of two mountains connected by a sandy isthmus 7 or 8 miles long by 6 miles across, and so low that the depression of a few feet would convert Maui into two islands. Haleakala, the mountain to the N.W., has a height of 10,032 feet, and forms a great dome-like mass with a circumference at the base of 90 miles, and with regular slopes of only 8° or 9°, so that travellers may ride to the top on horseback. The extinct crater on its summit, the largest in the world, has a length from E. to W. of 7 miles, and a width of 2 miles, with an area of about 16 square miles. The circuit of the walls, which are composed of a hard grey clinkstone much fissured, is from 18 to 20 miles. The depth, measured from the highest point of the rim, is 2720 feet. At the bottom are 16 cones 500 or 600 feet high, formed long after the top of the great crater had been destroyed, perhaps by explosions. On the east and north are two great gaps in the walls from 1 to 3 miles wide, through each of which has poured a copious flood of lava which nearly reached the sea. These streams, though of unknown date are comparatively modern, for they have blocked up several ravines in their progress. A little impure sulphur is found in the crater, but there is not the least sign of igneous activity at present on the island. Eeka, the mountain at the south-east of Maui, is 5820 feet high. Volcanic action appears to have ceased here at a much earlier period than on Haleakala, there being no craters on the summit or sides, whilst the slopes have been denuded into deep valleys separated by narrow sharp ridges.

Lahaina (population 3000), on the north-west shore, is the residence of the governor. It is a decaying place situated in a grove of cocoa-nut and other tropical trees. The roadstead is roomy and sheltered, and there is regular steam communication with Honolulu, about 72 miles distant. A native Hawaiian college in the neighbourhood is supported by Government. Foreigners reside at Lahaina, as well as at Wailuku (population 4000), a town on the east shore of the island. They are principally employed in the cultivation of sugar.

Kahulawi is a small island 6 miles west of Maui. Though the vegetation is scanty and there are no streams, it has been leased by the Government for sheep pasture. The highest point is only about 1130 feet above the sea, and there are no ravines.

Lanai is another small island on the west of Maui, from which it is 9 miles distant. At the south-east end there is a mountain 3000 feet high without a crater. Vegetation is stunted on the exposed slopes, but the ravines contain a rich growth of trees and shrubs. Sheep in large numbers are pastured here. Lanai and Kahulawi are remarkable for presenting high cliffs to the leeward and gentle slopes to the windward, the reverse being the case in all the other islands.

Molokai is a long narrow island 9 miles distant from the north-west end of Maui. A ridge of hill forms its backbone and throws off lateral spurs enclosing ravines. At the west end are some lofty broken peaks, the highest of which is about 3500 feet above the sea. Deer are wild on the hills, the descendants of tame animals that belonged to a former king. The leper settlement of Molokai has been already mentioned.

Oahu, 23 miles N.W. of Molokai and 67 miles S.E. of Kauai, has an irregular quadrangular form. It is traversed from S.E. to N.W. by two parallel ranges of hills separated by a low plain. The highest point in the island is Kaula, 4060 feet, in the western range; but the eastern range is much longer than the other, and its ridge is very broken: on the land side there are many ravines formed by lateral spurs, but for 30 miles on the other side it presents to the sea a nearly vertical wall without a break. The valleys are remarkable for beautiful scenery,—peaks, cliffs, lateral ravines, cascades, and tropical vegetation combining to charm the eye. There are few craters on the loftier heights, volcanic activity appearing to have long ceased, but on the coast there are several groups of small cones with craters, some of lava, others of tuff. The greater part of the coast is surrounded by a coral reef, often half a mile wide. In several localities an old reef has been upheaved, sometimes to the height of 100 feet, and now forms part of the land. By such an upheaval a bay of the sea a mile wide and two miles long has been converted into a plain some 25 feet above the level of the ocean, and upon this plain stands Honolulu, the capital of the kingdom, noticed above.

Kauai, 67 miles N.W. of Maui and 23 miles from Molokai, has an irregularly circular form; and at the centre is the basaltic mountain Waialeale, 5000 feet high, which has a swampy top and sides deeply furrowed by ravines, showing that volcanic action has been long extinct. To the west of the mountain is a tableland with an elevation of 4000 feet and an area of 40 square miles, terminating at the sea in a precipice of 2000 feet. The valleys are numerous, deep, and very picturesque with wood and waterfalls. The soil is fertile, the lavas of nearly the whole island being much decomposed. In some places, however, are cones, which have preserved their craters. Numerous dykes are exposed in the valleys, and there are large caverns in several localities which are thought to have been great bubbles in the lava. In one place near the shore is a bank of calcareous sand which on being set in motion gives out a curious noise. When the grains were examined with the microscope they were found to contain cavities, and it is supposed that these minute hollows are the cause of the resonance, for when the sand is wet the noise is not heard. A district on the north side of the island is considered to be the best watered and most fertile in the entire group; it contains several sugar plantations. In this part the rainy season extends over nine months. The chief town is Waimea (population 1200), which affords the best anchorage in Kauai; it is situated at the mouth of a stream navigable by boats for three quarters of a mile.

Niihau, the most westerly island of the group, is 15 miles west of Kauai. Two-thirds of it consist of a low plain composed of an uplifted coral reef and matter washed down from the mountains. The hilly portion is destitute of cones, craters, peaks, and ridges. The coast on the side towards Kauai is formed of high cliffs, and from the similarity of the structure of the rocks on the two sides of the strait it is thought that the islands were once united. The soil of Niihau is dry, yet fertile. The island is the property of a foreigner who pastures about 75,000 sheep upon it. The uninhabited islets of Kaula and Lehua, close to Niihau, have each of them a tufa cone.

See G. Mortimer, Observations during a Voyage to the . . . Sandwich Islands, &c., Lond., 1791; G. F. Mathison, Narr. of a Visit to the Sandwich Islands, 1825; W. Ellis, Narrative . . . with Remarks on the Sandwich Islands, 1826; Voy. of H.M.S. Blonde to the Sandwich Islands, 182425, Lond., 1826; J. Jarves, Hist. of the Sandwich Islands, Boston, U.S., 1843; H. T. Cheever, Life on the Sandwich Islands, 1851; W. Ellis, Polynesian Researches, 1853; S. S. Hill, Travels in the Sandwich Islands, 1856; Ch. Wilkes, U.S.N., Narrative of Exploring Exped. round the World, 1838–42, New York, 1856; T. Williams, The Sandwich Islands, Lond., 1858; Hopkins, Hawaii Past, Present, and Future, Lond., 1866; Jules Remy, Récits d’un vieux sauvage, pour servir a l’histoire ancienne du Hawaii, Châlons sur Marne, 1859; Id., Ka Mooolelo Hawaii, histoire de l’archipel hawaiien (text and translation), Paris, 1862; H. Mann, Flora of the Hawaiian Islands (Boston, 1868), and his papers in Mem. Boston Soc., 1869, and in Proc. of Amer. Acad., vol. vii., 1868; Brigham, “Notes on Hawaiian Volcanoes,” in Mem. Bost. Soc. Nat. Hist. (Boston, 186869), and his papers in the Globus, 1876, and the Ausland, 1876; Hann, “Klima der Sandwich Inseln,” in Zeitschrift der Oesttrr. Ges. für Meteor., viii., 1873; W. R. Bliss, Paradise in the Pacific, New York, 1873; Nordhoff, Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands, London, 1874; C. de Varigny, Quatorze ans aux îles Sandwich, Paris, 1874; H. M. Whitney, The Hawaiian Guidebook, Honolulu, 1875; Thrum, Havaiian Almanac for 1875, Honolulu, 1875; Ferreiro, “Las islas de Sandwich descubiertas por los Españoles,” in Boletin de la Soc. Geogr. de Madrid, 1877. For further bibliographical details see Hawaiian Club Papers, Boston, 1868, and W. Martin, Cat. d’ouvrages relatifs aux îles Hawaii, Paris, 1867. A map of Hawaii is given in Petermann’s Mittheil., 1876, and one of the other islands, ibid., 1878.

  1. According to the Boletin de la Soc. Geogr. de Madrid, 1877, there had been a previous discovery by the Spaniards.
  2. Mr Ellis was the writer of the article Polynesia, which included an account of the Hawaiian Islands, in the last edition of this work.
  3. See Chamisso, Ueber die Hawaiische Sprache (Leipsic, 1837); and Andrews, Grammar of the Hawaiian Language (Honolulu, 1854), and Dictionary (Honolulu, 1865).
  4. Amongst the minor phenomena they speak of the delicate glassy fibres called Pele’s hair by the Hawaiians, which are spun by the wind from the rising and falling drops of liquid lava, and blown over the edge or into the crevices of the crater. Pele in idolatrous times was the dreaded goddess of the volcano. It is noteworthy that a substance resembling Pele’s hair is made from the slag of iron furnaces, by driving steam or air against a thin current of the melted slag. The filamentous material thus made has been termed mineral or slag wool; it can be woven into sheets which are useful for coating steam boilers, &c., as the substance is a very bad conductor of heat.