The Boy Travellers in Australasia/Chapter 1

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"LAND, HO!" from the mast-head.

"Where away" from the bridge.

"Dead ahead, sir!" was the reply; but it was almost drowned by the buzz of excitement which the announcement produced. The passengers, who had been strolling about the decks or listlessly lounging in their chairs, rushed hastily forward, in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of the land which had been reported "dead ahead."

This happened on board the steamship Alameda, early one pleasant afternoon as she was nearing the Sandwich Islands on a
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voyage from San Francisco. There were three passengers who did not join in the scramble towards the bow of the ship, but remained quietly seated in their chairs. They had been through the experience of sighting land from a steamer at sea too many times to regard it as a novelty.

They were our old friends, Doctor Bronson and his nephews, Frank Bassett and Fred Bronson, whose experiences and adventures in various parts of the world are familiar to many American youths. Not content with what they had seen in Asia, Africa, and Europe, they were now bound on a voyage to the antipodes with the intention of adding another volume to the series in which their wanderings are recorded.[1]

It was on the eighth day of a voyage over the lovely azure waters of the broad Pacific that the Alameda neared the land, and many of her passengers half regretted that they were about to separate. The weather had been delightful, the breezes were light, the sky was nearly always clear, and the temperature high enough to make thick clothing uncomfortably warm, and an awning over the deck desirable. Since the second day out from San Francisco not a sail had been seen, as the sailing-ships take another track in order to obtain stronger and more favoring winds. Four or five whales had shown themselves, and a few schools of porpoises played around the vessel from time to time as though they wished to make the acquaintance of the strange monster.

Flying-fish were numerous, and so were those curious denizens of the deep popularly known as "Portuguese men-of-war." One of the latter was caught by means of a bucket; a verdant passenger who admired its beautiful colors took it in his hand for a careful examination, but on feeling a stinging sensation he dropped it immediately. Doctor Bronson consoled him with the information that the scientific name of the Portuguese man-of-war is Physalis pelagica, and its power of stinging enables it to benumb its prey. It consists principally of an air-sac which floats it upon the water, and has long tentacles hanging down at various lengths. These tentacles are armed with stings; they paralyze any small fish that comes within their reach, and then act as fingers to sweep up the prize. It is a favorite trick of sailors to induce a novice to pick up a captured physalia, so that they may enjoy his haste in dropping it.

As the Alameda continued her course the outline of the land grew more and more distinct, revealing the rugged volcanic cliffs of Oahu, and reminding the passengers of the burning mountains for which the Sandwich Islands are famous. The course of the vessel lay through the Molokai Channel, leaving Molokai Island on the left, and hugging closely against the surf-beaten shores of Oahu, on which the capital, Honolulu, is situated. Near the water there were occasional groves of cocoanut-trees; but on the whole the shore was less tropical in appearance than our young friends had expected to find it.

Every eye was straining to catch a view of Honolulu; but when its position was pointed out most of the passengers were unable to discover any marked indications of the presence of a town. After a time the steamer made a sharp turn to the starboard, and passed through the narrow channel which leads into the pretty harbor of Honolulu. Then the town appeared rather suddenly in view; its houses surrounded by groves of palms and tamarind-trees, interspersed with other tropical growths in rich profusion. The harbor is a deep basin in a coral reef, and so perfectly land-locked that it is ordinarily as smooth as a mill-pond, and is safe in all winds that blow. There is good anchorage for ships, and when the Alameda entered there was a fleet of sufficient size in the port to give it a very prosperous appearance. Numerous small boats were darting about, and almost before the engines were stopped the little craft swarmed in great force about the steamer.

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Back of Honolulu rises a series of volcanic mountains three or four thousand feet high, and from the town itself to the foot of these mountains the ground rises in a gentle slope, so that the view from the harbor is an excellent one. Doctor Bronson called the attention of the youths to a valley opening through the mountains, and to the contrast between the cliffs and slopes, and the bright waters immediately around them. All agreed that the place was very prettily situated, and the view was a great relief after the monotonous voyage from San Francisco.

As soon as possible the party left the steamer and proceeded to the hotel, and, without waiting to see the rooms assigned to them, started out for a sight-seeing stroll. They desired to make the most of their time, as they expected to continue their journey in a week or ten days at farthest. The Alameda was to return to San Francisco as soon as she could land her cargo and receive another; the regular mail steamer for Australia would touch at Honolulu at the time indicated, and it was by this steamer they were to proceed southward.

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As they walked along the streets, accompanied by a guide whom they had engaged at the hotel, Doctor Bronson gave the youths a brief history of the Sandwich Islands, which Fred afterwards committed to paper lest it might escape his memory. Substantially it was as follows:

"The famous navigator Captain Cook has the credit of discovering these islands in 1778, but they were known to the Spaniards more than a century before that time. The death of Captain Cook served to bring the islands into prominence; he named them after Lord Sandwich, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, but they are known here as the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii being the largest of the group."

"That is the island where Captain Cook was killed, is it not?" inquired one of the youths.

"Yes," was the reply. "It was at Kealakeakua Bay, in sight of the great volcano of Mauna Loa. The famous navigator did not get along well with the natives, who, like nearly all savages, were addicted to thieving. One of his boats having been stolen, he determined to seize the King and hold him a prisoner until the boat was returned. For this purpose he landed with a lieutenant and nine men; the natives suspected his intentions, and a fight ensued, which resulted in his death."

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"And they devoured him, it is said," Frank remarked.

"As to that," replied the Doctor, "there has been much dispute. Captain King, the successor of Cook, and historian of the expedition after the latter's death, positively declares that the body of Cook was eaten, along with the bodies of the sailors and marines who were killed at the same time. On the other hand, the islanders declare with equal positiveness that cannibalism did not exist here at that time; and though great indignities might have been perpetrated, the horrible accusation is untrue. At this distance of time it is impossible to say what happened, and we will dismiss the subject. But it is generally conceded that the great navigator owed his death to his severity in dealing with the natives, and his imprudence in venturing on shore with the small force which accompanied him.

"But we'll leave the famous captain at rest," continued the Doctor, "while we give our attention to more modern things. Great changes have taken place in the hundred years or so that have elapsed since Captain Cook's death. Then the people were savages and idolaters; now they are civilized and Christianized, and may be considered a harmless and kindly disposed race. Education is universal among them, hardly a native of Hawaii being unable to read and write. Every child is obliged to attend the public schools, and there is a special school-tax of two dollars on every voter, in addition to a general tax for educational purposes. Schools are in every part of the islands where there is any population, and the teachers are paid out of the taxes I have mentioned."

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"I suppose the missionaries are to be credited with the spread of education here, are they not?" one of the youths asked.

"Yes," was the reply; "and there have been no more earnest and energetic missionaries anywhere in the world than those that came to the Hawaiian Islands. The first missionaries arrived here in 1820, and for thirty-three years the mission enterprise was supported by contributions in the United States and elsewhere. In that time the donations of Christian people in the United States for the conversion of the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands amounted to more than nine hundred thousand dollars."

"What was done at the end of that time?" Fred asked.

"In 1853 the missionaries reported that the people of the Hawaiian Islands had been converted to Christianity, and that idolatry no longer

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existed among them. Then it was voted by the American Board of Missions that 'the Sandwich Islands, having been Christianized, shall no longer receive aid from this Board.' From that time the churches have been practically self-supporting, though they have received some aid from America. At present the Hawaiian Islands have a missionary society of their own which is sending missionaries and teachers into other islands of the Pacific; and they have a printing-office, where Bibles are printed in several Polynesian languages—just as Bibles were formerly printed in New York for the use of the Sandwich Islanders."

Here the guide interrupted them to point out Kawaiaho church, which he said was the first native church in Honolulu, a substantial and well-built edifice that reminded the strangers of many churches they had seen in the New England States. In reply to Frank's remark to this effect Doctor Bronson said that the most of the early missionaries came from Boston and its vicinity, and it was therefore to be expected that the churches would be of the New England pattern.

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Fred asked if the church they were passing was the first ever built in the islands. The guide explained that it was the first native church, but not the first American one. That honor belongs to the Seamen's (or Bethel) church, which was sent from Boston in a whale-ship around Cape Horn; it was brought in pieces, and set up soon after the ship arrived here. Honolulu has been for a long time a great resort for whalemen, and about 1846 special attention was paid to their needs by the establishment of a Bethel church and society.

The most famous man in connection with this branch of the missionary enterprise was Rev. Mr. Damon, who obtained the reputation of an earnest friend of the seamen, and was generally called "Father Damon,"
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in consequence of his paternal care and his kindness towards all who came within his influence. He established a Seamen's Home in connection with the church, and it has been of great use in keeping the sailors away from the evil influences that are found in most ocean ports.

"Go where you will on these islands," said the Doctor, "you will

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find churches everywhere, and not far from each church there is a native school-house where the children are taught to read and write. On Sunday the churches are filled with worshippers, and there is no more devout people anywhere than on these islands. There are now more churches than are needed by the population, for the reason, not that there is any decline in religious zeal, but because of the decrease in the number of inhabitants. At the time of Captain Cook's discovery the islands were estimated to have a population of not far from two hundred thousand. Small-pox, measles, and other diseases have made terrible havoc, and at present the native population is little if any above fifty thousand. It has been declining with more or less rapidity ever since the beginning of the century, and the last census showed a considerable falling off since the one that preceded it.
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"Not only are the islanders diminishing in numbers," he continued, "but the people of to-day are said to be smaller in stature than those of a century ago. The missionaries and other old residents say that when they first came here they used to meet great numbers of natives of high stature and majestic figures, belonging generally to the old families of chiefs and nobles. Occasionally at this time you may see them, but not often."

"I suppose the chiefs and nobles were of a different race," Frank remarked, "otherwise they would all be of the same general height."

"That was formerly supposed to be the case," was the reply, "and even now the theory is sustained by many people. But I believe the general opinion is that all were of the same race, and the superior development of the chiefs and nobles was due to their easier life and better food, which could hardly fail to have an effect through many generations."

One of the youths asked if the people received the missionaries kindly, and showed a desire to be instructed and civilized.

"In a general way they did," was the reply, "though that was by no means always the case. Some of the chiefs looked suspiciously upon the coming of the strangers, fearing, and not without reason, that their power would be diminished as their subjects became enlightened. The King was favorable to the work of the missionaries, and consequently the hostility of the chiefs could not be exercised with severity. Before the advent of the missionaries the Hawaiians had no written language. The missionaries reduced the language to writing, prepared school-books, a dictionary, a hymn-book, and a translation of a part of the Scriptures, all in the native tongue, and they trained the native teachers who were needed for the management of the schools then and afterwards established.

"In this way the missionaries gave the Hawaiian people the benefits of civilization, and year by year saw the old superstitions and customs disappearing. Some of them still remain, but not many; just as in New England you may to this day find people who believe in witchcraft, and all over the United States persons who have implicit faith in supernatural things. The Hawaiians are by no means perfect in their morals and beliefs, and you can find iniquity in Honolulu, just as you may find it in Boston or Philadelphia. Murder and theft were very common a hundred years ago; now the former crime is quite as rare as in the United States, and as for the latter, it is even more so. Nearly all the stealing in the islands is done by Chinese or other foreigners, and not by the natives."

Our friends passed near the court-house, which bore a marked resemblance to an American town-hall in a prosperous town, and stood at the edge of a well-kept garden. The Doctor remarked that courthouses and jails were some of the adjuncts of all civilized lands, and therefore they were needed in Hawaii as well as elsewhere. "But I am told," he continued, "that the majority of the inmates of the jail at Honolulu are of other races than the Hawaiian, and that Americans and English form a good proportion."

A little way beyond the courthouse our friends met a man carrying two covered baskets slung at the ends of a short pole which rested on his shoulder. Frank turned to the guide and asked what the man was carrying.

"He's a poi peddler," was the reply, "and I wonder you have not met one before, as there are many of them. He peddles poi, and the people buy it to eat."

He then explained that poi is the national dish of the islands, and is made from the taro-root, which is the Sandwich Island form of the potato. He pointed out a taro-garden, and said that there were many such gardens in and around Honolulu, as the natives did not consider a home complete without one.

The taro-root is baked in an underground oven, and then mashed very fine, so that it would be like flour if the moisture were expelled. After it has been thoroughly mashed it is mixed with water, and in this condition is ready for eating. It has an agreeable taste when fresh, and most foreigners like it upon the first trial. For native use it is allowed to ferment; when fermented it suggests sour paste to the
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uneducated palate, and is nauseating to the novice. Natives greatly prefer it in this form, and a good many foreigners cultivate their taste until they too would rather have their poi sour than fresh.

Soon after the islands were settled by foreigners an ingenious Yankee saw a chance for making money by importing machinery for making poi, in place of the old form of hand-crushing. Now there are factories in various parts of the island where poi is made in large quantities, chiefly for the use of planters and other large consumers. It forms quite an article of export to other islands where Polynesian labor is employed, and especially to the guano islands, where nothing can be cultivated. A former king of Hawaii established a poi factory at Honolulu, and by so doing became very unpopular with his subjects, just as has been the case with other kings who have introduced labor-saving machinery into their dominions.

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At dinner that evening Frank and Fred asked for poi and were promptly supplied. It was explained to them that the native way of eating it was to insert the forefinger in the dish, twirl it around until it was well coated with the sticky substance, and then draw the finger through the mouth. Both the youths concluded that they would allow the natives to monopolize that form of eating, which was hardly to be reconciled with civilized customs. They contented themselves with spoons, which answered their purpose completely.

Poi, fish, and pork are the principal articles of food among the Hawaiians; but at a feast several articles are added that do not come into the daily bill of fare. The guide took Frank and Fred to a native luau, or festival, and pointed out the following dishes: poi, fish and pork, as already mentioned; baked ti-root, which bore a striking resemblance to molasses-cake, of which New Englanders are fond, and the resemblance included both appearance and taste; raw shrimps and limu, which is a sea-moss smelling and tasting very disagreeably to the novice; kuulaau, which is an agreeable compound of cocoa-nut and taro-root; paalolo, a combination of cocoa-nut and sweet-potato, of a sweetish taste; and two or three additional mixtures of the same sort. Then there were cuttle-fish raw and cooked, roasted dog, and a small quantity of pickled salmon, liberally dosed with red pepper. Fred suggested that as the salmon was imported, and therefore expensive, the red pepper was freely added in order that the article would be sparingly eaten.

The guide, who was a native, explained that the feast was for the purpose of enabling the giver to build a new house, and each guest was expected to pay fifty cents for his entertainment. He pointed out a calabash bowl lying on the ground as the receptacle of the money, as it was a matter of etiquette for the master not to receive the cash directly from the hands of his guests. The affair had been arranged some time beforehand, and the price of the feast was mentioned in the invitation. Everybody was in new clothes, it being one of the Hawaiian customs that every garment worn at a feast must be quite new, and a native would rather be absent from the entertainment than violate this point of etiquette. Five or six men who served as stewards were dressed exactly alike, each of them wearing a green shirt and red trousers, made for the occasion. In addition to this, they had green wreaths on their heads, and most of the persons present had their heads decked with flowers or leaves.

The diners sat on the ground, and as they took their places their portions of roast pig, neatly wrapped in ti-leaves, were distributed to them. They were expected to be satisfied with their allowance, and etiquette forbade their asking for more of this article, though they could help themselves freely to anything else. When the feast was over each one carried away whatever of his roast pork was unconsumed. The guide said it would be very impolite to leave any portion of it, and even the bones were carried away. The feeding was not done in a hurry; a native feast lasts for several hours, the guests pausing two or three times to get up a fresh touch of appetite, and occasionally walking about, singing, dancing, talking, or laughing, in order to increase the capacity of their stomachs.

Our young friends tasted some of the dishes, and each dropped a half-dollar in the calabash bowl that was designated as the receptacle of the contributions of the guests. They carried away their portions of roast pig, and gave the packages to some urchins whom they encountered a short distance from the scene of the feast. The latter immediately sat down to enjoy the toothsome delicacy, and no doubt imagined themselves to be for the time the most favored beings in the land. Their appearance indicated that roast pig did not often enter into their bill of fare, and the rapidity with which they attacked the contents of the packages showed that they had not dined.

Frank thought it must have been a great change for the people of the islands when they abandoned their old custom of going without clothing and adopted the dress of civilization. When it is remembered that a hundred years ago the islanders were naked savages, the remark of the youth is not to be wondered at. The missionaries say that in the early days the attempts of the natives to adopt European dress were decidedly ludicrous; they could not understand the necessity of three or more garments, but thought a single one sufficient to begin with. A hat, a shirt, and a pair of trousers were considered enough for three, and some of them used to argue that these garments
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were altogether too numerous for one individual, when there were so many others without anything.

Fred made a sketch of a group of women, and afterwards procured several photographs showing how the feminine natives of the islands are ordinarily clad. On the back of the sketch he wrote as follows:

"The dress of the women can hardly be called picturesque, but after being seen a few times its oddity is not as apparent as at first. Most of the women go bareheaded, or with wreaths of leaves and flowers in their hair. Their dress hangs from the shoulders without being gathered in at the waist, and quite closely resembles the morning wrapper of civilized lands, though it is not so ornamental. Black, dark, and pink are the usual colors of the dress, but on festive occasions something gayer can be frequently seen. You would be surprised to see the grace and dignity with which the older women carry themselves, and I think much of it is due to the loosely flowing dress."

The climate is so mild that heavy clothing is not needed. The heat is of course greater in the lowlands than among the mountains, whose highest peaks are covered with snow for a considerable part of the year. Honolulu is said to be the hottest place in the kingdom, and thin clothing, but not the thinnest, is worn there the entire year. White is worn a great deal, but it is so easily soiled that a good many prefer to wear garments of blue serge, or blue or gray flannel. Flannel is desirable for the winter months, but the islands are so near the equator that the difference between winter and summer is not very great.

In December and January the temperature sometimes falls to 62° Fahrenheit in the early morning, but by noon, or 2 p.m., it generally reaches 75° or 76°, and remains between that point and 70° until midnight. In July the highest point reached is 86°, and on a few occasions 87°. The extreme range of the thermometer is not more than 26° or 28°, which makes it a very comfortable climate to live in. It is said to be an excellent one for persons suffering from pulmonary complaints, though it is somewhat debilitating for healthy men and women accustomed to the rigorous climate of the northern States of America.

Residents of the islands say there are regions among the mountains where the nights are invariably cool enough for a fire all the year round, while the days are never hot. Even in Honolulu the air is not as sultry as that of New York or Philadelphia in July and August, and the greatest heat experienced is almost always tempered by a breeze. There is more rain in winter than in summer, but there is no really dry season. It is a circumstance that strikes the stranger curiously that there is much more rain on the windward side of the islands than on the leeward; sometimes the former will have a great deal of rain, while the latter gets little or hardly any. The trade-wind controls the rainfall, and by ascertaining where it strikes a new-comer may have much or little rain accordingly as he selects his place of residence.

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The guide told the youths that they could sit on the veranda of the hotel at Honolulu and see the rain fall every day, but without getting a drop within the limits of the city. "You may be here all day in the sunshine," said he; "but if you are going to the windward side of the island you must take your rubber overcoats. The showers that you see from the hotels are from the clouds that have been blown over the mountains, and as soon as you cross the range you will be in the midst of them."

Doctor Bronson said that the decrease in the population of the islands had been, by some people, attributed to the adoption of clothing by the natives. "It is argued," said he, "that the people are very careless, and have not learned the sanitary laws which govern the use of clothing. A native thinks nothing of lying down with his wet clothes upon him when he has been soaked by a rain or dipped in the surf; it is hard to make him understand that such a practice is dangerous, and many of the inhabitants have died of the severe colds contracted in this way."

In the outskirts of the city our friends came to a house which the guide said was a good specimen of the native dwelling, and they obtained permission to enter and examine it. It had a door, but no windows; was a single story in height, and its sides were made of upright sticks interwoven with palm-leaves, while the roof was thatched with grass. The floor was of solid earth covered with mats, and at one end there was a sort of platform raised a foot higher than the rest. This platform was the sleeping-place of the inmates, and was elevated in order to insure its freedom from dampness in case of a heavy rain. In front of the house was a bench, where one might sit in the shade during the afternoon, and where no doubt the owner idled away a considerable part of his time. The islanders are not fond of hard work, and in fact they have no occasion to labor as industriously as do the inhabitants of more rigorous regions.

Around Honolulu the expense of living is greater than it is away from the port, owing to the increased price of the products of the fields.
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In the country it may be said that a man who works two days in the week can support his family comfortably, especially if he is near the sea-coast, whence he can obtain a supply of fish at any time he chooses to go for them. Fishing, taro-planting, and making poi are his chief occupations, and to these he generally adds mat-weaving, which is neither difficult nor laborious. His wants are few and easily supplied, and it is no wonder that the islander displays an unwillingness to wear himself out in constant toil. The conditions of life do not require him to do so, and he lacks the ambition to accumulate a fortune solely for the sake of accumulating it. After dinner the guide proposed that the strangers should witness a hula-hula, or native dance. It was quite unlike the dancing of European countries, consisting principally of more or less active movements of the limbs while the body of the dancer swayed from side to side.
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The dancers were girls dressed in short frocks like those worn by American school-girls; they had wreaths in their hair and around their ankles, and their dresses were loosely gathered in at the waist, where they were held by cords. The music was supplied by two men who struck their hands upon large calabashes and sang or chanted a low monotonous air. A very little of the dance satisfied the curiosity of the visitors, and they returned to the hotel at an early hour.

The Hawaiians have another dance, which can be seen at their festivals; it is performed by men and women, usually elderly people, and is accompanied by singing, in which all may join. Then there are dances for the younger people, but they are not generally practised, owing to the opposition of the missionaries, and possibly to the unwillingness of the people to indulge in active exercise unless they are paid for it. All the dances have descended from the days before the advent of the foreigners, and therefore have an interest for any one who desires to learn whatever he can about the history of the islanders.

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  1. "The Boy Travellers in the Far East" (five volumes), and "The Boy Travellers in South America," "The Boy Travellers in the Russian Empire," and "The Boy Travellers on the Congo" (three volumes). See complete list at the end of this book.