Honolulu, being the capital of the kingdom, contains the government offices; and you will perhaps be surprised, as I was, to find an excellent public hospital, a reform school, and other proper and well-managed charities. When you have visited these and some of the numerous schools and the native churches, and have driven or ridden to Waikiki for a sea-bath, and have seen the Nuanu Valley and the precipice called the Pali, if you are American, and familiar with New England, it will be revealed to you that the reason why all the country looks so familiar to you is that it is really a very accurate reproduction of New England country scenery. The white frame houses with green blinds, the picket-fences
whitewashed until they shine, the stone walls, the small barns, the scanty pastures, the little white frame churches scattered about, the narrow "front yards," the frequent school-houses, usually with but little shade: all are New England, genuine and unadulterated; and you have only to eliminate the palms, the bananas, and other tropical vegetation, to have before you a fine bit of Vermont or the stonier parts of Massachusetts. The whole scene has no more breadth nor freedom about it than a petty New England village, but it is just as neat, trim, orderly, and silent also. There is even the same propensity to put all the household affairs under one roof which was born of a severe climate in Massachusetts, but has been brought over to these milder suns by the incorrigible Puritans who founded this bit of civilization.
In fact, the missionaries have left an indelible mark upon these islands. You do not need to look deep to know that they were men of force, men of the same kind as they who have left an equally deep impress upon so large a part of our Western States; men and women who had formed their own lives according to certain fixed and immutable rules, who knew no better country than New England, nor any better ways than New England ways, and to whom it never occurred to think that what was good and sufficient in Massachusetts was not equally good and fit in any part of the world. Patiently, and somewhat rigorously, no doubt, they sought from the beginning to make New England men and women of these Hawaiians; and what is wonderful is that, to a large extent, they have succeeded.
As you ride about the suburbs of Honolulu, and later as you travel about the islands, more and more you will be impressed with a feeling of respect and admiration for the missionaries. Whatever of material prosperity has grown up here is built on their work, and could not have existed but for their preceding labors; and you see in the spirit of the people, in their often quaint habits, in their universal education, in all that makes these islands peculiar and what they are, the marks of the Puritans who came here but fifty years ago to civilize a savage nation, and have done their work so thoroughly that, even though the Hawaiian people became extinct, it would require a century to obliterate the way-marks of that handful of determined New England men and women.
Their patient and effective labors seem to me, now that I have seen the results, to have been singularly undervalued at home. No intelligent American can visit the islands and remain there even a month, without feeling proud that the civilization which has here been created in so marvelously short a time was the work of his country men and women; and if you make the acquaintance of the older missionary families, you will not
leave them without deep personal esteem for their characters, as well as admiration of their work. They did not only form a written language for the Hawaiian race, and painfully write for them school-books, a dictionary, and a translation of the Scriptures and of a hymn-book; they did not merely gather the people in churches and their children into schools; but they guided the race, slowly and with immense difficulty, toward
Christian civilization; and though the Hawaiian is no more a perfect Christian than the New Yorker or Massachusetts man, and though there are still traces of old customs and superstitions, these
missionaries have eradicated the grosser crimes of murder and theft
The Hawaiian, or Sandwich Islands, were discovered—or rediscovered, as some say—by Captain Cook, in January, 1778, a year and a half after our Declaration of Independence. The inhabitants were then what we call savages—that is to say, they wore no more clothing than the climate made necessary, and knew nothing of the Christian religion. In the period between 1861 and 1865 this group had in the Union armies a brigadier-general, a major, several other officers, and more than one hundred private soldiers and seamen, and its people contributed to the treasury of the Sanitary Commission a sum larger than that given by most of our own States.
In 1820 the first missionaries landed on the shores of these islands, and Mrs. Lucy G. Thurston, one of those who came in that year, still lives, a bright, active old lady, with a shrewd wit of her own. Thirty-three years afterward, in 1853, the American Board of Missions determined that "the Sandwich Islands, having been Christianized, shall no longer receive aid from the Board;" and in this year, 1873, the natives of these islands are, there is reason to believe, the most generally educated people in the world. There is scarcely a Hawaiian—man, woman, or child—of suitable age but can both read and write. All the towns and many country localities possess substantial stone or, more often, framed churches, of the oddest New England pattern; and a compulsory education law draws every child into the schools, while a special tax of two dollars on every voter, and an additional general tax, provide schools and teachers for all the children and youth.Nine hundred and three thousand dollars were given by Christian people in the United States during thirty-five years to accomplish this result; and to-day the islands themselves support a missionary society, which sends the Gospel in the hands of native missionaries into other islands at its own cost, and not only supports more than a dozen "foreign" missionaries, but translates parts of the Bible into other Polynesian tongues.
Nor was exile from their homes and kindred the only privation the missionaries suffered. They came among a people so vile that they had not even a conception of right and wrong; so prone to murder and pillage that the first Kamehameha, the conqueror, gave as excuse for his conquest that it was necessary to make the paths safe; so debauched in their common conversation that the earlier missionaries were obliged for years rigidly to forbid their own children not only from acquaintance with the natives among whom they lived, but even from learning the native language, because to hear only the passing speech of their neighbors was to suffer the grossest contamination.
Of those who began this good work but few now remain. Most of them have gone to their reward, having no doubt suffered, as well as accomplished, much. Of the first band who came out from the United States, the only one living in 1873 is Mrs. Lucy G. Thurston, a bright, active, and lively old lady of seventy-five years, who drives herself to church on Sundays in a one-horse chaise, and has her own opinions of passing events. How she has lived in the tropics for fifty years without losing even an atom of the New England look puzzles you; but it shows you also the strength which these people brought with them, the tenacity with which they clung to their habits of dress and living and thought, the remorseless determination which they imported, with their other effects, around Cape Horn.
Back to: The Sandwich Islands
Notes About Book:
Source: Nordhoff, Charles. Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1875.
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