Maui lies between Oahu and Hawaii, and is somewhat larger than the first-named island. It contains the most considerable sugar-plantations, and yields more of this product than any one of the other islands. It is notable also for possessing the mountain of Haleakala, an extinct volcano ten thousand feet high, which has the largest crater in the world—a monstrous pit, thirty miles in circumference, and two thousand feet deep.
There is some reason to believe that Maui was originally two islands, the northern and southern parts being joined together by an immense sandy plain, so low that in misty weather it is hardly to be distinguished from the ocean; and some years ago a ship actually ran aground upon it, sailing for what the captain imagined to be an open passage.
Maui has also the famous Wailuku Valley, a picturesque gorge several miles deep, and giving you a very fair example of the broken, verdure-clad, and now lonely valleys of these islands; which are in reality steep, narrow cañons, worn out of the mountains by the erosion of water. The old Hawaiians seem to have cared little how difficult a piece of country was; they not only made their taro patches in the streams which roar at the bottoms of such gorges, but they fought battles among the precipices which you find at the upper ends of these valleys, where the defeated usually met their deaths by plunging down into the stream far below.
After seeing a live or burning crater like Kilauea, Haleakala, I thought, would be but a dull sight; but it is, on the contrary, extremely well worth a visit. The islands have no sharp or angular volcanic peaks. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, on Hawaii, though 14,000 feet high, are mere bulbs—vast hills, not mountains; and the ascent to the summit of Haleakala, though you surmount 10,000 feet, is neither dangerous nor difficult. It is tedious, however, for it involves a ride of about twelve miles, mostly over lava, uphill. It is best to ride up during the day, and sleep at or near the summit, where there are one or two so-called caves in the lava, broken lava-bubbles in fact, sufficiently roomy to accommodate several persons. You must take with you a guide, provisions, and blankets, for the nights are cold; and you find near the summit water, wood enough for a small fire, and forage for your horses. Each person should have water-proof clothing, for it is very likely to rain, at least on the Makawao side.
The great crater is best seen at sunrise, and, if you are so fortunate as to have a tolerably clear sky, you may see, lying far away below you, almost all of the islands. Hawaii lies far enough away to reveal its entire outline, with Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea rising near either end, and the depression near which lies Kilauea in the middle. The cloud effects at sunrise and sunset are marvelous, and alone repay the ascent.
But the crater itself, clear of fog and clouds in the early morning, and lighted up by the rising sun, is a most surprising sight. It is ten miles in diameter, and the bottom lies 2000 feet below where you stand. The vast irregular floor contains more than a dozen subsidiary craters or great cones, some of them 750 feet high, and nearly as large as Diamond Head. At the Kaupo and Koolau gaps, indicated on the map, the lava is supposed to have burst through and made its way down the mountain sides. The cones are distinctly marked as you look down upon them; and it is remarkable that from the summit the eye takes in the whole crater, and notes all its contents, diminished of course by their great distance. Not a tree, shrub, or even tuft of grass obstructs the view.
To describe such a scene is impossible. A study of the map, with the figures showing elevations, will give you a better idea of it than a long verbal description. It is an extraordinarily desolate scene. A few wild goats scramble over the rocks, or rush down the nearly perpendicular cliff; occasionally a solitary bird raises its harsh note; the wind howls fiercely; and as you lie under the lee of a mass of lava, taking in the scene and picking out the details as the rising sun brings them out one by one, presently the mist begins to pour into the crater, and often by ten o'clock fills it up completely.
The natives have no tradition of Haleakala in activity. There are signs of several lava flows, and of one in particular, clearly much more recent than the others. It must have presented a magnificent and terrible sight when it was in full activity. I did not ride into the crater, but it is possible to do so, and the natives have a trail, not much used, by which they pass. If you descend, be careful not to leave or lose this trail, for in many parts your horse will not be able to get back to it if you suffer him to stray off even a few yards, the lava is so sharp and jagged. As you descend the mountain on the Makawao side you will notice two finely shaped craters on the side of the mountain, which also in their time spewed out lava. Nearer the coast your eye, become familiar with the peculiar shape of these cones or craters, will notice yet others; and, indeed, to appreciate the peculiarities of Sandwich Island scenery, in which extinct craters and cones of all sizes have so great a part, it is necessary to have visited Kilauea and Haleakala. The latter name, by-the-way, means "House of the Sun;" and as you watch the rising sun entering and apparently taking possession of the vast gloomy depths, you will think the name admirably chosen.
If you carry a gun you are likely to have a shot at wild turkeys on your way up or down. It is remarkable that many of our domestic animals easily become wild on the islands. There are wild goats, wild cats, wild chickens and turkeys; the cattle run wild; and on Hawaii one man at least has been killed and torn to pieces by wild dogs, which run in packs in some parts of the island.
Sugar plantations are found on all four of the larger islands; and on all of them there are successful examples of this enterprise; but Maui contains, I believe, the greatest number, and is thought to be the best fitted for the business. It is on this island, therefore, that the curious traveler can see this industry under its most favorable aspects. There is no doubt that for the production of sugar these islands offer some extraordinary advantages.
Map of the Haleakala Crater
I have seen a field of thirty acres which two years ago produced nearly six tons of sugar to the acre. Four tons per acre is not a surprising crop; and, from all I can hear, I judge that two and a half tons per acre may be considered a fair yield. The soil, too, with proper treatment, appears to be inexhaustible. The common custom is to take off two crops, and then let the field lie fallow for two years; but where they irrigate even this is not always done. There is no danger of frost, as in Louisiana, and cane is planted in some part of the islands in almost every month of the year. In Lahaina it matures in from fourteen to sixteen months; in some districts it requires eighteen months; and at greater altitudes even two years.
But under all the varying circumstances, whether it is irrigated or not, whether it grows on bottoms or on hill slopes, in dry or in damp regions, everywhere the cane seems to thrive, and undoubtedly it is the one product of the islands which succeeds. A worm, which pierces the cane near the ground and eats out the pith, has of late, I am told, done some damage, and in some parts the rat has proved troublesome. But these evils do not anywhere endanger or ruin the crop, as the blight has ruined the coffee culture and discouraged other agricultural ventures. The sugar product of the islands has constantly increased. In 1860 they exported 1,444,271 pounds of sugar; in 1864, 10,414,441 pounds; in 1868, 18,312,926 pounds; and in 1871, 21,760,773 pounds of sugar.
What is remarkable is that, with this rapid increase in the production of sugar, you hear that the business is unprosperous; and if to this you reply that planters, like farmers, are hard to satisfy, they show you that the greater number of the plantations have at some time been sold by the sheriff, some of them more than once, and that, in fact, only six or seven are to-day in the hands of their founders.
I do not doubt that there has been bad management on many plantations, and that this accounts in part for these failures, by which many hundred thousand dollars have been lost. For the advantages of the sugar planter on these islands are very decided. He has not only, as I showed you above, a favorable climate and an extraordinarily fertile soil, but he has a laboring population, perhaps the best, the most easily managed, the kindliest, and—so far as habits affect the steadiness and usefulness of the laborer—the least vicious in the world. He does not have to pay exorbitant wages; he is not embarrassed to feed or house them, for food is so abundant and cheap that economy in its distribution is of no moment; and the Hawaiian is very cheaply housed.
But bad management by no means accounts for all the non-success. There are some natural disadvantages serious enough to be taken into the account. In the first place, you must understand that the rain-fall varies extraordinarily. The trade-wind brings rain; the islands are bits of mountain ranges; the side of the mountain which lies toward the rain-wind gets rain; the lee side gets scarcely any. At Hilo it rains almost constantly; at Lahaina they get hardly a shower a year. At Captain Makee's, one of the most successful plantations on Maui, water is stored in cisterns; at Mr. Spencer's, not a dozen miles distant, also one of the successful plantations, which lies on the other side of Mount Haleakala, they never have to irrigate. Near Hilo the long rains make cultivation costly and difficult; but the water is so abundant that they run their fire-wood from the mountains and their cane from the fields into the sugar-houses in flumes, at a very great saving of labor. Near Lahaina every acre must be irrigated, and this work proceeds day and night in order that no water may run to waste.
Then there is the matter of shipping sugar. There are no good ports except Honolulu. Kaului on Maui, Hanalei and Nawiliwili on Kauai, and one or two plantations on Oahu, have tolerable landings. But almost everywhere the sugar is sent over vile roads to a more or less difficult landing, whence it is taken in launches to the schooners which carry it to Honolulu, where it is stored, coopered, and finally reshipped to its market. Many landings are made through the surf, and I remember one which, last spring, was unapproachable by vessel or boat for nearly four weeks.
Each sugar planter has, therefore, problems of his own to solve. He can not pattern on his neighbors. He can not base his estimate on theirs. He can not be certain even, until he has tried, which of the ten or a dozen varieties of cane will do best on his soil. He must look out for wood, which is by no means abundant, and is often costly to bring down from the mountain; he must look out for his landing; must see that taro grows near at hand; must secure pasture for his draught cattle: in short, he must consider carefully and independently many different questions before he can be even reasonably sure of success. And if, with all this uncertainty, he embarks with insufficient capital, and must pay one per cent. a month interest, and turn his crop over to an agent in Honolulu, who is his creditor, and who charges him five per cent. for handling it, it will not be wonderful to any business man if he fails to grow rich, or if even he by-and-by becomes bankrupt. Many have failed. Of thirty-four plantations, the number worked in all the islands at this time, only six or seven are in the hands of their founders. Some, which cost one hundred thousand dollars, were sold by the sheriff for fifteen or eighteen thousand; some, which cost a quarter of a million, were sold for less than a hundred thousand.
If you speak with the planters, they will tell you that their great difficulty is to get a favorable market; that the duty on their sugar imported into San Francisco eats up their profits; and that the only cure—the cure-all, I should say, for all the ills they suffer—is a treaty with the United States, which shall admit their product duty free. Of course any one can see that if the sugar duty were remitted to them, the planters would make more money, or would lose less. An ingenuous planter summed up for me one day the whole of that side of the case, by saying, "If we had plenty of labor and a free market for our sugar, we should be thoroughly satisfied."
But I am persuaded that, as there are planters now who are prosperous and contented, and who make handsome returns even with the sugar duty against them, so, if that were removed, there would be planters who would continue their regular and slow march toward bankruptcy; and for whom the remitted duty would be but a temporary respite, while it would deprive them of a cheap and easy way to account for their failure. Wherever on the islands I found a planter living on his own plantation, managing it himself, and out of debt, I found him making money, even with low prices for his sugar, and even if the plantation itself was not favorably placed; not only this, but I found plantations yielding steady and sufficient profits, under judicious management, which in previous hands became bankrupt. But on the other hand, where I found a plantation heavily encumbered with debt and managed by a superintendent, the owner living elsewhere, I heard usually, though not always, complaints of hard times. If a sugar planter has his land and machinery heavily mortgaged at ten or twelve per cent interest; if he must, moreover, borrow money on his crop in the field to enable him to turn that into sugar; if then he sends the product to an agent in Honolulu, who charges him five per cent. for shipping it to San Francisco; and if in San Francisco another agent charges him five per cent. more, on the gross returns including freight and duty, for selling it; if besides all this the planter buys his supplies on credit, and is charged one per cent. a month on these, compounded every three months until it is paid, and pays almost as much freight on his sugar from the plantation to Honolulu as from there to its final market—it is highly probable that he will, in the course of time, fail.
There are not many legitimate enterprises in the world which would bear such charges and leave a profit to the manager. But it is on this system that the planting of sugar has been, to a large extent, carried on for years in the Islands. Under it a good deal of money has been made, but not by the planters. Nor is this essentially unjust. In the majority of cases, planters began rashly with small means, and had to borrow largely to complete their enterprises and get to work. The capitalist of course took a part of the profits as interest. But the capitalist was in many cases also the agent and store-keeper in Honolulu; and he shaved off percentages—all in the way of business—until the planter was really no more than the foreman of his agent and creditor. When, under such circumstances, a planter complained that he did not make the fortune he anticipated, and reasoned that therefore sugar planting in the Islands is unprofitable, he seemed to me to speak beside the question—for his agent and creditor, his employer in fact, made no complaint: he always made money; and as he had invested the money to carry on the enterprise, this was but the natural result.
The planters make a grave mistake in not acting together and advising together on their most important interests. There are so few of them that it should be easy to unite; and yet for lack of concerted action they suffer important abuses to go on. For instance, it is a serious loss to the planter that when he ships or engages a hand he must pay a large "advance," amounting usually to at least half a year's pay. This custom is hurtful to the laborer, who wastes it, and it inflicts a serious loss upon the planter. Suppose he employs a hundred men, and pays fifty dollars advance, he invests at once five thousand dollars for which he gets no interest, though if, as is probable, he borrowed it, he must pay one per cent. a month. This abuse could be abolished in a day by the simple announcement that no planter would hereafter pay more than ten dollars advance. But it has gone on for years, and the sum paid gets higher every year merely by the planters outbidding each other.
Again, it is possible to ship sugar from some of the Islands direct to San Francisco, and for but little more than is now paid for shipping it to Honolulu. Half a dozen planters on Hawaii or Maui, clubbing together, could easily get a ship or half a dozen ships to come for their sugar, and thus save five per cent. on their gross returns, now paid to agents. But this is not done, partly because so many planters are in need of money, which they borrow in Honolulu, with the understanding that they will submit their produce to the management of agents there.
Again, the planters err, I think, in not giving personal study to the question of a market for their sugar. They leave this to the agents to manage. No doubt these gentlemen are competent; but it is easy to see that their interests may be somewhat different from those of the planter. For instance, some years ago an arrangement was offered by the San Francisco sugar refineries by which these agreed to take two-thirds of the product of the plantations in crude sugar, to furnish bags to contain this product, and to pay cash for it in Honolulu. Under this system the planter was saved the heavy expense of sugar kegs, and the cost of two agencies of five per cent. each, besides getting cash in Honolulu, whereas now his sugar is usually sold at three months in San Francisco, and he probably loses six months' interest, reckoning from the time his sugar leaves the plantation. This arrangement, several planters told me, was profitable to them; but it was discontinued—it was not to the advantage of the agents; its discontinuance was no doubt a blunder for the planters. Moreover, the Australian market has been too long neglected; but the advantage of possessing two markets instead of one is too obvious to require statement.
It is a reasonable conclusion, from all the facts in the case, that sugar planting can be carried on at a fair and satisfactory profit in the Hawaiian Islands, wherever skill and careful personal attention are given, and due economy enforced by a planter who has at the same time sufficient capital to carry on the business. The example of Captain Makee and Mr. A.H. Spencer on Maui, of Mr. Isenberg on Kauai and others sufficiently prove this.
If I seem to have given more space to this sugar question than it appears to deserve at the hands of a passing traveler, it is because sugar enters largely into the politics of the Islands. It is the sugar interest which urges the offer of Pearl River to the United States in exchange for a treaty of reciprocity; and it is when sugar is low-priced at San Francisco that the small company of annexationists raises its voice, and sometimes threatens to raise its flag.
There is room on the different islands for about seventy-five or eighty more plantations on the scale now common; and there are, I think, still excellent opportunities for making plantations. The sugar lands unoccupied are not high-priced; and men skilled in this industry, and with sufficient capital, can do well there, and live in a delightful climate and among pleasant society, in a country where, as I have before said, life and property are more absolutely secure than anywhere else in the world. But I strongly advise every one to avoid debt. It has been the curse of the planters, even of those who have kept out of debt, for it has prevented such unity of action among them as must have before this enabled them to effect important improvements. For instance, were they out of debt there is no reason that I can see why they should not succeed in making their market in Honolulu, and drawing purchasers thither instead of sending their sugar to far-off markets at their own risk and expense. If ships can afford to sail in ballast to more distant islands for guano, calling at Honolulu on the way, it is reasonable to suppose they could afford to come thither for the more valuable sugar cargoes.
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Notes About Book:
Source: Nordhoff, Charles. Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1875.
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