[The text below is Fred W. Lorch's composite, from The Trouble Begins at Eight. Assembled mainly from newspaper accounts, it represents the lecture as MT gave it during his 1869-1870 tour of the northeast.]
Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands
I have the pleasure of introducing to you Mr. Samuel Clemens, otherwise Mark Twain, a gentleman whose high character and unimpeachable veracity are only surpassed by his personal comeliness and native modesty. I am the gentleman referred to. I suppose I ought to ask pardon for breaking the usual custom on such occasions and introducing myself, but it could not be avoided, as the gentleman who was to introduce me did not know my real name, hence I relieved him of his duties.
The first object I saw in the Sandwich Islands was an unpleasant one, and hence it suggested the beginning of my lecture. We cannot forget unpleasant things. In an old cathedral in Milan they showed me relics and other unpleasant objects, but one above all I remember simply because it was a very unpleasant thing. It was a curious, ancient statue, ascribed to Phidias, because it was imagined that no other artist could have ever copied nature so delicately and accurately. It was a figure carved in stone of a man without skin. It was a thoroughly skinned man, and every vein, artery, fiber, tendon, and even the tissue of the human frame, were marvelously and faithfully portrayed even to the minutest detail. It was not a pleasant thing to look at, but, somehow, there was a fascination about it because it looked so natural. It did. It looked as if it was in pain, and you felt that a thoroughly skinned man could only look like that. I have tried to get rid of such an unpleasant association, and dreamed and dreamed--that he had come to stay a week with me. I remember once when a mere girl--a child, so to speak--I ran away from school. I was afraid to go home at night--not that I cared anything about it myself, but my parents were prejudiced against that sort of thing, and although my judgment was quite as good as theirs, still as they had the majority they generally settled everything their own way, and so I was afraid to go home. I went to my father's office and laid myself on the lounge. It was late at night. The moon was beginning to creep up and to cast a few beams of light upon the floor. Looking upon the floor I discovered a long and mysterious looking shape. I turned my back upon it. It annoyed me; not that I was frightened, oh no, but just when I knew the moon's rays must have lighted up the spot I turned and looked, and lo! it was a dead man, his white face turned up to the moonlight, and he was cold and stiff and stark. I never before felt so sick in my life. I never before wanted to take a walk so badly as I did then. I did not go away in a hurry. I simply went through the window and took the sash with me. I did not need the sash, but it was handier to take than it was to leave it. I was not scared but a good deal agitated. I have never got rid of that man yet. He had--it appeared--fallen lifeless in the street, and they had brought him in to hold an inquest upon him, or to try him, and of course they found him guilty. It is not advisable to go to one's subject in a direct line and that accounts for the foregoing remarks. If a man is going to pop the question he begins a long way from his subject and talks of the weather. So it is with me; great subjects should be approached cautiously. I shall tell the truth as nearly as I can and quite as nearly as any newspaperman can. The nonsense with which I shall embellish it will not detract from its truthfulness; that will be but as the barnacle to the oyster. I don't know--sotto voce--whether the barnacle does stick to the oyster or the oyster to the barnacle--that figure is of my own invention. I was born and reared a long way from tidewater and I don't know whether the barnacle does stick to the oyster, but if it don't I do.
These islands are situated some twenty-one hundred miles southwest from San Francisco. The prevailing opinion--that they are in South America--is a mistake. They are situated in the Pacific Ocean, and their entire area is not greater, I suppose, than that of Rhode Island and Connecticut combined. They are of volcanic origin; of volcanic construction I should say. They are composed of lava harder than any statement I have made for three months. There is not a spoonful of legitimate dirt in the whole group, unless it has been lately imported. These islands were discovered some eighty or ninety years ago by Captain Cook, though another man came very near discovering them before, and he was diverted from his course by a manuscript found in a bottle. He wasn't the first man who has been diverted by suggestions got out of a bottle. Eight of these islands are inhabited, four of the eight are entirely girdled with a belt of mountains comprising the most productive sugar lands in the world. The sugar lands in Louisiana are considered rich, and yield from 500 to 1,700 pounds per acre, but those of the Sandwich Islands yield from 2,500 to 13,000 pounds per acre. A 200-acre crop of wheat in the states is worth $20,000 or $30,000; a 200-acre crop of sugar in these islands is worth $200,000. You could not do that in this country, unless you planted it with stamps and reaped it in bonds. When these islands were discovered the population was about 400,000, but the white man came and brought various complicated diseases, and education, and civilization, and all sorts of calamities, and consequently the population began to drop off with commendable activity. Forty years ago they were reduced to 60,000, and the educational and civilizing facilities being increased they dwindled down to 55,000, and it is proposed to send a few more missionaries and finish them. It isn't the education or civilization that has settled them; it is the imported diseases, and they have all got the consumption and other reliable distempers, and to speak figuratively, they are retiring from business pretty fast.
There are about three thousand white people in the islands; they are mostly Americans. In fact they are the kings of the Sandwich Islands; the monarchy is not much more than a mere name. These people stand as high in the scale of character as any people in the world, and some of them who were born and educated in those islands don't even know what vice is. The natives of the Sandwich Islands of color are a rich, dark brown, a kind of black and tan. The tropical sun and the easygoing ways inherited from their ancestors have made them rather idle, but they are not vicious at all; they are good people. The native women in the rural districts wear a loose, magnificent, curtain calico garment, but the men don't. Upon great occasions the men wear an umbrella, or some little fancy article like that--further than this they have no inclination towards gorgeousness of costume. In ancient times the king was the ruler of all the land, and supreme head of the church and state; his voice was superior to all law; he was absolute; his power was sacred. After the king in authority came the high priests of the ancient superstition, and after them the great chiefs, little better than slaves to the king. Next came the common plebians, and they were slaves to the whole party, were abused and killed at the slightest pretext. And below them, away down at the bottom of this pile of tyranny and superstition, came the women, and they were the abject slaves of all; they were degraded to the level of the beasts, and thought to be no better. They were cruelly maltreated. By the law of the land it was death for a woman to eat at the same table with her husband, or to eat out of the same dish with him. Even those darkened people seemed to have a glimmering idea of the danger of the women eating forbidden fruit, and they didn't want to take the risk. Now the Sandwich Islanders are the best educated of any people on the earth, and I don't suppose there is a single Kannacker of 18 years and upward, but what can read and write. And all this wonderful work was accomplished by our American missionaries. And what is curious further, this great work was paid for in great part by the American Sunday school children with their pennies. Though it is beyond all comprehension that many a bad little boy has reaped a lucrative income, by confiscating the pennies given him for missionary contributions, dropping into the box such brass buttons as he could spare from his garments. It is the proudest reflection of my life that I never did that--never did it but once or twice, anyhow. These natives are an exceeding hospitable people. If you want to stay two or three days and nights in a native cabin you will be welcome. They will feast you on raw fish, with the scales on, cocoanuts, plantains, baked dogs and fricasseed cats, all the luxuries of the season. But if you want to trade with one of them, that's business. He will tell one falsehood after another right straight along, and not ordinary lies either, but monstrous incredible ones, and when a native is caught in a lie it doesn't incommode him at all. All these natives have a dozen mothers at least, not natural mothers, but adopted ones. A California man went down there and opened a sugar plantation. One of his hands came and said he wanted to bury his mother. He gave him permission. In a few days the man wanted to go and bury another mother. He gave him permission. In a few days the man wanted to go and bury another mother. The Californian thought it strange, but said "Well, go and plant her." Within a month the man wanted to bury some more mothers. "Look ye here," said the planter, "I don't want to be hard upon you in your affliction, but it appears to me your stock of mothers holds out pretty well. It interferes with business, so clear out and never come back till you have buried every mother you have in the world."
They are very fond of dogs, these people; not the great Newfoundland or the stately mastiff, but a species of little mean, contemptible cur, that a white man would condemn to death on general principles. There is nothing attractive about these dogs--there is not a handsome feature about them, unless it is their bushy tails. A friend of mine said if he had one of these dogs he would cut off his tail and throw the rest of the dog away. They feed this dog, pet him, take ever so much care of him, and then cook and eat him. I couldn't do that. I would rather go hungry for two days than devour an old personal friend in that way; but many a white citizen of those islands throws aside his prejudices and takes his dinner off one of those puppies--and after all it is only our cherished American sausage with the mystery removed.
It used to be popular to call these Sandwichers cannibals. They are not cannibals. There was one, however, who opened an office in a back settlement and did a good business, eating up a good many Kannackers in his time. In other cities I usually illustrate cannibalism on the stage, but being a stranger here I don't feel at liberty to ask favors, but still, if anyone in the audience would lend me an infant, I will go on with the show. However, it is of no consequence. I know that children have grown scarce lately on account of the neglect with which they are treated since the woman's movement began. That cannibal I was speaking about reduced the Democratic vote a good deal, but getting tired of Kannackers--they are not good for a steady diet--he thought he would see how a white man would go with onions. So he kidnapped an old whaler who had been in the service sixty-five years, but either the crime or his conscience, or the weight of the whaler on his stomach, or both together, killed him. I was told this. I don't believe it quite myself, and only told it on account of the moral it conveys. There must be a moral in it somewhere, because I have told the story thirty or forty times, and never got it out yet. They have some curious customs there; among others, if a man makes a bad joke they kill him. I can't speak from experience on that point, because I never lectured there. I suppose if I had I should not be lecturing here.
The climate of these islands is delightful, it is beautiful. In Honolulu the thermometer stands at about 80 or 82 degrees pretty much all the year round--don't change more than 12 degrees in twelve months. In the sugar districts the thermometer stands at 70 and does not change at all. Any kind of a thermometer will do--one without any quicksilver is just as good. That climate is very healthy--as healthy as ours; indeed, a man told me it was so hot in Wall Street the other day that gold went up to 160 in the shade.
If you would see magnificent scenery--scenery on a mighty scale--and get scenery which charms with its softness and delights you with its unspeakable beauty, at the same moment that it deeply impresses you with its grandeur and its sublimity, you should go to the islands.
Each island is a mountain or two or three mountains. They begin at the seashore--in a torrid climate where the cocoa palm grows and the coffee tree, the mango, orange, banana, and the delicious cherimoya; they begin down there in a sweltering atmosphere, rise with a grand and gradual sweep till they hide their beautiful regalia of living green in the folds of the drooping clouds, and higher and higher yet they rise among the mists till their emerald forests change to dull and stunted shrubbery, then to scattering constellations of the brilliant silver sword, then higher yet to dreary, barren desolation--no tree, no shrubs, nothing but torn and scorched and blackened piles of lava; higher yet, and then, towering toward heaven, above the dim and distant land, above the waveless sea, and high above the rolling plains of clouds themselves, stands the awful summit, wrapped in a mantle of everlasting ice and snow and burnished with a tropical sunshine that fires it with a dazzling splendor! Here one may stand and shiver in the midst of eternal winter and look down upon a land reposing in the loveliest hue of summer that hath no end.
The volcano of Kee-law-ay-oh is 17,000 feet in diameter and from 700 to 800 feet deep. Vesuvius is nowhere. It is the largest live volcano in the world; shoots up flames tremendously high. You witness a scene of unrivaled sublimity; and witness the most astonishing sights. When the volcano of Kee-law-ay-oh broke through a few years ago, lava flowed out of it for twenty days and twenty nights, and made a stream forty miles in length, till it reached the sea, tearing up forests in its awful fiery path, swallowing up huts, destroying all vegetation, rioting through shady dells and sinuous canyons. Amidst this carnival of destruction, majestic columns of smoke ascended and formed a cloudy, murky pall overhead. Sheets of green, blue, lambent flame were shot upwards and pierced this vast gloom, making all sublimely grand.
With all their kindly ways these people practice some cruelties. They will put a live chicken into the hot ashes simply to see it hop about. They would burn the flesh before the missionaries came, and would put out an eye, or a tooth, when a chief died. And if their grief was deep, and they could get relief in no other way, they would go out and scalp a neighbor. In the season of mourning for a great person they permit any crime that will best express sorrow.
They do everything differently from other people. They mount a horse from the off side. They turn to the left instead of the right. They say the same words for "good bye" and "how do you do." They always, in beckoning for you to come, motion in the opposite direction. Even the birds partake of this peculiarity. The native duck lives four thousand feet above the level of the sea, and never sees water except when it rains. They (the islanders) groan in a heartbroken way when they are particularly happy. They have some customs we might import with advantage. I don't call any to mind just now.
In Honolulu they are the most easygoing people in the world. Some of our people are not acquainted with their customs. They started a gas company once, and put the gas at $13 a thousand feet. They only took in $16 the first month. They all went to bed at dark. They are an excellent people. I speak earnestly. They do not know even the name of some of the vices in this country. A lady called on a doctor. She wanted something for general debility. He ordered her to drink porter. She called him again. The porter had done her no good. He asked her how much porter she had taken. She said a tablespoonful in a tumbler of water. I wish we could import such a blessed ignorance into this country. They don't do much drinking there; it is too expensive. When they have paid the tax for importing the liquor they have got nothing left to purchase the liquor with. They are very innocent and drink anything that is limpid--kerosene, turpentine, hair oil. In our town on a Fourth of July an entire community got drunk on a barrel of Mrs. Winslow's soothing syrup.
These Sandwichers believe in a superstition that the biggest liars in the world have got to visit the Islands some time before they die. They believe that because it is a fact--you misunderstand--I mean that when liars get there they stay there. They have had several specimens they boast of. They treasure up their little perfections, and they allude to them as if the man was inspired--from below. They had a man among them named Morgan. He never allowed anyone to tell a bigger lie than himself, and he always told the last one too. When someone was telling about the natural bridge in Virginia, he said he knew all about it, as his father helped to build it. Someone was bragging of a wonderful horse he had. Morgan told them of one he had once. While out riding one day a thunder shower came on and chased him for eighteen miles, and never caught him. Not a single drop of rain dropped onto his nose, but his dog was swimming behind the wagon the whole of the way. Once, when the subject of mean men was being discussed, Morgan told them of an incorporated company of mean men. They hired a poor fellow to blast rock for them. He drilled a hole four feet deep, put in the powder, and began to tamp it down around the fuse. I know all about tamping, as I have worked in a mine myself. The crowbar struck a spark and caused a premature explosion, and that man and his crowbar shot up into the air, and he went higher and higher and higher till he didn't look bigger than a bee, and then he went out of sight; and presently he came in sight again, looking no bigger than a bee; and he came further and further and further till he was as big as a dog, and further and further and further till he was as big as a boy, and he came further and further till he assumed the full size and shape of a man, and he came down and fell right into the same old spot and went to tamping again. And would you believe it--concluded Morgan--although that poor fellow was not gone more than fifteen minutes, yet that mean company docked him for the loss of time.