From Providence Evening Press,|
10 November 1869
Unfortunately, the first object I ever saw in the Sandwich Islands was a repulsive one. It was a case of Oriental leprosy, of so dreadful a nature that I have never been able to get it out of my mind since. I don't intend that it shall give a disagreeable complexion to this lecture at all, but inasmuch as it was the first thing I saw in those islands, it naturally suggested itself first when I proposed to talk about the islands. It is a very hard matter to get a disagreeable object out of one's memory. I discovered that a good while ago. A year or two ago, in one of the great cathedrals in Milan, they showed me a great many curiosities, very interesting, but they all faded out of my memory except just the one thing, and that was an unpleasant one. It was a curious ancient piece of statuary. They don't know where it came from, or who made it; they only know they have had it some five hundred years; but they imagine it must have come from Phidias, because they suppose no other artist could have copied human nature with such faultless accuracy of touch. It is the figure of a man without a skin -- the figure of a freshly skinned man. Every fibre, tendon and tissue of the human frame was represented in minutest detail. It was the heaviest thing, and yet there was something fascinating about it. It looked so natural; it looked as if it was in pain, and you know a freshly skinned man would naturally look that way. He would unless his attention was occupied with some other matter. It was a dreadful object, and I have been sorry many a time since that I ever saw that man. Sometimes I dream of him, sometimes he is standing by my bedpost, sometimes he is stretched between the sheets, touching me -- the most uncomfortable bedfellow I ever had.
One memory of a repulsive object leads to another, and that to another, and so on until I finally come down to my lecture on the Sandwich Islands. Now if an impression has gotten abroad in the land that the Sandwich Islands are in South America, that is the error I wish to attack; that is the error which I wish to combat. I wish to remove it from your minds. These islands are situated some twenty-one hundred miles southwest from San Francisco, but why they were put so far away in such an inconvenient locality is probably none of our business, and we won't discuss that question at all. The islands are a dozen in number, 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 in fifteen years. There is not a spoonful of legitimate dirt in the whole group, unless it has been 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 out of his course by suggestions he got out of a bottle. He wasn't the first man who has been degraded by suggestions got out of a bottle.
The natives of the Sandwich Islands of color are a rich dark brown, a kind of black and tan. The tropical sun and the easy-going 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 single long loose garment. Men don't. When the weather is inclement, men wear cotton in their ears -- some little fancy article like that -- further than this they have no inclination towards gorgeousness of costume. In ancient times the King was 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 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 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 all this wonderful work was accomplishedby 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 doubt that many a bad little boy has reaped a lucrative income, by confiscating the pennies given him for missionary contributions. It is the proudest reflection of my life that I hever did that -- never did it more than once or twice, anyhow.
These natives are an exceedingly hospitable people, if I haven't lost my place. 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 discommode him at all. All these natives have a dozen mothers at least, not natural mothers, but adopted ones. 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 those 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 those dogs he would cut off its 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.
The ladies of the Sandwich Islands have a great many pleasant customs which I don't know but we might practice with profit here. You never see two of those ladies rush together and kiss each other and then go away and talk about each other behind their backs. I don't suppose our ladies do it, but they might. But I believe I am getting on dangerous ground. I won't pursue that any further.
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 thermometer will do -- one without any quicksilver is just as good. The climate is very healthy. A man told me it was so hot in New York a little while ago that gold went up to 160 in the shade.
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.