Sacramento Union
30 July 1866

Scenes in Honolulu -- No. 14


HONOLULU, JUNE 30, 1866.



For a little more than a month, the late Princess--Her Royal Highness Victoria Kamamalu Kaahumanu, heir presumptive to the crown and sister to the King--lay in state at Iolani Palace, the royal residence. For a little over a month, troops of natives of both sexes, drawn here from the several islands by the great event, have thronged past my door every evening on their way to the palace. Every night, and all night long, for more than thirty days, multitudes of these strange mourners have burned their candlenut torches in the royal inclosure, and sung their funeral dirges, and danced their hula-hulas, and wailed their harrowing wail for the dead. All this time we strangers have been consumed with curiosity to look within those walls and see the pagan deviltry that was going on there. But the thing was tabu (forbidden--we get our word "taboo" from the Hawaiian language) to foreigners--haoles. The grounds were thrown open to everybody the first night, but several rowdy white people acted so unbecomingly--so shamefully, in fact--that the King placed a strict tabu upon their future admittance. I was absent--on the island of Hawaii--at that time, and so I lost that one single opportunity to gratify my curiosity in this matter.

Last night was to behold the grand finale, inasmuch as the obsequies were to transpire today, and therefore I was a good deal gratified to learn that a few foreigners would be allowed to enter a side gate and view the performances in the palace yard from the veranda of Dr. Hutchinson's house (Minister of the Interior). I got there at a little after 8 P.M.


The veranda we occupied overlooked the royal grounds, and afforded an excellent view of the two thousand or twenty-five hundred natives sitting, densely packed together, in the glare of the torches, between our position and the palace, a hundred feet in front of us. It was a wild scene--those long rows of eager, dusky faces, with the light upon them; the band of hula girls in the center, showily attired in white bodices and pink skirts, and with wreaths of pink and white flowers and garlands of green leaves about their heads; and the strongly illuminated torchbearers scattered far and near at intervals through the large assemblage and standing up conspicuously above the masses of sitting forms. Light enough found its way to the broad verandas of the palace to enable us to see whatever transpired upon them with considerable distinctness. We could see nothing there, however, except two or three native sentries in red uniforms, with gleaming muskets in their hands.

Presently some one said: "Oh, there's the King!"


"There--on the veranda--now, he's just passing that--No; it's that blasted Harris."

That isn't really his Christian name, but he is usually called by that or a stronger one. I state this by way of explanation. Harris is the Minister of Finance and Attorney General, and I don't know how many other things. He has three marked points: He is not a second Solomon; he is as vain as a peacock; he is as "cheeky" as--however, there is no simile for his "cheek." In the Legislature, the other day, the Speaker was trying to seat a refractory member; the member knew he was strictly in order, though, and that his only crime was his opposition to the Ministry, and so he refused to sit down. Harris whispered to the interpreter: "Tell the Speaker to let me have the chair a moment." The speaker vacated his place; Harris stepped into it, rapped fiercely with the gavel, scowled imperiously upon the intrepid commoner, and ordered him to sit down. The man declined to do it. Harris commanded the Sergeant-at-Arms to seat him. After a trial, that officer said the bold representative of the people refused to permit him to seat him. Harris ordered the Sergeant to take the man out of the house--remove him by force! [Sensation-- tempest, I should rather say.] The poor humbled and browbeaten country members threw off their fears for the moment and became men; and from every part of the house they shouted: "Come out of that chair! leave that place! put him out! put out the --------!" (I have forgotten the Hawaiian phrase, but it is equivalent to "miserable dog.") And this terrible man, who was going to perform such wonders, vacated the Speaker's chair, and went meekly back to his own place, leaving the stout opponent of the Ministry master of the field. The Legislature adjourned at once, and the excited and triumphant Kanakas burst forth into a stirring battle hymn of the old days of Kamehameha the Great. Harris was an American once (he was born in Portsmouth, N. H.) , but he is no longer one. He is hoopilimeaai to the King. How do you like that, Mr. H.? How do you like being attacked in your own native tongue?

(NOTE TO THE READER: That long native word means--well, it means Uriah Heep boiled down--it means the soul and spirit of obsequiousness. No genuine American can be other than obedient and respectful toward the Government he lives under and the flag that protects him, but no such American can ever be hoopilimeaai to anybody.)

I hope the gentle reader will pardon this digression; but if the gentle reader don't want to do it, he can let it alone.


About half past eight o'clock a dozen native women rose up and began the sad mourning rites. They locked arms and swayed violently backward and forward; faced around and went through a number of quick gestures with hands, heads, and bodies; turned and twisted and mingled together--heads and hands going all the time, and their motions timed to a weird howling which it would be rather complimentary to call singing; and finished up spreading their arms abroad and throwing their heads and bodies far backward simultaneously, and all uttering a deafening squall at the same moment.

"Well, if there's anything between the Farallones and Fiddler's Green as devilish as that, I wish I may--"

"Brown," I said, "these solemn and impressive funeral rites of the ancient times have been rescued from the oblivion to which the ignorant missionaries consigned them forty years ago, by the good and wise Lord Bishop Staley, and it ill beseems such as you to speak irreverently of them. I cannot permit you to say more in this vein in my presence."

When the women had finished, the multitude clapped their hands boisterously in token of applause.

A number of native boys next stood up and went through a performance a good deal like that which I have just described, singing at the same time a strange, unmusical chant. The audience applauded again. (Harris came out once more on that part of the veranda which could be seen best by the great assemblage, and assumed an attitude and expression so suggestive of his being burdened with the cares of state of sixty or seventy kingdoms, that, if I had been a stranger, I must have said to myself "The trifles Richelieu had to contend with were foolishness to what this man has got on his hands.")


Next, about twenty native women dressed in black rose up and sang some hymns like ours, but in the Kanaka tongue, and made good music of them. Some of the voices were very rich and sweet, the harmony was excellent and the time perfect. Every now and then, while this choir sang (and, in fact, all the evening), old-time natives scattered through the crowd would suddenly break out into a wild heartbroken wail that would almost startle one's pulse into stillness. And there was one old fellow near the center who would get up often, no matter what was going on, and branch forth into a sort of singsong recitation, which he would eventually change into a stump speech; he seemed to make a good many hits judging by the cordial applause he got from a coterie of admirers in his immediate vicinity.


A dozen men performed next--howled and distorted their bodies and flung their arms fiercely about, like very maniacs.

"God bless my soul, just listen at that racket! Your opinion is your opinion, and I don't quarrel with it; and my opinion is my opinion; and I say, once for all, that if I was Mayor of this town I would just get up here and read the Riot Act once, if I died for it the next--"

"Brown, I cannot allow this language. These touching expressions of mourning were instituted by the good bishop, who has come from his English home to teach this poor benighted race to follow the example and imitate the sinless ways of the Redeemer, and did not he mourn for the dead Lazarus? Do not the sacred scriptures say 'Jesus wept'?"

I overheard this person Brown muttering something about the imitation being rather overdone or improved on, or something of that kind, but I paid no attention to it. The man means well; his ignorance is his misfortune--not his crime.

Twenty Kanakas in striped knit shirts now filed through the dense crowd and sat down in a double row on the ground; each bore an immense gourd, more than two feet long, with a neck near one end and a head to it; the outer, or largest end, was a foot in diameter; these things were dry and hollow, and are the native tom-toms or drums. Each man set his gourd on end, and supported it with a hand on each side; at a given signal every drummer launched out into a dismal chant and slapped his drum twice in quick succession with his open hands; then three times; then twice again; then--well, I cannot describe it; they slapped the drums in every conceivable way, and the sound produced was as dull and dry as if the drums had been solid stone; then they held them above their heads a few moments, or over their shoulders, or in front of their faces, or behind their necks, and then brought them simultaneously to the gound with a dead, hollow thump; and then they went on slapping them as before. They kept up this most dreary and unexciting performance for twenty minutes or more, and the great concourse of natives watched every motion with rapt and eager admiration, and loudly applauded the musicians.

Brown muttered (under the vile pretense of not intending to be overheard) : "Jesus wept."

"Brown," I said, "your conduct is shameful. It has always been conceded that in following the example set us by the Savior we may be allowed some latitude. But I will not argue with a man who is so bigoted, faultfinding, and uncharitable. I will have nothing further to say to you upon this subject."

"He--he wept."

I thought I heard those words, but Brown's head was out of the window, and I was not certain. I was already irritated to that degree that to speak would be to lose my temper, and therefore I allowed the suspected mutinous language to pass unnoticed.


After the drumming came the famous hula-hula we had heard so much about and so longed to see--the lascivious dance that was wont to set the passions of men ablaze in the old heathen days, a century ago. About thirty buxom young Kanaka women, gaily attired as I have before remarked, in pink and white, and with heads wreathed with flowers and evergreens, formed themselves into half a dozen rows of five or six in a row, shook the reefs out of their skirts, tightened their girdles and began the most unearthly caterwauling that was ever heard, perhaps; the noise had a marked and regular time to it, however, and they kept strict time to it with writhing bodies; with heads and hands thrust out to the left; then to the right; then a step to the front and the left hands all projected simultaneously forward, and the right hands placed on the hips; then the same repeated with a change of hands; then a mingling together of the performers--quicker time, faster and more violently excited motions--more and more complicated gestures--(the words of their fierce chant meantime treating in broadest terms, and in detail, of things which may be vaguely hinted at in a respectable newspaper, but not distinctly mentioned)--then a convulsive writhing of the person, continued for a few moments and ending in a sudden stop and a grand caterwaul in chorus (great applause).

"Jesus wept."

I barely heard the words, and that was all. They sounded like blasphemy. I offered no rebuke to the utterer, because I could not disguise from myself that the gentle grief of the Savior was but poorly imitated here--that the heathen orgies resurrected by the Lord Bishop of Honolulu were not warranted by the teachings of the Master whom he professes to serve.

Minister Harris emerging from the Palace veranda at this moment with the weight of his sixty kingdoms bearing down on him heavier than ever, and it being past midnight, I judged it time to go home, and I did so.


It is reported that the King has said: "The foreigners like their religion--let them enjoy it, and freely. But the religion of my fathers is good enough for me." Now that is all right. At least I think so. And I have no fault to find with the natives for the lingering love they feel for their ancient customs. But I do find fault with Bishop Staley for reviving those customs of a barbarous age at a time when they had long been abandoned and were being forgotten--when one more generation of faithful adherence to the teachings of the American missionaries would have buried them forever and made them memories of the past--things to be talked of and wondered at, like the old laws that made it death for a plebeian to stand erect in the presence of his king, or for a man to speak to his wife on a tabu day--but never imitated.

For forty years before the bishop brought his Royal Hawaiian Established Reformed Catholic Church here, the kings and chiefs of this land had been buried with the quiet, simple, Christian rites that are observed in England and America, and no man thought of anything more being necessary. But one of the first things Bishop Staley did when he arrived here a few years ago was to write home that the missionaries had deprived the natives of their innocent sports and pastimes (such as the lascivious hula- hula, and the promiscuous bathing in the surf of nude natives of opposite sexes), and one of the next things he did was to attend a hula-hula at Waikiki with his holy head tricked out in the flower and evergreen trumpery worn by the hula girls. When the late king died, the bishop revived the half-forgotten howling and hula dancing and other barbarisms in the palace yard, and officiated there as a sort of master of ceremonies. For many a year before he came, that wretchedest of all wretched musical abortions, the tom-tom, had not been heard near the heart of Honolulu; but he has reinstated it and brought it into its ancient esteem and popularity. The old superstitions of this people were passing away far faster than is the case with the inhabitants of the unfrequented and sparsely populated country districts of America, France, and Wales, but Bishop Staley is putting a stop to progress in this direction.

We owe the strange and unpleasant scenes of last night to him--there are not ten white men in the kingdom who have ever seen their like before in public--and I am told that he is appalled at the work of his own hands--that he is ashamed--that he dreads to think of the comments it will provoke in Christian lands--in a word, that he finds, too late, that he has made a most melancholy blunder.


If I may speak freely, I think this all comes of elevating a weak, trivial-minded man to a position of rank and power--of making a bishop out of very inferior material--of trying to construct greatness out of constitutional insignificance. My estimate of Bishop Staley is not carelessly formed; there is evidence to back it. He gossips habitually; he lacks the common wisdom to keep still that deadly enemy of a man, his own tongue; he says ill-advised things in public speeches, and then in other public speeches denies that he ever said them; he shows spite, a trait which is not allied to greatness; he is fond of rushing into print, like mediocrity the world over, and is vainer of being my Lord Bishop over a diocese of fifteen thousand men and women (albeit they belong to other people's churches) than some other men would be of wielding the worldwide power of the Pope; and finally, every single important act of his administration has evinced a lack of sagacity and an unripeness of judgment which might be forgiven a youth, but not a full-grown man--or, if that seems too severe, which might be forgiven a restless, visionary nobody, but not a bishop. My estimate of Bishop Staley may be a wrong one, but it is at least an honest one.

Persons who are intimate with Bishop Staley say he is a good man, and a well educated and cultivated one, and that in social life he is companionable, pleasant, and liberal spirited when church matters are not the topic of conversation. This is no doubt true; but it is my province to speak of him in his official, not in his private capacity. He has shown the temerity of an incautious, inexperienced, and immature judgment in rushing in here fresh from the heart and home of a high English civilization and throwing down the gauntlet of defiance before a band of stern, tenacious, unyielding, tireless, industrious, devoted old Puritan knights who have seen forty years of missionary service; whose time was never fooled away in theorizing, but whose lightest acts always meant business; who landed here two score years ago, full of that fervent zeal and resistless determination inherited from their Pilgrim fore-fathers, and marched forth and seized upon this people with a grip of iron, and infused into their being, wrought into their very natures, the spirit of democracy and the religious enthusiasm that animated themselves; whose grip is still upon the race and can never be loosened till they, of their own free will and accord, shall relax it. He showed a marvelous temerity--one weak, inexperienced man against a host of drilled and hardy veterans; and among them great men--men who would be great in wider and broader spheres than that they have chosen here. He miscalculated the force, the confidence, the determination of that Puritan spirit which subdued America and underlies her whole religious fabric today--which has subdued these islanders, and whose influence over them can never be unseated.


His church was another miscalculation. It was a mistake to appeal by imposing ceremonies and showy display to a people imbued with a thorough Puritan distaste for such things, and who had never been much accustomed to anything of the kind at any period of their history. There is little in common between the simple evergreen decorations and the tom-toms and the hula-hulas of the natives, and the cheap magnificence of the bishop's cathedral altar, his gaudily painted organ pipes and the monotonous and unattractive ceremonials of his church service.

He is fighting with good nerve, but his side is weak. The moneyed strength of these islands--their agriculture, their commerce, their mercantile affairs--is in the hands of Americans--republicans; the religious power of the country is wielded by Americans-- republicans; the whole people are saturated with the spirit of democratic Puritanism, and they are--republicans. This is a republic, to the very marrow, and over it sit a King, a dozen Nobles and half a dozen Ministers. The field of the Royal Hawaiian Established Church is thus so circumscribed that the little cathedral in Nuuanu Street, with its thirty pews of ten individual capacity each, is large enough to accommodate it in its entirety, and have room to spare.

And this is the bugbear that has kept the American missionaries in hot water for three or four years! The Bishop of Honolulu ought to feel flattered that a chance so slim as his, and a power so feeble as his, has been able to accomplish it. But at the same time he ought to feel grateful, because, if let alone, he and his church must infallibly have been and remained insignificant. I do not say this ill-naturedly, for I bear the Bishop no malice, and I respect his sacred office; I simply state a palpable fact.

I will say a word or two about the Reformed Catholic Church, to the end that strangers may understand its character. Briefly, then, it is a miraculous invention. One might worship this strange production itself without breaking the first commandment, for there is nothing like it in the heavens above or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. The Catholics refuse to accept it as Catholic, the Episcopalians deny that it is the church they are accustomed to, and of course the Puritans claim no kindred with it. It is called a child of the Established Church of England, but it resembles its parent in few particulars. It has got an altar which is gay with fiery velvet, showy white trimmings, vases of flowers, and other mantel ornaments. (It was once flanked by imposing, seven- branched candlesticks, but these were obnoxious and have been removed.) Over it is a thing like a gilt signboard, on which is rudely painted two processions--four personages in each--marching solemnly and in single file toward the crucified Savior in the center, and bringing their baggage with them. The design of it is a secret known only to the artist and his Maker. Near the pulpit is a red canopied shower bath--I mean it looks like one--upon which is inscribed, "Separated unto the Gospel of God." The bishop sits under it at a small desk, when he has got nothing particular to do. The organ pipes are colored with a groundwork of blue, which is covered all over with a flower work wrought in other colors. Judging by its striking homeliness, I should say that the artist of the altar piece had labored here also. Near the door of the church, but inside, of course, stands a small pillar, surmounted by a large shell. It may be for holy water or it may be a contribution box. If the latter be the case, I must protest that this ghastly pun--this mute suggestion to shell out--is ill suited to the sacred character of the place, and it is only with the profoundest pain that I force myself to even think for a moment upon so distressing a circumstance. Against the wall is a picture of the future cathedral of Honolulu--a more imposing structure than the present one; that many a year may elapse before it is built is no wish of mine. A dozen acolytes--Chinese, Kanaka, and half-white boys, arrayed in white robes, hold positions near the altar, and during the early part of the service they sing and go through some performances suggestive of the regular Catholic services; after that, the majority of the boys go off on furlough. The bishop reads a chapter from the Bible; then the organist leaves his instrument and sings a litany peculiar to this church, and not to be heard elsewhere; there is nothing stirring or incendiary about his mild, nasal music; the congregation join the chorus; after this a third clergyman preaches the sermon; these three ecclesiastics all wear white surplices. I have described the evening services. When the bishop first came here, he indulged in a good deal of showy display and ceremony in his church, but these proved so distasteful, even to Episcopalians, that he shortly modified them very much.

I have spoken rather irreverently once or twice in the above paragraph, and am ashamed of it. But why write it over? I would not be likely to get it any better. I might make the matter worse.

"And say that--"

"Brown, have you, in defiance of all my reproofs, been looking over my shoulder again?"

"Yes, but that's all right, you know--that's all right. Just say--just say that the bishop works as hard as any man, and makes the best fight he can--and that's a credit to him, anyway."

"Brown, that is the first charitable sentiment I have ever heard you utter. At a proper moment I will confer upon you a fitting reward for it. But for the present, good night, son. Go, now. Go to your innocent slumbers. And wash your feet, Brown--or perhaps it is your teeth--at any rate you are unusually offensive this evening. Remedy the matter. Never mind explaining--good night."


The French Roman Catholic Mission here, under the Right Reverend Lord Bishop Maigret, goes along quietly and unostentatiously; and its affairs are conducted with a wisdom which betrays the presence of a leader of distinguished ability. The Catholic clergy are honest, straightforward, frank, and open; they are industrious and devoted to their religion and their work; they never meddle; whatever they do can be relied on as being prompted by a good and worthy motive. These things disarm resentment--prejudice cannot exist in their presence. Consequently, Americans are never heard to speak ill or slightingly of the French Catholic Mission. Their religion is not nondescript--it is plain, out-and-out, undisguised, and unmistakable Catholicism. You know right where to find them when you want them. The American missionaries have no quarrel with these men; they honor and respect and esteem them--and bid them Godspeed. There is an anomaly for you--Puritan and Roman Catholic striding along, hand in hand, under the banner of the Cross!