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The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six Months Among the Palm Groves, Coral Reefs, and Volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands. Bird, Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy), 1831–1904.
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page: 233
WAIPIO, March 5th.

It seems fully a week since I left Waimea yesterday morning, so many new experiences have been crowded into the time. I will try to sketch my expedition while my old friend Halemanu is preparing dinner. The morning opened gloriously. The broad Waimea plains were flooded with red and gold, and the snowy crest of Mauna Kea was cloudless. We breakfasted by lamp light (the days of course are short in this latitude), and were away before six. My host kindly provided me with a very fine horse and some provisions in a leather wallet, and with another white man and a native accompanied me as far as this valley, where they had some business. The morning deepened into gorgeousness. A blue mist hung in heavy folds round the violet bases of the mountains, which rose white and sharp into the rose-flushed sky; the dew lay blue and sparkling on the short crisp grass; the air was absolutely pure, and with a suspicion of frost in it. It was all very fair, and the horses enjoyed the morning freshness, and danced and champed their bits page: 234 as though they disliked being reined in. We rode over level grass-covered ground, till we reached the Hamakua bush, fringed with dead trees, and full of ohias and immense fern trees, some of them with a double tier of fronds, far larger and finer than any that I saw in New Zealand. There are herds of wild goats, cattle, and pigs on the island, and they roam throughout this region, trampling, grubbing, and rending, grinding the bark of the old trees and eating up the young ones. This ravaging is threatening at no distant date to destroy the beauty and alter the climate of the mountainous region of Hawaii. The cattle are a hideous breed—all bones, hide, and horns.

We were at the top of the Waipio pali at eight, and our barefooted horses, used to the soft pastures of Waimea, refused to carry us down its rocky steep, so we had to walk. I admired this lonely valley far more than before. It was full of infinite depths of blue—blue smoke in lazy spirals curled upwards; it was eloquent in a morning silence that I felt reluctant to break. Against its dewy greenness the beach shone like coarse gold, and its slow silver river lingered lovingly, as though loth to leave it, and be merged in the reckless loud-tongued Pacific. Across the valley, the track I was to take climbed up in thready zigzags, and disappeared round a bold headland. It was worth a second visit just to get a glimpse of such a vision of peace.

Halemanu, with hospitable alacrity, soon made breakfast ready, after which Mr. S., having arranged for my further journey, left me here, and for the first time I page: 235 found myself alone among natives ignorant of English. For the Waimanu trip it is essential to have a horse bred in the Waimanu Valley and used to its dizzy palis, and such a horse was procured, and a handsome native, called Hananui, as guide. We were away by ten, and galloped across the valley till we came to the nearly perpendicular pali on the other side. The sight of this air-hung trail from Halemanu's house has turned back several travellers who were bent on the trip, but I had been told that it was quite safe on a Waimanu horse; and keeping under my fears as best I could, I let Hananui precede me, and began the ascent, which is visible from here for an hour. The pali is as nearly perpendicular as can be. Not a bush or fern, hardly a tuft of any green thing, clothes its bare, scathed sides. It terminates precipitously on the sea at a height of 2000 feet. Up this shelving wall, something like a sheep track, from thirty to forty-six inches broad, goes in great swinging zigzags, sometimes as broken steps of rock breast high, at others as a smooth ledge with hardly foothold, in three places canied away by heavy rains—altogether the most frightful track that imagination can conceive.* It was most unpleasant to see the guide's horse straining and scrambling, looking every now and then as if about to fall over backwards. My horse went up wisely and nobly, but slipping, jumping, scrambling, and sending stones over the ledge, now and then hanging for a second by his fore feet. The higher


* The Inspector of Schools has since told me that there is a track as bad, if not worse, in the Hana district on Maui.

page: 236 we went the narrower and worse it grew. The girth was loose, so as not to impede the horse's respiration, the broad cinch which usually passes under the body having been fastened round his chest, and yet it was once or twice necessary to run the risk of losing my balance by taking my left foot out of the stirrup to press it against the horse's neck to prevent it from being crushed, while my right hung over the precipice. He came to a place where the path had been carried away, leaving a declivity of loose sand and gravel. You can hardly realize how difficult it was to dismount, when there was no margin outside the horse. I somehow slid under him, being careful not to turn the saddle, and getting hold of his hind leg, screwed myself round carefully behind him. It was alarming to see these sure-footed creatures struggle and slide in the deep gravel as though they must go over, and not less so to find myself sliding, though I was grasping my horse's tail.

Between the summit and Waimanu, a distance of ten miles, there are nine gulches, two of them about 900 feet deep, all very beautiful, owing to the broken ground, the luxuriant vegetation, and the bright streams, but the kona, or south wind, was blowing, bringing up the hot breath of the equatorial belt, and the sun was perfectly unclouded, so that the heat of the gorges was intense. They succeed each other occasionally with very great rapidity. Between two of the deepest and steepest there is a ridge not more than fifty yards wide.

Soon after noon we simultaneously stopped our horses. The Waimanu Valley lay 2500 feet (it is said) below us, page: 237 and the trail struck off into space. It was a scene of loneliness to which Waipio seems the world. In a second the eye took in the twenty grass lodges of its inhabitants, the five cascades which dive into the dense forests of its upper end, its river like a silver ribbon, and its meadows of living green. In ten seconds a bird could have spanned the ravine and feasted on its loveliness, but we could only tip over the dizzy ridge that overhangs the valley, and laboriously descend into its heat and silence. The track is as steep and broken as that which goes up from hence, but not nearly so narrow, and without its elements of terror, for kukuis, lauhalas, ohias, and ti trees, with a lavish growth of ferns and trailers, grow luxuriantly in every damp rift of rock, and screen from view the precipices of the pali. The valley looks as if it could only be reached in a long day's travel, so very far it is below, but the steepness of the track makes it accessible in an hour from the summit. As we descended, houses and a church which had looked like toys at first, dilated on our sight, the silver ribbon became a stream, the specks on the meadows turned into horses, the white wavy line on the Pacific beach turned into a curling wave, and lower still, I saw people, who had seen us coming down, hastily shuffling into clothes.

There were four houses huddled between the pali and the river, and six or eight, with a church and schoolhouse on the other side; and between these and the ocean a steep narrow beach, composed of large stones worn as round and smooth as cannon balls, on which page: 238 the surf roars the whole year round. The pali which walls in the valley on the other side is inaccessible. The school children and a great part of the population had assembled in front of the house which I described before. There was a sort of dyke of rough lava stones round it, difficult to climb, but the natives, though they are very kind, did not, on this or any similar occasion, offer me any help, which neglect, I suppose, arises from the fact that the native women never need help, as they are as strong, fearless, and active as the men, and rival them in swimming and other athletic sports. An old man, clothed only with his dark skin, was pounding baked kalo for poi, in front of the house; a woman with flowers in her hair, but apparently not otherwise clothed, was wading up to her waist in the river, pushing before her a light trumpet-shaped basket used for catching shrimps, and the other women wore the usual bright-coloured chemises.

I wanted to make the most of the six hours of daylight left, and we remounted our horses and rode for some distance up the river, which is the highway of the valley, all the children swimming on our right and left, each holding up a bundle of clothes with one hand, and two canoes paddled behind us. The river is still and clear, with a smooth bottom, but comes halfway up a horse's body, and riders take their feet out of the stirrups, bring them to a level with the saddle, lean slightly back, and hold them against the horse's neck. Equestrians following this fashion, canoes gliding, children and dogs swimming, were a most amusing picture. Several of the children page: 239 swim to and from school every day. I was anxious to get rid of this voluntary escort, and we took a gallop over the soft springy grass till we reached some very pretty grass houses, under the shade of the most magnificent bread-fruit trees on Hawaii, loaded with fruit. There were orange trees in blossom, and coffee trees with masses of sweet white flowers lying among their flaky branches like snow, and the unfailing cocoa-nut rising out of banana groves, and clusters of gardenia smothering the red hibiscus. Here Hananui adopted a showman's air; he made me feel as if I were one of Barnum's placarded monsters. I had nothing to do but sit on my horse and be stared at. I felt that my bleached face was unpleasing, that my eyes and hair were faded, and that I had a great deal to answer for in the way of colour and attire. From the way in which he asked me unintelligible questions, I gathered that the people were catechizing him about me, and that he was romancing largely at my expense. They brought me some bananas and cocoa-nut milk, which were most refreshing.

Beyond the houses the valley became a jungle of Indian shot (Canna indica), eight or nine feet high, guavas and ohias, with an entangled undergrowth of ferns rather difficult to penetrate, and soon Hananui, whose soul was hankering after the delights of society, stopped, saying, “Lios (horses) no go.” “We'll try,” I replied, and rode on first. He sat on his horse laughing immoderately, and then followed me. I see that in travelling with natives it is essential to have a definite plan of action in one's own mind, and to verge on self-assertion in carrying it page: 240 out. We fought out way a little further, and then he went out of sight altogether in the jungle, his horse having floundered up to his girth in soft ground, on which we dismounted and tethered the horses. H. had never been any further, and as I failed to make him understand that I desired to visit the home of the five cascades, I had to reverse our positions and act as guide. We crept along the side of a torrent among exquisite trees, moss, and ferns, till we came to a place where it divided. There were three horses tethered there, some wearing apparel lying on the rocks, and some human footprints along one of the streams, which decided me in favour of the other. H. remonstrated by signs, as doubtless he espied an opportunity for much gossip in the other direction, but on my appearing persistent, he again laughed and followed me.

From this point it was one perfect, rapturous, intoxicating, supreme vision of beauty, and I felt, as I now believe, that at last I had reached a scene on which foreign eves had never looked. The glories of the tropical forest closed us in with their depth, colour, and redundancy. Here the operations of nature are rapid and decisive. A rainfall of eleven feet in a year and a hothouse temperature force every plant into ceaseless activity, and make short work of decay. Leafage, blossom, fruitage, are simultaneous and perennial. The river, about as broad as the Cam at Cambridge, leaped along, clear like amber, pausing to rest awhile in deep bright pools, where fish were sporting above the golden sand, a laughing, sparkling, rushing, terrorless stream, “without mysteries page: 241 or agonies,” broken by rocks, green with mosses and fragile ferns, and in whose unchilled waters, not more than three feet deep, wading was both safe and pleasant. It was not possible to creep along its margin, the forest was so dense and tangled, so we waded the whole way, and wherever the water ran fiercely my unshod guide helped me. One varied, glorious maze of vegetation came down to it, and every green thing leant lovingly towards it, or stooped to touch it, and over its whole magic length was arched and interlaced the magnificent large-leaved ohia, whose millions of spikes of rose-crimson blossoms lit up the whole arcade, and the light of the afternoon sun slanted and trickled through them, dancing in the mirthful water, turning its far-down sands to gold, and brightening the many-shaded greens of candlenut and breadfruit. It shone on majestic fern-trees, on the fragile Polypodium tamariscinum, which clung tremblingly to the branches of the ohia, on the beautiful lygodium, which adorned the uncouth trunk of the breadfruit; on shining banana leaves and glossy trailing yams; on gigantic lianas, which, climbing to the tops of the largest trees, descended in vast festoons, passing from tree to tree, and interlacing the forest with a living network; and on lycopodiums of every kind, from those which wrapped the rocks in feathery green to others hardly distinguishable from ferns. But there were twilight depths too, where no sunlight penetrated the leafy gloom, damp and cool: dreamy shades, in which the music of the water was all too sweet, and the loveliness too entrancing, creating that sadness, hardly “akin to pain,” which is latent in page: 242 all intense enjoyment. Here and there a tree had fallen across the river, from which grew upwards and trailed downwards, fairy-like, semi-transparent mosses and ferns, all glittering with moisture and sunshine, and now and then a scarlet tropic bird heightened the effect by the flash of his plumage.

After an hour of wading we emerged into broad sunny daylight at the home of the five cascades, which fall from a semicircular precipice into three basins. It is not, however, possible to pass from one to the other. This great gulf is a grand sight, with its dark deep basin from which it seemed so far to look up to the heavenly blue, and the water falling calmly and unhurriedly, amidst innumerable rainbows, from a height of 3000 feet. The sides were draped with ferns flourishing under the spray, and at the base the rock was very deeply caverned. I enjoyed a delicious bath, relying on sun and wind to dry my clothes, and then reluctantly waded down the river. At its confluence with another stream, still arched by ohias, a man and two women appeared rising out of the water, like a vision of the elder world in the days of Fauns, and Naiads, and Hamadryads. The water was up to their waists, and leis of ohia blossoms and ferns, and masses of unbound hair fantastically wreathed with moss, fell over their faultless forms, and their rich brown skin gleamed in the slant sunshine. They were catching shrimps with trumpet-shaped baskets, perhaps rather a prosaic occupation. They joined us, and we waded down together to the place where they had left their horses. The women slipped into their holukus, and the page: 243 man insisted on my riding his barebacked horse to the place where we had left our own, and then we all galloped over the soft grass.

Waimanu had turned out to meet us about thirty people on horseback, all of whom shook hands with me, and some of them threw over me garlands of ohia, pandanus, and hibiscus. Where our cavalcade entered the river, a number of children and dogs and three canoes awaited us, and thus escorted I returned triumphantly to the house. The procession on the river of paddling canoes, swimming children, and dogs, and more than thirty riders, with their feet tucked up round their horses' necks, all escorting a “pale face,” was grotesque and enchanting, and I revelled in this lapse into savagery, and enjoyed heartily the kindliness and goodwill of this unsophisticated people.

When darkness spread over the valley, clear voices ascended in a weird recitative, the room filled up with people, pipes circulated freely, poi was again produced, and calabashes of cocoa-nut milk. The mêlés were long, and I crept within my curtain and lay down, but the drowsiness which legitimately came over me after riding thirty miles and wading two, was broken in upon by two monstrous cockroaches really as large as mice, with fierce-looking antennæ and prominent eyes, both of which mounted guard on my pillow. On rising to drive them away, I found to my dismay that they were but the leaders of a host, which only made a temporary retreat, rustling over the mat and dried grass with the crisp tread of mice, and scaring away sleep for some hours. Worse than page: 244 these were the mosquitoes, also an imported nuisance, which stabbed and stung without any preliminary droning; and the heat was worse still, for thirteen human beings were lying on the floor and the door was shut. Had I known that two of these were lepers, I should have felt far from comfortable. As it was, I got up soon after midnight, and cautiously stepping among the sleeping forms, went out of doors. Everything favoured reflection, but I think the topics to which my mind most frequently reverted were my own absolute security—a lone white woman among “savages,” and the civilizing influence which Christianity has exercised, so that even in this isolated valley, gouged out of a mountainous coast, there was nothing disagreeable or improper to be seen. The night was very still, but the sea was moaning; the river rippled very gently as it brushed past the reeds; there was a hardly perceptible vibration in the atmosphere, which suggested falling water and quivering leaves; and the air was full of a heavy, drowsy fragrance, the breath of orange flowers, perhaps, and of the night-blowing Cereus, which had opened its ivory urn to the moon. I should have liked to stay out all night in the vague, delicious moonlight, but the dew was heavy, and moreover I had not any boots on, so I reluctantly returned to the grass house, which was stifling with heat and smells of cocoa-nut oil, tobacco, and the rancid smoke from beef fat.

Before sunrise this morning my horse was saddled, and a number of natives had assembled. Hananui had disappeared, but the man who lent me his bare-backed horse page: 245 yesterday was ready to act as guide. My boots could not then be found, so I adopted the native fashion of riding with bare feet. We again rode up the river in that slow and solemn fashion in which horses walk in water, galloped over a stretch of grass, crossed a bright stream several times, and then entered a dense jungle of Indian shot, plantains, and sadlerias, with breadfruit, kukui, and ohia rising out of it. There were thousands of plantains, a fruit resembling the banana, but that it requires cooking. The Indian shot, the yellow-blossomed variety, was of a gigantic size. Its hard, black seeds put into a bladder furnish the chic-chac, which in many places is used as an accompaniment to the utterly abominable and heathenish tom-tom. Here guavas as large as oranges and as yellow as lemons ripened and fell unheeded. Sometimes deep down we heard the rush of water, and Paalau got down and groped for it on his hands and knees; sometimes we heard a noise as of hippopotami, but nothing could be seen but the tips of ears, as a herd of happy, unbroken horses, scared by our approach, crashed away through the jungle. Clear rapid streams, fern-fringed, sometimes offered us a few yards of highway, but the jungle ever grew more dense, the forest trees larger, the lianas more tangled, the streams more sunk and rocky, and though the horses shut their eyes and boldly pushed through the tangle, we were fairly foiled when within half a mile from the head of the valley. I thoroughly appreciated the unsightly leather guards which are here used to cover the stirrups and feet, as without them I could not have ridden ten yards. We were so page: 246 hemmed in that it was difficult to dismount, but I bound some wild kalo leaves round my feet, and managed to get over some broken rock to a knoll, from which I obtained a superb view of the wonderful cleft. Palis 3000 feet in height walled in its head with a complete inaccessibility. It lay in cool dewy shadow till the sudden sun flushed its precipices with pink, and a broad bar of light revealed the great chasm in which it terminates, while far off its portals opened upon the red eastern sky. This little lonely world had become so very dear to me, that I found it hard to leave it.

There was some stir near the sea, for a man was about to build a grass house, and they were preparing a stone pavement for it. Thirty people sat on the ground in a line from the beach, and passed stones from hand to hand, as men pass buckets at a fire. It seemed a very attractive occupation, and I could hardly get Hananui to leave it. The natives are most gregarious and social in their habits. They assemble together for everything that has to be made or done, and their occupations and amusements are shared by both sexes. In old days it is said that a king of Hawaii assembled most of the adults of the then populous island, and formed a human chain three miles long to pass up stones for the building of the great Heiau in Kona. It is said that this valley had 2000 inhabitants forty years ago, but they have dwindled to 117. The former estimate is probably not an excessive one, for nearly the whole valley is suitable for the culture of kalo, and a square mile of kalo will feed 15,000 natives for a year.

page: 247

Two women were shrimping in the river, the children were swimming to school, blue smoke curled up into the still air, kalo was baking among the stones, and a group of women sat sewing and making leis on the ground. The Waimanui day had begun; and it was odd to think that though the long summer years days dawned like this, and that the people of the valley grew grey and old in shrimping and sewing and kalo baking. All Waimanu shook hands with me, the kindly “Aloha” filled the air, and the women threw garlands over us both. I could hardly induce my host to accept a dollar and a half for my entertainment. From the dizzy summit of the pali, where the sun was high and hot, I looked my last on the dark, cool valley, slumbering in an endless calm, the deepest, greenest, quaintest cleft on all the island.

The sun was fierce and bright, the ocean had a metallic glint, the hot breath of the kona was scorching. My hands, swollen from mosquito bites, could not be stuffed into my gloves, and inflamed under the sun, and my wet boots baked and stiffened on my feet. Hananui plaited a crown of leaves for my hot head, which I found a great relief. I was still minded to linger, for one side of each glorious gulch was cool with shadow and dripping with dew. The blue morning glories were yet unwilted, rivulets dropped down into ferny grottoes and lingered there, rose ohia blossoms lighted shady places, orange flowers; gleamed like stars amidst the dense leafage, and the crimped-leaved coffee shrubs were white with their mimic snow. It was my last tropical dream, and I was rudely roused by finding myself on the unsightly verge of the page: 248 great bluff on the north side of this valley, which plunges to the sea with an uncompromising perpendicular dip of 2000 feet, and carries on its dizzy brow a shelving trail not more than two feet wide!

I felt that I must go back and live and die in Waimanu rather than descend that scathed steep, and being stupid with terror flung myself from my horse, forgetting that it was much safer to trust to his four feet than to my two, and to an animal without “nerves,” dizziness, or “the fore-knowledge of death,” than to my palsied, cowardly self. I had intended to go into details of the horrible descent, but the “pilikia” is over now, and Halemanu claps me on the shoulder with an approving smile, ejaculating, “Maikai, maikai” (good). Besides, my returning senses inform me that I have not tasted food since yesterday, and some delicious river fishes are smoking on the table......

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