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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: 422
RIDGE HOUSE, KONA, HAWAII. June 12.

I LANDED in Kealakakua Bay on a black lava block, on which tradition says that Captain Cook fell, struck with his death-wound, a century ago. The morning sun was flaming above the walls of lava 1,000 feet in height which curve round the dark bay, the green deep water rolled shorewards in lazy undulations, canoes piled full of pineapples poised themselves on the swell, ancient coco-palms glassed themselves in still waters—it was hot, silent, tropical.

The disturbance which made the bay famous is known to every schoolboy; how the great explorer, long supposed by the natives to be their vanished god Lono, betrayed his earthly lineage by groaning when he was wounded, and was then dispatched outright. A cocoanut stump, faced by a sheet of copper recording the circumstance, is the great circumnavigator's monument. A few miles


* Several letters are omitted here, as they contain repetitions of journey and circumstances which have been amply detailed before. I went to the Kona district for a few days only, intending to return to friends on Kauai and Maui; but owing to an alteration in the sailings of the Kilauea, was detained there for a month, and afterwards, owing to uncertainties connected with the San Francisco steamers, was obliged to leave the Islands abruptly, after a residence of nearly seven months.

page: 423 beyond, is the enclosure of Haunaunau, the City of Refuge for western Hawaii. In this district there is a lava road ascribed to Umi, a legendary king, who is said to have lived 500 years ago. It is very perfect, well defined on both sides with kerb-stones, and greatly resembles the chariot ways in Pompeii. Near it are several structures formed of four stones, three being set upright, and the fourth forming the roof, In a northerly direction is the place where Liholiho, the king who died in England, excited by drink and the persuasions of Kaahumanu, broke tabu, and made an end of the superstitions of heathenism. Not far off is the battle field on which the adherents of the idols rallied their forces against the iconoclasts, and were miserably and finally defeated. Recent lava streams have descended on each side of the bay, and from the bare black rock of the landing a flow may be traced up the steep ascent as far as a precipice, over which it falls in waves and twists, a cataract of stone. A late lava river passed through the magnificent forest on the southerly slope, and the impressions of the stems of coco and fan palms are stamped clearly on the smooth rock. The rainfall in Kona is heavy, but there is no standing water, and only one stream in a distance of 100 miles.

This district is famous for oranges, coffee, pineapples, and silence. A flaming palm-fringed shore with a prolific strip of table land 1,500 feet above it, a dense timber belt eight miles in breadth, and a volcano smoking somewhere between that and the heavens, and glaring through the trees at night, are the salient points of Kona if any- anything page: 424 thing about it be salient. It is a region where falls not “. . . Hail or any snow, Or ever wind blows loudly.” Wind indeed, is a thing unknown. The scarcely audible whisper of soft airs through the trees morning and evening, rain drops falling gently, and the murmur of drowsy surges far below, alone break the stillness. No ripple ever disturbs the great expanse of ocean which gleams through the still, thick trees. Rose in the sweet cool morning, gold in the sweet cool evening, but always dreaming; and white sails come and go, no larger than a butterfly's wing on the horizon, of ships drifting on ocean currents, dreaming too! Nothing surely can ever happen here: it is so dumb and quiet, and people speak in hushed thin voices, and move as in a lethargy, dreaming too! No heat, cold, or wind, nothing emphasised or italicised, it is truly a region of endless afternoons, “a land where all things always seem the same.” Life is dead, and existence is a languid swoon.

This is the only regular boarding house on Hawaii. The company is accidental and promiscuous. The conversation consists of speculations, varied and repeated with the hours, as to the arrivals and departures of the Honolulu schooners Uilama and Prince, who they will bring, who they will take, and how long their respective passages will be. A certain amount of local gossip is also hashed up at each meal, and every stranger who has travelled through Hawaii for the last ten years is picked to pieces and worn threadbare, and his purse, weight, page: 425 entertainers, and habits are thoroughly canvassed. On whatever subject the conversation begins it always ends in dollars; but even that most stimulating of all topics only arouses a languid interest among my fellow dreamers. I spend most of my time in riding in the forests, or along the bridle path which trails along the height, among grass and frame-houses, almost smothered by trees and trailers.

Many of these are inhabited by white men, who, having drifted to these shores, have married native women, and are rearing a dusky race, of children who speak the maternal tongue only, and grow up with native habits. Some of these men came for health, others landed from whalers, but of all it is true that infatuated by the ease and lusciousness of this languid region,
  • “They sat them down upon the yellow sand,
  • Between the sun and moon upon the shore;
  • And sweet it was to dream of Fatherland;
  • . . . . ; but evermore
  • Most weary seem'd the sea, weary the oar,
  • Weary the wandering fields of barren foam.
  • Then some one said, “We will return no more.”
They have enough and more, and a life free from toil, but the obvious tendency of these marriages is to sink the white man to the level of native feelings and habits.

There are two or three educated residents, and there is a small English church with daily service, conducted by a resident clergyman.

The beauty of this part of Kona is wonderful. The interminable forest is richer and greener than anything I page: 426 have yet seen, but penetrable only by narrow tracks which have been made for hauling timber. The trees are so dense, and so matted together with trailers, that no ray of noon-day sun brightens the moist tangle of exquisite mosses and ferns which covers the ground. Yams with their burnished leaves, and the Polypodium spectrum, wind round every tree stem, and the heavy , which here attains gigantic proportions, links the tops of the tallest trees together by its stout knotted coils. Hothouse flowers grow in rank profusion round every house, and tea-roses, fuchsias, geraniums fifteen feet high, Nile lilies, Chinese lantern plants, begonias, lantanas, hibiscus, passion-flowers, Cape jasmine, the hoya, the tuberose, the beautiful but overpoweringly sweet ginger plant, and a hundred others: while the whole district is overrun with the Datura brugmansia (?) here an arborescent shrub fourteen feet high, bearing seventy great trumpet-shaped white blossoms at a time, which at night vie with those of the night-blowing Cereus in filling the air with odours.

Pineapples and melons grow like weeds among the grass, and everything that is good for food flourishes. Nothing can keep under the redundancy of nature in Kona; everything is profuse, fervid, passionate, vivified and pervaded by sunshine. The earth is restless in her productiveness, and forces up her hothouse growth perpetually, so that the miracle of Jonah's gourd is almost repeated nightly. All decay is hurried out of sight, and through the glowing year flowers blossom and fruits ripen; ferns are always uncurling their young fronds and page: 427 bananas unfolding their great shining leaves, and spring blends her everlasting youth and promise with the fulfilment and maturity of summer.

  • “Never comes the trader, never floats a European flag,
  • Slides the bird o'er lustrous woodland, swings the trailer from the crag:
  • Droops the heavy-blossom'd bower, hangs the heavy-fruited tree—
  • Summer isles of Eden lying in dark purple spheres of sea.”
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