Life in Hawaii, by Titus Coan
Copyright ©1882, 1997 (electronic edition by Edward J. Coan)

Chapter IX.

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Isolation of the Mission Families Sufferings on the Inter-lsland Voyages Their Dangers Parting with our Children School Discussions and Festivals Native Preachers Cheerful Givers Changes and Improvements.

IN the early years of the mission, the trials of separation were often severe. Hawaii was not only far from all the outer world, but our islands were separated one from another by wide and windy channels, with no regular and safe packets, and no postal arrangements, or regular means of communication.

Add to this, many parts of the islands were so broken by ravines, by precipices, and dangerous streams, and so widely sundered by broad tracts of lava, without house, or pool of water to refresh the weary and thirsty traveler, and without roads withal, that social intercourse was impossible without great toil and suffering.

As to beloved friends and kindred in the far-off fatherland, it seemed like an age before we could speak to them and receive answers.

I think it was eighteen months before we received answers to our first letters sent from Hilo to the United States, a period long enough for revolutions among the nations as well as in families.

All our flour, rice, sugar, molasses, and many other articles of food, with clothing, furniture, medicines, etc., came in sailing vessels around Cape Horn, a voyage of four to six months, so that our news became old and our provisions stale before they reached us, while our stationery might be exhausted, our medicines expended, our flour mouldy and full of worms, before the new supplies arrived. Many a time have we been obliged to break up our barrel of hardened flour with an axe, or chisel and mallet.

But after all our inter-island communication was often our more severe trial. A few old schooners, leaky and slow, mostly owned by native chiefs, floated about, sometimes lying becalmed under the lee of an island for a whole week, in a burning sun, with sails lazily flapping, boom swinging from side to side, and gaff mournfully squeaking aloft.

These vessels were usually officered and manned by indolent and unskillful natives, who made dispatch, cleanliness, safety, and comfort no factors in a voyage. They would often be four and even six weeks in making a trip from Honolulu to Hilo and back, a total distance of some 600 miles. They knew nothing of the motto, "Time is money." So long as they were supplied with fish and poi, all was well. They would sometimes lash the helm while they went to eat, then lie down and sleep. We have often found our vessel in this condition at midnight, captain and all hands fast asleep, and the schooner left to the control of wind and wave, and without a lamp burning on board. In addition some vessels were without a single boat for help in the hour of peril.

The cabins being small and filthy, the missionaries slept on deck, each family providing its own food and blankets, and all exposed to wind, heat, storm, and drenching waves which often broke upon the deck. Upon a schooner of forty to sixty tons, there might be one hundred natives with their dogs and pigs, stoutly contesting deck-space with them; and often fifty members of missionary families, parents and children together. These were the families on Molokai and Maui, with, in many cases, those of the several stations on Hawaii. The crowd was distressing, and the sickness and suffering can never be told. Mothers with four or five children, including a tender nursling, would lie miserably during the hot days under a burning sun, and by night in the rain, or wet with the dashing waves, pallid and wan, with children crying for food, or retching with seasickness. I have seen some of these frail women with their pale children brought to land, exhausted, upon the backs of natives, carried to their homes on litters, and laid upon couches to be nourished till their strength returned.

Does any one ask why these delicate mothers left their homes to suffer thus nigh unto death?

The answer is this. For the isolated mission families to visit one another at will, was out of the question. Once a year, provision such as described was made to bring all together in Honolulu, in what was styled "General Meeting." So strong was the social and Christian instinct, that nearly every parent and child would brave the dangers and submit to the sufferings of these terrible passages, rather than deny the intense heart-longings for personal intercourse with their fellow-laborers "in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ."

We all went with our households and were received cordially by our dear brethren and sisters in Honolulu, where in consultation on the things pertaining to the mission work, in prayer and praise and in social intercourse, we usually spent three or four weeks. Daily meetings were often held with the children, when with united endeavors we sought to lead them to Him who has said: "Suffer little children to come unto me." And many of those little ones dated their deepest religious impressions from those meetings.

Through the providential care of Him who was with us, no lives were lost in all these dangerous voyages of the early members of the mission. Two of these leaky, ill-managed vessels were, as we suppose, sunk in the night while attempting to cross the channel from Maui to Hawaii, with about two hundred natives on board, eighty of whom were my church members. Not a spar, not a box nor a bucket from these vessels has been seen from that day to this.

It is probable that the helm was lashed, and that captain and all hands were asleep when a squall struck the sails, capsized the vessel, and all were plunged without warning into the dark abyss of waters.

On one of these lost vessels my second daughter had engaged passage to return from Honolulu to Hilo, in company with our neighbor, Judge Austin, and his wife and children. By a sudden impulse and just before the embarkation, the party changed their minds and took passage on another schooner bound to the western coast of Hawaii, where they were safely landed, making their way thence to Hilo by land, a distance of about seventy-five miles. Had they taken the ill-fated schooner, we should never have seen our daughter and our neighbors again on earth.

Another trial of painful character has been borne by the missionaries in the sending of their tender offspring away from their island home to the fatherland. Surrounded by the low and vulgar throng of early mission days, with no good schools, and loaded with cares and labors for the native race, most of the missionaries have felt it a duty to their children to seek for them an asylum in a land of schools and churches and Christian civilization. The struggle of parting has sometimes been agonizing on both sides. Often the child would plead piteously to be suffered to remain, while at the same time the motherís heart yearned over her darling one; but a stern sense of duty nerved her to the sacrifice, and with a last kiss of farewell she would commit her son or daughter to the care of the ship-master, and turn away with a crushed heart to spend sleepless hours in prayers and tears.

Ah! how many of these mothers remember these heart-struggles with a melting agony, and how many of those scalding tears the Father of Mercies has known, with the prayers that wrung them out!

Our two elder children remained at their island home until they reached an age when the thought of separation was less cruel. They then made the voyage around Cape Horn under the kind care of Capt. James Willis and his excellent wife.

Later, our second daughter and son were sent to the United States under favorable circumstances. Our youngest son has returned, and lives near the old homestead.

Once or twice a year the school teachers and leading members of the church were called together in Hilo for the discussion of important questions, and for prayer.

This assembly numbered one hundred, and often more. They came as delegates or representatives from all the villages, either as volunteers or as chosen by the people. When assembled for deliberation a scribe was elected, and a book of records kept, in which minutes of all important acts were entered. The duration of such meetings varied from three days to a week, according to the importance and interest of the discussions.

These representatives we call Lunas, overseers. None of them were ordained as deacons or elders, but their office work was much like that of class-leaders in the Methodist church. They reported the state of the schools and of the church members. A list of overtures was prepared, embracing topics for consideration on a great variety of subjects pertaining to "The life that now is and to that which is to come." The meetings were often pervaded with a delightful spirit of tenderness and Christian harmony. Prayers were fervent, and there were exhibitions of native eloquence which were marvelous.

These were excellent occasions for the pastor to instruct the leading minds of his flock, not only in the rules of order pertaining to deliberative bodies, but in the duties of parental, filial, fraternal, matrimonial, social, economical, civil, and spiritual life. The range of subjects was wide, but simple and practical, and the fruits were apparent. Many beside the delegates came in, day after day, to these meetings, both of men and women.

These were sometimes local and sometimes general. When the schools of the two districts assembled at the central station, I think we have had two thousand in the exhibition. Usually the schools would be dressed in uniforms, each choosing for itself the color which their tastes dictated. All floated flags and banners of a tasteful style, and all marched to music, vocal or instrumental, and often prepared by themselves or their teachers. Some made flutes of the bamboo and some composed sweet songs with simple but pleasing music.

Their marchings and simple evolutions, with song; and fluttering flags, attracted the attention of all, and many came out to witness the gala picture.

The marching over, the children were arranged under a broad canopy of green branches, where hymns were sung, addresses made, prayers offered, and then all partook of an ample feast. Young and old alike were jubilant.

As numbers of our young and active men desired more full and specific instruction in the doctrines of the Bible and the duties of life than they gained in our common exercises, I received about twenty into a class for daily instruction in systematic theology, Scripture exegesis, sermonizing, etc.

This school was kept up in convenient terms for several years. It was not designed to make pastors but to train a class of more intelligent workers than the common people. Some of these have since become preachers and pastors at home, and some have gone to labor in heathen lands.

The whole number of preachers and missionaries who have gone out from the Hilo church and boarding-school is: on foreign missions twelve, with their wives; in the home field, nineteen, or thirty-one ministers in all.

From the beginning, the Hawaiian churches were taught the duty and the pleasure of giving to the needy. All the missionaries inculcated this doctrine, so that it became one of the essential fruits of their faith. They were not only taught to provide for themselves and their households, but also to "labor with their hand that they might have to give to him that lacketh."

They received these instructions cheerfully, and the stranger, the friendless, the sick, the unfortunate, and all in distress are cared for, and there is less physical suffering from hunger and want in this than in most countries in Christendom.

All this is, of course, favored by the mildness of the climate, but the disposition and the habit of helping those who need are almost universal in these islands.

For long years after the arrival of the pioneer missionaries, the people had no silver and gold, but they had food and kapas and hands and hearts to help. They gave as they could of their substance; a little arrowroot, dried fish or vegetables, a stick of firewood, or a kapa. In 1840, the Wilkes Expedition came, and brought silver dollars; for want of small change, Capt. Wilkes ordered a large amount of Mexican dollars to be cut into halves and quarters. The natives have since fully learned the use of coined money.

It has been my habit to preach on some branch of Christian kindness on the first Sabbath in every month, and the monthly concert prayer-meeting has always been kept up in Hilo. The people have been taught that "it is better to give than to receive," and that "the Lord loveth a cheerful giver." They have given freely for the missions in Micronesia, and hundreds of dollars have already come back to our mission treasury from those recently savage islands, so that our natives think they see a literal fulfillment of the blessed promise, "Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days."

They see also that although the Hilo church has given more than one hundred thousand dollars for the kingdom of God, that they have a "hundred-fold" more now than when they began.

Indolent and vicious foreigners have often expressed great pity for our poor natives because they had been trained by "the cruel and covetous missionaries" to give for the objects of benevolence; but it has now and then appeared that some of these tender-hearted strangers would not scruple to eat the nativesí fish and fowl and poi without pay, or to drive a hard bargain with them in trade, or to refuse to pay an honest debt. Even Catholic priests professed to pity the Hawaiians because of the heavy burdens laid upon them by their teachers! And the Mormon apostles told our people that the Lord "hated and abhorred our New Moons."

As our monthly concerts occurred on the first Sunday of every month, the natives called them "Mahina hou," which literally means new moon, or new month; the word "mahina," moon, being their name for month, or the division of time marked by the moon. This wicked and deceitful catch of the Mormons upon the term for monthly concert so troubled and staggered my people that I went through my whole field, expounding in every village the first chapter of Isaiah, and the troubled minds were relieved and re-established.

The contributions for benevolence have been given with great apparent cheerfulness, as if in thorough understanding that "the Lord loveth a cheerful giver."

Our custom has been to have the donors come forward and deposit their offerings upon the table in front of the pulpit, and there has been an animation and enthusiasm on such occasions most grateful to the pastorís heart to witness. I have seen mothers bringing their babes in their arms, or leading their toddling children, that these little ones might deposit a coin upon the table. If at first the child clung to the shining silver as to a plaything, the mother would shake the babyís hand to make it let go its hold, and early persevere in her efforts to teach the tender ones the act of giving before they knew the purpose. There have been instances where the dying have left with wife or husband their contribution to be brought forward at the monthly concert after their death. Such facts make a touching impression.

From our small beginnings of four or five dollars a month, we increased gradually, till the amount has sometimes been two hundred a month. Before our church was divided our collections amounted yearly to several thousands, and in one case were as high as six thousand; and even after we had set off six churches from the mother church, we have collected over five thousand dollars from the remaining church.

Our people are now greatly diminished by death, and by being drawn away to the numerous plantations of the islands, upon ranches, into various industries with foreigners, and by hundreds into Honolulu, and on board vessels, and yet our monthly collections average more than one hundred dollars.

These contributions have been widely distributed in the United States and in other parts; while many thousands of dollars have gone to sustain our missions in the Marquesas Islands and in Micronesia.

We have also given liberally to sustain our homework church building, Christian education, relief of the poor, and other objects.

When we arrived in Hilo there was but one framed house. There were no streets, no bridges, no gardens and only a few foreign trees.

Now our town is laid out in streets all named, and with every dwelling-house numbered. The town is adorned with beautiful shade and fruit trees, with gardens and shrubbery, vines, and a great variety of flowers. The scene is like a tropical Paradise. We have read of

"Sweet fields arrayed in living green,"

and here they are spread out before us even on this side of Jordan.

We have foliage of every shade of green, all intermingled; the plumes of the lofty cocoa and royal palms waving, and the leaves of the mango, the breadfruit, the alligator-pear, the rose apple, the tamarind, the loquot, the plum, the pride of India, the eucalyptus, and trailing and climbing vines, with many-tinted flowers, all glistening and fluttering in the bright sun and the soft breezes of our tropical abode.

Formerly all our streams were crossed as best they might be, or suffered to run and roar, to sparkle and foam, to leap their precipices, and to plunge undisturbed into the sea. Over these brooks and rivers, in town, and through the district of Hilo, more than fifty bridges have been built, some of them costing four thousand dollars.

Once our fertile soil produced very little except kalo and the sweet potato, with a few indigenous fruits; now fruits and vegetables have increased ten-fold in variety and value. But the great staple product of the district is sugar.

During our residence here there have been erected seventeen sugar mills with their feeding plantations, whose total value would probably be more than one million of dollars, and whose products might be more than two millions.

If our Government would take hold earnestly of road-making, with the aid of private enterprise, the value of Hilo soil and of our industries might be increased more than four-fold in as many years.

Sailing along the emerald coast of Hilo, one sees the smoke-stacks of the sugar mills, the fields of waving canes almost touching one another, and the little white villages attached to each plantation, lending the charm of beauty and variety to the scenery.

The mercantile and mechanical business of our town is greatly increased by these plantations. Mechanical shops are abundant; and so are shops of various character, many of which are owned by Chinamen.

But the plantations do not replenish our town with Hawaiians; on the contrary, while foreigners of many nationalities, especially the Chinese, are increasing, our native population is perishing, or mixing its blood with that of foreign races.

Another great change is, that the people are, or may be if they will, all freeholders. The Bill of Rights given by Kamehameha III., followed by a liberal constitution, and by a code of laws, gave to every man the right to himself, to his family, to hold land in fee simple, and to the avails of his own skill and industry. This was what no common Hawaiian had ever enjoyed before; and so great was the change that a large class of the natives could not believe it to be true. Many thought it to be a ruse to tempt them to build better houses, fence the lands, plant trees, and make such improvements in cultivation as should enrich the chiefs, who were the hereditary owners of the soil, while to the old tenants no profit would accrue. The parcels of land on which the people were living were granted to them by a royal commission on certain easy conditions.

Lands were also put into market at nominal prices, so that every man might obtain a piece if he would. I have known thousands of acres sold for twenty-five cents, other thousands for twelve and a half cents, and still others for six and a quarter cents an acre. These lands were, of course, at considerable distances from towns and harbors. But even rich lands near Hilo and other ports sold at one, two, or three dollars per acre.

Thus the people were encouraged to become land owners, to build permanent dwellings, and to improve their homesteads with fences, trees, and a better cultivation. Gradually many came to believe in the new order of things and to improve the golden opportunity, but others doubted and suffered it to pass unimproved. Those who accepted or bought land now find its value increased ten, and, in some cases, a hundred fold.

The organizing of a constitutional government under a limited monarchy with its several departments, legislative, executive, and judicial, and the admission of the common people to take part in the enactment and execution of laws, and the right of trial by jury, produced a vast and sudden change throughout the kingdom; and to this day it is an open question whether there was not too much liberty granted to the people before they had been sufficiently trained to appreciate and to use it. It may be doubted whether universal suffrage and trial by jury has been a benefit to the country.

The old rule of the chiefs was liable to great oppression and abuse, but where the irresponsible chief was thoughtful and righteous, justice was administered promptly and often wisely, without the interference of quibbling pettifoggers and unscrupulous lawyers.

On one occasion when Dr. Judd and his family were our guests, he hired men to take them by land to the western side of the island, where they were to embark for Honolulu. There were about twelve men thus positively engaged, with wages specified and accepted. The hour for departure came; the men were all present; the party, with baggage, all ready and then the natives struck for double pay!

I said to the Doctor, "Go straight to our chief woman," who, like Deborah of old, was our judge and sole ruler. He went. Her posse comitatus were on the ground in twenty minutes, and the strikers were found guilty and put to hard work in one hour without counsel of lawyer or the aid of a jury.

At another time, a rabble becoming angry at some sailors who landed in the boat of a whale-ship, seized the boat and were carrying it inland as an act of reprisal. Old Opiopio called out her posse of strong arms, seized the men with the boat, put them all in prison, and returned the boat to the ship. Such prompt acts of justice struck the people with awe, and led them to reverence "the powers that be."

These are noble exceptions; but we now have a large set of intriguing lawyers who teach their clients to lie and to bribe witnesses, so that often "justice falls in the streets," the most guilty escape unpunished, and the innocent suffer.

Still there is no going back, nor do we wish it; for in spite of all the eddies and swirls, the back-sets and snags, the stream of civilization flows onward, and, with good pilots and skillful navigators, we trust the ship of state will be saved from wreck.


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