Life in Hawaii, by Titus Coan
Copyright ©1882, 1997 (electronic edition by Edward J. Coan)
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
The Hawaiian Character Its Amiabililty Island Hospitality Patience, Docility Indolence, Lack of Economy, Fickleness Want of Independence Untruthfulness Decrease of the Population.
THAT the Hawaiians are amiable and gentle in disposition is, I think, admitted by all candid observers who are well acquainted with them. They are not excessively vindictive, but easily pacified when offended. In this trait they excel most of the other Polynesian tribes, especially the Marquesans and the New Zealanders.
They are naturally generous and hospitable. Of old, they welcomed the weary and hungry traveler to their huts, sheltered and fed him to the best of their ability, and without charge. And this generous hospitality was extended to all without respect to nationality, color, wealth, or rank. Wherever night fell upon the traveler, he found shelter and welcome in the nearest cabin. I speak of them as they were. Our civilization has greatly, if not happily, modified their natural habits in this respect.
They are docile. Few, if any, of the races of men would believe with such simple faith, or, if I may so call it, credulity. This trait, though it exposes them to deceitful wiles, also disposes them to listen to correct and useful teachings. Until wicked and infidel foreigners came among them, a Hawaiian could hardly be found who would deny the existence and character of the true God, or the truth of the Bible revelation. But they are too ready to receive false teachings as well as true, to be beguiled by fallacious arguments, and attracted by false leaders. This is why so many accept the old or the modern error.
As a rule they are patient under sufferings, losses, and poverty. Sometimes we look upon them as stolid and without brain or heart. I have seen many lingering and wasting away under a painful disease, and die with little or no emotion or regret. It would seem as if their indifference to life were a reason why they succumb so easily to disease.
They are superstitious, of course. What savage or barbarous race is not? And we might be amazed, were the facts published, at the amount of foolish and false signs, relics of heathenish superstitions, which still exist among enlightened nations. Many natives believe in ghosts, incantations, demons, and the power to take the life of oneís enemy by prayer (pule anaana); but I think that these superstitions are yielding faster than in most other countries.
They are naturally indolent. This has been fostered into a national trait by circumstances. A warm climate does not require energy in labor. A perpetual summer gives no occasion to lay up stores for a fruitless winter. A nativeís wants are few. These satisfied, why labor? To him it would be like beating the air or felling the forest without motive. When a want is felt, he will work for it as earnestly as other men. Civilization has increased their wants, and their houses and horses and clothing, their boats and carriages and money have come of labor.
But they lack economy. This is true, personally, socially, and politically. They lack the gift of order and frugality; and this applies to time, to talent, to industry, and to the use of property of every kind. As a rule, they know not how to "gather up the fragments, that nothing be lost." It is now easy for natives to get money; even the children, if they will work, can earn from twenty-five cents to fifty cents a day, while the wages of laboring men are from one dollar to three dollars a day, according to their skill and fidelity; but few of them know how to keep or use money wisely. And so it is of houses, furniture, tools, clothing, horses, lands, etc. Such things are lost or ruined by neglect, or slip out of their hands to pay unwise debts. They gather and scatter; few accumulate for permanent use. We teach them industry, economy, frugality, and generosity; but their progress in these virtues is slow. They are like children, needing wise parents or guardians.
They are changeable, or, it may be said, fickle. They love variety; they often take new names. In cases where divorce is pending, the lawyer sometimes sends to the pastor who married the couple for a certificate of marriage, that given at the time of the ceremony having been lost, and perhaps the long search for their names in the marriage records is all in vain, when, at last, it is ascertained that they are now known by different names. Some build comfortable houses at the cost of all they have, and in a little while leave them desolate, and remove to other districts or islands. To seek after and to find them in their frequent removals is often like searching for lost sheep upon the mountains. Some take letters of dismission to another church, and return without delivering them. Some go without letters, not intending to stay away, but never return; and when the name is changed, as well as the place of residence, it adds a heavy burden to the pastorís care in looking after his church members. About five hundred of the members of the Hilo church are now absent in different places.
They are amorous. Climate, lack of education, want of full employment of mind and body on matters of superior importance, and the seductions of vile men from foreign lands, endanger the morality, the piety, and the life of this infant race. With the examples of the rich, and of men of office and rank, the temptations of gold acting upon yielding natures, how can a pure morality and virtue be preserved among a people like the Hawaiians? Some of our laws are so framed by unprincipled men as to offer a premium to licentiousness, and even wholesome laws are so nearly a dead-letter for want of execution, that the villain is oftener protected in sin than punished. What can be done when vice is bold and shameless, and only virtue blushes?
They are followers, not leaders. Few, if any, of them are able to head any important secular enterprise. In agriculture, commerce, the mechanic arts, education, traffic, and in all things which require clear thought, sound judgment, tact, patience, and a deep sense of responsibility, they are deficient. Hence they are mostly servants or subordinates. The Chinaman goes ahead of them in all business matters. If a Hawaiian holds office, the office is a sinecure, and its duties are usually committed to foreign clerks.
Naturally they are untruthful. They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. This is a severe charge, but it is a trait probably in all savage races. To lie under slight provocation is to a native as natural and as easy as to breathe. The fact is patent, and it is one of the traits in the Hawaiian character which costs us the greatest pain, and the most earnest and persistent labor, to eradicate. The sin seems like an instinct; but by "eternal vigilance" it gradually gives way, and is succeeded by better habits. The Hawaiian begins to build a house which should be done in two weeks, and it may not be completed in six or twelve months; it will then be years before it is supplied with doorsteps. The servant tells you the flour or the potatoes are all gone, and you find several pounds remaining. Or he pronounces the work assigned him as "all done," when it is only two-thirds done. One informs you that all the people in a given village are drunk. You make farther inquiries and find only two out of fifty who have fallen. The washerwoman must have the same wages when she washes for the family that is reduced to half its numbers, as when it was full. Their character is not rounded and fully developed in anything. The Hawaiian is an unfinished man.
Their piety is of course imperfect. Their easy and susceptible natures, their impulsive and fickle traits, need great care and faithful watching. But we have seen many cases that have become steadfast in faith and fidelity broken out of the "Rock" by the hammer, and formed into symmetry and beauty by the chisel of the Almighty. I believe that thousands have been converted, and that many thousands are in heaven. And if bad men would let the Hawaiians alone for one or two generations, the land would be filled with an enlightened and godly nation.
What is the cause of the decrease in the population? This is an old question, and its answers have been various, sometimes vague, and seldom satisfactory. This is not surprising, as some of the causes are occult and complex. Tradition informs us that long before the arrival of the missionaries, a pestilence like a plague swept off multitudes. Foreigners introduced a vile disease, of which many died, and the blood of many was poisoned. Inherited diseases weakened many others. The too rapid change of national habits especially produced barrenness. Unguarded and early habits of children were highly injurious. There were many Magdalens who came to the Saviour after the introduction of the Gospel, and were made whole in spirit, and prepared for a higher and purer life, while their bodies were deeply marked with the scars of sin. But to this day the artful wiles of a certain class of foreign visitors and residents have not ceased to ensnare and ruin many.
Ignorance of the laws of physical life was universal among the natives, and the missionaries have labored hard and continuously from the beginning to enlighten the people on this subject. In my ministry among the thousands of Hilo and Puna, I have witnessed not only scores who have died in early life from the effects of bad habits, but also hundreds whose days have been shortened from sheer ignorance of physiogical law.
It may be surprising to some to be told, that the sudden and great changes brought on by civilization check the population. The changes in dress, in food, in dwellings, and in the occupations of life, often bring on consumption, fevers, and other diseases which almost decimate a community. Natives that once lived almost as nude as the brutes, and were yet hardy, because adapted to their surroundings, often succumb to new habits of life. Instead of wearing the maro and the loose bark tapa, they often put on two pairs of pantaloons over a thick woolen shirt, with tight boots, and a thick coat or heavy overall, and thus appear in church or in a public gathering, panting with heat and wet with perspiration. On returning to their homes they doff all but a shirt or maro, and sit or lie down and fall asleep in the coolest place to be found, rising with a cold and a cough which may end in disease and the grave. Even the civilized houses of some prove charnel houses, for instead of ventilating them wisely, they often close every door and window of a small and close room, lie down, cover their head with a woolen blanket, and thus sleep all night, the air growing more and more impure.
In 1848 a fearful epidemic of the measles carried off 10,000 of our people, a tenth of the whole population. Five years later, the small-pox took 3,000 more. These were days of darkness and sorrow. The natives were strangers to these diseases; physicians were few, and lived mostly in Honolulu. The natives had no remedies for these burning plagues, no wise and faithful nurses, and no food suited to their condition. Tormented with heat and thirst, they plunged by scores and hundreds into the nearest water, salt or fresh, they could find, and the eruption being suppressed, they died in a few hours. The scene was awful. The Government did what it could in its inexperience, and missionaries and all benevolent foreigners lent a helping hand to those in distress around them. But the masses of the people were beyond their reach: and the angel of death moved on by night and by day, amidst the groans and dying agonies of households and villages. The fiery darts of the destroyer flew thick over all the land, and there was no effective shield to protect the multitudes from their poisoned barbs.
And now, for many years, that persistent, unrelenting plague, the leprosy, has been poisoning the blood and lowering the vitality of thousands of our people. We have a humane government, a competent board of health, and wholesome sanitary regulations, and yet the plague is not stayed. Notwithstanding a crowded leper settlement on Molokai, there are hundreds dying inch by inch, scattered all over the Islands, some of them hiding from the public eye, some concealed by friends, and some not yet pronounced upon by physicians. The leper question is one of the gravest before the nation.
Thus the decrease of the Hawaiians goes on slowly, surely, irresistibly. They are not an exceptional case, many other races originally savage have melted away and disappeared before the unrelenting march of civilization.
Return to the Hawaii Center for Volcanology Home Page
This page maintained by
Other credits for this web site.
Last page update on 16 Aug 1997