Wolohu’s Sunday School: Part 1
*Quick Note: The Journal of Molesworth Detmold in Chapter 1 has been adapted from the Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage, to the Pacific Ocean on Discovery, Performed in the Years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 and The Three Voyages of Captain Cook Round the World. Vol. V. Being the First of the Third, by James Cook … just so you wouldn’t think I was making any of this up. You have it straight from the Old Man himself. – Wahanui.
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From the Journal of Molesworth Detmold, Scientific Officer’s Assistant
HMS Resolution 1778-1779
It is not for me, Molesworth Detmold, to give voice to what was on everyone’s mind, that our Captain had gone barmy. None dared venture a remark to him, for fear of launching him into one of his heivas, stamping furiously on deck, which I can only liken to nothing so much as the mad dance of the cannibal Indians. The next moment he might just as easily be bleating on in some fine speech, adjoining us like an unctuous schoolmaster to appreciate the reasonableness of his discoveries of things that would benefit us: Sea Horse flesh, portable soup, sow’r krout, cane beer, spruce beer, experimental beef, experimental water.
Like some bloodless ghoul he was, constipated and ill of bilious complaint, shunning the harsh sun of these burning southern seas in favor of haunting the dark ‘tween-decks of Resolution. He sulked at the dinner table without volunteering a word, pecking sullenly at a small tangle of sow’r krout, the odd bit of salt horse, a few shriveled peas, fussing over his meals like a vixen fixing her nails. He might not have eaten any of it anyway, since his experimental teeth that he removed at table and suffered to place before us like a ghastly bouquet, were useless to him. Most of his teeth, I believe, were experimental, forever falling apart, and he simply removed them when he ate.
But his experiments were mere annoyances as compared to his behavior toward Indians wherever we encountered them. He regarded them as sullen, brutal, and treacherous, hopelessly sunk in savagery–wont to come aboard and enjoin us in their rites, filling the night with their barbarous witchcraft and howling beneath a blood-shot moon. He contended that among all God’s creations there was nothing so savage and dangerous as the natural peoples themselves. He had once endeavored to stimulate their curiosity, to learn the emotions that could be awakened in their souls, but found nothing but vicious tendencies among these children of nature; and they were all the more dangerous in that they greatly surpassed Europeans in physical strength. Within that same quarter of an hour he had found them to change from childlike delight to deepest gloom, from complete calmness to the greatest heights of rage, and then burst into mirth and good humor and mimickry and other little sportive tricks the moment afterwards. He had noticed them change toward each other, one moment caressing, and menacing the next, but they were never long in the same mood, and always struck him as having dangerous and deceitful tendencies. One had only to shift the evidence a little and see in place of idyllic love and natural goodness a world of voluptuaries, thieves, cannibals and idolaters. Civilization had a clear duty to save these unfortunates from themselves.
But the Captain was forced to conclude that Otaheite was very different. It seemed that we had discovered the Island of Love, an oceanic Eden that abounded with all those delicious fruits which render the countries between the tropicks the happiest in the world, ringed with shimmering lagoons, and populated by a people who were a philosopher’s delight, their dispositions very mild and agreeable, the indolence of the inhabitants very great albeit. It was also in Otaheite that the distinction between the civilizer and the savage began to crumble. The Captain’s cool judgment with the indians had gone entirely awry, and his patient indulgence of their childlike rascality had given way to petty vindictiveness and cruelty, burning down an entire island and chasing after the ship’s gote.
Their thieving–at first, a length of rope here, metal plates and a few personal oddments–had provoked his ire. At the observatory, one of their number had made so bold as to enter into the tent where our astronomers were sleeping, making off with the Captain’s stockings. But it was in vain to punish the delinquents, for where all were culpable those only could be made to suffer who were taken in the fact, and such was their dexterity that few were detected. Their women appeared exceeding lascivious, permitting our men to pursue the natural impulse of their passions, and our barter of iron for their affecksions had so fueled their appetite for this magical substance, that our every encounter degenerated into an altercation over the theft of tongs, pincers, pots and pans, cleavers, cooking and eating utensils.
But it was the theft of the Gote that tipped the Captain’s indulgence into uncontrolled fury. Indeed, its theft the next day stirred up a most satisfying hornet’s nest. He burst in on them like the Bull of Bashan, and demanded they return everything they had helped themselves to– the sextant, and the pistols, the petty officer’s sword, the water cask. He went down his list, comprising some dozen or more items, most of all the gote. He demanded they be returned, and the thieves brought to account instantly.
The audience thought this was the best part of the amusement, and some among them could scarce conceal their hilarity. The Captain launched into one of his heivas, turning red and trembling with rage, his voice quavering, which made me fear some ill consequence. He directed the sergeant to seize one of the indians so that he might have some little amusement of his own. The marine took hold of the one who was standing nearest, and the Captain presented a pistol at him, and smashed the butt into the side of his face, breaking several of his teeth and brutalizing the poor indian very much, at which they were very much frightened.
An oven rake was returned, then the sextant, the pair of pistols, the petty officer’s sword, and the water cask. But the gote, as much a novelty to the Indians as iron, was withheld from us. The Captain threatened to burn their boats unless the gote was returned, but our hosts professed only ignorance of its whereabouts.
His plan unfolded, such that he ordered us to take hostage their canoos, twenty-five of them just returned from the bay, filled with fish, which we gathered together and moored in front of the ships. Several days went by, and still there was no word of the gote. The fish in the canoos rotted, and when the breeze got up, we found ourselves confined in our disagreeable situation, downwind of the most appalling stinke. In time, it seemed that even the Indians had lost interest in the return of their canoos.
The next morning, we made shift to undertake a search for the gote. We ascended the ridge of cliffs that ringed the bay, and stumbled upon the key intelligence that the gote had gone before us, so that we marched up in great silence in hopes of surprizing the party that had her. But when we got to the uppermost plantation on the side of the ridge, the people there told us that she had been kept there only the first night.
Like Huns we advanced, stamping that dark land with the imprint of our resolve. And when there was still no sign of the gote, the Captain’s wrath knew no bounds. He sent a message to the chief, telling him that if he did not send the gote he would not leave him a canoo in the island and that he would continue destroying till it came. He was glad of the opportunity to punish insolence, real or imagined. He would deprive them of their livelihoods, he said, and would lay waste to their entire island if need be, that they might understand that they were dealing with the rule of Civilization.
With scarcely a moment’s interruption, the ravaging and plunder commenced. The Officers groaned with remorse, though the men set to the task with relish and gleeful abandon, sacking with axes and cross-cut saws the breadfruit trees of indians with whom we had traded peacefully the day before, putting the torch to their huts, killing hogs and dogs, and wrecking the impounded canoos that lay on the beach.
As I watched the flames climb into the fronds of the coconut palms, it seemed that an entire civilization might be reduced to ruin before the gote was recovered. When at last we returned aboard ship, the Captain looked shore-ward and watched as the smoak from the burning canoos rose into the sky. It was a damage, he observed in smug satisfaction, that he supposed would take years to recover.
Late that afternoon, an unmanned canoo appeared at the mouth of the bay. It drifted lazily up the long inlet, and as it drew up alongside our ship, when in a transport of joy, we beheld the wished-for object of our pursuit, the sought-after gote.
From Otaheite, we sailed north across the glassy doldrums and half-drowned atolls straddling the equator, and raised the trades that might have propelled us toward a region of icy foggs, had not the island of Owahoo interposed itself.
There had been no mention made by the natives in the southern regions of any islands to the north. On the 19th, being then in the 21st degree, 20th minute of northern latitude, the man at the masthead called out high land, bearing east-northeast and in a very little time came in sight of more land, apparently of an equal height with the former. As we approached nearer the windward island, it presented no very promising aspect, being mountainous, and surrounded with reefs, without any signs of inhabitants; we therefore stood off and on till the 20th, when we bore away for the land we had seen to leeward, but not then in sight.
About nine in the morning, it was seen the second time at the distance of about seven or eight leagues. We were much charmed with its appearance as we came near it, observing it to abound with runs of excellent water. As the morning brightened, we raised a second island. Its emerald beauty was breath-taking, another paradise unspoilt. Its verdant mountains brooded over forested uplands pocketed with stands of sugar-cane and bananoes of which there was great abundance, and tapered off to more gentle contours along the east side. Villages dotted the shore and hinterland, where a high hummock of land rose straight from the see, and a superb crescent of sand was fringed by innumerable pillars of cocoa-nut trees and digitated breadfruit whose hands extended in benedictions of plenty. Here and there were strange towers of bamboo as well, their platforms laden with offerings of stones bundled in leaves.
We sailed along the northwest side of the island, called by the natives Towi, sounding as we went, while the boats from both ships were employed in searching for some bay or harbour, where we might safely anchor. In the meantime several canoes came from the shore with plantains and fish on board. The indians parted with what they had for any trifles that were offered them, and at first behaved with great civility, but could not be persuaded to venture on board. At five in the evening we were two leagues from the shore surrounded by indians in their canoes, with hogs in abundance, some very large, which we purchased according to their size for a spike or a tenpenny nail each.
They were friendly and very curious, though they were at first afraid to board the ship. Their eyes darted about in apprehension, and those who made bold to come on board fell to their knees in prayer. They asked where they might sit, and they touched and fondled every fixture, their eyes wide with astonishment at objects inconceivable to them.
I never saw indians so much astonished before. Their eyes were continually flying from object to object, the wildness of their looks and actions fully expressing their surprize and astonishment. Perhaps our complexions and features and our odd dress predisposed them to believe that we were not men at all. They might have taken our cocked hats to be a part of our heads, and our clothing to be wrinkled skin. Our feet might have been long black hooves, our pockets doors in the sides of our bodies, into which we thrust our hands to bring forth many wondrous things.
One of them stood up and thrust a piece of gourd shell into his loincloth at his side and drew it thence in a great air of suspense and mystry, as might a magician performing a hat trick, in trying to convey some sense of our unintelligible operations. They might have concluded as well that we were gods of the vulcano, seeing that smoak and fire issued from our mouths. They had seen us eat something red, and might have believed it to be the flesh of men. But that which they supposed to be the raw flesh of men was the red core of the watermelon, and the fire was from tobakko.
Our ships were a trove of treasures, some of which gleamed like the sun and were painful to behold, and some cold and black and hard as the evil in the hearts of sorcerers. Everything was fingered, with expressions of utter amazement that became incredulous when they touched an object made of iron. They had no knowledge of iron, it was as odd as ice-berggs to them, and the moment they discovered its obvious importance they were in raptures about it, and were willing to give us anything they possessed in exchange for it. We were visited by a great multitude of canoos, bringing yams, sweet potatoes, hoggs, plantains, and other fruits, which they gladly exchanged for little bits of old iron, nails, and other articles. They offered whatever they could for it, and we found that we could provision the entire ship for a day with a single small nail. Their passion for iron was such that the Captain awaited the first thefts fatalistically.
While we remained at sea, no people on earth could be more friendly; but our boats had no sooner landed than a quarrel arose between them and our people. The indians soon began to be very troublesome and even attempted to haul the boat onshore which obliged the Officers to fire at them by which one of them was killed. The report of the musquet together with the fire and the smoak, and the execution it did, being what they had never seen before and a mystry, they could form not the least conception of, it terrified them so much. The musquet shot had come as thunder from a clear sky, and a man lay dead and bleeding, from what none of them knew. They all quitted the boats instantly and went away carrying the dead body off with them and making great lamentations, and the boats did not attempt to land after this, but returned onboard.
On the 22nd, the ships having found anchorage on the southwest side, we were no sooner moored, than we were again surrounded with a more numerous multitude of indians than before; most of them in canoos laden with hoggs, plantains, bananoes, and sweet potatoes, which they readily exchanged as before. Here we were suffered to make what purchases we pleased; only women were prohibited by the Captain’s order, on the severest penalties. This created a general murmur among the men, whose pleasure was centered in that kind of commerce, in the newly discovered islands wherever they went.
The women here seemed to him to have no more sense of modesty than those in Otaheite. In general they were as fyne girls as any we had seen. The women in general have shocked hair, which they were at great pains to ornament. They had large holes in their ears that, filled as they were with most beautifully coloured shells made up in clusters, served for jewels, and had no bad effect. Their head-dress consisted of wreathes of flowers, decorated with feathers chiefly red; and having, in general, lively piercing black eyes, white teeth, small features, and round faces, were not a little inviting, had not the Captain’s severe prohibition put a check to the predominant passion of our men.
The Captain suffered a great burden of responsibility to prevent his men from communicating the contagion. He was obsessed with it, believing that he would bring the end to an innocent civilization if we loosed our Pandora’s Box upon the women. We might infest native houses with lice, and rat fleas, and ship’s fever, while others among us carried, perhaps, tuberculosis, smallpox, diphtheria, influenza, viral infections, pneumonia, cholera, along with one of the greatest scourges of the unresistant, meezles. But meezles and influenza and cholera were easy to spot, and the afflicted were soon isolated before their disease could spread. The greatest peril lay with contagion whose symptoms were not so readily evident in their carriers, and which were communicated in the joyful abandonment of passion.
As there were some venereal complaints on board both the ships, in order to prevent its being communicated to these people, the Captain gave the order that no women, on any account whatever were to be admitted on board the ships. But whether these regulations had the desired effect or no time can only discover. It was no more than what he did when we first visited the Friendly Islands yet we afterwards found it did not succeed, and I was much afraid this would always be the case where it was necessary to have a number of people on shore. The opportunities and inducements to an inter-course between the sexes were too many to be guarded against. It was also a doubt with me that that the most skillful of the faculties could tell whether every man that had had the venereal was so far cured as not to communicate it further. It was likewise well known that amongst a number of men, there would be found some who would endeavor to conceal this disorder, and there were some again who cared not to whom they might communicate it.
On the 29th we bore away to another lee island called Neehow, which abounded with hoggs and fruit, and where the natives were equally hospitable with those we had just left. We had already exchanged several presents with the cheefs of the island, and had received in return six large hoggs and an immense quantity of yams and sugar-cane. Our boats, while the shore was accessible, were employed to collect the vegetable and other curious productions of the island, and stock ourselves with a large proportion of culinary plants, which was of infinite service to us in our northerly progress. On the evening of the 1st of February, we had more than two hundred hoggs, besides three months’ allowance of sweet potatoes, bananoes, plantains, sugar-canes, and vegetables in abundance. Water was now the only necessary with which we were scantily provided.
I was directed to accompany a shore party, under Leftenant Edgar’s command, to search this island for water, with orders that our group was to return before nightfall. When we landed on the island, the surf at low tide was manageable, though menacing, in my opinion. We beached the boats, and drew them well up upon the beach away from the surf.
From the moment we set foot on the island, we were followed by a group of indians whose numbers swelled with each dozen paces. They kept their distance as they watched our every movement. We gestured for water, and they produced several bunches of green cocoa-nuts, this evidently being the main source of water on this arrid island. That was all we turned up during the day.
I was entirely naive about the capacity of the ocean in these parts to quickly build to insurmountable, nay inconceivable, heights. As our search had taken us over the low-lying ridge to the lee side of the island, we did not notice the increase in the surf until we returned to where we had begun. In the course of an afternoon, it had built to a tremendous size. The two marines we had left behind to guard the boat had pulled it even higher up on the beach to bring it beyond the reach of the waves. And there it would stay for the time being, most certainly, since it was clearly out of the question that we might attempt to return to ship with the waves being such as they were. We had no choice but to disdain the Captain’s orders that we return by nightfall.
As darkness fell we made camp on a rise overlooking the beach. A native came and endeavored to engage us in a conversation that was mostly gesture, though the substance of which was clearly discernible to me. He drew his hands through the air to descry the geometry of a woman, and at once from the darkness behind him there materialized a gaggle of them. With night drawing on, our fires illuminated their faces. Though a bit wild looking, I could not deny that they were lovely in a way, as the firelight played along their teeth. That’s what I will most especially admire about them, their teeth.
Most of the night passed without controversy or incident, until I was awoken by a shriek of merriment that came from beyond the rise in back of the beach. It was the women, and some number of our men, who I observed in a struggle to arise from a tangle of them, and it seemed that one of our numbers were engaged in hastily re-composing their uniforms. Many curses were expended, and it amused them very much, and their attempts to quell the laughter were ineffectual, and the more the men tried to extricate themselves, the more they clamored at them, tearing at their tunics and pulling their trousers.
Though it was a contravention of the Captain’s strictest orders, few among us saw it as other than a game, made all the keener for the consequences of punishment that the Captain might exact, were he to discover what had transpired.
Upon our return to ship, each of us was suffered by the Captain to provide a complete account of our survey ashore. I reported the island to be arid and nearly uninhabited, though what indians we had encountered did point out some seepage from freshwater springs that lay covered during high tide. But apart from that, nothing but a few cocoa-nut trees. As to further contact with the inhabitants, I said that the natives were not overly curious about us. And when questioned specifically that there was no contact with women, I warranted I had seen nothing.
There being no water to be procured, and the reefs being dangerous, and the surf running high, the Captain, after surveying the island, took possession of it, in the name of his Royal master–calling the whole cluster Sandwich’s Isles—and prepared to depart, for a storm had come on from the eastward, and again obliged Resolution to put to sea.
We sailed to the north-east near on a thousand leagues, and made landfall at a sheltering cove where, even for us who had experienced bizarre encounters in all corners of the world’s vastest ocean, our welcome seemed one of the strangest of all. A scene of eerie and haunting beauty presented itself, and it seemed a place frozen in a weird dream. A man arrived in a canoo, resplendent in ochre paint and red and white fox furs, his head ornamented with a lariat of fethers falling about his shoulders and back. He mounted a platform in the canoo, and waving wildly at the sky and the shore, he broke into a dirge that was half-howl, half-song. As twilight gathered, another voice from one of the canoes intoned a refrain, much as a parish clerk gives out the first line of a psalm. Other voices joined in, and taking up their paddles again and beating the sides in strict rhythm, they melded their voices into an eerie chorus of syncopated song, swelling it out in the middle, then letting the sound die away, which we all agreed was pleasing to the ear. He commenced shaking a rattle that he held in each hand. These he then laid down, and scooped up handfuls of red dirt and feathers to cast onto the water. More shrieks followed, then he calmly seated himself as if nothing had happened. The Captain attempted to engage his good offices by lowering him a piece of green baize cloth, which was examined and dismissed as being of no interest.
The next day a great many canoes, filled with indians, were about the ships all day, and a trade commenced betwixt us and them. The articles they offered for sale were skins of various animals, such as bears, woolves, foxes, deer, raccoons, polecats, martins and sea otters. They also brought garments with them made of these skins, and another sort of clothing made of the bark of a tree, or some plant like hemp; weapons, such as bows, arrows, and spears; fish-hooks, and instruments of various kinds, a sort of woolen stuff, or blanketing; bags filled with red ochre; pieces of carved work; beads, and several other little ornaments of thin brass and iron, shaped like a horseshoe, which they hung at their noses.
Like so many savages they were warmly hospitable, and the first boat that visited us brought us what no doubt they thought was the greatest possible accommodation, and offered it to us to eat. This was a human arm, roasted. I had heard it remarked that human flesh was the most delicious, and therefore tasted a bit, and so did many others without swallowing the meat or the juices, but either my conscience or my taste rendered it very odious to me. We intimated to our hosts that what we tasted was bad, and expressed as well as we could our disapprobation of eating it on account of it being part of a man like ourselves. They seemed to be sensible by the contortions of our faces that our feelings were disgusted, and apparently paddled off with equal dissatisfaction and disappointment themselves.
We would have leave to go ashore, by turns, to gather berries, which they now found ripe, and in great abundance, such as raspberries, blue berries, black and red currants, huckkelberries, with various other sorts, all in full perfection. A party was likewise sent out to cut spruce, to brew into beer for both ships. Of this liquor, however, we were not very fond in this cold climate, especially when we were given to understand that our grog was to be stopped, and this beer, which the Captain deemed an excellent anti-scorbutick, substituted in the room of it. This occasioned great resentment, and it was found necessary to give it alternately, spruce one day and grog another.
The indians seemed to subsist solely on dried fish and blubber oil, which was constantly used to cook with, and furnish their lamps. They lived in the most squalid pits imaginable, having the most dreary appearance that can be conceived, all of them excessively nasty and which stank like a tanner’s yard of rotten fish, chunks of rancid blubber, and other filth, strewn about the entrances in the manner of a dung-hill.
It would require the assistance of one’s imagination to have an adequate idea of their wild, savage appearance. I certainly thought them repulsive—small, with flat faces, awkward and ill-proportioned limbs, and prominent bony knees and ankles. Their dark, coppery-colored bodies were so covered with filth as to make it doubtful what was really their proper colour. Their faces were daubed with red and black paint and grease, in no regular manner but as their fancies led them.
Their clothing was fashioned after the animal from which the skin was taken, with little allowance made for covering private parts or for the exigencies of personal hygiene. They seemed never to bathe, and compounded their natural essences by rubbing themselves all over with gore and seal fat and ornamenting their faces and bodies with paint and soot. To make themselves either fyne, or frightful, many put on their hair the down of young birds, or plaited it with seaweed or thin strips of bark dyed red. Their hair was clotted with dirt and infested with vermin, which they companionably picked from each other’s scalps and ate.
From their very small share of beauty, the women were capable of exciting but a very faint desire of acquaintance in the breast of a European, but the ethnology and rituals of our host people had to be considered and investigated. We felt compelled by the spirit of scientific inquiry to persevere beyond these obstacles to ascertain that in essential respects a young woman of this most unearthly of places was no different from a young woman of other societies.
It wasn’t long before we had three girls brought on board Discovery, and a price agreed upon. These weren’t the gigglous girls of the southern islands, but solemn and apprehensive. Nonetheless they were dutiful and compliant, and readily acceded to our suggestions as if they were resigned to it. They appeared very modest and timid, but they had taken great pains to allure, having carefully groomed their hair with fish oil and daubed their faces with ochre. Their bodies, as always, were well larded with seal blubber against the cold. One girl in particular seemed filthy beyond any hope of restoring her to her original state of nature, possessed of layers of filth and ochre and greese and red and black paint, and her hair clotted with dirt and the down of birds.
We brought buckets of warm water and much soap. This we called the Ceremony of Purification and were ourselves the officiators at it, and it must be mentioned to our praise that we performed it with much piety and devotion, taking as much pleasure cleansing a naked woman from all impurities in a tub of warm water, as a young confessor would to absolve a virgin who was about to sacrifice that name to such as ourselves.
A good wash rinsed away the vermin and greese, but other impediments to passion remained, such as the white stone studs drilled into the lower lip, the string of beads secured to the gristle of the nose and dangling down to her chin, and the tattooing everywhere. Lovingly bathing and caring for our wild beauties, we treated them with the utmost respect, admiration, and kindness, determined to leave the world a better place, and leave our hosts with the knowledge that Englishmen were gentlemen, and not hardened boors.
We spent months meandering up alongside the coast, with the Captain naming an island one thing as he espied it, then renaming the same island some other thing after he had momentarily turned to other business, then beheld it from a different angle. We sailed along the spine of massive and snowy cones, one of which the Captain named Mount Augustine, in honor of the saint whose creed was, like his own, manifest destiny.
The albatross of the Ancient Mariner wheeled against a leaden sky lit by an enduring sun which for two summer months hardly set. Banks of fogg rolled in and so enshrouded our ships that we found ourselves hallooing across the deck to our shipmates we could not see, and the nights were sometimes so still you could hear the moon shine though you could not see it.
Occasionally the cold sun burned away the fogg, and days of scintillating clarity emerged, with air that sparkled like spring water. Then suddenly, the wind rose, and the gloom gathered once more. Mist thickened into fogg, the breeze stiffened into a gale, and our lungs and spirits became sodden.
The weather began to grow piercing cold. The frost set in and it froze so hard that the running rigging was soon laden with ice, and rendered almost impossible to make the block traverse without the assistance of six men to do the work of one. But what was most remarkable was the sudden transition from heat to such severe cold. The day before was warm and pleasant, but in the evening of this day the ice was seen hanging at our hair, our noses, and even at our finger’s ends, if we did but expose them to the air for five or six minutes. The farther we ran to the northward, the colder it grew, and the ice the more connected.
The ghostly silence was rent by the screams of gulls, and by trumpeting Sea Horses. The Captain asked me what I knew of the Sea Horse. It was true that most of the men who for the novelty of the thing had been feasting their eyes for some days past, and I believed that they would not be disappointed now, or know the difference, if we did not happen to have one or two on board who had been in Greenland who declared what animals these were, and that no one would ever eat of them.
Why they are Sea Horses so-called I can’t imagine, for they bear not the slightest resemblance to that animal. They are about the size of a large oxe and have a thick hide thinly covered with short bristly hair. Their heads are very small and is the only part about them that has the least appearance of a beast; the rest of the body being like a fish, the hinder parts tapering and terminating in a couple of finns instead of feet; having likewise one upon each shoulder with which they swim faster than can be imagined but move slowly upon the ice, and have two large white Ivory teeth like those of the elephant. That they are indowed with a greater share of sagacity and understanding than the generality of animals will appear from the following instance. When they went to sleep a great number of them assembled upon a small piece of ice separated from the rest and only just large enough for that purpose, that they might more readily get off from it into the water in case of the approach of an enemy. I believe the only one they are apprehensive of is the White Bear which is likewise amphibious; and being much nimbler upon the ice than they are, have there greatly the advantage of them, but in the water the Sea Horse is the swiftest and most formidable on account of its teeth.
Therefore to prevent being surprized in their sleep they always appoint one as a sentinel and place it in the middle to keep watch over them during that time which charge is strictly and faithfully performed keeping the foreparts of its body erect, and an attentive eye all round. As we approached them with the ships they would lie very quiet till we came within two cables length of them, when the one that had the watch would make a great noise to alarm the rest upon which they all began by degrees to raise their heads and shoulders and look around them and then crawl to the edge of the Ice and plunge head foremost into the water; so that by the time we had got within a ½ cable length of them there would not be one remaining; the noise they make is a mean betwixt the barking of a dog and the bellowing of an Ox.
Some might see nought but a great braying beast, a natural curiosity perhaps, an item of scientific inquiry. But the Captain, on the other hand, saw a source of sustenance for us, in lieu of beef, which was grown very bad, that would afford us the means of conserving our dwindling stores of biscuit and salt junk. It would accord well with the spirit of adventure to subsist of the provender of the environment, he said, whatever it might be.
There they awaited us, as many as we pleased for the taking, and the Captain would like for us to live upon them so long as they lasted. He was certain that there would be few on board who would not prefer it to salt meat, but he assured us the fat was as sweet as marrow, and when melted it would yield a good deal of oil which would burn very well in lamps, and their hides, which were very thick, would be useful about our rigging. They were “marine beef”– a godsend.
As the fogg cleared, we saw fields of Ice covered over with whole herds, as I thought, of some thousands. Packed one on top of the other in a roiling mass, they chorused in grotesque harmony their warning of our approach. They stirred reluctantly as we approached, coalescing in a slow-moving wave until all were alert but not yet determined on leaving.
We hoisted out our boats to get some, yet by the time we got within good musquet shot it was a great chance if there were any left; and unless we fired at them upon the ice it was twenty to one that we could hit them in the water, as they dived immediately. Giving chase in the ship’s boats, we loosed volleys of musquet fire into them as they tumbled panic-stricken into the sea. In a few minutes not a creature was to be seen upon the ice, but such as were killed, or so severely wounded, as not to be able to crawl to the open sea. Some lay growling upon the ice not quite dead, with two or three balls through their heads, and others tumbling about with horrible vindictive looks, threatening destruction to whoever should approach them.
Their affection for their young and even for one another was very great and remarkable, for whenever one of them got wounded in the water, if any of the rest were near they would come to its assistance and carry it off if possible at the risk of their own lives. If by chance we had killed one of their young the mother would come and make every attempt to rescue it from us and even try to upset the boat it was in, by hooking the boat-side with her teeth which she would follow till she was killed; all the time making a lamentable noise and shewing every sign of real parental distress.
All hands were employed to collect the carcasses, and to carry them on board; but in what was thought an ill reward for our labour, orders were next given by the Captain to substitute the flesh of these sea-monsters in the room of all other provisions, flower only excepted. Only a little nourishment and a great deal of misery were derived from them.
The flesh, disgustfull as it was, we ate thro’ extreme hunger, caused by the badness of our provisions and short allowance, which were but just enough to exist upon and were now further reduced on account of this supply; the quality of which will be best described in the several preparations it went through before it was possible to eat it. In the first place we let it hang up for one day that the blood might drain from it, which would continue to drop for four or five days, when permitted to remain so long but that our hunger would not allow of it at first; after that we towed it overboard for 12 hours then boiled it four hours and the next day cut it into steaks and fryed it; and even then it was too rank both in smell and taste to make use of except for plenty of pepper and salt and these articles were very scarce amongst us. However, our hunger got the better of the quality and in the quantity. We found some comfort having as much of it as we could eat which was what we had been a long time unaccustomed to. We salted some of it by way of experiment which, after laying two or three weeks we found was a little improved but still could only be eat by such as were at the point of perishing with hunger and were no other food was to be secured.
Even Captain Clerke remonstrated against it, saying this was strongly opposed by the crew, and that we regarded it as a disgusting business. The meat was altogether indigestible, and the men had vomited it up, and some swore it was not intended to be eaten by Christians. Some were so sickened from it that they now resisted anything but moldy biscuit and water.
The Captain replied that he might do what he pleased on board his own ship, but that the state of provisions on board Resolution made it necessary; and that he himself should set the example. We were mutinous scoundrels, said the Captain, who would not face novelty. It might be coarse, black, and strong in taste, and bring to mind train-oil, but it was wholesome.
Full of the idea of the excellent repast it would afford, the Captain was more precipitate than his usual good sense and penetration warranted, and announced there would be no salt beef served whatsoever, therefore, until the Sea Horse flesh had been made a regular part of our intake. Furthermore, he thought it best for us to strike the grog cask into the hold for the time being, till we acquired a taste for the healthful spruce beer that we prepared at our previous landfall.
Every innovation whatever on board the ships, he exclaimed, though ever so much to our advantage, was sure to meet with our highest disapprobation. Both the portable soup and sow’r krout we condemned as stuff unfit for human beings. Other commanders had introduced into their ships more novelties, as useful varieties of food and drink, than he had done. It had been in a great measure owing to various little deviations from established practice that he had been able to preserve us from the scurvy, which had perhaps destroyed more of his sailors in their peaceful voyages than had been fallen by the enemy in military expeditions.
How could spruce beer be anything but healthful for us, he wondered, when it was the product of an environment so pristine and healthful, with its sparkling water and robust air, and the spruce trees that thrived on it so could not but impart its robustness to a man who drank of its decoction? He was only concerned for our health, and if we insisted on behaving as petulant children who abjured their vegetables at the dinner table, we should be treated as such and punished accordingly.
We labored among the Ice till the 25th, when a storm came on, which made it dangerous for us to proceed. About two in the morning of the 26th, we observed a great body of ice nearing us very fast, and in a few hours after, we saw the ice all closed as far as the eye could carry. On the 28th several pieces of loose ice passed us, one of which came foul of the Discovery, and shook her whole frame; it was feared she had received considerable damage, but upon the carpenter’s examining her fore and aft, nothing was found amiss.
The Captain’s first intimation of defeat flashed as a sudden brightness on the northern horizon, a glimmer that I could liken to nothing so much as his deep Antarctic probes that heralded great masses of ice ahead. He was at first incredulous, saying it was improbable that we should meet with ice so soon. But we could go no farther.
A consultation was therefore held on board Resolution as soon as the violence of the gale abated, when it was unanimously resolved, that as this passage was impracticable for any useful purpose of navigation, which was the great object of the voyage, and to pursue it no farther, especially in the condition the ships were in, the winter approaching, and the distance from any known place of refreshment great. At last obliged to give up our design; the Captain publickly declared upon leaving the ice that he intended to make another attempt there in search of a passage the next summer.
The wind fair to carry us upon the sea, we directed our course for Sandwich’s Isles, near the northern tropick, where we intended to winter, and to supply our ships with provision to enable us to pursue the remaining part of our voyage.
Cold seas washed over our ships constantly, sloshing through cracks and below decks into our bunks. The ship was always dank and cold, and snow and sleet caked on the rigging and froze into icicles that appended perilously from the masts. Stiffened by the north wind, the sails were hard as iron, and the ropes shrieked in the wind like the strings of a discordant harp. In our diminished and miserable state, it required an inhuman effort just to get the sails up and down, and for a time, there was nothing to expect in future save an excess of cold, hunger, and every kind of hardship and distress attending a sea life in general.
As our ships forged into more temperate seas, the Captain ordered the below-decks to be aired daily, and healthfully smoaked now that conditions permitted. The bedding and clothing were hung out in all but the foulest weather, and we kept as clean as rough tars could be. The Captain was crankier than ever, because we had scorned his prescriptions of Sea Horse flesh and sow’r krout, and would not drink the spruce beer that he now substituted for grog.
All hands were now set to work, the carpenters in stripping the sheathing from the Resolution to examine her leaks, and the sail makers, caulkers, and riggers in their respective employments, for which there was great need, both ships having suffered much in their sails, seams, and rigging, in the late tempestuous weather, and in the icy northern seas. Sail makers mended the sails, and the hands picked apart the oddments of oakum, spinning and splicing it into new yarn, comforting themselves with dreams of wintering in Sandwich’s Isles. What offered the greatest consolation to us was the forge, not only on account of its cheery red glow, but as much for the thought of its manufactures that would become the currency for the imminent satisfaction of our baser appetites.
We at last raised the towering dome of an island on the southwest horizon, which by its high and black appearance, we judged a vulcano. In time, the immense humps of a much larger island soon appeared further to the southeast, their heights so stupendous that their ice-bound summits glistened under the sun. We closed in on a shore of immense cliffs, diversified with every beauty which nature could display: rivers, pools of water, cascades, and every grace to decorate and dignify the prospect. We imagined the margin of the shores to be most romantically interspersed with plants odoriferous and splendid, and the country no less fruitful than it was pleasant, and promised fair to supply our necessities. The spyglass revealed an endless stream of natives pouring from their huts and straggling up from the beaches, clambering up towards the cliff tops to stare out and hold aloft white strips of cloth.
We were then so much in want of provision that we were under the necessity of substituting stock-fish in the room of beef. As soon as the inhabitants perceived our intention of anchoring in the bay, they came off from the shore in astonishing numbers, and expressed their joy by singing and shouting, and exhibiting a variety of wild and extravagant gestures. This diffused a joy among the mariners that is not easy to be expressed, for from a sullenness and discontent visible in every countenance the day before, all was now cheerfulness, mirth, and jollity. Fresh provisions and kind females are the sailor’s sole delight, and when in possession of these, past hardships are instantly forgotten, and even those whom the scurvy had attacked, and had rendered pale and lifeless as ghosts, brightened upon this occasion, and for the moment appeared alert.
This flattering beginning, however, yielded no substantial relief. Our joy was of short continuance, as the boats that were sent to sound the shore and look for a harbour, went out day after day, without being able to discover so much as a safe anchorage, and we were longer in finding a harbour than in making the coast. Nothing could be more toilsome or distressing than our present situation; within sight of land, yet unable to reach it; driven out to sea, by one storm, and in danger of being wrecked upon the breakers by another. Our sufferings, from incessant labour and scanty provisions, were grown confessedly grievous. Our grog, that had been stopped was again dealt out as usual, and it was only with the kindest treatment from the Officers that we could be kept to our duty.
It was as if the Captain had designed to tease and tantalize us into a most perfect misery. For nearly two full months in the winter seas off this island, their surf gigantic and impassable, our ships were made, with the greatest regret imaginable, to meander within sight of shore in our clockwise voyage around the island, beating constantly against the wind, with us and our Captain mired in mutual detestation.
We tacked along the coast, looking for safe harbour to put into for provisioning. Our situation was better imagined than described, as the currents and winds veered treacherously, and for all our efforts, whipsawed our ships out to sea and back to the coast as if they were two corks in a drain. There might be dead calm at noon, a gale at dusk, robin’s egg blue skies one hour, then a rapid build-up of gloom around the lofty peaks, and lashing rain blotting out everything the next hour. For ten agonizing weeks we cruised off the island, never once going ashore.
Maddened by the women just beyond our reach, and now severely short of water, we sullenly choked down what remained of the ship’s biscuit and salt horse. Even the water had grown brackish and stank, and we could drink it only mixed with lemon rob, and with salt and maggots eating into the beef and pork, and the rats, and weevils devouring the heart of the bread, the one was little better than putrid flesh, and the other, upon breaking, would crumble into dust. All we had in abundance was salt itself, with nothing to preserve with it in our empty casks.
With our return to temperate climes, the Captain’s mind had become as exuberant as springtime with fresh ideas of how to make our misery complete. He knew very well there was nothing he could have done to so dreadfully punish us as withhold from us the comforts of women and fresh provision. That being decided, it was just a matter of formulating some policy to justify it. I myself would never have expected it, and had seriously underestimated his reserves of scornful ingenuity.
The Captain announced he had formulated a new trading policy, in anticipation of the glut of provisions that awaited us. He expected that otherwise the indians would inundate us at the outset, and we should have to turn away most of it. Then they would lose heart and there would not be so much as a bananoe on offer when the time came that we needed to provision once again. It was prudent, therefore, for us to stand off and tack slowly along the coast, so that we might achieve a more measured supply from different villages, and so that we might avoid the riotous disruption that we would inevitably create when we went ashore.
This was black news, and if ever there lurked mutiny in our hearts, it was now. But knowing his special genius for strategy, might we have expected anything less? This inspired plan would accomplish his dearest purpose, for more than attaining a measured supply, it would frustrate us to the point of madness.
When finally we were allowed some commerce with the indian canoos, the Captain did not delay in further experimenting for the benefit of his crew. Having procured a quantity of sugar-cane and finding a strong decoction of it produced a very palatable beer, he ordered some of it to be brewed for our general use. But when the cask was broached, not one of his crew would even so much as taste it. He himself and his officers continued to make use of it whenever they could get materials for brewing it. A few hops, of which we had some on board, improved it much, and the Captain esteemed it to have the taste of new malt beer, and believed no one would doubt of its being very wholesome. Yet his inconsiderate crew alleged that it was injurious to their health.
We judged the new rations to be dangerous to drink and refused to do so. One of the men, more literate than most, wrote a letter of appeal. With as much amazement as fury, the Captain responded that when this cask came to be broached, not one of his mutinous crew would even so much as taste it, and were mutinous to remonstrate against it. We would not drink this beer because it might be prejudicial to our health. It was something extraordinary that we should think it unwholesome, when his Officers have been drinking it and benefiting greatly from it, and we thought nothing of stealing the sugar-cane and eating it raw without any scruple.
He could help us no more. Every innovation of his–portable soup, sow’r krout, all of them–had been designed to keep us free from the scurvy. He could not help it if we chose not to drink this healthful decoction: we would be the sufferers! Had we drank it, we would have been served grog every other day, but now the grog cask would be struck down in the hold and we could content ourselves with brackish water. Our reticence was a most mutinous proceeding, in consequence of which we could expect not the least indulgence from him. Like an old vixen he was, that would spite you forevermore over the least real or imagined slight, her spite never exhausted till she had burnt your home and your entire family and fed the ashes to the pigs. Even then, she would slaughter the pigs to eat their bacon.
As we rounded the island’s south point, and headed north up the coast, we left behind the verdant coast, and came upon a most desolate region, whose shore had a very sterile appearance, not having a tree of any kind upon it, and patch-worked by lava flows and fields of slag and ash and cinder. Only the occasional plant could be seen to struggle amongst the fields of chaotic black lava, and the only drinkable water in evidence lay in stagnant pools near the barren and sweltering shore.
Passing squalls parted to reveal a heavily indented coastline, bracketed always with a raging surf. We beheld a bleak hinterland rising to distant forests, and a steeper-slope of gaunt brown desert scored by black or deep brown swaths of lava, both ancient and recent. But in parts the sterile coast had perceptibly changed its appearance from brown to green, where groves of cocoa-nut trees and tilled green land bespoke unexpected fertility.
Surveying these pockets of coastline for a safe anchorage, the Captain found one that seemed protected from all points except the southwest, from which direction gales seemed unlikely. A cliff of black basalt curved crescent-like before gentle uplands beyond the bay to plunge some hundreds of feet to a beach of black cannonball- and grapeshot-sized boulders.
We went ashore with Bligh. Our boats were brought in just offshore of a crumbling temple. Set in a grove of palms was a large pool of water that was brackish, which was to be expected so near to the sea. But not far from it was a rocky basin, covered at high tide but filled with fresh water from a stream at low tide. It would supply us with all our needs, and the beach was near enough to roll our puncheons of water. Bligh observed that it was a good safe anchorage, fourteen fathoms with a sandy bottom where we sounded, with pure water on the east side, and plentiful wood not far inland, being a forest from which the indians took the timber for their canoos. The indians themselves were friendly enough, he observed.
Our boats soon became employed in towing the ships into harbour in sight of the greatest multitude of indian spectators in canoos and on shore, that we had ever seen assembled together in any part of our voyage. While we were hovering upon the coast, we had often been visited by many canoos at a time, who came to trade, and who brought us provisions when the weather would permit.
On the morning after our people landed, six large double canoes were seen entering the harbour at a great rate, having not less than thirty paddles to the canoe, with upwards of sixty indians in each. They assembled so fast, that before noon, the ships were surrounded with more than a hundred canoos, in which there were not less than a thousand indians. Seeing them on their nearer approach making towards the ships, the Captain ordered the guns to be shotted, the marines to be drawn up, and every man to be ready at his post.
They traded friendly at first, having hoggs in abundance, and plenty of breadfruit, plantains, bananoes, and whatever else the island produced, but they had not been there long, before a large stone was thrown at the cabin-window, by an invisible hand. A watch was instantly set, and in less than half an hour another stone was thrown at the caulkers. The offender was seen, and he was seized, brought on board, tied to the shrouds, and punished with lashes. In a few minutes, such was their fright, there was not an indian to be seen near the ships. Like unlucky boys, when one is apprehended for some naughty trick, the rest commonly fly the place. And in fact, those people are in many things like children. Before the day closed, they all again returned to trade, and, when night approached, not a male was to be seen, but swarms of females, who came to sleep on board, though much against the will of the Captain who, upon the first arrival of the ships upon the coast, wished to have prohibited all commerce with the women of the island.
But with some of the men who had climbed aboard for the initial provisioning, we had the mortification to find that all the care we took when we first visited these islands to prevent this dreadful disease from being communicated to them had proved ineffectual: they had the clap, their penises were much swelled, and inflamed. What was extraordinary was that the people did not seem to regard it, probably their way of living greatly abated its virulence. Still, we observed several who had ulcers upon different parts of their bodies, some of which had a very virulent appearance, and particularly those in the face were shocking to look at.
It was then that the Captain must have realized that his struggle against the contagion was futile. He soon found as well, that if the commerce with women was forbidden, all other trade must cease of course, and not a pig might be purchased without a girl that was permitted to bring it to market.
The indians pressed in to form a swarming colony around the ships, holding aloft hogs and baskets of fruit, breadfruit and plantains and bundles of sugar-cane, amidst a riot of arm-waving and good-natured shouting. The men responded that what they wanted most of all was the women, and the women answered in turn by standing up in their canoos to roll their hips and clap their hands, before the pitching of the canoo toppled them head over bottom. They swam about the ships, bare-breasted and teasing us for refusing to let them come on board, and grimaced and mumped, and made provocative and lewd gestures that drove us mad. They seemed to carry no fear in their handsome bosoms; repulsed from the ships, they were highly indignant, and in venting their spleen against us the words they shouted were unambiguously words of abuse.
Ashore were dense throngs of indians, swarming upon the beach and the boulders, and situate on top of the huts, through the boughs of the trees, all vying most strenuously for a view. Their shouts of gladness attended with the shrill exclamations of the women and the cries of the children, the laughter and clapping of hands, the squealing of hoggs and the outcry of merchants, all combined to ring resoundingly throughout the bay in mad tumult.
The trading was frenzied and furious, with everyone carried away in the riotous spirit of the scene. When one canoo’s stock was depleted, it paddled off, with the indian calling out to the next the going rate, and more canoos struggling to take its place alongside. The tumult intensified and we grasped and grappled to get any provision by it, or any other emolument. There were quick vexations of temper among the indians, a struggle, a theft of a spike, a frenzied pursuit underwater, shouts of alacrity. Some leapt into the sea and swam with a dead pig held high here, a bunch of breadfruit there–treading water alongside the ships and what they had to dispose of they parted with upon the easiest terms, though they were no less thievishly inclined as the least opportunity arose.
In no time at all our ships were overwhelmed. The men scoured the ships for cleats and nails, which the girls had taken such a fancy to. New and ingenious stores of value soon emerged, including articles of clothing that were then stripped of every brass button. Brass was stripped from furniture, and copper kettles, tin canisters, and candlesticks all disappeared, as did hatchets, saws, old swords, large knives, pewter plates, pieces of iron hoops, old buckles, buttons, and anything made of iron, tin, copper or brass, all of which they were exceeding dexterous at thieving.
The gleam of brass had captivated them in particular. Soon, none of it was left in the ships, apart from our astronomical instruments. Brass was barter of great value, worth the pick of the girls. It quite surprized me that the ships managed to stay afloat, with the crush of female flesh being such that our ship actually heeled with their burden, crawling up the sides like a herd of monkees, cawing and hooting at the men. A momentary glance, a beckoning wave by the sailor, and the favored girl dove in, swimming avidly for her partner, where she was received her in their arms like a Venus arising from the waves. They threw themselves into the arms of the men, enticing them by any means to lie with them, dragging them upon the deck in full sight of any who chose to see.
There were more girls than could be handled, and those who were late or unlovely circled the ships, trying to keep their balance in their pitching canoos as they hallooed the men in the rigging, at the rails and windows. But every tar was soon occupied with his girl, sometimes several, lolling about his hammock or wrapped in his arms in some corner of the deck; there might have been three or four.
The men lay stupefied, their appetites sated by repeated couplings. One of those few ladies who remained lovelorn was prodigiously fat and grand, and wandered the decks, wearing about her waist a great swath of red and white striped cloth, her neck weighted down with a thick bunch of plaited human hair pierced through with a bone ornament. On her arms rattled bracelets of boar’s tusks, and in one hand she flicked a fly swat, in the other she cradled a live cock. The Captain was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, knowing that he had lost control, he had returned to his cabin to brood upon his humiliation, and ponder some novel scheme to frustrate us.
A holy man boarded with much ceremony. Frail-looking and emaciated, his eyes were exceeding sore and red, and his body covered with a white leprous scurf, the effects of an immoderate use of the kava, which the indians drink with as much pleasure as a European does the richest wines, till they become quite intoxicated with it. His name was Koah. Approaching the Captain, he discovered uncommon ecstasy, and threw over his shoulders a piece of red cloth that he had brought along with him, and pronounced a discourse that lasted for no inconsiderable time. With this, he presented a small, squealing piglet, turned to offer a few words to the assembled multitude, then ordered one of his courtiers to present the Captain with three more pigs. With the ceremony concluded, Koah was suffered to dine with the Captain, eating plentifully of what was set before him, tho’ like the rest of the inhabitants of the island in these seas, he could scarcely be prevailed on to taste a second time our wine.
At Koah’s bidding, the Captain mustered a shore party and made his way through the throngs of canoos in the bay, toward the beach. We landed at the beach, whereupon we were received by four men who carried wands tipped with dog’s hair, and marched before us, pronouncing with a loud voice, in which we could only distinguish the word “Lono.” The chiefs waved their poles at the crowd and shouted for them to make way for us to pass through the throng. Everyone dropped to his knees and bowed in the most earnest supplication, their hands and arms covering their faces as the Captain was borne through the multitude upon the shoulders of his bargemen in the tradition of grand theater. As soon as he passed they rose up once again, shouting and closing ranks behind them as they surged towards the temple.
The moment the Captain was set down, the surrounding multitude instantly fell to the ground, burying their faces in the sand, their arms extended forward. Their example was imitated by those in the surrounding hills, by those upon the rooftops of the huts, by those who crowded the rims of the stone walls, even by those in the tops of the trees. No sooner did he pass them than they hurried to their feet to follow him, and if the Captain happened to turn his head and look behind him they were down again in an instant, and up again immediately thereafter. This performance in so vast a throng being regulated solely by the accidental turn of one man’s head, and the resulting concatenation being abrupt, made it awkward even for a single individual to be in the proper attitude at any particular moment. If he lay prostrate but a second too long he was sure not to rise again until he had been trampled upon by all behind him, and if he dared not to prostrate himself he would be stumbled over by those before him who did. As we walked very fast to get off from the sand and into the shade of the town, it made things even more impossible. Finally they settled upon a courtesy that answered better to the exigencies of the moment and did not displease the chiefs, which was to go forward upon all fours, a truly curious site among at least ten thousand people.
Before I proceed to relate the adoration that was paid to the Captain, and the peculiar ceremonies with which he was received, it is necessary to describe their heiow, as they called it, situated at the south side of the beach at Kakooa. It was a square solid pile of stone, about forty yards long, twenty broad, and fourteen in height. The top was flat and well paved, and surrounded by a wooden rail, on which were fixed the skulls of the wretches sacrificed on the death of their chiefs. In the center of the area stood a ruinous old building of wood, connected with the rail on each side by a stone wall.
We were conducted by Koah to the top of this pile, by an easy ascent. At the entrance we saw two large wooden images, with features violently distorted, and a long piece of carved wood, of a conical form inverted, rising from the top of their heads; the rest was without form, and wrapped round with red cloth. We encountered an eerie and disquieting scene. The precinct had been emptied by Koah’s decree of all but a few commoners who lay prostrate by their huts. As Koah walked alongside, he flicked a dog hair whisk at the Captain and chanted “Lono! Lono!” as he presented the Captain to the images. After chanting a kind of hymn, in which all were joined by Koah, they led us to that end of the heiow where the five poles were fixed. We entered upon an open-air temple like that which had seen on Towi. The sinister and macabre aspect of the place was accentuated by a semi-circle of twelve other images glowering like gargoyles from atop poles. The greater part of them resembled the face of a man; the features were cut out larger and represented a number of droll gestures and distortions, with hair, eyebrows, and teeth to them and were painted very curiously. Some of them were made to resemble the heads of wild beasts, and were arrayed around a high altar, upon which lay sacrificial offerings of fruit and an enormous decayed hogg. Koah having placed the Captain under this stand, took down the hog, and held it towards him; and after having a second time addressed him in a long speech, pronounced with much vehemence and rapidity. He then led him to the scaffolding, which they began to climb together, not without the great risk of falling. Whilst the Captain was aloft, in this awkward situation, swathed round with red cloth, and with difficulty keeping his hold amongst the pieces of rotten scaffolding, Koah and another began their office, chanting sometimes in concert, and sometimes alternately. This lasted a considerable time. At length Koah let the hogg drop, whereupon he and the Captain descended together. He was then led to the images, and having said something to each in a sneering tone, snapped his fingers at them as he passed, he brought him to that in the center, which, from its being covered with red cloth, appeared to be in greater estimation than the rest. Before this figure he prostrated himself and kissed it, desiring the Captain to do the same, who suffered himself to be directed by Koah throughout the whole of this ceremony.
Exchanges were muttered between the priests and the palsied, trembling figure of Koah, who then rubbed the Captain’s face and hands, and his arms and shoulders, with a cloth soaked in saliva-sodden cocoa-nut chewed by the High Priest himself. When this offering was concluded, the indians sat down, fronting us, and began to cut up the baked hogg, to peel the vegetables, and break the cocoa-nuts, whilst others employed themselves in brewing the kava, which was done by chewing it in the same manner as at the Friendly Islands, and spitting the flesh into a calabash. The kava was then handed round, and after we had tasted it, Koah began to pull the flesh of the hog in pieces, and put it into our mouths.
Koah dipped a cocoa-nut shell into the loathsome brew and brought it to the Captain’s lips. The Captain grimaced, then took a swallow. The congregation hallowed the occasion, bowing on their knees before him, and chanting “Lono!” As for the putrid hogg, the Captain could not get a morsel down, not even when the old fellow very politely chewed it for him, for not even the Captain’s tastes, surely the coarsest that ever mortal was endued with, was equal to the occasion.
The next day, Koah returned to Resolution in the company of another personage of grave distinction–Karaniopoo, the king of Maw-wee. They arrived alongside Resolution, escorted by a retinue of his stoutest and most imposing subalterns. In the front and rear of his canoo there stood several ghastly and warlike images covered with a variety of red and black fethers. The king sat in a large canoo, attended by two others, set out from the village, and paddled toward the ship in a great state, their appearance grand and magnificent. He was attended with more than a hundred large war-canoos, himself at the head of them in a most superb vessel, in which were four idols of a monstrous size, covered with mantles of fethers interwoven with various colors, red, black, green, and yellow. Their eyes were made of large pearl oysters, with a black nut fixed in the center; their mouths were set with a double row of the fangs of dogs, and together with the rest of their features, were strangely distorted. These they called the akooah, signifying their warrior gods, without which they never engage, and as they went along, the priests in the center canoo sang their praises with great solemnity.
The atmosphere of celebration, revelry, and licentiousness had given way to one of solemn gravity, as Karaniopoo was hoisted on board with great pomp and even greater difficulty. He was of graceful stature, about six feet high, very corpulent, and tattoowed in several parts of his body, in manner like that of other warriors. He was disabled by the effects of drinking kava, eyes red, skin encrusted with scabs, and shaking all over as if from the palsy, but still resplendent in his cape of untold thousands of red and yellow fethers, his warrior’s helmet, his buttons of pearly oyster shell, and his dog teeth necklace. Accompanying the august chief was a lesser chief named Pareah, who was in turn accompanied by a young boy, whose genitals he continuously fondled in a shameless display of what I construed to be less a grievous moral failure than merely local custom.
Upon entering the ship, he fell on his face, as a mark of submission to the Captain, as did all his attendants, and after having made an oration, which none of us understood, he presented the Captain with three barbicued hoggs, who, in return, put a necklace, composed of several strings of various coloured beads, round his neck, and gave him two looking glasses, a large glass bowl, with some nails, and other trifles. These he received with such seeming satisfaction, that he immediately dispatched a messenger on shore, who soon returned with several large hoggs, and cocoa-nuts, bread-fruit, plantains and sugar-canes, as much as our small cutter could carry. Having remained upon deck the space of an hour, admiring the construction of the ship, he was conducted into the great cabin, where wine was offered him, which he refused. Neither was there anything he would taste, except a head of bread-fruit, but he appeared delighted with everything he saw.
After entertaining them with music, and inviting them to partake of such refreshments as the ship afforded, and making them some handsome presents, the Captain acquainted the king with his wants, by showing them the condition of his ship, and requesting a small portion of ground to land his materials, and to erect his tents. This request the king readily acceded to. The strangers might land whatever they thought fit, and that the ground they had occasion for be marked out and tabooed. The Captain very readily embraced the offer, and prepared to accompany the king to the town near which we wished to pitch our tents. Upon our landing, several vacant plots of ground were shown us, and when we had made our choice, stakes were ordered to be driven at certain distances, and a line to be carried round, within which the common people were forbidden to enter, under the severest penalties.
The next day, he invited the king to the observatory, where our astronomers were busy with their calculations in preparation for their observations. The indians knew the terrible stories of our thundersticks, and seemed particularly apprehensive of the two telescopes that stood poised above the tent. The quadrants did not appear to be dangerous, but their design and use were a divine mystry, about which they made endless conjecture. Much of the day was spent in satisfying their curiosity, and in trying to impart some of our knowledge of astronomy, and in assessing theirs. But their paramount conclusion seemed to be that we had a special relationship with the sun and the rest of the planets whose motions we seemed preoccupied with by day and night. In support of this conclusion they observed that the colour of our skins partook of the red from the sun, and the white from the moon and stars. They knew of our relationship with fire that enabled us to kill others with it, that it did not hurt us even though we were in constant contact with it, and that we rendered it in all things entirely subservient to us.
At dinner, they took pains to press their delicacies upon us. There was an immense quantity of vegetables of every kind, and near them was a very large herd of hoggs. These indians had no idea of boiling their victuals, as they have got no vessels that will bear the fire to heat water in. They killed their hoggs by suffocating them, and beating their heads with a stone; then they burned the hair, and scraped it off clean; and after the hogg was well washed they dressed it whole in the manner by which us is called barbicued. The chewing and spitting and drinking of kava went on as an appetizer, and after several draughts, the pigs were brought forward on plantain leaf platters for our numbed fingers to tear at.
Some of the Officers exclaimed against the fondness for the baked dog that was in evidence among the indians. Unbeknownst to them, one had been brought upon the table with a pig’s head sewed on in place of his own, a deception they did not discover until they had licked their fingers of the last of the pork they presumed they were feasting upon, proclaiming it to be the most savory they had ever tasted.
After our repast we assembled under the shade trees for the evening’s entertainment. One of the men from Discovery had brought his violin with him, and one from the Resolution a german-flute, and they played upon each in turn as the women danced and swayed along the grass. The violin produced spasms of hilarity among the natives, screeching and squalling, which called to our mind the French custom of collecting a burlap sack of cats and throwing it upon a bonfire. No wonder the French thought it amusing; the more discordant, the more hilarious it was. Such was the effect of our violin, and they would not suffer the performers to rest a moment. But we were much disappointed by the performers, who were far inferior to those of the southern islands. The only part of their performance that was tolerable was their singing, with which the heiva concluded, the young princesses, the chiefs, and even the king himself joining in the chorus.
When the fun was over, Karaniopoo and his suite crossed the bay to continue the entertainment with a boxing match. These games were much inferior, as well in point of solemnity and magnificence, as well as in the skill and powers of the combatants, to what we had seen exhibited at the Friendly Islands. The indians were enormous people, and we prudently declined to participate in any contest of brute strength. We stayed with our strong suit: magic.
The play being ended, the Captain acquainted the king that, with his permission, he would exhibit an entertainment that he would only describe mysteriously as “the fiery one,” the shooting off of some of our store of skyrockets. The sinister intrigue of this intended exhibition, and the great pains with which we made our preparations on the beach, lured an audience from far and near, and there soon gathered an immense number of spectators. As soon as it was dark, the Captain landed at the spot where our preparations were underway, where a clearly puzzled Karaniopoo, and a great number of men and women in their canoes, were observing. They had been waiting all day, and their patience began to wear thin, and some began to jeer and express their abomination of the proceedings. But when at last everything was ready, and they had fallen silent as the night, the Captain ordered us to shoot a skyrocket off.
On the firing of the first skyrocket, the indians fled precipitately, and hid themselves in houses, or wherever they could find a shelter. At first there were some thousand spectators, but in less than ten minutes there were not fifty to be seen, the king and his attendants excepted, whom the Captain and the gentlemen with the greatest difficulty preswaded to stay. When the second rose up into the air, lamentations were heard from every quarter, and when the water rockets were played off, the king and his chiefs were hardly to be restrained. Other fireworks it was found dangerous to exhibit, as these had already struck the spectators, the king as well as his people, with a general panic.
As the rockets exploded in the heavens, the feeble king and some elderly ladies of quality that sat by him keeled over in paroxysms, and the crowd fled in terror towards the village. When they realized that there was no escape from the shimmering casconnade overhead, they dived deep into the lagoon, or hid themselves in mortal terror beneath trees and bushes. The skyrockets were soon done, and as the panic of the mob subsided, Karaniopoo rose and called for his people to return, and sent after the rest. Many did return, and waited apprehensively, but there were many who were frightened beyond any possibility of recovering their wits, and were nowhere to be found.
Amidst all such revelry, it was almost forgotten that the purpose of our visit to Kearakekooa Bay was to repair our ships. As the days of festivity ran on, the king’s criers heralding and appealed for provisions, and mounds of yams and sweet potatoes, breadfruit and sugar-cane and hoggs piled in the center of a cocoa-nut grove grew higher every day. The Captain thought it a vindication of the new trading policy that he determined upon, but at the same time he really didn’t see how we can accommodate it all. The only thing for it was for us to re-double our efforts at salting down the hoggs. At the same time, we were to be sure to leave ample room in steerage for wood. As for that, there was too little, and Palfry and I and were ordered by the Captain to assay the countryside for timber.
We hiked into the country to assess the bounty of the land. There were dense stands of taro and sugar-cane, and prolific patches of sweet potatoes, with black vulcanic rock walls neatly dividing the fields. We walked miles upcountry, and came to the beginning of a fragrant forest that rang with birdsong. Our expedition was attended with no small fatigue, and not a little danger, for after traveling two days and two nights through a savage country, we were obliged at last to return. On the way we were insulted by the rabble, who without offering any violence to our persons, would make faces, twist their mouths, and use the same contemptuous gestures with which it is their custom in war to provoke their enemies.
Nonetheless, we impressed some of the indians into hewing and bringing to the ships as much of the wood as could be found. Soon, the modest stands of trees were denuded, as our appetite for it was insatiable, much as the indians’ was for iron. At last, only the rickety fence about the heiow remained, upon which was skewered some twenty skulls. I could scarce believe the Captain was in earnest when he berated us for having overlooked it. Here, he said, was timber just as good as any other, for repair of the ships, and firewood, and yet we had returned from our pleasant stroll, as he put it, to tell him that there was virtually nothing to be found.
I remonstrated that it was a fence for their heiow, and sacred– to which he responded that while it might be sacred to some idolatrous savage, it was not to a man of reasoned practicality, and we were ordered to tear it down at once.
At the Captain’s behest, I offered the High Priest Koah two iron hatchets for the fence. Dismayed at the idea of the mansions of their ancestors and the images of their gods being torn to pieces, he refused the offer. The Captain told me to throw in another hatchet, believing that he was being more than generous. It was that or nothing, for he was quite prepared to simply take it without recompense. It deserved nothing, in his opinion, for it was an abomination in the eyes of God.
It was a shabby bargain, and the Captain offered it only to maintain the pretense of having taken their property with just compensation, and Koah again refused it. The Captain then added yet another hatchet and, smoldering with resentment, told him to take it or nothing. Koah turned pale, and trembled as he stood, but still refused.
It was the Captain’s decision that if he insisted upon being ungracious, he should have nothing for it, and he ordered us to pull it up at once and load it onto the ship. By this time a small crowd of indians had formed along the walls of the heiow, muttering ominously at this outrage. As the fence stakes and the wooden images were cut down, they angrily picked them up and threw them back, and as Koah restrained the crowd from a more conspicuous display of spleen, we were barely able to load our cargo of the sacred wood onto our boats and ferry it out to the ships.
Kearakekooa Bay had proved less than ideal as an anchorage for repair and provisioning, fronted as it was by a bouldery, nearly impassable beach, and offering in fact little protection from gales. The king, having been made aware that we should sail upon the first fair wind, came next morning to visit the captains of both ships, who were now preparing to sail. This being publickly known, the indians in general expressed their concern, but particularly the young women, whose lamentation was heard from every quarter. The Captain ordered Resolution and Discovery to put to sea, to search northward up the coast of the island for a more accommodating harbour. We therefore took leave of our hosts, and returned on board our respective ships.
We had scarce departed, when a heavy gale came on, with thunder, lightning, and hard rain. We continued working off the land all night, and soon lost sight of Discovery, who, as well as ourselves, continued beating about the island, in dread every moment of being wrecked upon the coast. By the morning of the second day at sea we had gained the northern tip of the island. Here we discovered what seemed at first to be a good harbour, its cliffs teeming with cascades that promised abundant supplies of fresh water. But it began to blow by this time and around us were many fishermen heading for the shore, exclaiming their alarm at the rising seas. The tempest died down for a while, but then its fury burst anew upon us, and the awful weather made it easy for the Captain to satisfy himself that this too was not a satisfactory harbour.
Throughout the next day, the weather continued to worsen. The storms of thunder were frequent and dreadful, the sea had grown boisterous, and the waters came tumbling in unexampled fury. Throughout the night, the gale intensified, and by morning our ships were being battered by mountainous seas that caused a fearful shuddering as they crashed against the hulls.
We lost sight of Discovery, until the next day when the storm being a little abated, we observed her under a high part of the island, lying with her fore-top-gallant-mast down, her fore-top-sail yard upon the cap, and the sail furled, which gave us reason to suppose that some accident had befallen her, and as we expected so we found it. We stood down for her with a heavy gale, but it was not till the next day that we could come to speak with her. The Captain himself being upon the deck when we came up, informed us that he had sprung his foremast in two different places, that the ship was leaky, and that it was with the greatest difficulty they kept her above water. He furthermore informed us that on the morning they discovered the leak, they made thirty inches of water in three hours; and that ever since all hands had been constantly employed night and day in baling and pumping; we likewise understood, that they had split their main top-sail.
The only solution was to shape and drive in an enormous plug. It would have to be repaired, but where? Should we continue to sail through the rising gale, looking for an anchorage that we might never find, or should we beat a retreat back to Kearakekooa Bay? The Captain chose the devil he thought he knew, and now we were bound to our late harbour, to repair our damage.
The impulse of curiosity which had before operated to so great a degree might now indeed be supposed to have ceased, but the hospitable treatment we had met with and the friendly footing on which we parted, gave us reason to expect that they would again flock about us with great joy on our return.
But the mood was somber, the bay desolate, and the few indians who dealt with the ships were sullen and resentful. Our anxiety was at length relieved by word that Karaniopoo was absent and had left the bay under taboo. Thought his account appeared satisfactory to most of us, others were of the opinion there was something very suspicious in the behavior of the indians, and that the interdiction of all intercourse with us was only to give them time to consult with the cheefs in what manner to treat us. Probably our sudden return for which they could see no apparent cause, and the necessity of which we found it difficult to make them comprehend, might occasion some alarm. But it was very difficult to draw any certain conclusion from the actions of people with whose customs, as well as language, we are so imperfectly acquainted.
The next day the king came again on board, and mutual presents and mutual civilities were continued as usual; but about five in the afternoon there came alongside a large canoo, with about sixty of their fighting men all armed, with little or no provisions on board, and who seemed to have no good design. The Captain observing their motions, ordered the guns to be shotted, and every man to his post. About six they departed, without offering the least insult; but soon after we saw, upon a high hill, a large body assembled, who were observed to be gathering stones, and laying them in heaps. At dark they were seen to disperse; but great lights and fires were kept burning all night.
In the morning they again assembled, and began rolling the stones from the brink of the hill, in order, as we supposed, to annoy the ships, which, however, were at too great a distance to receive any damage. The Captain looking upon this as an insult, ordered the guns to be leveled and fired among them, and, then in minutes, there was not an indian to be seen near the place.
Repairs commenced. We were employed the whole of the next two days in getting out the fore-mast and sending it, with the carpenter, on shore. Fortunately, the logs of red koah wood, which had been cut at the Friendly Isles for anchor-stocks, were found fit to replace the sprung parts. As these repairs were likely to take several days, Mr. Bayly got the astronomical apparatus on shore and pitched our tents on the heiow. We renewed our friendly correspondence with the priests who, to the greater security of the workmen, tabooed the place where the masts lay. The sail makers were also sent on shore to repair the damage that had taken place in their department. They were lodged in the house adjoining the heiow, which was lent to us by the priests.
The next day, another canoe made its way through the bay toward Discovery, carrying, among its passengers, the ferocious-looking but deviate warrior-chief Pareah, resplendent in his red-fethered cloak, his young male consort at his side. He complained to Captain Cook of our killing two of his people, intimating, at the same time, that they had not the least intention of hurting us.
Relations were deteriorating dangerously. Word had been put out that we were willing to trade iron tools for labour, which attracted an avid response, and they gladly joined in, rolling the casks up to the rock pool, filling them, and rolling them down to the beach to winch them into the boats. Until now, this had always been a happy business, as women brought their children to watch and unattached girls flirted with the men, making a pleasant nuisance of themselves. But in and amongst the palms were seen men with body mats, darting out of the shadows to shout insults and invective at the watering party, throwing stones and haranguing those who had come to work in the party. But at length a cheef intervened, and the rabble was made to drop their stones and instead help in the drawing of water.
Later that day, a group of indians took to our pinnace, and paddled strenuously for their heiow at the northeast corner of the bay, faster than any pursuer could hope to give chase. Determined that insolence should not prevail and resolved to ascertain the whereabouts of the pinnace, the Captain stopped an indian in his tracks, and presented the muzzle of his musquet directly into his chest. It seemed to me that he might not be able to control his temper, and would actually shoot the man. Trembling, the indian pointed south, seemingly the first direction that came to mind–anything to rid himself of his accoster. Further down the beach, the Captain repeated the incident, threatening a group of indians. But this time it appeared that they just laughed, which doubtless vexed him all the more, for this was worse than the crime itself; this was insolence.
One after the next, they handed the Captain off, pointing him in whatever direction came to mind. It became such that whoever saw him coming jumped into the game, eager to misdirect him in whatever direction, with the result that the Captain came round in full circle, growing more vexatious by the moment, whilst he and his marines clambered absurdly over the boulders amongst which one of them entangled his foot and stumbled while the man behind him stumbled into him and together fell down. At this, the indians broke into renewed hilarity, which prompted the Captain to wave his arms frenziedly and the marines to raise their musquets and discharge a volley of warning shots. With that, the crowd backed away, and at length, the indians seemed sufficiently disconcerted from the stir they had created to voluntarily return our pinnace.
We returned to ship, and the matter might have rested at that. But late in the day, as we ourselves made ready to return, Leftenant Edgar, thinking some punishment ought to be inflicted for such infamous conduct, ordered that the canoo which had brought off the thief be seized. The canoo happened to be that of Pareah, who reached the shore as soon as he found his own canoo in danger. Strenuously opposing the seizure, he soon raised too numerous a mob for our boat’s crew to contend with, and from this time forward the natives became very unruly, and seeing Edgar’s design came rushing in a body to the waterside, and the multitude attacked the boats in pursuit of us, seizing our oars, breaking them, and forcing our whole party to retreat.
Pareah began to remonstrate with Edgar, who tried to shrug him aside and make off with the canoo. The cheef then grabbed him, pinioning his arms behind his back with one hand, and holding his hair with the other. A seaman responded by leaping out of the pinnace with an oar, with which he battered Pareah about the head and shoulders until he released Edgar. The fighting became general, the scene tumultuous. Stones flew, and a great number of natives closed in on us. Pareah seized the oar from a seaman’s hands and snapped it in two as if it were a twig. Edgar called for arms, but there were none, and we tried to beat back the crowd with the oars. The stones, launched by slings or thrown with great power and accuracy, severely bruised some of our number as we struggled to clear the beach.
Realizing that it was hopeless, we commenced our retreat towards the water’s edge. There was little chance of getting the pinnace launched again, so we ran for our lives and leaped into the sea and began to swim out towards the small cutter. A perfect fusillade of stones rained down on the sea around us, one or two of them striking their targets. Some of the indians were rushing in after us, and one of them got close enough to Edgar to swing a blow at him, but slipped in doing so, striking but a glancing blow instead. The natives turned their attention to the pinnace with the same fury and relish for its iron. Bolts were knocked out, and the gangboard and rudder cannibalized for their iron.
We would certainly have been killed had not Pareah intervened. His massive voice carried infinite authority, and brought immediate obedience. Bleeding profusely and in blinding pain, Edgar staggered back to try again to launch the boat, and was knocked so hard on his head that his hat flew away. Again Pareah interceded, not wanting a case of murder on his hands. He ordered his people to launch the boat, and indicated to the two men that they should desist in their aggressions. I demanded the oars, and Pareah dispatched a warrior to bring them back. One and a second that was broken were recovered. Quickly, before there could be yet another change in our fortunes, we paddled out into the bay. This was an unfortunate stroke as matters now stood, as it increased the confidence of those people, which before was too much bordering upon insolence.
Fearful of the consequences of violence, Pareah launched his canoe and quickly caught up our labouring pinnace, hastening to return Edgar’s hat. Would Lono be angry? he called out. Would he kill me? Would he allow me on his great ship again? He would return all the iron tomorrow. I replied that Lono would not kill him. And he would allow him on board again. Thus reassured, Pareah’s brought his canoe alongside, reached out his arms towards me in a gesture of renewed friendship, and we rubbed noses.
Ashore, the marines remained vigilant throughout the night, guarding the observatory and its contingent of carpenters, sail makers, astronomers and marines against the skullduggery afoot in the night. Towards midnight, a sentry descried another figure stealing through the bushes toward the observatory. He took aim with his musquet, but then dropped it clumsily, and it went off without harming anyone, and the rest of the night passed quietly.
Aboard ship, however, morning brought the discovery that our great cutter, which had been submerged and moored to the buoy, was missing from her moorings. Upon examination, the four-inch hawser had been sawed through with a stolen knife, and the submerged cutter detached from its moorings and led away. It had been Edgar’s responsibility to safeguard the cutter. Fuming in a most dreadful mood, and before our onlooking gaze, he grimly reported the loss to the Captain. The Captain answered this news in a most wrathful fit of exasperation. How had it happened that with the cutter moored beneath his nose, submerged even, that he had managed to lose it?! Edgar knew not what to say, but the Captain insisted that he had made it his business to know everything about that cutter, every moment of the day and night, that he had made it his business to guard the cutter and do little else. Upbraided for allowing even the simplest responsibility to slip through his grasp, Edgar had brought discredit upon the Royal Navy by allowing himself to be taken in by the ruse of a simple-minded indian. Edgar stood before him and suffered the Captain’s opprobrium like a whipt cur, an aspect which principally proceeded from his stupidity, and his being one of the meanest degree amongst them.
All of this gave cause to suspect that some villainy was hatching, and in order to prevent the ill consequences that might follow, both Captains met on board the Resolution, to consult what was best to be done on this critical occasion. The officers from both ships were present at this council, where it was resolved to preswade the king to accompany them to our ship, and to confine him on board till the cutter should be returned.
With this view, early on the morning of the 14th of February, 1779, the Captain, with twenty marines went on shore, under cover of guns on both ships. Observing our motions, and seeing the ships warping towards the towns, of which there were two, one on each side the harbor’s mouth, the indians must have concluded our design was to seize their canoos, in consequence of which most of their large war canoos took the alarm, and made off. We observed, however, that their warriors were clothed in their military dress, though without arms, and that they were gathering together in a body from every direction, their chiefs assuming a very different countenance to what they usually wore upon all former occasions.
Perceiving the need for assistance, Bligh made ready to leave ship to join the Captain ashore. He left Edgar in charge of covering this approach to the bay, with the responsibility to ensure there was no breach to the cordon, and no interference by indians in the conduct of their business ashore, to which end he directed Edgar to employ whatever means, short of lethal force, to ensure the security of this approach to the shore, though he might, if necessary, fire warning volleys.
Once ashore, as we later understood it, the Captain proceeded with his marines directly to Karaniopoo’s residence, where they found him seated on the ground, with about twelve of his cheefs round him, who all rose in consternation on seeing the Captain and his guard enter. The Captain addressed the king in the mildest terms, assuring him that no violence was contemplated against his person or any of his people, except against those who had been guilty of a most unprecedented act of robbery, by cutting from her moorings one of the ship’s boats, without which they could neither conveniently water the ships, nor carry on the necessary communication with the shore. He called upon the king, at the same time, to give orders for the boat to be immediately restored; and insisting upon him accompanying him to the ships, till his orders should be carried into execution.
The king protested his total innocence of the theft; said he was very ready to assist in discovering the thief, and should be glad to see him punished; but showed great unwillingness to trust his person with strangers, who had lately exercised such unusual severities against his people. He was made to understand that the tumultuous appearance of the people and their repeated robberies made some uncommon severities necessary; but that not the least hurt should be done to the meanest inhabitant of his island by any person belonging to the ships, without exemplary punishment; and all that was necessary for the continuance of peace was, to pledge himself for the honesty of his people. With that view, and that view only he came to request the king to place confidence in him, and to make his ship his home, as the most effectual means of putting a stop to the robberies that were now daily and hourly committed by his people, both at the tents and on board the ships, and were now so daring as to become insufferable.
The king, upon this remonstrance, was prepared to comply; but the cheefs, taking the alarm, began to steal away one after another, till they were stopped by the guard. In about half an hour the king was ready to accompany the Captain on board. The plan seemed almost to be working, but just as the Captain and the king were about to board the boat, one of his wives intervened, grabbed hold of his arm, and in tears, seeming to remonstrate with him not to go. The Captain took hold of the other arm, and there ensued a tug-of-war, at which the king became confused and distraught, and sat down. A large crowd gathered round him, menacing with their spears and clubs and daggers stolen or bartered from the ship. The Captain ordered his marines to the water’s edge to stand by, then he pulled at Karaniopoo to get him back on his feet, but his wife and the lesser chiefs voiced their insistence that he stay where he was.
By that time so great a body of indians were got together and lined the shore, that it was only with difficulty they could break through the multitude, who now began to behave outrageously, and to insult the guard. Though the enterprise, which had carried the Captain on shore, had now failed and was abandoned, yet his person did not appear to have been in the least danger, till an accident happened which gave a fatal turn to the affair.
No sooner had Bligh rowed out of sight than a large war canoo hove into our view, making great haste around the point, and heading straight toward the ship. As the canoo approached, I beheld that Cheef Pareah stood at its prow, his back turned towards us as he exhorted his paddlers to exert their utmost, urgently directing his canoo to the assistance of his king. Edgar leaped to the opportunity like a hound to foxes, and ordered his marines to prepare the cannon to fire a warning shot ahead of the progress of the canoo, and upon his order, a volley of four-pounders threw up a pattern of geysers just in front of it. Undeterred, Pareah bade his canoe to maintain its speed undiminished in its progress towards the beach.
Edgar screamed for them to stop, and responding in a gesture of defiance, the chief Pareah turned his backside upon us, bent forward, and slapped his buttocks in derision. It was as a red flag waved at the bull, and too gross an insult for Edgar to bear. Finding that Pareah’s upended buttocks presenting a very fine large mark, Edgar shouted his exasperation that it was too much, and aimed his own musquet at Pareah and fired. To his instant gratification, the volley found its mark, catching the cheef squarely in the hindquarters. He shrieked horribly, and grasping his behind, toppled forwards into the canoe, whereupon he thrashed in agony as his canoo flew past us in its mad dash to the beach.
Their alacrity aroused to this new controversy, indians ashore rushed out to meet Pareah’s canoo. Beholding the supine form of their cheef languishing face-down in the hull of the canoo, they shouted their misapprehension that their cheef had been killed. The news arrived at the village where the Captain was, just as he and the king had left and were walking toward the shore. The ferment it occasioned was very conspicuous; the women and the children were immediately sent off, and the men made haste to put on their war mats, and arm themselves with daggers and spears and stones.
Observing their behavior, the Captain gave orders to the Officer of the marines to make way, and if any one opposed, to fire upon them and do execution. This order was given for the marines to carry into execution, and a lane was made for the king and his cheefs to get to the boats, but they had scarce reached the waterside, when the word was given, that the Captain was about to carry off their king to kill him. In an instant a number of their fighting men broke from the crowd, and with clubs rushed in upon the guard, four of whom were presently dispatched. One of the indians, having in his hands a stone and a long iron spike, came up to the Captain, flourishing his weapon by way of defiance, and threatening to throw the stone. The Captain desired him to desist, but the man persisting in his insolence, he was at length provoked to fire a load of small shot. The man having his mat on, which the shot was not able to penetrate, this had no effect other than to irritate and encourage them. Stones were thrown at the marines, and one of the mob attempted to stab Mr. Bayly with his pahoa, but failed in the attempt, and received from him a blow with the butt-end of his musket.
The Captain now fired his second barrel loaded with ball, and killed one of the foremost of the natives. A general attack with stones immediately followed, which was answered by a discharge of musquetry from the marines and the people in the boats. The indians, contrary to the expectations of every one, stood the fire with great firmness, and before the marines had time to re-load, they broke in upon them with dreadful shouts and yells. What followed was a scene of the utmost horror and confusion. The indians shrieked and clawed at the Captain, who roared for his marines to lay into the crowd with all the accumulated firepower at their command, pointing and gesturing wildly, his leonine head bellowing what, no one knows, it all being lost in the fracas.
I watched the calamity unfold through the spyglass. They lunged with their daggers at the marines, and the Captain discharged his other barrel into another and felled him instantly. A dozen hands then grabbed hold on the Captain, who turned and flailed at them. A volley crashed out, and in the crush of bodies every shot found its mark, and stones flew through the air, and the screaming was very riotous. The marines had broken into a panicked retreat, and throwing their musquets aside, they stumbled over the beach boulders in a desperate attempt to reach the boats.
One of them stumbled and was instantly set upon by a native, who slashed his shoulder as he lay on his back. His companion pushed aside the assailant, then fired his musquet, and no sooner reloaded then he was overwhelmed by natives, who hacked at him with their daggers. He managed to get another shot off, and the volley went awry as other natives closed in to butcher him, scattering blood and gore among the tide pools.
Others staggered through the wash, trying to gain the safety of their boats, and were seized as they took hold of the gunwhales. A private, struck by a spear just below the eye, bellowed with pain as he tried to wrench it out, but succeeded only in breaking it off at the haft. With the spearpoint jutting bloodily from his head, he careened madly, then fell into the sea. Others were struck on the head by a rain of rocks, and stumbled blindly over themselves in their frenzied retreat to the pinnace, which roiled with men beating with their oars and guns the natives who were dragging the boat ashore.
A ruffian making a stroke at the Captain, was shot dead himself, but then another savage came from behind the Captain and striking him on the head with his club felled him to the ground. He then thrust his dagger through his body with such force that, entering between his shoulders, the point of it came out at his breast. The quarrel now became general. The guns from the ships began to pour in their fire upon the crowd, as did likewise the marine guard, and the marine from the boats; and though the slaughter among the savages was dreadful, yet, enraged as they were, they stood our incessant fire with astonishing intrepidity, insomuch that, in spite of all our efforts, they carried off the bodies of the dead, as a mark of triumph.
The Captain had fallen into the shorebreak washing amongst the boulders, his severed artery pulsing jets of blood into the surf. I saw his face but one last time, as he attempted to rise, his lips forming an unheard cry and waving an arm feebly towards them. Then another native fell on him with a club, and bashed his skull in. The natives fell on the corpse like a pack of wolves, stabbing it, grabbing one another’s dagger and thrusting them in, again and again, stabbing it with spears, and smashing it with boulders and clubs. At one point a number of them raised his body from the crevice and beat his pulpy head repeatedly against the rock face. Then they carried off the bleeding hulk in triumph. Having once secured his body, they fled without much regarding the others, one of which they threw into the sea.
Our next care was to recover our dead. A strong party was set out in the pinnaces and boats, with a white flag in token of peace, to endeavor to procure their bodies. They were met by a man of chiefly note among the savages, at the head of a vast multitude without answering our signal, who informed us, that the warriors were then on the back of the hill, cutting up and dividing the bodies, but that if Ta-tee, the name they gave Captain Clerke, would land, what remained of Tu-tee, as they called Captain Cook, should be delivered to him. But our party being inconsiderable in proportion to the numbers of the enemy that were then assembled, we were apprehensive of some treacherous design, and therefore our Commander very wisely declined the invitation. While we remained in our boats, several other cheefs came to the waterside; and one in particular, with the Captain’s hanger, which he drew in a taunting manner, and brandished it over his head. Others showed themselves with the spoils taken from the dead, one having a jacket, another a shirt, a third a pair of trowsers, and so on, insulting us, as it were, with the trophies of their victory.
That evening, bonfires were lit on the cliffs overlooking the bay, which echoed through the night with unearthly howls and lamentations. At first light, conch shells were sounded to herald the arrival of more warriors. We observed a prodigious number of lights in the hills, and I believed them to have been the sacrifices they were performing on account of the war in which they imagined themselves to be engaged. From along the cliff top and among the cocoa-nut groves back from the shore, great numbers of warriors were gathering, and the women and children of the nearby villages began migrating inland on a vast exodus.
In the morning, an indian in his canoo drew within musquet-shot, ahead of the ship, and after flinging several stones at us, he waved the Captain’s hat over his head, whilst his countrymen ashore were exulting and encouraging his boldness. Keeping a prudent distance from the ships, he twirled the Captain’s hat around on the end of a stick. Then he put it on his head, turned to bare his buttocks and smacked them, roaring with laughter at the same time. His lead was followed from the shore, where great numbers had assembled for the performance, and now all turned their buttocks towards the ships, slapping their haunches and setting up a great chorus of derision. As well, the breeches of some of the dead marines had been tied to poles and waved to taunt their comrades.
Our people were all inflamed at this insult, and coming in a body on the quarter-deck, begged they might no longer be obliged to put up with these repeated provocations, and requested me to obtain from Captain Clerke to avail themselves of the first fair occasion of revenging the death of their commander.
At this time it was thought prudent to stifle our resentment, and to reserve our vengeance till a more favourable opportunity. We were now in want of water, our sails and rigging in a tattered condition, our cordage bad, and our repairs not near finished; all therefore we had to do, was to remain on the defensive till we were better provided.
On the 19th they began again to be troublesome. When the marines went back ashore under the command of Bligh, the natives continued to harry them. Stones were hurled and rocks rolled down from the caves that honeycombed the hills to find rocks to throw onto the heads of the men at the observatory, cutting and bruising them. A barrage of four-pounders did dissuade further assaults, but while the boats were loading at the well, the stones came about the crew like hail, some of them of more than a pound weight; one in particular was seen to come from an invisible hand, which being attended to, an indian was observed to creep out of a hole, who as soon as he had discharged his stone, retired back to his place to shelter. We returned to our ships; and it being now apparent, that nothing was to be gained by fair means, orders were given to strike terror among them, by pursuing them with fire and sword.
About two in the afternoon all who were able to bear arms, as well sailors and artificers as marines, were mustered, and preparations made to sustain them, while with lighted matches they rowed on shore, and set fire to the southeast town, pursuing the frightened inhabitants while their houses were put in flames, with unrelenting fury. Many were put to death without mercy, and all driven to seek shelter in the other town; scarce a house in this having escaped the fury of the flames. In this general desolation, the hut or hole of the crafty indian whose cowardice had been one principal cause of the destruction that followed, was not forgotten. His hole had been marked, as he had already been observed, and on seeing our sailors approach it, such was his malice, that he heaved a huge stone at the assailants, one of whom he dangerously wounded, but was instantly dispatched by the discharge of three muskets, and a bayonet run through his body.
The fate of one poor wretch was much lamented by us all. As he was coming to the well for water, he was shot at by one of the marines. The ball struck his calabash, which he immediately threw from himself and fled. He was pursued into one of the caves, and no lion could have defended his den with greater courage and fierceness, till at last, after having kept two of our people at bay for some considerable time, he expired covered with wounds.
Horror had rooted itself in the souls of the men, and their blood boiled with a manic compulsion to wreak havoc and horror upon the indians. I thought I heard a deep humming sound as if from swarming bees emanating from the shore, a hum-buzz of madness of men driven to acts of depravity. The shore party quickly became consumed in an orgy of bloodshed, setting their torches to the village huts which, in the strong breeze, were soon engulfed in towering pyres of flame. Screaming horribly in spasms of anguish, the indians fled their maddened pursuers. The fury of our retribution was unexampled, and no pen could furnish an idea as to the vastness of the horror, as indians irrespective of age or sex or infirmity were chased down and shot at whimsy. Our tormentors were hunted down and clubbed to a pulp, and then shot, whilst those who could not evade their pursuers were shot and bayoneted and beheaded. Their disembodied heads were most gruesomely impaled on long poles, and waved impetuously to those upon the cliff tops, then taken back to the ship as trophies.
Orders had been given to burn only a few straggling huts; we were therefore a good deal surprised to see the whole village on fire. Before a boat that was sent to stop the progress of the mischief could reach the shore, the houses of our old and constant friends, the priests, were all in flame. It is very extraordinary that amidst all these disturbances the women of the island who were on board never offered to leave us nor showed the smallest apprehension either for themselves or their friends ashore. Some of them were on deck when the town was in flames seemed to admire the sight and cried out that it was maitai, or very fyne.
Our orders being fully executed, we returned to the ships before night, loaded with indian spoils, consisting of bows and arrows, clubs and arms of all kinds which they use in battle, and having the heads of two of their fighting men, of which the obnoxious indian was one, stuck at the bows of the pinnaces, as a terror to the enemy from ever daring to molest us.
On the order of the cheef, the war fever quickly abated, and soon, flags of truce fluttered from the cliffs above the bay. The indians brought propitiatory offerings of food to the beach, and waved to the men on the ships to come take it. An old man paddled out with a bundle of cocoa-nuts and plantains to appease us, only to be seized by the men aboard ship, tied up, and returned to his boat along with a severed head taken from one of his countrymen, reeking of the stench of blood, and told that his own head would roll.
Then Koah himself appeared, and swam out to Discovery, holding aloft a white flag in the other palsied hand. Skeptical of his sincerity, and believing that he had come to assess our capabilities for waging further warfare, Bligh, who was sure of his complicity in the Captain’s death, came up to him, presented his pistol at his temple and pulled the trigger, whereupon the gun mist fire.
It fell upon Koah to retrieve what bodily parts he could and return them to Captain Clerke. I must confess I had long harboured an unfavorable opinion of this man, and was of one mind with others who told me he was of malicious disposition and no friend of ours. The repeated detection of his fraud and treachery convinced me of the truth of the representation. The shocking transaction of the morning, in which he was seen acting a principal part, made me feel the utmost horror at finding myself so near him. Bligh demanded the body of the Captain, and would declare war against them unless it was instantly restored. He assured him this would be done as soon as possible, and with much assurance, as if nothing extraordinary had happened, he leaped into the sea again, and called to his countrymen that we were all friends again.
Several days elapsed before he was able to assemble those remains that had not been spirited away or burnt. The girls told the men that Karaniopoo and his family and entourage of lesser cheefs had taken the corpse up to a cave high above the bay, where they had deliberated upon the disposition of the remains. At length, Koah communicated that the Captain’s remains had been gathered, and awaited collection. Dressed in his mourning cloak of black and white fethers, he led a somber procession of priests to the forefront of a massive mound of fruit and roast hoggs on the beach where, beneath banners of truce, he placed the grisly bundle, wrapped in plantain leaves. Carrying boughs and green branches in their hands, they came singing and dancing to the waterside. On seeing his ensign answered by a white flag at each mizzen-top-mast-head, he, accompanied with three other cheefs, came on board, having some cocoa-nuts, plantains, and bread-fruit, as presents to the commander, for which they would accept of nothing in return. This chief, whose name was A-nu-a, came to make submission, and, as a token of his sincerity, promised to collect the bones of our deceased warrior, as he called him, and to bring them, and lay them at his feet. This was the token of the most perfect submission that an indian warrior could make to his conqueror; and this was accepted on the part of our commander. In this manner, and on these conditions, peace was to be restored.
Early in the morning we received another visit from Koah. I must confess I was a little piqued to find that, notwithstanding the most evident marks of treachery in his conduct, and the most positive testimony of our friends the priests, he should still be permitted to carry on the same farce, and to make us appear the dupes in this hypocrisy.
He brought the two barrels of the Captain’s gun, the one beat flat, with intention of making a cutting instrument of it, the other a good deal bent and bruised. He then presented to us a small bundle wrapped up in a cloth, which he brought under his arm; and it is impossible to describe the horror which seized us on finding in it a piece of human flesh about nine or ten pounds weight.
We found as well the hands of the Captain, which were well known from a remarkable scar on one of them, that divided the thumb from the forefinger, the whole length of the metacarpal bone; the bones from both arms, with the skin of the forearms hanging to them; the thigh and leg bones joined together, but without the feet. The ligaments of the joint were entire, and the whole bore evident marks from having been in the fire, except the hands, which had the flesh left upon them, and were cut in several places, and crammed with salt, evidently with the intent of preserving them. When it was asked what had become of the rest of him, the messenger demonstrated by gnashing his teeth that it was to be eaten that night. This afforded an opportunity of informing ourselves whether they were cannibals, and we did not neglect it. They immediately shewed as much horror at the idea as any European would have done, and asked, very naturally, if that was the custom among us.
This, he said, was all that remained of the body; that the rest was cut to pieces and burnt; but that the head and all the bones, except what belonged to the trunk, were in the possession of Karaniopoo and the other chiefs; that what we saw had been allotted to the cheefs to be made use of in some religious ceremony. In response to the theft of this most sacred portion, Koah pronounced a Curse of Anathema, bemoaning that those who had stolen the head of Lono, and their generations to follow, would themselves suffer the derangement of their depraved actions, until the bones of Lono had been made whole again.
Thus ended the career of the greatest navigator that this or any other nation ever could boast, after having successfully led his crews of gallant British seamen thrice around the world; had reduced to a certainty the non-existence of a Southern Continent, about which all the learned of all nations were in doubt; had settled the boundaries of the earth and the sea; and shown the impracticability of a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Great Southern Ocean, for which our ablest navigators had contended, and in pursuit of which vast sums had been spent in vain, and many valuable mariners had miserably perished.
Reader, if thou hast any feeling for thy country in the loss of so great, so illustrious a navigator, or any tenderness for those whom he has left to lament his fate, thou wilt drop with me a tear at this melancholy relation; especially when thou reflecteth, that he, who had braved dangers, and had looked death in the face in a thousand forms, should at last be cut off by the hands of a cowardly savage, who, dreading the impetuosity of his rage, came behind him, and, ruffian-like, stabbed him in the back. But of this enough.
Hi’ilawe, Island of Hawai’i, 1832
The wreckage drifted along, its passenger suspended between the void above and the chasm beneath. The flotsam bore a survivor of Goliath, a whaler recently out of Lahaina and hunting blubber somewhere east of the island of Hawai’i.
A storm had gathered, and a bolt of lightning had coursed down the mizzenmast and struck Goliath’s trypot, upending the cauldron and setting ablaze hundreds of gallons of molten blubber that sloshed across her decks, down the hatches, and into the innards of the ship. Fire swept the forest of rigging and masts into an instant inferno that quickly reduced the ship to a quarter-acre of floating charcoal. There had been no time to lower boats, and sharks had accounted for those nimble enough to leap overboard ahead of the billowing flames. Bennie, on his own square yard of charcoal, had been overlooked.
Unconscious and insensate as a clot of weed in the water, his will demanded that he come awake and fit himself into a purposeful plan. With consciousness came the will to live. He tried to utter a cry for help, but it emerged from his swollen, furred, and salt-rimed tongue as a croak. Parched within, brined without, speech required more than he had bargained for.
In time his faculties would support more profound and complex concerns, but for now, he was content to survive. His mouth opened and shut. He breathed air instead of water, and as the air coursed into his sodden lungs it burned. He knew enough to draw breath when air was present and to refrain when water was present.
He began to think clusters of thoughts, inchoate but coherent. He had established faint communication with his limbs, and they responded to simple commands. With painful slowness, he began to uncurl his hands from their death grip that had fastened itself onto the wreckage. He wagged his foot tentatively. He tested each limb for a response, and was answered. Pain was starting to be acknowledged as well, but more in the abstract than the physical.
Bennie opened an eye but could see nothing. He listened as the water, now warm and amniotic, slipped and slopped by. He registered the gentle sensation of rising and falling with each swell. There was no noise, and no forms were discernible in the blackness.
He had established the direction of the greatest leavening of the darkness, and judged it to be largely behind him, to the east. He seemed generally pointed the other way, west. He began to form calculations, and form them into a plan. The currents of sea and air seemed to want him to go west. He sensed that west was over there, where the swells seemed to run downhill.
As the darkness lightened, he watched as the swells wheeled into view, lifted him, sustained him, offered a view of his immediate patch of ocean, and subsided. Lifted up again, he looked about him and saw there was nothing in the new scene to distinguish itself from the old. He uttered an epithet, and went limp.
Salt water oozed from his eyes and from his nose. The swells lifted him gently, then dropped him down again, again and again. He winced and squinted, sliding along toward an imagined horizon, believing it a viable course of action.
He was cold in the gloaming, and he wanted to re-orient himself to the brightening horizon in the east, to take in the cheer of the sun. Slowly, the light added definition to the sea, illuminating the hillocks of water and turning them green.
From the blessed numbness of shock and hopelessness, Bennie roused himself to a new day, and hastened his heart in pumping blood through his chilled body. He lunged forward, kicked, and thrashed about. He could tell his little island of flotsam what to do, and it would answer him by rolling over or turning around. It would do his bidding, support his hands, move in response to kicking his legs. But his legs rebelled, and answered him with a pain that split his skull, and for all his trouble, he saw his position with respect to the surrounding swells as essentially unchanged.
Time oozed by in infinite compression. Other pains began to evidence themselves. His neck was stiff, and it resented the demands made upon it to raise his head so that he might have a look around. It was easier to keep it tucked halfway into the water as he snuffled and slopped along. He regretted the communication he had established with his legs and ankle; they communicated their affront in a generalized ache, now perforated with stabbing needles.
The pain held him as its captive audience. The fog of pain was not unlike the fog of drink, and in time it made him dull and senseless. He imagined that he was drunk. Lightning flashed, and scenes from long ago flickered.
The saloon was riotous with revelers and lights o’ love: plump Teutonic tarts, langorous Amazons, twittering Chinese canaries, primroses from New England. The harpies looked at him and laughed, their sickly grins swarming with bejel, yaws, and clap. They leered at him, taunting him, mocking him. In response, he slopped his glass of gin over one of them, whereupon she grabbed the bottle, filled her mouth with gin, and sprayed it back into his face. He slapped her, and wrestled her to the ground. He held her down while his friends, then he himself, and then his friends again, used her as they pleased, until she no longer resisted, only cried, until her agonies were overtaken by a whiteness that rose like a vaporous screen as the day brightened.
There was the low murmur of surf, and there loomed overhead a great pillar of rock. Bennie rolled his head over and watched the swells as they rose and then broke against the rocks. He wanted to swim but elicited no response from his legs. The rocks threw up spray, and the water was filled with yellow and brown weed that drifted through water, no longer feckless in its idiot flow, but now shoreward-bound. Brown tendrils lashed his cheeks, clung momentarily, then pulsed onward.
He bumped into something solid, and it stung his leg. Something solid had intruded into his world of water and vapor and beckoning tarts. His eyes jarred opened, and fell in and out of focus as he struggled to bring the scene into better resolution.
The rock demanded that he acknowledge the primacy of the physical. It had interposed itself with brute force, banging and twisting his ankle, and shown him that for all his detachment, his philosopher’s stone was not the equal of a humble rock. It was adamant, and compelled him to organize his myriad centers of pain into a coherent response. But he remained indifferent, as the ocean lumbered and thumped into the pillar of rock that towered above him like a tooth set in the ancient jaw of a half-sunken world.
A straw-colored moon reposed upon the rim of the valley. Veils of rain danced in the moonlight, and rags of cloud drifted across the face of the moon. The sea swirled amongst the boulders, slopped along the rocks, and then hissed its retreat. No longer able to sustain him, it murmured its farewell as it released Bennie from its bosom.
Drops of cold rainwater spattered onto his face and dribbled into his mouth, which opened and shut like a fish out of water. It came to him that he was thirsty. He drew air in rasping gulps that whistled down his windpipe, caked with scum. His tongue was swollen and blistered. He began coughing and convulsing. He heaved, but only bile came up. He longed for water.
Aroused by the whistling of the breeze through the gourds that held his tackle, the fisherman arose. In the soft light that guttered from the candlenut lamp, he laid out his hooks. He baited them with a paste he had prepared from the sap of roots and flowers, and fastened each of his bait sticks with a coconut fiber sack filled with mashed candlenut.
He had seen swarms of parrotfish yesterday, drifting in their veils of courtship that swirled from the surface into the depths. As the sun rose today, he would watch intently for their flame-colored flashes along the bottom as they rose to nibble at the bait sticks.
The gloaming became tinted with the rose-gold of the sun, and the air was calm and quiet, save for the gentle lapping of the water at the beach. The fisherman loaded his tackle into the canoe, and dragged it across the stones into the lace of surf. With his gourds packed with nets and lines, and others filled with fresh water, he pushed his boat out into the sea.
As daylight silvered the bay, he began sculling toward the place where freshwater springs welled up from the floor of the bay. There he would peer from beneath sun-bleached eyebrows down the columns of cold, clear water, looking for fish.
He paddled past the familiar array of boulders that lay humped against the inner reaches of the bay. Knowing them by heart, his fleeting glance was caught by a shape that seemed at odds with the accustomed pattern. His eyes straining to focus in the half-light, he descried a form that seemed pale and smoothly contoured in contrast to the black abruptness of the rocks. Turning his canoe shore-ward again and drawing up close, the fisherman stared in disbelief at the body that had washed up on the sand behind the boulders.
Spring had drawn to an end. The sun was hot, and the season of deep-sea fishing had begun again, now that the currents had shifted shore-ward and the sea had become calm again. The fishermen of the village had returned to the open ocean to fish for tuna. Schools of them came in close to shore now, and the men paddled out to where the terns wheeled in the offshore breezes.
They hovered over the school of fish, swooping down to snatch at anchovies that broke the surface as they tried to escape the snapping jaws of the tunas. The fishermen tossed out gourdfuls of silversides and small squid that were found floating in the sea in great numbers, and the surface roiled in frenzy as the tunas snapped at the baitfish that sought shelter in the shadow of their canoes. As the tunas swarmed round the canoes, the fishermen let out their lines.
Days and days had passed in a chaotic fog of delirium since Bennie had washed up at Hi’ilawe. The fisherman’s daughter Kehau remained at his side throughout, preparing poultices to bring him back to the land of the living. When at last he could eat, it was a reason to celebrate. Any reason was a good reason for jollification, and the village’s welcome the return to good health of this man with yellow hair and blue eyes was as good a reason as any.
The chief ordered his people to gather the best foods of the valley. Fat milkfish and sweet mullet and hanging-jawed eels, and the delicious pink poi that was made from taro that grew nowhere but Hi’ilawe. He told the villagers to kill their biggest pig with no regrets, for pigs could be gotten again, and to find some fat dogs with well-curled tails, so fat that water stood on their backs. And a black fowl, a white cock, some red fish, and the best mokihanaawa, normally reserved for royalty. All were decreed by the chief of Hi’ilawe to be gathered for the feast.
The imu was prepared. A man grasped a piece of soft hau wood with his feet, and rubbed it vigorously against a piece of hard dry wood. The wood dust smolderws and smoked, and dry, frayed pieces of kapa were added. With a bamboo tube, another blew onto the fire and fanned it into flames. They stirred and shifted kindling of firewood, branches, and tree trunks, then tamped beach stones on top of the fire.
The night fled from the torches. The women wore scented kapa and seashell bracelets and flower lei, and they goggled and fussed over the guest of honor.
Bennie watched the women dance, and Kehau wove plaits of flowers for his hair and fed him delicacies from the imu. He ate more than he imagined he could, and soon afterwards slipped into a stupor and let himself be dragged off to the fisherman’s hut to doze deeply into the night.
The next morning was close and sticky. The waters of the bay were rippled by shoals of flying fish that erupted like colonies of birds startled from a tree, creating a shower of spray and small rainbows in their wake. The ocean slopped along the rocks in a rich brine that nurtured the clumps of dog’s hair limu, a fine yellow-brown seaweed that brought the mullet and goatfish to nibble and graze like flocks of sheep, in surf that tinkled like shepherd’s bells. As the sun rose, the bay became a field of flashing diamonds, painful to his eyes. At the beach, women hunched over their salt pools, gathering baskets of salt or kneeling to catch the silversides that flashed along in the tide pools.
Bennie watched as Kehau gathered cowries for her father the fisherman, who used them to make lures. She searched for the choice red cowries that were used to catch the octopus, and examined each one, thinking to herself that this one would catch twenty octopus, that one forty. When the sugar cane tasseled, the octopus came into the bay in great numbers, shy creatures that harbored a misguided infatuation with the cowry and stone lures that fishermen dragged along the sandy, sun-lit bottom of the bay.
He learned how to gut and salt and dry the fish that Kehau’s father caught, tending the slabs of bonito out back as they reddened on spits, dripping fats that spattered and popped on the coals, broiling slowly until their juices ceased to drip onto the fire. Most of the catch he would salt, stringing the fish on stalks and rushes as he did so, or packing them in salt, or laying them out on stones so that they might whiten and stiffen with salt.
Each day when he returned, the fisherman would give some of his catch to kinfolk and friends who helped him carry the canoe back up onto the beach. Then he would offer some of the fish to the odd-looking stone out back. Only after he had satisfied the guardian spirit in the stone did he prepare his own meal—usually sour poi and slices of fish dressed with the salty juices of the lipa’akai seaweed.
The stone, the fisherman’s guardian spirit, protected him and ensured a plentiful catch. It had come to him in a series of dreams, saying “I am cold, come and get me.” Porous and pitted with tiny stones, it was a jealous female, and flirted with him before she finally told him where he might come to find her, when to come for her, and what to bring. When the fisherman saw it, he recognized it instantly, for it had stared back at him with the mouth of a fish.
He took it home and put it in a place that was kapu, and he treated it like it was his own child. It had to be fed every day, and if he missed so much as a single meal, there was trouble. Its loincloth had to be kept spotlessly clean, and the more attention he lavished on it, the more it would bless his household with light, laughter, and the bustle of activity. But if any but its chosen caretaker so much as laid a hand on it, it would become hot like fire.
It had taken time for this relationship to develop. But in time the stone confided, and told the fisherman where he could find the most prolific schools of fish, at what time of day, and told him the kind of net or baitstick to use to catch them. Jealous of the affections of its caretaker, the stone was his alone. It was his child. The fisherman accepted its guidance, and gave it love in return, much as he took from the ocean and accorded it respect in return. For the ocean was the source of all life, and its gentle motions of wave and tide and breeze were acts of love.
One evening, his salting done and her cowries collected, Bennie and Kehau walked to the stream where they rinsed away the salt and sweat of the day’s labors. Afterwards, she led him beyond the stream and into the forest, to a place where she sometimes went to cut bark from trees to scent her kapa with. It was there that she took him as her lover. And it was there, upon a soft carpet of ironwood needles, that Bennie sowed in her the seed that teemed with the sickness that coursed through his bloodstream.
At the end of the beach was an area of sand dunes that had been sculpted into weird and wondrous shapes by the wind. As it whistled through the dunes, the wind mourned as if for the dead. Many regarded it as a place of dread, but for Wolohu it was a place of magic.
As an acolyte of kahuna magic, Wolohu was less of a success than those who could demonstrate their power by praying until the flowers of the candlenut withered and the nuts fell off, or until a stone crumbled to pieces as it lay on the a’pe leaf, or until a cock upended its spurs in its death throes. And if an especially powerful demonstration was needed, such a kahuna would pray a black pig or a mottled pig to death, cracking open its back so that maggots wriggled from it. The prayer of such a kahuna was as an earthworm, only appearing above ground occasionally, so that month after month its power might lie latent, then strike at last, not only its victim, but also his family and friends. But that was beyond Wolohu.
His infatuation with Kehau consumed him, as did his poisonous jealousy of her lover, that abomination that had washed up on the beach, naked and half-drowned. Imagining their lovemaking, his anguish was unbearable. But Kehau regarded him as little more than a nuisance, wanting nothing to do with him.
Night after night, Wolohu had supplicated himself before his altar. He implored the Flying Bird cane to come and strip away her indifference, and convey on its wings his prayer that an insatiable yearning for his love might take root in her heart. The Hold Fast cane too was beseeched, to bind her affections so that her eyes might glaze over and she become childlike, showing little interest in anything but the object of her sudden infatuation. Even if induced love was not as strong as the natural kind, it was better than no love.
But his agonized appeals to the deities of the love magic were to no avail. No matter how he rattled his fetishes and and muttered his incantations, it was useless– the woman he adored remained hopelessly love-struck with her creature.
The clouds lumbered out over the open sea, and the late afternoon sun broke through. Dusk lasted only an instant, and then darkness and silence descended on the island. Wolohu watched and listened as the surf murmured, and lovers everywhere but here whispered sweet nothings to each other. How foolish he was, he realized, to place his faith in these useless old gods. They were nothing more than a wretched swindle if they couldn’t so much as sway the misguided affections of a foolish girl.
Tonight, he returned to the altar with a different sort of entreaty. Upon the altar, he placed several stalks of sugar cane, together with a hand of the lele bananas that fishermen offered to sharks, and prayed that in its nocturnal prowlings, the were-shark of legend might seize upon his rival and shake him to bloody bits.
The fisherman cultivated the waters of the bay with the same affection and loving attention to detail as taro farmers gave to their children, the huli offspring of the parent plant. It was just quiet, steady work, no talk. He never talked about going fishing, never said where he was going to catch fish. Fish didn’t like idle talk. You never said you were going fishing, since they would hear you. The fish didn’t care for silly questions or for people who just talked and never did what they said they were going to do. Fish had feelings, so you never showed them you were weary, because then they wouldn’t like to burden you further. They didn’t care for dirty language or smutty stories. Fish didn’t like dirt. You didn’t point at them, make them ashamed, since they were timid creatures and didn’t like to be the center of attention. The fisherman was careful to respect the net, since it was the house of the fish, and fish liked the net to be clean. He didn’t walk around nearby while it was spread out on the beach, since the crunch of sand or pebbles as he walked would scare the fish. They would take offense, and the greater the fish, the greater the danger.
He had fattened the mackerel that swarmed about the seamount just outside the bay with sweet potatoes and a mash of seaweed, ripe breadfruit, and roasted pumpkin that he lowered down to them in round, flat baskets. Peering into the trap, he knew that he would see it filled with fish as golden yellow as the flowers of the ko’olau. As he pulled the trap up to the surface, there would be a tremendous splashing as he gathered the fish into his canoe.
But that morning, as the fisherman let his bait sticks down to the seamount, he waited and watched for the parrotfish to swarm into view. He gazed and searched, but there were no parrotfish to be seen. Consternation furrowed his brow.
Sensing the rhythm of the fisherman’s paddle, the shark concluded that there was a meal, and with a few quick thrusts of its tail, it lunged upwards towards the boat.
Its snout broke the surface beside his canoe, and the shark beheld the fisherman. It then submerged and began to circle slowly round, and when it once again surfaced, it smashed its tail into the canoe.
Panicking, the fisherman took a gourd and threw it high out over the water to the side of the shark. The gourd landed with a sharp splash and, attracted by this, the shark turned and rushed at it. When its nose struck the gourd, it bobbed away. Infuriated that it could not gain a purchase with its teeth, the shark snapped at the bobbing gourd, then turned on the canoe. It raised up its head, and its great black eyes filled with murderous ardor. Its eyes rolled up into its head, and its massive jaws parted to expose rows of saw-edged teeth.
The fisherman screamed as the canoe bucked and reared, and his eyes filled with terror as the shark’s tail went up, then smashed down alongside him. He disappeared and was gone, and then he popped up once again, flailing lamely in his last moments, and then floated quietly.
After that first bite, the shark wandered off, then returned to tear bites from the body that lay suspended in a cloud of blood, shaking apart its victim into manageable pieces.
When a shark tormented its human victim in this way, it was not a natural shark, but one that had been sent by sorcery. The victim might sometimes be given the briefest of moments before he was devoured, to call to shore and wave his fingers in farewell to his relatives as the shark held him, first tossing him up in the air, then dragging him under water to drown as the blood drifted in the sea. Such was the fisherman’s death, everyone agreed.
When Wolohu first heard the news, he was startled, and at first did not make any connection. He really hadn’t imagined that his offering of a hand of bananas to the were-shark would elicit any better results than his appeals to the sugar cane deities had, and besides, the shark got the wrong guy. Nothing to do with him. Then the more he thought about it, the more it intrigued him. It was not for him to question the ways in which the gods might answer those prayers. And if in fact the gods had favored him with the powers of the kahuna, then who was he to argue? Those powers had largely eluded old Waha, his patron and chief kahuna of Hi’ilawe, who had devoted his life to looking after old bones at his heiau in the forest. But in younger and more capable hands, who knew? It was a heady prospect.
Meanwhile, Wolohu had come to console. Grieving at her father’s death, Kehau hardly noticed he was there, and she hardly heard a word of his condolences.
“The gods are inscrutable,” he offered helpfully.
“Don’t talk to me about your gods,” she said. “They’re your gods, not mine. And I don’t think they were my father’s, either!”
“Your father was a pious man,” Wolohu observed, pointing at the kapa-draped stone that stared dumbly ahead, its fish-mouth agape.
“Why then did it think so little of his piety as to feed him to the shark?!”
“You are wrong to speak against your father’s stone,” he said. “You are only adding shame to the tragedy of his death.”
“My father was a good man! For what was he punished?! Where was his guardian spirit when he needed it?! I’ll tell you where it was… right over there, sleeping on the job!” She turned and stalked over to the stone. Then she lifted it up and smashed it onto a nearby boulder, where it disintegrated.
Aghast, Wolohu stared at her.
“Get out!” she shouted. “And take your miserable gods with you!” She reached down, picked up a part of what remained of the guardian stone, and threw it at him, just missing him. “I hate them, and I hate you!”
Shocked at this outrage and stung by her venom, Wolohu withdrew to lick his wounds. Kehau’s actions were beyond those of grief; they were deranged. She must have lost her senses to the creature that had come from beyond the sea to defile her thoughts and corrupt her piety. In fact, as it soon became known to all, the white man had come as destroyer of the gods, and had instigated her ruination of the guardian stone. That made perfect sense.
Wolohu took his concerns to Waha, as he often always had. He had been gifted at an early age by his mother as an acolyte to the old priest who lived at the heiau in the forest of Hi’ilawe with his attendant. Waha was glad to have someone to talk to besides the old woman Moana, with her incessant gossip, though the lad was something of a nuisance as well, a love-lorn adolescent badgering him for secrets of the love magic that he himself was only dimly aware of, having never taken a wife, and forever inquiring after the magic of the ancients.
Arriving at the hut, Moana motioned him inside, and with that, she resumed her usual station within earshot.
Wolohu had come to tell Waha that the people were afraid, believing that the gods had been offended, and that the shark attack on the fisherman portended hard times. He himself had experienced a vivid dream, he said. Almost certainly it had been a vision, in the form of a cloud-image that had come on the night of Hoaka, with the moon’s faint light casting ghost-like shadows and frightening the fish away. The ocean currents had changed, the tides ran and the sea became rough, and nature seemed in a general state of agitation and unease.
“How have the gods been offended?” Waha asked.
“It was not given for me to know,” Wolohu said. “But in this dream I heard something calling. It was a guardian spirit that had been aggrieved. The spirit called out, ‘Come to me. I am dishonored by one that harbors an impure heart, whose heart is drawn to one who honors another god. I am in great pain, for my body has been sundered and broken! Come, before I am forgotten. For if I am forgotten, the people of Hi’ilawe will be forsaken.’”
Outside, the old woman Moana listened. As personal attendant to the high priest of Hi’ilawe, she attended to as much as she believed fell within the purview of her concern, which was everything. What she heard was a warning, she realized, to the people of Hi’ilawe. And warnings, as such, were meant to be conveyed to those who needed to be warned. Armed with this intelligence, she went to the village that evening and told her friends of what she had learned, and in no time at all the villagers had formed a consensus as to what had brought about the death of the fisherman. The guardian spirit stone had been smashed by the fisherman’s daughter at the urging of the white man, who had come to Hi’ilawe as destroyer of the gods.
The fisherman’s death, it was agreed, had been a warning of hard times to come, in punishment for the continued presence among them of this instigator of Kehau’s unspeakable outrage. People became convinced that they had seen the ghostly green glow of the shark’s eyes as it patrolled the bay. The other fishermen were afraid to go out fishing. Sightings were reported, not only of its glowing eyes, but of the shark leaping high out of the water to snatch some low-flying tern or gull in its horrid jaws. There were accounts, too, of the shark walking upright on land, the stuff of the ancient legend. People became terrified, and unwilling to venture out at night.
The god Lono was the great engine of the weather and the waters. As the lava flowed from Mokuaweoweo Crater atop Mauna Loa, it plunged into the sea and created huge clouds of steam that rose up and formed rain. The eyes of the god flashed in lightning that issued from furious black thunderheads that boiled up over the slopes of the volcano, clouds that rutted noisily like the Hog God Kamapua’a. As it was for Kamapua’a, black was the color of Lono, of Lono’s cape, and of the angry clouds of smoke that rose from the volcano to give birth to the black thunderheads that watered the mysterious dark forest of Hi’ilawe.
Water was the most precious gift of all for the people of the valley. The land was not a gift. It was there, and would not be withdrawn. But Lono, the Keeper of the Fires and the Father of Waters, could withhold the water. Or, at his caprice, he could inundate the land with it.
The rains began. It poured without letup for days, and the bay at Hi’ilawe silted up with mud. The taro was washed away in the flooding, and all was made miserable.
It was a time of sifting of ashes from the fires, of melancholy winds that swirled about the flanks of the great mountain. The winds swirled about the huts and the fireplaces of the village, scattering the ashes of their fires. But the ashes were cold, since there was so little food to prepare. Everything was ashen from the smoky fires of winter, a time sacred for the innumerable gods born this month, four times one hundred thousand of them. The waters of the bay were rough and took on the silvery aspect of the sky. Storms swept in from the ocean, one after the next. People stayed indoors and slept from the weariness of trying to wrestle a living from a land that now begrudged it to them. The wind moaned and made things mournful, and dry thunder rumbled intermittently.
The streams became choked with silt, which washed over the reef and choked off the holes for the octopus and the ghost crab. The mullet fingerlings swarmed in the mouths of the streams until yet more rain opened up new channels to drain the backwaters. The fishpond had once been filled with all kinds of fish—parrotfish, awa, anae, awaaua, barracuda, aholehole, o’opu, shrimp, andeels. All these fish had swarmed together and rippled against the walls of the pond. But now the fishponds were empty, and gone too were the slabs of tuna and bonito that had been laid up for winter. All that was left was dried pumpkin that was to have been used as bait for the mackerel at the seamount, and sweet potatoes that had been steamed in the imu and dried.
There was no joy in the valley, no gentle and good humor, no smiles, no aloha, no joy in work and daily routine. People were sunk in shame, knowing they had offended, and believing that they had been ostracized by the guardian spirits and the 400,000 gods. The smoke from the hearths was bitter, and the hearths were cold, the fishermen’s nets were empty, and the seamount barren. The plants and taro and trees wilted, the women grew bitter, and the men worried. There was no laughter from the children. The skies were gray and leaden, and the sunlight wan and watery. People spoke in thin, hushed voices and shielded their faces in shame.
Refusing to relinquish her man to Wolohu’s contemptible machinations, Kehau turned a deaf ear to the popular opprobrium. But even those who had once been friends now avoided her and her aged mother, and their isolation in the company of the white man who had become anathema was now complete. Kehau’s mother complained that not only was the white man not welcome here, but now they themselves were no longer welcome in their own village.
How would they provide for themselves, she asked? They did not know how to catch fish, nor grow taro. What sweet potatoes remained to them were mealy, and those that remained in the ground had rotted from the constant rain. Nobody had any food to give them. They would live forever after, her mother wailed, as women whose names would never again be spoken amongst the villagers. People had hardened their hearts against them, blaming the white man for the floods and the absence of fish in the bay and for the nocturnal prowlings of the Were-Shark, and they whispered that the Night Marchers marched with the name of the white man on their lips.
Bennie understood nothing of this. But whatever it was that Kehau argued about with her mother, it was clear that somehow it concerned him.
A man who had journeyed out of the deep valley had returned to say that the great mountain Mauna Kea stood covered with a broad cape of snow vaster than he had ever seen. It was a harbinger, people agreed, of famine.
But for Wolohu, it was a season of plenty. He had been chosen to warn the people of Hi’ilawe of the danger in their midst, and of the great privations that would attend. People listened, and regarded his confidences with dread. Their conversations grew subdued when he came, and they whispered after he left.
He smiled to himself. The 400,000 gods had given him their whole-hearted support, and each privation visited upon the people of Hi’ilawe was a blessing for him. It all played right into his hands.
Standing in the center of the heiau in the forest of Hi’ilawe, the mana house was the abode of the highest holiness. it reeked from the moldering bones and the carcasses of hogs, dogs, and fowls that had been offered them that now languished in various states of decay and thronged with buzzing black flies.
Waha’s father, who had been guardian of the heiau and spiritual caretaker of the valley before him, had told him that the remains in the Ark in the temple’s mana house were those of the god Lono. They had been brought from Kealakekua Bay, where Lono had arrived, in the flesh, to bless the makahiki festival that was held each year in his name. But things had gone very wrong there, and Lono had died in an act of unimaginable horror at the hands of his own people. Koah, the High Priest of the island of Hawai’i, had pronounced the curse of anathema upon those who had stolen the bones of Lono. And so it happened that the heiau in the forest of Hi’ilawe came to be both sacred and profane: sacred as the repository of the bones of Lono, cursed on account of those who had stolen them.
As heir to the sins of his father, Waha promised that the whole matter would never see the light of day. In fact, his life depended on it, for if the High Chief of the island got word of this, soldiers would be sent and they would die. Publicly, Waha must forever be the keeper of bones of forgotten warriors, and never those of Lono. He must act in the old tradition of the priest who long ago had hidden the bones of Kamehameha and had died with the secret.
But that was an honorable secret, worth guarding with one’s life. This was different. Waha’s only friends, apart from Wolohu and the old woman Moana, were the idols arrayed about the mana house of the temple. Some had once been clothed, but now stood dressed in rags, a few tattered patches and shards of kapa hanging round the neck, bleached by the sun and rotted through by the rain. He had decorated them with hibiscuses, and some he had rigged with feather helmets and masks, made dreadful by rows of shark’s teeth and tufts of human hair. A heap of broken bowls and coconut shells, spoilt lei, broken branches of shrubs and bushes, and shards of kapa lay before the images. Now they stood there, their mouths agape with rows of dog’s teeth and fastened with shimmering mother-of-pearl eyes, mocking his impotence.
But the images’ contempt for their keeper was as nothing compared to the contempt that Waha now felt for the remains that moldered within the Ark in the mana house. For they were not those of Lono, as his father had told him, nor of any of the 400,000 lesser deities. Waha now knew they were something else.
Long curious about its contents, he had undone the basket and looked upon the head within. For a while, he believed that it might well have been the head of a god, for it did not look like that of any man that he had ever seen. But ever since he had seen the blonde, blue-eyed man that had washed up on their shores, he realized that the head in the basket was nothing more than that of another white man.
He felt defrauded. All these years, Waha had been forced to conceal his sacred purpose in life. The powers of his office had been reduced to muttering over household matters and minor kapu. No one took him seriously, and people seemed to regard him as a harmless sort who didn’t have much to say in matters.
He had grown old and bitter. Worse, he had grown old in vain. What kind of a life was it, being the guardian of some white man’s bones? So, if Wolohu wanted the job so badly, then fine, let him deal with it.
Waha expressed to Wolohu his wish for a successor that might shoulder the responsibilities that had grown so weighty of late. His arthritis had begun to torment him, and he thought he might like to take leave of the rainforest of Hi’ilawe and stay with his niece in dry upcountry Waimea perhaps. Knowing of his deep-seated interest in the arts of kahuna, would Wolohu consider the job, he wondered?
Wolohu rejoiced. This was turning out even better than he could have imagined. But then again, certain things were just meant to be. None of this could have simply happened, now that he thought about it. Wolohu was merely the agency of the things that had set into motion this entire concatenation of events, whose ultimate purpose only the gods could know. Could he possibly have come up with this even if he had tried?
A ceremony would be held, Waha said, to present his successor to the gods for their blessing, and together they would pray for the gods’ forgiveness of their people and a chance to begin anew.
The people and the dancers gathered at the heiau for the ceremony. On the ground was a pile of red fish, some coconuts, a stalk of bananas and some kapa of geometric imprint. Reposing on the scaffolding was an immense hog, its snout snarled into a rictus of death agony. It had been fattened until its snout had almost disappeared and its neck rolled with fat, its ears drooping and its mouth hanging open like a gaping cock. It had been strangled, its hair scorched off, and it entrails taken out and burnt, except for the liver.
After smearing the carcass with its blood and broiling the liver, the fire-reddened hog was dragged through the mud by a hook in its mouth. Waha uttered his blessing, chanting over and over the name of Kamapua’a, the Hog God whose domain was the valley of Hi’ilawe. He took a large fish from the pile and a bunch of plantains and carried them into the temple. With ceremonious mutterings, he brought them before the images and consecrated them. He crammed fingers of food into the images’ mouths, and hung a hand of bananas on the scaffolding.
As Waha waved his arms and called out his appeal to Father Lono, the dancers took up the outcry, banging on their logs and drums as the chill valley wind blew over the wet grass glistening in the starlight, and a sliver of moon hung beyond the valley wall. They arose, and their dark forms deepened and colored in the guttering torch light, and swayed eerily, the shapes of their bodies altered by their ti leaf capes and hala mats. They danced to the chants of Laka, the goddess of hula, and danced with wreaths fragrant with the mist and cold dew of the mountain. Standing about the mana house, the carved images glowered through the smoke and the torch light. The night passed in prayer and chants, like the voice of drums that throbbed in the night at the heiau deep in the forest.
Waha concluded his chant, then turned and slowly walked into the mana house. He emerged moments later with the Ark, and laid it upon the spirit altar. Drawing his arms about him, he described an arc above him to beseech the attentions of the gods to the ceremony. Then he dropped to his knees and protrated himself. Assembled behind him, the dancers pressed their faces to the earth. He lifted his head, then brought it down to the ground, time and time again.
Waha beckoned for Wolohu to pick up the Ark, and hold it out in front of him to await the final blessing. And at last, to officiate Wolohu’s ascent to office, Waha uttered a short prayer. Then the assemblage was bidden to rise, and it was Wolohu’s turn to offer a prayer to the god Lono.
Surely Lono saw that it was good, Wolohu knew, and that the people’s hearts were contrite. Surely Lono saw that he was worthy, and would act to ensure that the people would never again stray from the path of virtue. His appeal to Lono rang out to the assembled multitude, and the crowd shouted out its affirmation.
Then all was silent, and there was heard no disapproving response from the gods– no call of a bird, no chatter of a lizard, no hoot of owl nor cry of night heron, no red glow at sea or shooting star, no thunder or lightning—nothing that might betray the disdain of the gods for the prayers of the people.
Later that week, Wolohu encountered Kehau on the path in the forest as he was returning to the village from the heiau. Carrying the fish she had obtained for her cowries and that she would in turn barter with the taro farmer for poi, Kehau stopped in her tracks and glowered at him.
“Does the great kahuna expect this woman to fall down and prostrate herself at his approach?!
He wasn’t quite sure what he expected, but not this.
“You seem so happy with things!” she said. “It’s just too good to be true, isn’t it! It all happened so perfectly for you! How is it that you are so pleased with all of this?!”
“Why would I take happiness in your father’s death?” Wolohu said, appalled by her outburst. “Why would I make light of the miseries that have befallen us? None of this is my fault. If anything, the fault is yours.”
“You are foolish!” she said. “But a hundred times more than usual, because of your swollen head! But for all of your big head, you still cannot understand that I see you for what you are. You are pathetic! And anyone who thinks otherwise could only have a mind even smaller than yours.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“It is beyond contempt that you would disgrace my father’s memory with your actions! I know it was you! I knew it ever since I heard of your so-called dream! That was so clever of you, wasn’t it! Your timing was perfect, not even two days had gone by since my father died! And Waha was foolish enough to let himself be taken in by your ruse! This is all your doing!”
“How could it be my doing when the shark prowls the bay, and causes the fish to flee, and when the floods drown the taro? How can I do these things?”
That much was true, she agreed. He had not caused the fish to flee, nor the floods to wash away the taro and the potatoes. He did not have the power to piss into the wind, she said, much less do any of that. But he had poisoned everyone’s mind against the man she loved. Wolohu was a jealous fraud and a self-important ass, and she detested him so completely it made her want to scratch his eyes out.
“It is your stupidity that curses us!” she spat at him.
“Harpy! How dare you mock me!”
“How else does one treat a fool?!”
Enraged, he pushed her down. “There you are… in the mud, where you belong!”
She rose up to slap and scratch at him, and Wolohu stifled her shrieks with his hands. Pushing her back down, he held her down and at last had his way with her.
In the darkness before dawn, Kehau led Bennie by the hand and up through the forest to the heiau. Wolohu and the old woman Moana were sound asleep. Carefully, she entered the mana house, groped about for the Ark, found it, and then stole back into the forest, where Bennie waited. She made it understood to him that for the sake of her people, he must take this vile thing from them. It was the only way to remove the curse from the valley, namely Wolohu. She had resolved that if she and Bennie were to be blamed for all that had happened to the people of Hi’ilawe, if they were idol-smashers and defilers of the gods, she would at least make sure it was done right.
The path led up the steep valley wall to the tableland above the deep cleft of the valley. As the forest slowly brightened, they gained the narrow ridge, and after several more hours more, emerged from the valley, where the ridge flattened out into a high plateau.
In a clearing, they stopped and rested and ate some of dried fish and pa’i’ai poi she had prepared. Afterwards, Kehau told Bennie to wait while she went to gather vines to fashion another basket for him to conceal and carry the Ark.
There they parted. She could not leave her mother, Kehau said. She must stay, and he must go. They embraced, she wished him aloha, and pointed him in the direction of the village of Hilo. Then she turned and began her walk back down into the valley under cover of the gathering darkness, with no one the wiser.
The people of the valley reflected with deepening dread upon this turn of events. It was just as everyone had said, that the white man who until recently had lived among them had come as destroyer of the gods, and had left like a thief in the night, carrying with him the Ark and its sacred remains. With the theft of the Ark from beneath his nose, Wolohu, whose star had been on such a giddy rise until now, had been calamitously humiliated. Perhaps it was best to leave the old gods lie, along with his dreams, broken in the mud of the heiau.
I can’t give you much for the ring,” the pawnbroker said. “Seems like the whole bloomin’ fleet’s been in, and you can imagine how it is. I’ve got every tar’s bauble on pawn, and most of it I’ll never be able to get rid of at any price.”
“How much can you give me?” Bennie said.
“Two dollars. Sorry, but it’s just not going to sell, or if it does, it won’t be for anything. So consider that a gift. Scrimshaw, that’s different. That sells. Or if you had a nice piece of sandalwood– especially now the stuff’s all gone. The islands used to be thick with it. Whatever I can get my hands on these days has made its way back from China, where we sold it years ago, all carved up into pretty little boxes and what not.”
“I’ve never seen it,” said Bennie. “Have you got any?”
“You’re wasting my time, because you can’t afford it. But if you want to have a look, there’s some over here.” The pawnbroker removed an ornate carved Chinese jewelry box from the display case. “Ya see, this might have been made twenty, thirty years ago… but it still smells nice.”
“May I?” Bennie picked up the box, held it to his nose and sniffed. Instantly he was back in the scented forest of Hi’ilawe.
“You say it’s all gone now?”
“You’d have to search far and wide for it. If you stumbled upon any these days, I’m certain it would fetch a very pretty penny.”
“What would a man do if he had some? Who would he sell it to?”
“You could bring it to me. I’d buy it from you.”
“No, I mean what if he had a lot… trees and trees of it?”
“I don’t know where you’d find trees and trees of it, lest it was somewhere way out there in the back of beyond. Even then, you couldn’t very well just go help yourself to their trees. They’d have you for dinner, and not as a guest– you’d wind up like Captain Cook.”
“You really don’t know much, do you?”
“I’m new here. Sorry.”
“That’s plain to see. Captain Cook discovered these islands. Got into a misunderstanding with the locals. They ate him.”
“They ate him?!”
“Well, after they ran him through on the beach and took him away, they only brought back bits of him. For the longest time, there was a nice reward on offer from the Brits– for his head.”
“For his head?!”
“Well, they were nice enough to call it ‘remains.’ I’ve got the leaflet, as a matter of fact. It’s a collector’s item now.”
“Could I see?” Bennie said.
The pawnbroker opened one of the drawers of the old secretary and rummaged through a sheaf of papers. “Here it is,” he said, and it on the counter for Bennie to see. “Don’t touch.”
Gingerly, Bennie bent over and squinted.
“To One And All, Let It Be Known:
That the Honorable Sovereign of the Sandwich Islands, Lord George Paulet, is offering, for the discovery and return of the mortal remains of Captain James Cook, Great Navigator and Discoverer of the Sandwich Islands, the sum of One Thousand Pounds Sterling. Said remains shall be tendered to the Office of the Exchequer of His Majesty’s Crown Colony of the Sandwich Islands for payment of the reward.
By Order of: Lord George Paulet
Commander, British Naval Forces, Pacific”
“How much is it?”
“What, the reward? A thousand pounds… just imagine,” the pawnbroker said wistfully. “But the leaflet’s five dollars, if that’s what you mean.
“You said it was his head they were looking for? Why just the head?” Bennie asked.
“I shouldn’t imagine that anything else could be identified. I myself had someone come in with a head that he said was Captain Cook’s! Wasn’t amused… pure nonsense of course. It was a white man’s head– some poor wretch lost it in Fiji or New Zealand, I should imagine, and that was just one case among many that I heard about. They gave up on it, after a time. Or at least, I never heard nothing more of it after the Brits left.”
“What have the Brits got to do with it?”
“Cook was British… one of their national heroes. A gentleman and a scholar– not your typical Brit. Nothing like their consul that was here for the longest time– what the hell was his name?? Damndest fool you ever saw.”
The Honorable Consul Richard Charlton had embarked on his career with the British Foreign Office on the coat-tails of his father, who represented the broad-acred nobility whose ranks were heavily drawn upon to staff the Foreign Office. His behavior in England was, from the first, scandalous. Many days he was unfit for duty, mending poisonous hangovers from long nights in the bawdy houses and ratting parlors of Picadilly. But no matter how dreadful his behavior, dismissal from the Foreign Office–and the scandal that would ensue–was not an option. It was decided therefore to relegate Mr. Charlton to the most remote backwater in His Majesty’s diplomatic circuit.
Honolulu, a rough port in an island chain at the end of the earth, was never deemed a productive career move for anyone seeking advancement in the diplomatic corps. There were islands out there that had never so much as seen a white man. Charlton seethed with resentment at his banishment, and his behavior deteriorated from the merely dreadful to the splendidly disgraceful. Supremely ill-suited to any statesmanlike purpose, he bristled with contempt for the Hawaiian monarchy, and when he was drunk, which was often, he castigated the Royal Highnesses of the Hawaiian Islands as, among many other things, a circus of apes and a grotesque caricature of palace protocol.
Charlton was a gadfly to the Hawaiian courts, launching frivolous lawsuits repeatedly for the sheer satisfaction of their nuisance value, much as he himself was often sued. He was the subject of complaints and demands for damages on various occasions, such as when he assassinated a cow that had trespassed onto his property, though his own wandering cattle continued to trample freely on his neighbors’ lands. He was fined five dollars when his dog bit a foreign woman. Then he had maligned the American charge d’affairs as a sodomite, and when convicted of the slander, he offered the same characterization to the judge and the jury. More seriously, he had been dragged into court for having horsewhipped a native, roping and dragging him through the dust, and threatening to cut off his ugly black head.
But his contempt for Hawaiians did not preclude him from visiting his affections upon their women, who had born his bastard children. Though he piously espoused temperance in his public capacity, once behind locked doors at the Grampus he drank and fornicated ‘til he was cross-eyed. Thusly had he lived in the Islands for more than twenty years, fueling his balefulness and baseless crusades with rum.
Most recently, the rum had fueled yet another disputation, this with James Jackson Jarves, editor of The Polynesian. Incensed over some perceived editorial excess, Charlton had driven him out of the newspaper building beneath a furious lashing from his horsewhip, and when a friend of Jarves rose to the editor’s defense and threw Charlton to the floor, the Consul suffered a broken finger and a bruised hip. Charlton was fined six dollars for his part in the fracas, and in retaliation, he wrote to the Foreign Office in London, demanding the dispatch of a man-of-war to protect His Majesty’s interests in the Islands.
In further pursuit of his grievances, he arrived this morning at the palace for an audience with Princess Namahana. He squinted his eyes against the glare of the ocean reflected from the white coral blocks of the palace, a stout and capacious villa with spacious piazzas and mullioned windows, bordered by jasmine shrubs and tangerine trees. He stalked huffily past a guard of kanaka infantry that drilled and tattooed beneath the royal standard fluttering serenely in the breeze, then turned down a crushed coral alleyway. Ascending a flight of steps to the piazza, he was saluted by a double line of officers. He did not condescend to return the salute.
“Bloody rock apes,” he snarled.
He wheeled and clicked down a wide hall with salons to the right and left, richly furnished with chandeliers of cut crystal, mahogany dining and pier tables, crimson Chinese sofas and chairs, and several large pier glasses and mirrors. He glanced at the walls hung with portraits of the Royal Family– dingy apes and their ladies, he thought, beaming like boot polish with their round saucer eyes and their thick nigger lips. Alongside was an oil of the King of the French, Louis Philippe, which had been presented by the French Consul on the very day that his respective majesty had been overthrown by the mob and sent to the guillotine. Served him right to have given this bunch any more recognition than a swift kick in the arse.
Charlton entered the foyer of Namahana’s apartment. A polished table stood in the entryway, holding a collection of porcelain miniatures, leather-bound volumes of Wilke’s Exploring Expedition, and a hand-crafted Bible in Hawaiian. There were ornately carved desks of rosewood and mother-of-pearl inlay, leaded crystal decanters and tumblers, gold-plated candelabras, a large antique globe, an array of brass navigational instruments, gleaming sabers partly sheathed in their scabbards, mounted muskets, lace-trimmed hats and filigreed garments of all sorts, and numerous other oddments of English and Continental manufacture. All of this stood scattered amongst flyblown calabashes half-filled with poi, rolls of moldy kapa and matting crawling with vermin, native paddles and spears, and more of the customary furnishings of the Hawaiian habitat.
Reposing upon a pile of mats was Namahana, her splendid rotundity arrayed against a battery of silk pillows. Two young girls, nearly naked and sweating in the sticky heat, fanned away the flies with bunches of feathers. At forty years of age, Namahana stood six feet two inches tall when she at last raised herself up to greet her visitor.
That was more than her behemoth pet hog Kaahumanu could manage. Together they were the two most magnificent splendors of the Royal Court. Shimmering black and of a singular size and corpulence, the hog had grown immense on the dainties fed it throughout the day by the Queen. As a result, it now lay engorged to the point of immobility, confined exclusively to the velvet repose of Her Majesty’s suite, and requiring the assistance of two of the Queen’s stoutest subalterns to help it along in its peregrinations from bed to groaning board and back again.
For a lady of these savage shores, Namahana fancied that her attire was at least the equal of that of her most hautely-coutured counterparts in royal courts far and wide. Her gold satin dress was trimmed with a ruff of the daintiest lace about its elephantine shape, and a large love ribbon festooned her mountainous bosom. Her shining black hair had been fluffed into a pompadour befitting the figurehead of a Spanish galleon, upon which lay a very fine leghorn hat, ornamented with Chinese silk flowers and trimmed with a spider’s web of fine black lace. Round her neck was a necklace of polished dog teeth and red and yellow feathers. But this profusion of finery was given the lie by her enormous feet, shod when she ventured outside in a pair of oversized whaler’s boots, and by her massive, stump-like legs, fetchingly displayed.
Determined to demonstrate her mastery of the fine points of regal etiquette, Namahana attempted a curtsey, in accord with the most elaborate dictates of choreography. Her feet were not of one mind with her intent, however, and she lost her balance, and would have fallen and possibly crushed her attendant had not the others caught her majestic person in their arms.
“Oh my!” she exclaimed, recovering her poise. “Good afternoon to you, Mr. Charlton.”
“Your Majesty, there is urgent business for us to discuss.”
“First, I eat! Then, we talk.”
To the dinner table, Namahana brought her prodigious stomach, which itself might have merited a separate introduction. Wallowing upon the mats before a large mirror, her vast girth flattened out under the prodigious force of her own weight. Smacking her lips and wheezing, she indicated with a flip of the wrist that Charlton take his place before her.
“Your Majesty, our business is urgent, and matters are awaiting your disposition. Can we please… ”
“Be quiet!” she admonished. “First I eat, then we talk. If you no like talk, you can come back some other time.”
Incredulous, the Consul followed her progress through a meal that was sufficient, in his estimation, to choke an elephant. Various delicacies in Chinese porcelain dishes were arrayed in a semicircle before her, and her attendants busied themselves with handing her first one and then the other, but she brushed them aside and grabbed fingerfuls— then frantic fistfuls— as they fanned away the flies and the sweat of her exertions.
Heaving, her attendants upended her onto her back, whereupon one especially strong-armed fellow sat down on her back and kneaded the folds of flesh as he might a trough of poi. Her degustation thusly eased, Namahana recovered herself, and ordered her masseuse to recommence his efforts upon her stomach, so that she might re-dedicate herself to her repast. When the pangs of her appetite were quieted at last, she drew her breath and belched “I have eaten famously!” she exclaimed.
“Your Majesty,” Charlton said acidly, “my government extends its felicitations on this occasion of your gustatory edification.”
“I said that I regret having to interrupt more important things, but I must speak with you!”
“What do you want now, Mister Charlton? Did you lose your case again?”
“Your Majesty, this is not a joking matter!”
“If you behave like a clown, how can I think otherwise?”
“It is your judges that are behaving like clowns, Your Majesty! Subjects of the British Crown are not fools to be trifled with by some… some baboon in a barrister’s wig!”
“What did you say, Mister Charlton?”
“What I’m saying, Your Majesty, is that if the Kingdom and its courts continue to treat British subjects as if they were second-class citizens, without the benefit of a fair trial… if you think you can just deprive subjects of His Majesty the King of England of their property, because you think it’s some sort of child’s game—”
“Are you threatening me?”
“It’s not a threat, Your Majesty! It is a promise that I, as the duly appointed representative of the Crown, have the responsibility of making very, very clear to you! We will not tolerate being treated as common criminals!”
“Then let’s be clear with each other, Mister Charlton. You’re here because you owe a lot of money to someone. The court agreed with that someone, and said you must pay. You no more money, but you get property. If you no pay, you lose your property. Which you never owned in the first place. How can you complain?”
Charlton owed almost ten thousand dollars, to a business in Chile. He was sued for it in Honolulu courts, found liable, and on behalf of his creditors, the courts here had attached his property. The property in question was a large and valuable tract of land in Nu’uanu, conveyed to him by a native gentleman who had never owned it to begin with either, and whose credibility was so circumspect that no one would have ever believed him. The deed made no mention of such legal niceties as consideration for value received; and offered only the most nebulous description of the property’s boundaries. It had lain in a cardboard box for many years until now, its conveyor and witnesses long dead.
“Hawaiians are in no position,” Charlton railed, “to have anything to say about matters of business involving Englishmen! You’ve got no right! Not only I, but other British subjects as well have lost property to the caprice of your courts! We demand its return forthwith, and if you don’t correct these abuses, if you don’t take steps to protect the interests of British subjects and return property that was stolen from them, then you can be sure that I will!”
Namahana listened, idly scratching Kaahumanu’s chin, and yawned. The hog grunted contentedly. “I will refer the matter to Mister Wyllie, my Minister of Foreign Relations, for his opinion. Will that be all, Mister Charlton?”
“Your Majesty, as you know, the British flagship Brittania is presently at anchor in Honolulu harbor. It departs two weeks hence, for London. If my property is not returned to me, and steps taken to protect the interests of British subjects by that time– with such matters to be settled in future by a British judge and a jury comprised of British subjects– then I will book passage on Brittania, so that I may take my case, and the cases of others who have been wronged by your courts, in person to His Majesty in London!”
His deadline came and went. Swearing to obtain justice for himself and his countrymen, and at the same time stem the insidious rise of American influence in Honolulu, Charlton booked passage for London, where he intended to lay out in person the specifics of his complaint before his sovereign.
He left in his wake an imperious and insulting screed written to Namahana. Separately, he provided his stand-in, one Alexander Simpson, with a detailed accounting of his grievances, which he instructed him to forward to the Admiral of His Majesty’s Pacific Fleet.
Simpson, from the moment of his arrival at Honolulu, had set himself to plotting the annexation of the islands by His Majesty’s government. His views were well known to the Hawaiian Government, which had refused to recognize him as Consul. This refusal had aroused considerable unease amongst the British residents of Honolulu, who held a meeting to air their concerns. Their protest, together with a letter from Simpson and the letter from Charlton, was sent to Admiral Sir Richard Thomas, then in South American waters. They stated their urgent plea that Admiral Thomas send a warship to Honolulu to exact recompense for these injustices, and to remain for as long as the interests of His Majesty’s subjects were in need of protection.
Their entreaty reached the English admiral at the British base in San Blas, Mexico, whereupon the man-of-war Careysfort, under the command of Lord George Paulet, was dispatched with orders to safeguard British interests. Paulet was directed, as well, to redeem the property and prestige of the British Consul, at gunpoint if need be, should the situation be as Mr. Simpson had described it.
By the time Lord George hove to in Honolulu, he was in a surly mood. Upon entering the harbor, his first insult was to refuse to tender a gun salute to the Hawaiian flag, a dreadful affront to protocol.
Simpson was ferried out to the dreadnought to welcome its imperious commander. “Your Lordship,” he said, “His Majesty King Kamehameha is away on an outer islands tour. But the consuls of France and America are here, and they’ve been waiting since morning to see you. They’re quite concerned.”
“Tell them that though I am concerned with their concerns,” he said, “I am here to speak directly with King Kamuckamucka or whatever his name is! So never mind the consuls… tell them to sit tight, and I’ll deal with them later. But you go straight away to get word to His Supreme Majesty that the British fleet’s in town, that’s it’s in none too good a mood, and in no mood whatever to wait! I demand to see him, and if he has to swim back from wherever he’s at, I’ll get him time to dry off, and then I demand that we meet!”
Lord George’s mood was sufficiently truculent to concern even Simpson, who thought it quite possible that Lord George would commence his cannonade of the city without pausing to so much as consider the issues. It would do no good to raze the kingdom and its government, for in the long run, it would have no effect of law. When His Lordship finally left, the mice would once again scurry hither and yon with no regard for the roar of a lion too far away to be heard. Out of sight, out of mind.
King Kamehameha sent word to Lord George that though he himself had no time to meet with him, his advisor Dr. Judd would be made available to receive him. Paulet fired a letter back to the king demanding that if the king continued to avoid him, and if his demands for a meeting were not met, trouble would be brewing. Paulet was informed the next morning that the King would see him.
Receiving the guests of state, the king’s minister announced that the sovereign was now ready to arrive. “Ladies and Gentlemen, Lord Paulet, Mr. Simpson,” he said. “I have been informed that His Majesty King Kamehameha is prepared to receive his visitors, and to lend a willing ear to any observations upon religion, war, politics, or any topics most agreeable.”
From the opposite end of the terrace, the royal procession materialized, resplendent in their plumed and gold-embroidered finery, swords at their sides. The entourage included His Majesty’s five wives, including Namahana and a number of chiefs, a large train of subalterns, and his Minister of Foreign Relations, Robert Wyllie. In his Windsor uniform with golden epaulettes and silk stockings and pumps, the King took his seat upon the mat.
His officers fanned from behind with long white feathers, while Namahana busied herself with a wooden spittoon, covered with a handkerchief, which she held forth at regular intervals for His Majesty to hawk and spew into. A pipe was handed round amongst his various queens and grandees, and a toast of wine was pledged to His Majesty’s health.
Barely was the toast made than Lord George began to press his case.
“Now that we’ve all gotten to know one another,” Paulet began, “I would suggest that we direct ourselves to the business at hand. I have here a bill drawn up by Consul Simpson in the amount of $117,000. These charges are for the most part damages that we are claiming on behalf of British subjects who have suffered abuse and injustice at the hands of your judiciary. The bill does not include a penalty of $3,000 to compensate Consul Charlton’s cousin for having been deprived of the opportunity to buy the consul’s property when your courts disposed of it at auction.”
“Lord George,” Wyllie said, “not only are these charges illegal, they are preposterous! It was less than a year ago that your government sent its very own magistrate to examine the charges that were adjudicated in our courts. And as you must surely be aware, your very own magistrate concurred that your subjects had been treated justly! Even if there was any merit to this accounting, the amount is enough to bankrupt the Kingdom of Hawaii!”
“I’m not here to hash over the fine points of the law,” Paulet shot back, “– or whatever nonsense passes for law in these parts! You may take all of your tortured legal abstractions, namely all of those cases that were supposedly settled adversely to English subjects, and overturn them! They will then be re-tried, by a jury composed solely of Englishmen.”
“That is impossible!” the Minister said. “This is an affront to our sovereignty, and a direct contravention of the laws of the Kingdom of Hawaii! We have already bent over backwards! As you must be aware, any trial of an English subject is heard by a jury that is already half-English! This is an accommodation that we don’t offer to just anyone—we don’t, for example, require a jury to be half-Hawaiian in order to try one of our own subjects. If they are fair and reasonable people, that is sufficient to us.”
Instantly, Lord George had conceived a great dislike for this tidy little prick. He was insolent, and Paulet would not brook further consideration of his insolence. “It seems to me that there are more than enough complications here to occupy us all night,” he snapped. “In which case, I’m here to simplify things. Either your government pays the bill, and makes good on Consul Charlton’s deed to his property, or I will order the town of Honolulu to be razed by cannon fire– beginning with the palace! Then we will discuss these other matters.”
The King sequestered himself with his ministers and anguished over their quandary. They couldn’t possibly come up with the money to satisfy this extortion—in any event, the laws of the land did not give him leave to. His ministers pleaded with Paulet to reconsider, and when their pleas fell upon deaf ears, they bargained for more time, so that they might legislate the funds into existence.
The expatriate community was swept by rumor and seized with panic, and they scrambled to stow their valuables in safekeeping, board up their windows, and shelter themselves from the threatened attack. A caravansary of carts laden with money, papers, clothes, and household goods fled the beleaguered town.
The King conferred hastily with the French Consul and the American Commercial Agent in an eleventh-hour ploy to cede his islands to France and the United States, so as to avoid signing them over to Britain on Lord George’s terms. But alas, his ministers would not support his decision. All manner of extreme possibilities were considered, but in the end there was nothing to be done. At last, in his grief and exasperation, the King bid Lord George to take his kingdom and do with it as he would.
When the news came that the King had given in, Careysfort’s cannon fire was loosed, not to level the town but to celebrate the agreement. Alexander Simpson was officially installed as His Majesty’s administrator, to whom the King would answer in future to settle whatever grievances might arise. Charlton’s attached property was restored to him, English pride was vindicated, and the kingdom was handed over to Lord George Paulet. With profound sadness, Kamehameha issued his decree:
“Wherever you are, chiefs, people, and commoners from my ancestors, and people from foreign lands! Hear ye! I make known to you that I am in perplexity by reason of difficulties into which I have been brought without cause. Therefore, I have given away the life of the land, hear ye! But my rule over you, my people, and your privileges, will continue, for I have hope that the life of the land will be restored when my conduct is justified.”
The deed of cession was read, and the Union Jack was raised to replace the disgraced standard of the kingdom and ensure that the sun of British empire might never set over this particular stretch of the endless ocean. Paulet’s cannons boomed, and Careysfort’s band pumped along, playing “God Save the Queen” and then, in ironic cruelty, “Isle of Beauty, Fare Thee Well.”
Lord George made the rounds in his new kingdom to establish the primacy of his rule. Sailing round the islands in his clipper, he put in at Kealakekua Bay to honor one of Britain’s most famous sons and discoverer of the Sandwich Islands, Captain James Cook. The occasion was marked with appropriate pomp and circumstance, which Paulet capped by placing a brass plaque into a stone memorial near the spot where Cook was killed.
He read from a proclamation, and concluded by saying that he had authorized a reward of a thousand pounds sterling for the recovery of the missing remains of the Great Navigator. The reward was advertised in the newspaper, and flyers in the Hawaiian language were sent round to various chiefly principalities. But for those who realized that Cook’s remains had been dismembered, stripped, and probably eaten, it seemed a largely notional gesture.
With the two dollars the pawnbroker gave him for his ring, Bennie paid down a dollar deposit on the leaflet, until such a time as he had earned sufficient cash to return and pay the balance. With the other dollar, he booked a room in the Seamen’s Boarding House at the bottom of Fort Street.
In the privacy of his room, he undid the cotton sheet with which he had wound the Ark, carefully picked apart its wicker lock, and removed its contents. His eyes widened as he beheld his prize. The shrunken head stared back at him with eyes that had collapsed and atrophied, with eyelids that had shriveled like the lips of a bivalve. A great clump of frizzy chestnut hair fell in clots around what remained of the neck. The skin seemed varnished, and the mouth lay agape in an expression that might have uttered a curse as its last words.
Knowing nothing more of Captain Cook than what he had gleaned from his conversation with the pawnbroker, it boggled Bennie’s imagination to think that the head in hand might indeed be that of the Great Navigator. For if it was, and if the proper stratagem was enacted to redeem the reward, then, as he had begun to realize, he just might be staring fortune right in its bleedin’ yop.
Bennie took a job chipping barnacles at the Ladd & Company Shipyard, making just enough to keep body and soul together. He only worked enough that he might be left with time for his researches into the identity of the head.
He hadn’t the first idea of where to begin. He thought that he might try the British Consulate– perhaps they could at least tell him where to go and who to talk to. As he walked into the foyer, the clerk at the front desk regarded him frostily.
“May I help you?” he said.
Bennie was distracted, for on the wall above, there hung a large painting in gilt frame. A brass plate affixed to the bottom edge of the frame bore the inscription: “Captain James Cook: 1728-1779.”
“I said may I help you,” the clerk said. “Or did you come here to gawk at the art?”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Bennie said. “It’s just that I think I just answered my own question.”
“And what question was that, young man?”
“Is that Captain Cook?”
With allowance made for the ravages of time, he thought, the likeness was undeniable.
“If you can help me, I’d like to obtain some information on him, actually. Some books, if you have any.”
“This isn’t a library, as I’m sure you realize. And whatever we might have is official information, reserved for the use of consular officials only.” Disdaining further discussion, the clerk turned away.
“Please, sir,” Bennie said. “It’s quite important for my research. I’m writing a book… about Captain Cook.”
“Really,” said the clerk, staring at Bennie’s hands, rough as tortoise shell and chapped from chipping and prying uncounted barnacles these many weeks. “Forgive my saying so, but you don’t appear to be the literary sort.”
“I, uh, support myself at another trade for now. Starving artist.”
“Have you any credentials?”
“I promise, if you have anything at all… I wouldn’t be out of your sight for a moment. There’s a table over here—perhaps I could sit there and just read?”
“I’ll have to take it up with the Consul,” the clerk said. “You may return in a week’s time, if you wish. I may have an answer for you then.”
A week went by, and another thousand barnacles fell away beneath the hulls at the shipyard. Bennie considered whether he might explore other possibilities, maybe the archives of the daily newspaper. There wasn’t much else that came to mind, and he hoped that in his infinite mercy, His Majesty’s Consul might smile upon his request.
Bennie returned on the appointed day. “Ah yes, there you are,” the clerk sighed as he looked up and recognized his supplicant. “Our scholar. Well, it was agreed that you might be allowed to have a look at certain things, as long as they aren’t sensitive, or official, of course. Do you have the least idea of what you’re looking for?”
“Anything, really,” said Bennie.
“Well, why don’t you come with me, then,” the clerk said.
Bennie followed the clerk to the back of the long office, to a glass cabinet with several shelves of books. The British Consulate’s collection numbered amongst its modest collection several of the logs kept by the officers and crew of Discovery and Resolution. On the shelves, Bennie saw the Journal of Midshipman George Gilbert, John Rickman’s Journal of Cook’s Last Voyage, and the Journal of Molesworth Detmold.
“Any one in particular?” the clerk asked.
“No. Anything to begin with.”
Selecting a title at random, the clerk handed him the Detmold journal.
“But let me see your hands first,” he said. “I don’t want them soiling our books.”
With several volumes in hand, Bennie followed the clerk back up front, where he directed him to a table. Bennie placed the books on the desk, pulled up a chair, and began his research.
He opened the musty old tome to its mid-section, and began leafing through its pages and perusing various accounts of botanical specimens, animal oddities, and indians. Wondrous as these things were, there was nothing of relevance to his purpose. Sighing, he returned to the beginning of the account, and it was there that Bennie chanced upon the author’s observations of the Captain’s mealtime habits. “He sulked at the dinner table without volunteering a word, pecking sullenly at a small tangle of sow’r krout, the odd bit of salt horse, a few shriveled peas, fussing over his meals like a vixen fixing her fingernails. He might not have eaten any of it anyway, since his experimental teeth that he removed at table and suffered to place before us like a ghastly bouquet, were useless to him. Most of his teeth, I believe, were artificial. They were forever falling apart, and he had gotten to the point where he simply removed them when he ate.”
Yes, this was what he was looking for, he realized. His heart pounding, Bennie raced through the remainder of the account. By the time the clerk cleared his throat and announced him that it was closing time, Bennie had learned that dentures had filled in for the loss of the Captain’s lower right molars, which he had forfeited to an accident on his first voyage of discovery. A musket had misfired, its charge of powder and shot blew up in its breech, and bucked the gun’s stock into the Captain’s cheek so severely that it had splintered his lower jaw and shattered his teeth. On the strength of this intelligence, Bennie concluded his research and returned the book to the clerk.
Returning to his room at the boarding house, Bennie retrieved the Ark from beneath his bunk and opened it. At last the mouth that had not drawn a breath nor uttered a word all these years was pried open to tell its story.
He parted its leathery lipe, and ran his fingers along the lower teeth. There, binding the lower right wisdom tooth with the forward incisor, was a set of bridgework formed of three pewter molars crudely wired together. It required but the lightest touch to jar them loose. Little wonder the Captain removed them at meals, he thought. They would have jarred loose on oatmeal.
Bennie presented himself at the office of Jonathan Herrick, Attorney-at-Law, bringing in tow his satchel and a large object wound in a cotton sheet. “I realize that it’s a bit much, sir, but I believe that I have in my possession the remains of Captain James Cook,” he said.
Herrick had heard it all, had listened to all manner of lies and preposterous assertions from his clients. That came with the territory of being an attorney. Still, this was more than he could credit with a straight face. “That’s interesting,” he said, snorting derisively.
“Here,” Bennie said. “Have a look if you like. Its just the head, actually.” He unwound the sheet and opened the basket. The head answered the lawyer’s incredulous stare with its own vacant gaze.
“Good God, it’s hideous! I don’t want it staring at me!”
“It’s not pretty, I agree,” Bennie said. “But this here’s the head of Captain James Cook, I’m sure of it.” He went on to describe his research at the British Consulate and his examination of the contents of the wicker base he had brought from Hi’ilawe. “This is the head of Captain James Cook, and you’re staring a thousand English pounds in the face.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a bounty on the head, sir. On offer by the British.”
“I’m not aware of any such thing,” Herrick said.
“It’s been a while. But here, see for yourself. Here’s the announcement of the reward.” Bennie drew the yellowed leaflet from his satchel, and placed it on the desk.
He continued with the story. Knowing little about Captain Cook, apart from what people said that he had been killed and eaten, Herrick listened with growing fascination as his client recounted his shipwreck, his life in Hi’ilawe, his escape with the wicker basket, and his researches. Realized that he was being importuned to redeem the severed head of a sea lord, Herrick frowned. “This is most extraordinary,” he said. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s not every day that someone walks in here and tries to sell me a head.”
“I’m not trying to sell you anything,” Bennie said, “except the opportunity to make whatever your cut is on a thousand pounds sterling.”
“Well, even if it is the real article,” Herrick said, “collecting the reward—if the British even acknowledge such a thing— is problematic. It’s been how many years now—more than a few, I’m sure.”
Herrick and the head regarded each other from opposite ends of the office. It would be essential to have the identity of the head verified– but where was there any such expert witness to be found hereabouts? It would be pricey, in any event. The handbill meant little, in his considered judgment. The more he thought about the British, it would be just like them to simply seize the head, compensation be damned, and send the unfortunate claimant to the gallows for lese majeste. Part of the problem, too, was that Lord George had been sent home in disgrace after Admiral Thomas came to Hawaii to set things right and restore the kingdom to Kamehameha. What’s more, Herrick was sure there was no Office of the Exchequer of His Majesty’s Government of the Sandwich Islands, though he realized that under certain precepts of international law, the claim might be honored even though the regime had since changed. But the British were a law unto themselves.
He would think upon it, however. A thousand pounds was a boatload.
Herrick drew a sheath of documents from his satchel, and placed it before the supremely disinterested gaze of the Deputy Minister of the Treasury of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. On the table lay eight pages of script, to the last of which was affixed a wax seal and red ribbon. It all seemed official enough.
“What is this?” demanded the Deputy Minister.
“It is a report of the findings of Dr. James Barrett,” Herrick said, “a private practitioner in residence here in Honolulu who, I imagine you should know, also serves on retainer as Chief Coroner to the Government of His Majesty Kamehameha III. It’s a copy, so I’ll leave it with you. It might assist your understanding of what I’m prepared to have you examine with your own eyes.”
“And what is that?”
“We believe we have found the remains of Captain James Cook.”
The Deputy Minister blanched, and took a moment to consider this assertion. “What does that have to do with us?” he said. “You should take that up with the British. You’re not the first one to claim such a thing, you know, and I’d rather you wasted their time than mine.”
“I assure you,” Herrick said, “this will not waste your time. As to why you, and not the British? Here, if you will.” He pushed the leaflet across the table. “This is an announcement of the reward of one thousand pounds sterling for the recovery of the remains of Captain Cook. It’s from the Office of the Exchequer of the Kingdom of Hawaii.”
“There is no such thing,” said the Deputy Minister. That particular office– the entire government, actually– was dismantled several years ago, on the orders of Admiral Thomas.”
No surprise there, Herrick thought. “Is not this Exchequer’s Office the successor to that office?” he asked.
“Perhaps in point of fact, but not in point of law,” said the Deputy Minister. “I mean, what law– the law of the Crown Colony?? There is no more Crown Colony,” he shrugged. “Certainly, you’re not suggesting that the Kingdom of Hawaii is under any obligation to honor the obligations of Lord George Paulet.”
“Are you disavowing the reward, then?” Herrick said.
“I’m not in a position to avow or disavow anything,” said the Deputy Minister. “I’m not the one to say. And I don’t know who you’d take it up with— we’re not in the business of trafficking in shrunken heads.”
“This is not just some shrunken head, as you put it, sir. You don’t seem to appreciate what you’ve got here, although I’ll bet my bottom dollar that the British would appreciate it.” Herrick said. “Should I tell them that it is the decision of your government that the remains of one of England’s greatest sons be thrown away onto some ash heap for the dogs to pick at? Is that what they’re worth to you?”
“Frankly they’re worth nothing to me,” said the Deputy Minister. “But then again, I’m in no position to speak for His Majesty.”
“It wasn’t that long ago,” Herrick said, “that Your Majesty Kamehameha III escaped with his kingdom by the skin of his teeth. I would like to think that it would be worth something to you— with your position to think about—to avoid stirring up another hornet’s nest.” Herrick looked at the Deputy Minister, searching for some sign that he might have touched upon a point of some relevance. Uncertain, he continued. “But I would think it more germane to Your Majesty’s interests to have something of this nature available to your government… as a bargaining chip, perhaps. It would make for a potent gesture of good will… should the need ever arise, as it has in the past.”
The look in the eyes of the Deputy Minister brightened perceptibly. “More so,” Herrick added, “as far-sighted as that would be, it would be quite a feather in your own cap to recommend as much to His Majesty.”
Being essentially broke, the reward was a sum of money that the Kingdom could ill afford, and the government was ill disposed to pay anything for the ill-tempered head of the man who had so exasperated his hosts at Kealakekua Bay. But on the one hand, it was deemed prudent to avoid giving the British any pretext to change their minds and start casting about for reasons to re-establish their primacy over the Hawaiian Islands. Better to pay up, and put the thing away in the basement and say nothing more of it. And, His Majesty agreed, it just might someday prove a valuable bargaining chip. In consideration thereof, payment of the sum of one thousand pounds sterling was authorized to Mr. Jonathan Herrick.
“Lock the door behind you,” Herrick said. “We need to take care of this quietly, if you don’t mind.” Bennie turned the lock, then pulled up a chair. Breathless with anticipation, he watched as Herrick dialed the combination on the lock of his safe, opened it, and removed a stack of bills. His eyes widened as he watched him count them out– six hundred pounds sterling in all. Herrick laid the money out on the desk.
“Wait!” Herrick said. “Before you touch any of it, there’s one more thing.” He produced a receipt for payment for services rendered to Dr. James Barrett: one hundred pounds, which he extracted from the pile. Still, Bennie thought, the five hundred it netted him was more money than he’d see in a lifetime of chipping barnacles or chasing whales.
“I wish to make clear to you,” Herrick said, “that the matter ends here. They’re paying the money on the understanding that you’ll say nothing about this to anyone. You’ll sign a disclaimer to that effect.”
He laid before him a document that, for all its legal bafflegab, might well have said anything, and Bennie signed it without reading it. “If the British ever hear a word of this,” Herrick said, there’ll be hell to pay. What you just signed says that you acknowledge that confidentiality in this matter is paramount, any breach of which is a criminal offense punishable by law. With that said, here’s your money. You’ll need to take this straight to the bank. No stopping at the saloon on the way and buying for all your friends.”
“You don’t have to worry,” Bennie said. “I know exactly what I’m going to do with it.”
“And what is that, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Going to buy myself a boat. Do a little trade with the indians.”
The figurehead, quite literally, of British imperialism was remanded, along with its fanged, pearly-eyed wicker basket, to the basement of Exchequer of the Kingdom. It was top secret stuff, sequestered under lock and key.
But the winter of 1858 was very wet, and there was heavy flooding in Honolulu. The basement of the Exchequer’s Office fared poorly. Many of its contents were destroyed outright, but thanks to the excellent weave of its basket and the head’s cradle of pulu, the head itself was not much affected. Its tags and other identifying documents, however, were soggy and illegible, and the identity of the contents of the basket became further obscured when the caretaker of the collection was fired for having failed to take adequate precautions to safeguard his responsibilities from the ravages of natural disaster. Given the sack summarily, he was ill disposed to help his successors sort out the mess.
There the Ark moldered until the year 1898, when Queen Lili’uokalani and her ministers were deposed at gunpoint by the United States Marines. The provisional government of the Republic of Hawai’i under Sanford B. Dole demanded an indemnity from the Kingdom to compensate for having been inconvenienced by their resistance. So as to raise cash to pay the indemnity, the Exchequer was reduced to selling whatever possessions it had. Absent any supporting documentation and viewed as just another curio, the Ark proceeded onto the auction block, where it was purchased by a collector for the sum of twenty-five dollars.
On day number one hundred sixty out of Boston, the captain of Thaddeus exclaimed that the snow-covered peak of Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii had come into view. After so many tedious months at sea, its passengers were breathless with excitement over their impending landfall.
But even their eagerness to regain land beneath their feet could not have lessened their astonishment over their first close-up look at things. The balmy and verdant islands of their imagination were in fact barren and sun-blasted along their burning shore. What they had imagined to be gentle, flower-bedecked people were savage-visaged as wolves, with beetle brows and thick lips and ferocious scowling countenances. They were naked except for loincloths, and their sun-blackened hides and woolly pates glistened with sweat and salt water. Shouting, exuberant, and taunting, they seemed a complete departure from the romantic abstractions that populated the popular perception of Hawaii.
The missionaries disembarked and began to make their way along the waterfront towards the mission compound. The glare poached their eyes.
“It’s so hot here!” Alva exclaimed.
“It’s because the sun is so bright,” Bertram explained. “Everything glares so, and there’s no shade to be found anywhere.”
They boarded the wagon. “Is the mission far?” she asked.
“Just up the road,” the driver replied.
“I was afraid you’d say that.” She was hoping it would be far away from all this, up there in those valleys. Their horses kicked up thick clouds of coral dust along the roads, and hordes of flies buzzed about in the sun, fastening themselves onto their every bead of sweat. Alva slapped at her wrists, her arms, and her ears. “Oh, these flies– I’m swatting myself silly!”
“You’ll get used to those,” the driver said. “But there is a new fly, one that announces its presence to you by singing. Its bite itches very much! There are many of them here by the river!”
“Is this the main street?” she said. “I expected the natives to be living in huts.”
“Most of them do. This is where the businessmen live. Here they are close to the ships.”
Civilization had made some inroads, they saw. Here and there was a white trader, or sailor, or whaler, who had squatted and taken a tawny mistress and made for himself a mongrel home. There were a few shops, stores, and houses of hand-hewn coral blocks, sun-bleached and pitted and mortised with a thick frosting of sand. Nothing was built of wood, save the missionary houses, which had been nailed together in the prim whitewashed fashion of the Cape Cod idyll. Some houses had glass windows even, though most were open to the dust, buzzing black flies, and the new singing flies.
They passed thatched huts clustered around a tawdry shantytown, most of them low and filthy in the extreme, scattered higgledy-piggledy over an arid plain and along the banks of a scanty river. Surrounded in general with dilapidated mud walls, they were inhabited by a mixed population of curs, pigs, Shanghai poultry, and unwashed natives.
The land along Oahu’s south shore was arid, unlike the rich, well-watered humus of the windward side where taro luxuriated. Mostly the land was empty and scrofular with scrub and low grasses and sedge, and the sand-soil reflected the omnipresent glare and heat of the day. Here, the land was cultivated by hard-scrabble “dirty noses” who poked and prodded their mounds of dry powdery soil and leafy trash for sweet potatoes.
A group of young women sat in a circle in the shade of a plumeria, amidst a litter of leaves that had left the tree naked but for the sweetly scented profusion of ivory and cream-colored flowers that remained on its boughs.
“Hey boy!” one of the girls called out to Bertram. “Hello!”
She thrust out her tongue, sucked poi off her fingers and waggled her feet, laughing. An older woman in a dirty red and white-polka dot dress looked on, her nostrils flaring, then got up and shoved the girl in reprimand. The third offered a cawing mockery of the first girl’s invitation, keening out “Hey boy!” The girls rolled in helpless laughter.
After a brief ride, Alva and Bertram arrived at the mission compound. The mission houses emulated the New England idyll, wood-shingled, whitewashed clapboard, adjoining carefully-mortised coral block structures. Outside was a well and an old iron pump, and within were tidy rooms hung with linen drapes and furnished with armoires, four-poster bedsteads, cribs and writing desks cobbled together by the residents of the mission from hand-hewn lumber.
But there was no grass, only a dusty, flyblown courtyard that lay baking in the sun. A lopped papaya tree spread its exuberant umbrella-like leaves over knobs of melon-fruit, and a few spindly palms loaded with old brown coconuts stretched their trunks and feathery tufts into the burning empyrean to cast a meager, miserable shade.
As the carriage pulled up to the mission house, men and women dressed in black emerged from all corners of the buildings and hastened towards them. The head of mission, Brother Johnson, waved his arms and grinned broadly.
“Watch your step now, you’re on dry land, in case you’ve forgotten what it looks like!” He reached out to took hold of Alva’s hand and helped her out of the carriage. “Welcome to Hawaii, missus!”
“Oh… thank you,” Alva said “you just can’t believe how nice it is to be here!” She looked uncertainly at Bertram, as if questioning the veracity of what she just said.
“I’ll never take the earth beneath my feet for granted again,” Bertram enthused. “And I’m sure that Mrs. Bingham has had quite enough of the sea. She was sick most of the time, and she’s still quite weak.”
“I’ll let Mrs. Madden recommend a proper course of recovery, then,” Brother Johnson said.
The old woman led them upstairs to a pair of adjoining bedrooms, stuffy and breathless. “You poor dear,” she said. ”You look like you haven’t been able to keep down a bite for all that time. We’ll see to it that you’ll recover your appetite. They’re preparing dinner, so just rest up for now. Here, let me open the windows,” she said. “We’ve kept them closed to help keep out the flies. They’re just everywhere.”
“I’ve noticed,” Alva said.
“The natives can stand them. Walking around naked all their lives, the sun’s made their skin like leather. I’m sure they don’t even feel the bites. Or else the flies prefer us.”
Alva wondered if the flies accounted for their funereal dress: black Mother Hubbards and severe bonnets that concealed their dubious charms, from their grimacing chins to their swollen hocks. Even while the sun wore its most hellish aspect, there was no loosening of the dress code that reflected their dour and cheerless creed.
Mrs. Madden turned to the great stone church of Kawaiahao, medieval-looking with its squat Doric columns and crenelated belfry tower. Its graveyard was populated with Hirams, Claras, Tituses, an Elizabeth or two, and one “Charlie” whose headstone beseeched him to “rest beyond the river.”
“They earned it,” she gestured.
“What’s that?” Alva asked.
“Their rest. It’s just one never-ending war. This is a prodigious darkness we are up against.”
“I hope that there are any obstacles that cannot be overcome with love and mutual respect,” Alva said. “After all, I imagine they’ve got something to teach us, as well.”
“I wonder what these people know of love,” Mrs. Madden answered.
The skiff that would carry Bertram and Alva Bingham ashore at Hi’ilawe thumped gently against the hull of the little ship Falcon as it lay at anchor several hundred yards off the bouldery beach. In the late afternoon, black clouds lowered over the sea, and a fresh onslaught of rain burst over the bay. The kanaka Noah sat in the skiff, waiting.
“Aren’t you coming ashore, Captain Cahoun?” Bertram asked.
“No, I have to stay with the ship,” Bennie said. “The currents are tricky. If I’m not with her every moment, Falcon could slip away and we’d be on the rocks in no time.”
There was no welcoming committee bearing armloads of lei, no bright children with smiles of white teeth dazzling against golden complexions, no one to lead them to a place of honor on the mats and implore the new arrivals to teach them a few words of English right then and there. There were no amiable young natives to offer a refreshing drink from a freshly opened coconut, no jolly old man banging away at a piano in a quaint little church while they all sat about, smiling at each other, singing a hymn of celebration of their arrival. This was an old building in a state of near-ruin, with most of its windows shuttered in forbidding collapse.
A man led them toward a dilapidated frame house next to a stinking, mud-choked piggery that served as the cookhouse. They squished and slopped along through the mud, and at last made it up onto the lanai, its floorboards rotted and sagging.
Inside the frame house, on dirty mats, was strewn a welter of boxes, bundles of bamboo, rank horsehair blankets, roasted taro corms, stalks of apple bananas, battered tin pans, rounds of hard poi in ti leaf wrappers. A chicken bone was gnawed by a cat that sat and glowered at an old rooster.
On the floor sat a frightful old woman, with heavily wrinkled forehead, bulbous nose, bushy eyebrows, and sullen expression. Her gray hair was cropped short, and she wore no clothing, only a tattered blanket muddled round her shoulder and a panoply of tattoos. Her weathered brown skin bulged prominently with arteries and her hands, though clean, looked filthy. Beneath the blanket, her old teats dangled like wineskins to her waist.
The old woman was Kehau’s mother. Having lost her husband to the shark, she lived with Kehau in the old house. She squatted on the mat beside two young women: one, the child of Wolohu’s rape, now fifteen, and the other a friend of the girl’s. Kehau had never taken another man after Bennie left, and after Wolohu forced himself on her, her heartbreak had hardened into bitterness and her belly swelled with child.
Still, it had not been all take and no give. For while Wolohu had blessed her with a child, she had reciprocated by passing along to him the odious spirochete that she had gotten from Bennie. Wolohu hadn’t thought anything of it, really, and had attributed the pain of his urination to malign spirits. In time, it had gone away.
“Hello, everyone. I’m Pastor Bertram Bingham.”
The women looked with amusement upon this strange and pathetic-looking couple.
“And this is Mrs. Bingham.”
Alva waited to be invited to sit, but they just stared, giggling. Finally, she seated herself for a while on the frayed mat.
“I’m quite wet, Bertram,” she said. “I can’t sit in these clothes. I have to change somewhere.”
The old woman hardly noticed her. In fact, she was probably blind, or nearly so. Two girls—the old man’s nieces—lolled about on the mats, twittering, and every movement, every change in facial expression on Alva’s part brought renewed eruptions of merriment. They watched her as a hawk would a June Bug. Bertram brought the trunk in, and opened it.
No sooner did Alva begin to rummage through the trunk to find a change of clothing, then the two girls were up to their elbows in its contents, pulling out this and ogling that and remarking and pointing and posturing and laughing uproariously. One took hold of a bonnet, which she then tied onto her buttocks, and shook them vigorously, reducing the other to doubled-up laughter.
“Please!” Alva pleaded. “Give that back to me!” But the joke continued, and Alva, visibly irked, grabbed it back from them, a bit more forcibly than was intended. Hastening to extract a few articles of clothing, she shut the trunk’s lid with an expression of undeniable pique.
“They’re just curious, dear, that’s all,” Bertram said. “Girls, would you please? Mrs. Bingham only wants to get dressed,” he explained, not that they understood a word. “We’re all wet from the rain, and quite a mess, as you can see.” The girls understood nothing of what he said, although Kehau had acquired a few words of English from Bennie.
“Bertram, I need to change! Is there a room somewhere?” She looked around the cabin and saw there was none. Outside, the rain was lashing down in sheets.
“Is there a bathroom somewhere?” Bertram asked Kehau. She tiled her head, unsure. “You know… ” he said, using body language to convey an urgency of relief.
Kehau got up. “You come,” she said to Alva, motioning outside.
It was a vile old outhouse, its door with its carved quarter-moon opened to reveal an old pit and a short bench next to it. Oddly, it didn’t stink, probably because the natives rook their business elsewhere, usually to the beach in the early morning ebb tide. Alva the door ajar so she could see, and apprehensive of rats, she stumbled her way through the change of clothes and hurried outside.
She emerged, dressed in a black gown. Sullen, she averted her eyes from the mirthful and mocking stares of the girls. With what dignity remained to her, she re-seated herself on the mat.
Famished, Alva looked about hopefully for evidence of dinner in the making. “Bertram, I’m terribly hungry. Is there something I can do to help prepare supper?”
Bertram looked at the old man, and made the motion of shoveling food into his mouth. The old man smiled, and repaired out of doors into the chicken coop. There, he fetched up a chicken, stroked its feathers, and muttered a few words of apology. Then he drew his knife across its throat. The chicken flew out of his arms, beating its wings in a mad flurry, scattering feathers and spraying blood everywhere, then dropped to earth a few yards away. The man picked up the still-flailing bird and dropped it into a barrel of water, where it floundered for a moment and expired.
The man cleaned the chicken and placed it in a pot of boiling water, and in time, he brought the chicken and a dish of sweet potato inside and set them on the table. Carving the chicken with a knife, he grabbed and pulled at the meat with his fingers. He brought a calabash of poi, set it before the old woman, and removed the lid. Instantly, the two girls jabbed their fingers into the gummy gray paste, twirling it round their salivaed fingers and slurping it like runny noses. Coffee was served in a cracked communal bowl for all to drink from. Bertram picked politely at the food, and Alva ate hungrily of the chicken and sweet potatoes.
When Alva and Bertram were finished, the man gestured for the girls to dedicate themselves to the remains, and they gnawed the bones clean and smacked away the last of the poi from their fingers. He then brought a bowl of cold water to rinse their hands, and a ragged cloth that was intended as a towel.
Towards evening, the gummy cloud began to clear, and shafts of evening sunlight played among the taro patches. The sunset fired the tops of the palms, rimmed the walls of the valley with gold, then was gone. A grove of pandanus trees darkened into spidery silhouettes against the violet sea. Through the mop-headed palms, the sky had turned a velvety blue, and slowly the scents of evening spread through the rain-freshened air. A garden bloomed riotously behind the mission home with unruly tangles of hibiscus.
Kehau’s mother arranged a row of pillows on their mat, and the girls lay face downwards, their chins resting in the hands, and stared at Bertram and Alva with their great brown eyes, chattering animatedly and laughing incessantly like a pair of excited apes. The old man dragged some of the things to one side, and laid down a mattress of pulu for Alva, then smoothed a moth-eaten sheet over it, then a graying quilt of orange and red cotton.
He then brought out a tin lamp, whose flame sputtered and smoked from its freight of pork fat. The girls brought another calabash of poi, and again twisted the sour paste onto their fingers and sucked at it noisily, looking cow-eyed at Bertram. Grunting with animal satisfaction, they again fixed their stares upon Alva.
They talked all at once and without pause for breath, until the old man uttered the word “auwe!” with a long groan, giving voice to his exasperation over their endless palaver. Then he pulled off his trousers and went to sleep.
From somewhere in the room, a cockroach took wing, and buzzed wildly around the room. The roach landed on the quilt in front of Alva. “Bertram!!” she shrieked. She stared in horror at the beast, its antennae gyrating from beneath its pus-yellow collar, its barbed legs jerking beneath its fecal-brown carapace, its thousand eyes rolling. She recoiled in horror, gathered her mattress, and scuttled madly to the wall. The roach flitted off again, buzzed along the room once more, then out into the night. The two girls dissolved in laughter at the spectacle. Alva looked at Bertram, gasping. “It’s gone now, love,” Bertram said. “I think it flew out the window.”
Kehau’s mother erupted in a death rattle cough, hoicked up phlegm, and spat it out the broken window through which the roach had made its exit. The commotion had awakened the man. He got up, fired up his pipe, and the girls in turn got up to renew their attentions to the poi and their bickering with the old woman. The moon, drifting through the clouds, glared balefully.
The nights were like that, one after the next. The mosquitoes never let her be for a moment. Just as she was drifting off to sleep from exhaustion, sure enough one would come whining along. Their bites raised welts that itched horribly, and she scratched ‘til she bled. She could not relax, knowing that if she looked there would be one on her ankle. She slapped at them wildly, the girls laughing. Having grown up with mosquitoes, they were never troubled by them. Alva tossed and turned through the night, hissing with exasperation at the bugs and the old woman’s incessant hacking cough.
The rain poured down most nights, at times swelling into a roar that made sleep impossible. Alva lay wide awake, thinking of the old woman’s death rattle, nagging and relentless. The cats came and went throughout the night, and it being the season, they fought noisily. The night was full of the noise of crashing rain and, in the intervals between downpours, the enraged screams of the cats.
“Bertram? Are you awake?”
“Yempf. Heh? What is it?”
“Bertram, I’m worried.”
“About what? I’m worried that I might catch something.”
“Are you cold? Do you want me to close the window?”
“No. I’m worried I might get whatever the old woman’s got. Whatever it is.”
“What? She’s just got a cough, that’s all.”
“Bertram, you heard what Captain Cahoun said about leprosy here. Heaven only knows what—”
“Leprosy?! That’s absurd! It’s a cough, that’s all.”
“I don’t care. I don’t want it.” By now the old woman was awake, lying there, looking at them quietly.
“Alva, she’s awake now. I don’t want her to think we’re talking about her.”
“Is that all you care about my well-being?! She could be deadly ill, for all you know! You’re not a doctor! And I’m lying here next to her! She doesn’t know what we’re saying anyway.”
“Alva, if you’re so concerned, why don’t you come over here, and I’ll take your place.”
“Then you’ll get it… and give it to me!”
“What do you want to do, then?!”
“Most of all, I’d like to move!”
“Well, we can’t just do that. We’ve got to have a place to move to. Just try to put up. Captain Cahoun will soon be bringing what we need to add a room or two to this old house, and we’ll see what we can do. We’ll make a home here soon.”
“He promised that weeks ago… or has it been months?! Oh, I just want to get out of here, and have a decent night’s rest! Everything is soaking wet, but with so many mosquitoes! I feel like I’m on fire, and I’m going to scratch myself to pieces! And those horrid roaches crawling all over! To say nothing of whatever it is that she’s got that’s crawling all over me as well.”
“I quite understand, dear.”
“And Bertram, I don’t know how long this dress is going to last before it rots and falls off me. Or perhaps I could make things easier for myself if I just did as they did, and went about half-naked! No wonder they all live in one room. Who needs privacy? Bertram, if we’re to provide any sort of Christian example to these people, we must get the place fixed up somehow, while Captain Cahoun takes his sweet time.”
“Dear, I don’t know how I can build anything if the basement is going to flood in the process. In any event, the rest of the lumber for the new roof hasn’t even arrived yet.”
“Well, why don’t you put up a roof of some kind, it’s getting hard to find a dry spot to put the mattresses. I’m sure they could help… why don’t you ask for it?”
A strange figure did arrive to help– a slight, sun-blackened man with bloodshot and rheumy eyes. He had come to help with building the roof and laying in the garden. He walked palsiedly and seemed a bit demented. His eyelid jiggled nervously, giving one the impression he was taking you in.
Wolohu came every day, walking about hither and yon, planting taro corms and shaping mounds for sweet potatoes. Pencils of papaya seedlings arose from the mud, and stands of arrowroot took root near the stream. Coffee and hibiscus shrubs began to flourish with the tentative sun of spring. At the same time as he established the garden, he and his friends helped lift palm-log beams into place, and as they went along, Wolohu learned the words for things, and in time, Alva taught him the words for some of the more rudimentary constructs of the White Kahuna’s religion.
At last, Falcon returned to the bay. Lumber and tools and nails were unloaded, though not in sufficient quantity to build more than a modest structure. The work continued, and when at last it was finished, the house was tiny and cramped, but it was a home of their own. Alva’s furniture consisted of two chairs and a table, one leg shorter than the other, and covered with a tattered plaid shawl. Their bed was situated on boards raised a foot or so from the ground upon bricks, and a thin muslin curtain was let down at night to separate their bedroom, so that Bertram might stay up to write his sermons, while Alva rested up from the rigors of life with her impossible hosts.
She remembered how it was, this time of year, back home in New England. It was Thanksgiving, and she could just smell the turkey. In her mind’s eye, she saw the table, set with cold oysters, veal with peas and ham, sweet breads and canvas-back duck, blanc mange, jelly, baked pudding, grapes, pears, apples, oranges, and ornamental sweets from the confectioners.
Nothing could have been snugger than her father’s Roxbury puddingstone mansion with its large open fireplace, and the whole house festooned with camellias and other exotics hanging in baskets from the door-tops and showing in every available space. She pictured herself, so pretty in a simple French dress of white tulle, done up with white clematis, and with a wreath of the same for her hair.
The whine of a mosquito sundered her reveries, and Alva looked about angrily for it. She was angry, now that she thought about it, about everything here. While the new home was a beginning, here she was unable to grow any of the fruits and vegetables she knew, she could not obtain seed for corn or melons or squash, and the flour was rancid and moldy. There was only taro and sweet potatoes and yams and bananas and papayas and pork, from pigs that were wormy and had gorged on filth, and fish, which she never cared for. There was no beef, no sugar amidst all the sugar cane, and tea was only an occasional luxury.
The church, such as it was, stood beside a winding stream that in the rainy season had become a torrent, flooding fishponds that gleamed dully upon meadow lands patchworked with thousands of taro plants. The ears of the taro drooped sadly, lending their indolence to the general torpor of the scene. But none could match the fragrant taro of Hi’ilawe, whether the pink corms of the much-prized red taro which were reserved for the chief, or the corms of the piko kea, blue like the sky, or the hapu’u, a black-stalked, green-leafed taro named for its resemblance to the tree fern. The manini was so-named for its similarity to the striped reef fish, the elepaio recalled the prominent white dots on the bird’s wings, and the leaf of the Pele’s Smoke taro was dusky, as if brushed with smoke.
But such poetic comparisons were lost on Alva. The gray paste revolted her. She could not bear to look at it without it calling to mind the snot that hung from the lips of children everywhere here and ran into their mouths, forming a steady nourishing stream. But wretched as it was, Bertram ate the poi with relish, twirling it around his fingers, licking it off, and happily mingling his saliva in the communal poi bowl. He wasn’t at all reluctant to keep their company at mealtime.
There was nothing noble about savagery, she reflected. If they mocked her, they deserved their perpetual night. More and more, she longed to be back with her own people, that crass and shallow bunch albeit—anything but these bones-in-the-noses who didn’t have the slightest appreciation for civilization. At times, it was just impossible here. But this was home now, like it or not.
During those first months in Hi’ilawe, Bertram’s sermons in pidgin English had drawn the curious. Soon they became uncurious, and while some stayed, most found the sermon largely unintelligible.
He wondered if his facility in the Hawaiian language would ever be adequate to convey the intricacies of Christian doctrine. How could he explain the vagueries of a God whose son Jesus Christ was also God, and yet neither were able to offer salvation, except through the mediation of a third god, a Holy Ghost, and yet the three were aspects of the same God? Perhaps it was better to approach the problem from the ground up, and teach English to the children of Hi’ilawe so that they might grow up with the language.
“Now that’s the mission’s finished, how do you feel about teaching Sunday School?” he asked Alva.
“Dear, I’m just not ready for it, not just now.”
“But I thought you’d be looking forward to it, after all that you said about gathering the children round for lessons… and lemonade, and what not,” he smiled.
“It’s not as I imagined it should be. We need a piano, or hymn books at the very least. We don’t have any books at all to share with the children. And most of them don’t speak a word of English, you know.”
“So why don’t you teach them English?”
“I’m tired, Bertram. I can’t begin to think about teaching Sunday School when I’ve just gotten us settled in, and I’m trying to make a home for us with what little we’ve got.”
“Well, it’s home enough for now. And now we’ve got to get on with doing what we came all this way to do. I’ve got a congregation to teach that among them that, I agree, can’t understand more than ten words I say, in either language, I might add. If we’re to teach these people both the word of God and a better way of life, then it should be in English, so that they might read books and someday go to school and learn something of the outside world.”
“It seems like such a distant prospect,” Alva said wearily. “Still, I know you’re right. Perhaps this just isn’t the time to ask. I need some time, and people here haven’t seemed very friendly, apart from Wolohu.”
“It’s been hard for you, I know,” Bertram said. “And I can appreciate that you’re a bit dispirited about things at this point. But if you just got involved with people here, I think you’d find they’re really quite likable.” She looked at him dubiously. “And I’m certain they’d find lots to like in you. You can’t just continue to hold yourself apart. It needn’t be you against the world, Alva.”
Bertram was right, she realized. It was time to get on with things, time to stop regretting all that she didn’t have here. Most evenings, she sat by the light of the guttering old tin lamp, sipping tea when she had it, and leafed through her diary. She reflected on the sentiments she had penned on board Thaddeus in anticipation of her new island home. “And oh! Lord if I do settle,” she read, “it will be so easy to settle here. The South Seas will course through my blood: the lovely and gentle brown people, the flowers and the lagoons, the flooding silver moonlight. I’ll hire a small boat and drift in a perpetual dream about those lovely lagoons.”
She wondered how she could have ever dreamt such nonsense. Throughout much of the day, she had no one to talk to, and she spent hours writing poetry and long letters home—a home that was a world away in every respect. And Captain Cahoun stopped by but once every so often to deliver supplies and pick up the mail.
Perhaps she just needed more time, Bertram realized. If there were only someone else to teach the children in the meantime, and it occurred to him that it didn’t have to be in English, necessarily.
“Why not Wolohu?” he said. “He seems so interested in the Bible, always asking about it, isn’t he? Maybe he’s absorbed enough to pass along some simple instruction to the children. At least let him help out.”
Alva agreed to begin lessons next Sunday. She and Wolohu got together to go over the lesson plan. Their communication was rudimentary at first, she had taught him some English as he was working round the place, and had even imported some Christian notions of God, our savior Jesus Christ, love, charity, and Christmas. But his command of English remained rudimentary. In apprenticing himself to this woman, Wahine-of-the-White-Kahuna, Wolohu intended to apply himself diligently to the study of the Mysteries. This notion of Christian love that the White Kahuna spoke of intrigued him. He wondered if it was more powerful than the sugar cane sorcery, or even the were-shark business for that matter. But then again, the White Magic could not be very potent, he realized, since it was apparent that the White Kahuna himself did not enjoy the vigorous blessings and favor of his God if he was meant to live in such humble conditions.
It seemed to Wolohu that Bertram might be a discredited or minor kahuna who had been sent in exile to live with Hawaiians in this faraway place. Perhaps he was being punished for some transgression or disrespect, or even some violation of a kapu. Though the White Kahuna seemed an affable and easygoing sort, his wife was constantly castigating him for his shortcomings. It seemed likely, therefore, that he had been exiled to this place because he was inept at his sorcery. Perhaps this was the source of the rancor with his wife.
Summer had come, and the rains had at last given way to a new torment. “It’s so damned hot!” she gasped. Alva had taken to using oaths, but Bertram had ceased protesting against it, finding it easier to just go along with it. “It never cools down long enough to let you catch your breath,” she said. “Not even during Christmas! And I don’t know what I like less, summers that are just boiling hot, or winter that is merely sticky with buckets of rain every day!”
“I’ve gotten used to the weather, I think,” Bertram said.
“Well, I’m glad you have. But I so miss the four seasons. Here you can’t keep anything dry, even when it’s not raining. It all grows mold. Can’t move without breaking into a sweat! Everything you wear becomes stained and wringing wet in no time at all. Rats and hordes of hopping toads and termites and mold on the curtains and the ceilings, and the furniture rotting and stinking of mold, and the sea-grass carpet stinks and you get heat rash– oh, I’m sick of it!”
“Why don’t we step out for a bit of fresh air?” he said.
“You go. At least you can get away from me and all of my little complaints!”
“All I said is I’m going out for a walk. You’re more than welcome to join me—as wife, best friend, confidante, even as chaperone! I would do anything for your company. But you refuse to be coaxed out of your self-imposed imprisonment! This is a beautiful place, Alva! Look around you, the forests and the waterfalls and the ocean are beautiful, and the people are awfully nice, if you give them a chance! But here you sit… are you coming or not?”
“Need you ask.”
“Alva, I don’t understand why you have determined to so hate these people.”
“Why? What’s there to like about them? They’re sullen and mean and their children are scabby and all have runny noses. They’re lazy and they look at you with murder in their hearts! I don’t know how I ever thought this was a South Seas paradise. It’s just a horrible place with nothing but horrible people!”
“Maybe that’s because you never made an effort to be friends. You never go out, and you never meet anybody. And what’s more, our church is supposed to be where we meet them! Alva, engaging these people is why we came here. Not to luxuriate in heaven here, but to help them to find it where it truly awaits those who place their hearts with God.”
“Well, there are plenty of misguided souls who need our help back home. Just think of poor Mrs. Thornapple, for instance, with her nine children.”
“We came here in service to the church and to God. I have a responsibility to these people, and the bugs and the heat and the rain and their backwardness are all just part of the darkness we have come to help push back. Yes, this is silly, in a way. Because the mosquitoes are always biting me too, and a young tough may want to club my brains out, and their kahunas may want to cast me into Pele’s fire pit. But still, I want to live here, in spite of it all.”
“Well, I’ll feel better when we’re shut of this place, and not before! We could be a lot happier back home! Father could get us a nice place to live. We could have friends, for one thing. And if you have friends, you can have them over for tea and conversation, and there are church functions and all kinds of shared interests. If you got yourself a proper position with the Board, we could probably save enough to someday have something decent!”
Bertram saw that she had been looking through her old copies of Godey’s again. One of the magazines lay open to a page with pretty drawings of a cottage and fruit trees and flower beds. He looked at his young wife with pity. It saddened him to see her so unhappy and so obsessed with things that he could not hope to provide her with as a minister, especially in a part of the world that was as ill-suited to creature comforts as the heart of Africa. It seemed to Bertram that Alva was in danger of losing her love for God. She seemed not to share in the least his devotion to service. How could he ever continue here, he wondered, with a wife who more and more found fault with everything, and whose greatest desire seemed to be to return to the pampered society she had once scorned?
“How do you expect me to live like this?” she went on. “This is a start, but it isn’t a proper home! I don’t have anything for us to make a home together with! This is our second year now! No furniture, except for this hand-me-down rubbish from the church! No curtains to keep the natives from gawking at us! They’re always staring… and laughing! I don’t even have flour to bake with! Surely they don’t expect us to eat poi… though looking at you, maybe they do!”
Stung, Bertram absorbed the indictment, and grew ashamed.
“Perhaps I need to ask father, not the church! Maybe he’ll listen to his own daughter, even if he has to send one of his own ships! God knows I wish I had listened to him!”
“You seemed to have admired these people well enough back in New England.”
“Oh, don’t mock me, Bertram! If you’re white and come from a good family and have a good education, you don’t do this sort of thing, coming here and carrying on like you’re one of them! We were all whites in a white land back there. We can’t live like natives!”
His defense was exhausted. “As I said, I’m going out for a walk. You’re more than welcome to join me.”
The solace of his pipe was his only refuge from these little storms of marriage. On his evening walks, the natives always followed, savoring the tobacco’s unearthly fragrance, and he would even pass his pipe around for them to share.
“Will they be joining you, as usual?”
“Your many admirers.”
That caught him up short, and he grew defensive.
“What if they do?” Bertram said. “Any member of my flock is welcome to join me.”
“Flock, indeed! The only resemblance they have to sheep is those fluttering sheep’s-eyes the girls always seem to have for you! And you don’t seem to mind their nakedness in the least, do you?! If you don’t find me interesting, you might at least have the decency not to gaze at them!”
“It’s hardly that at all!” Bertram said. “After all, for these people, nakedness is as natural as breathing. We are among children of nature, Alva, warts and all. These are your noble savages– right out of Rousseau!”
“I suppose I should be flattered by your sudden interest in Enlightenment thinkers!”
“You know, I used to believe you when you spoke of these things that you once so passionately believed in! I’m a bit surprised… it’s almost as if you’re jealous.”
“Bertram, these are hardly women to be jealous over! In fact, I don’t think of them as women at all! They’re so… brutish.”
She had begun to wonder whether Bertram was vulnerable and, more to the point, whether she was. Much as she strove to downplay the charms of the native women, she knew that many of them were lovely. She might compensate by dwelling upon all that was unattractive about them, but for all their savagery and their wild hula frenzies and pagan deities, some of the women were indeed lovelier than she.
Now at last the true source of her rancor had revealed itself, and the poison fang of jealousy stung him. “Alva, you can’t possibly think I have any romantic interest.”
“If I were to judge by how you behave toward me, I would agree you have no romantic interest in anything! I can only hope they’re as studiously ignored as I am!”
“I haven’t been ignoring you, Alva.”
“Then you certainly have fooled me! I could understand your reticence during all those months we were at sea, sharing a cramped cabin with the others! Though I longed for you, I knew there was nothing I could do, so I simply endured. And I could understand while we were living in that horrid place while the house was being built. But now at least we’re together, by ourselves. And you still behave as before! What’s wrong with you?! Or is there something that’s wrong with me!?”
Bertram looked askance, not answering. The thought that he spent as much time as he did with the natives because their women were more attractive to him than she gnawed at her. There was nothing they’d like more than to have a white man, she knew, and women who drowned their own children, who co-habited with as many men as they pleased without taking a husband, who even taught their own grandchildren the arts of love, and who themselves commenced fornication when they were the merest of children… such women wouldn’t think twice about ruining a family.
“Bertram, do you not love me… as a woman?” she said.
Bertram did love his wife, and regretted that he had been less than successful as a provider, and less than ardent as a marital partner. Part of the problem, he realized, was him. He could not satisfy her craving for intimacy, did not appreciate it beyond its purpose of procreation. Their few times together had only further aroused in her a hunger for fervent embrace, and for the closeness and sharing of intimate concerns and endearments. She tried to entice him, but he hadn’t always responded, he knew.
As a man of God, Bertram was predictably less inclined than more worldly men to provide proof of his devotion to his wife. He resolved, however, to become more attentive. Though he had no material solace to offer her, his affections cost him nothing and were his to give freely, however little it might interest him personally.
“I do love you, Alva. I’m sorry I haven’t been very attentive to you lately. There’s been so much to do, with building the house and the chapel and all. I just don’t know where my mind’s been.”
Captain Cahoun had arrived with the usual excuses for supplies. Though they needed everything, somehow he managed to always bring things they didn’t need, such as cast-off winter clothing donated by the members of the church back home, and bundles of old newspapers from Honolulu. His visits were invariably a disappointment, always fell short of what they needed to keep the buildings up and the little amenities that might have made such a difference in Alva’s happiness. The Board’s consistent inability to supply them with things they needed and wanted remained a source of constant exasperation with Alva, and Bertram dreaded going back empty-handed, with nothing to give her except more bad news and more month-old newspapers.
Climbing aboard Falcon, Betram wondered if this time might be any different.
“Bertram my man! How are things with the mission?” Bennie asked.
“Just fine,” Bertram said. “Except for not having just about everything. Has the church sent anything out of the ordinary for us this time?”
“I don’t know what you would consider out of the ordinary, Bertram. They seem to think you have everything you need here. I’ve got the usual. Some tins of bully beef. Some old clothes. Candles. Soap. Tea, sugar, and flour. Some tobacco. A few other odds and ends.”
“Where’s the lumber I asked them for?! Where’s the paint? What about the cloth? My wife’s dresses are rotting!”
Bertram’s anger surprised him. “Bertram, I’m just the delivery boy. Don’t get mad at me.”
“Well, I’ve asked them repeatedly for these things! Surely they can’t expect us to continue to live in a broom closet with scarcely even a broom. You gave them my letters, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I gave them your letters. Look, just sit down and take it easy. I’ll bet you haven’t had lunch.”
“You don’t mind then if I have a little something? I’m starved.”
Bertram anger soon gave way to amazement. Bennie unlocked the stores chest and allowed Bertram to feast his eyes on its contents while he pretended to rummage around. Jars of toffee-sugar. Pounds of smoking mixture. Bars of milled soap. And tea, glorious tea.
“What are you doing with all this?”
“A little barter with the natives.”
“Barter? What do they have that you could possibly want?”
“It’s for goodwill, mostly. It’s good to have these people on your side. How’s your Hawaiian these days? I’ll bet you’re becoming pretty conversant with the language.”
“Less than adequate. Like everything else here. Why don’t you ever come ashore? In all the time you’ve been coming here, it’s always the same. You always make me come out to the boat, like it’s such a mystery. It’s as if you were hiding from them.”
“Well, Bertram. When I do business with these people, it’s always been my practice to keep it at arm’s length. Friends don’t mix well with business, and you know how these people are—everybody’s their friend. How do you like your steak, Bertram?”
Bertram hadn’t seen a steak in years, much less the likes of these that Bennie unwrapped from the butcher paper. Thick, marbled cylinders of prime, aged beef, each with its own pat of butter on top. Bertram swallowed, and without knowing it, licked his lips.
“By the way,” Bennie said, “I don’t think Alva would mind having one of these, do you? I’ll send a couple extra back with you after lunch.”
Bertram was at a bit of a loss for words. Alva would die for a steak, even kill him in the bargain, after a year of scrawny chicken and wormy pork.
“I’d like it well cooked, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Bennie tipped the two steaks into the pan. They hissed and popped as the pats of butter melted and the steaks cooked. He sprinkled them with salt and a pinch of dried garlic and parsley. Bertram’s head was swimming. What must it be like to live decently? What was wrong with living decently? In a proper, clean, well-kept home with nice things and room enough to live with children and a happy wife who made a nice supper each evening with proper beef once in a while. Even ministers had a right.
Bennie took down the plates from the cupboard, forking the steaks onto them and placing two hard rolls alongside. He sliced a big beefsteak tomato and arranged the slices on the plates, and handed one to Bertram.
Bertram tore into his steak. My heavens, he thought, he hadn’t had beef in ages. His head swam and he became nearly delirious with the heady taste of the meat and the juices that just exploded in his mouth. He took a bite. Then quickly, another. He was famished, and he finished off the steak in no time. With regret, he pushed his plate away.
“Like another, Bertram?”
“Oh no, Good Lord… I’d die of the richness of it!” Glowing with gratification, he began to feel a twinge of guilt. No wonder Alva’s so unhappy. Poor thing, really. She needs something like this, she’d love it. It would be nice to surprise her, cheer her up.
“You’re not usually so nice to me, Bennie. I keep wondering what it is that you have in mind.”
“Glad you liked the steak. A cigar would go nicely with the meal, don’t you think? I think it’s only proper that men have a cigar when they talk business.” Bennie produced a box of cigars, not the ten-for-a-dollar variety, but rich-looking smokes with burnished wrappers. To Bertram, they were an inconceivable luxury. Bennie took one, clipped off the tip, and offered it to Bertram. He accepted the cigar and examined it, running his fingers over its leaf, and held it up to his nose to partake of its aroma. It smelled divine. Bennie lit a match and held it for him, and Bertram began drawing the cigar’s nutty savor up along his palate and out through his nose. It was unearthly.
“This is wonderful, Bennie, but honestly, I’m not much of a businessman. Just a man of God who doesn’t expect to find his riches here on earth, although I admit, those that I find here are delightful. But I don’t have anything to offer in any event.”
“Bertram, I know you don’t have anything. That’s why I’m here, to help.”
“To help who, Bennie? I may not be wise in the ways of the world, but I’m not stupid, either. And I really don’t want money. After all,” he said ironically, “what would I spend it on?”
“Well, the church, for one thing. Dress things up a bit. Put in some of the comforts of home. This is a pretty rustic existence out here. You’ve been here in the valley for quite a while, and I would agree, the church seems to have forgotten about you. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to do what you could, within reason, to feather your own nest, make your wife happy and provide for your family.”
“Bennie, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with your insinuation that mine is not a happy home, though I would agree that I’m not able to be the provider that I would like to be.”
“Bertram, come on! A bit touchy, aren’t we?! Look, I need your help. And I’ll pay you well for it. What you do with the money is up to you. Burn it on a pagan altar, for all I care! But I think we could help each other out, and make things a lot easier for you in the bargain. Take a look. See all this stuff in the chest? That’s for you and Alva. Or if you don’t want it, give it to the kids at the mission. There’s toffee-sugar. There’s tea, there’s tobacco, even a nice meerschaum pipe. And yeah, there’s cloth,” Bennie said, lifting up the top tray in the chest to reveal a generous measure of white cotton cloth, and nestled within, a package of needles and thimbles, even scissors, and a pair of sensible brown shoes, he had guessed at her size.
“What do I have to do? Sell my soul?”
“That’s nonsense. Bertram, I need your skills. You can talk to these people here. You know their language.”
“What do you want from them? They don’t have anything!”
“They’ve got sandalwood, Bertram.”
Sandalwood… so that’s what it was! Bertram had no idea that it grew here, and had never seen it. He knew of it, that’s all, knew that it was made into trinket boxes and such.
“Well, Bennie, the sandalwood’s not mine to give. And I’m not really in the business of brokering deals. I’m a minister!”
“Bertram, you’re a minister and a good one. It takes a selfless man to give his life here for so little. It’s not easy to put up with the isolation.”
“We’re okay here.”
“I’m not suggesting you aren’t,” he said edgily. “But I’m offering you twenty-five percent for your services. And if taking money troubles you, then take it in trade… for the benefit of the mission! Just tell the chief that we’d like to do some business. Give him a pocket watch as a token of my esteem. Tell him I’ll bring him some great stuff. All he’s got to do is cut some wood. The valley’s thick with the stuff.”
“How do you know?”
“An educated guess, Bertram.”
When Bertram returned home with Bennie’s presents, Alva seemed listless and less than enthusiastic about the largesse. She seemed tentative and weak.
“What’s the matter,” Bertram said. “I thought you’d be overjoyed. Are you ill?”
“Bertram, I have something to tell you.”
“What’s that, dear?” he asked, his apprehension mounting.
“I think I’m with child.”
“You’re what?! A child! Are you sure?!”
“Quite sure. I haven’t had my monthlies for two months now, and I feel quite sick some mornings. And now.”
“Why, that’s wonderful news! Not that you’re sick, I mean, but I’m just so pleased– happier than I can say!”
“Bertram, if it is so, and I know it is, then I think we had better get busy with our home.”
“Why? What does the house need?”
“I’m speaking of a proper home, Bertram… the one you promised me for the family I promised you.”
“Of course dear, I quite agree. This is far too small.”
“Promise me again, Bertram. Because I want our child to grow up in a proper home, not a hovel. I want it to be just as you always said it would be, our own home—not a couple of small rooms hanging onto to an old flophouse. I know we’ve not gotten along as well as we might have. But if God is indeed blessing us with a child, I feel that we should make a new beginning, for the sake of our child. I want for us to be in a new home, a proper home that’s our very own.”
“I promise you, Alva. With all my heart, I promise you… even if I have to go to Honolulu to choke them for it!”
As Alva’s condition progressed, Bertram felt great happiness for the child of course, but he was also relieved that he could stop pretending to be ardent. Still, that was scant solace, really. He knew that Alva’s acquisitiveness would soon swell into an imperative, and she would natter at him as her confinement progressed, going on about all the things the baby would need that they didn’t have. And the church would continue to ignore his pleas for assistance.
The things they needed to make a comfortable home were not affordable to a man of the cloth, and it did not put Bertram’s mind at ease that Captain Cahoun now proposed to suddenly take all the squalor away and make a new life of abundance available to him. But in retrospect, he realized that he had already decided, and after long deliberation, it was time to broach the matter to his best friend, confidante, and advisor, his wife.
“Alva, if it would make you feel any better, our friend Bennie wants me to go into business.”
“You’re joking! Why Bertram, I never thought you had it in you!”
“I’m not sure that I do.”
“What sort of business is he talking about?”
“He says there’s sandalwood here, thick stands of it.”
“So it’s worth a lot of money, he says. Sandalwood is hard to find.”
“How would he know there’s sandalwood here?”
“He wouldn’t say.”
“Well, if he wants to do business, why doesn’t he just go to the chief and make his own arrangements? What does he want you to do?”
“The answer to both questions, supposedly, is that I know a bit of the language, and of course, I know the chief. Plus, I don’t know… it seems that he’s got his own reasons.”
“What is he going to do for us– I mean, for the mission?” asked Alva.
“Well, what don’t we need here? In a way, I’m drawn to it, but in another way, I’m not really sure I should get involved. I’m a man of God, not the almighty dollar. And the church ought to be able to– ”
“The church, nonsense! The church doesn’t even know we’re here! You may keep hoping against hope that they’re going to make things right, but I would rather that you depend upon you— as we do! Bertram, if there’s something you can do to make this a better place to live, and to worship, then you ought to be realistic about it. It doesn’t sound as if he’s asking so much. It’s about time that you gave more consideration to providing for the baby that’s on the way. After all, you promised. And now that an opportunity is staring you in the face, you’re asking me what I think?”
“I don’t feel right about this, Alva, but I’m torn, and I do want your advice.”
Not really. But it made it easier that it was not his decision, but hers.
“At least look into it!” she said. “For that matter, if you don’t want to sully your hands with this matter, why don’t you put Wolohu onto it? He’d be pleased to do whatever he could to help, I’m sure of that. At least give it a try, Bertram, for the sake of your family.”
Bennie was engaged in the activity he loved best: counting his money. He had loaded three hundred piculs of prime sandalwood at Hi’ilawe. In addition to more generous rations of the usual trade goods, he now told his kanaka Noah to convey to the chief of Hi’ilawe certain goods in appreciation for his good offices. There was good tobacco, a splendid white pipe, and a pocket watch. In addition, there was a case of sarsaparilla, with a small red dot on the cap marking a bottle of special interest, that looked like sarsaparilla but was different. It was medicine that the white man enjoyed, much as the Hawaiian enjoyed awa. It was for the chief only to enjoy, and enjoy discreetly. And for his wives, Bennie had brought gaily-colored fabric, mirrors, costume jewelry, candy, and shoes. Then there would be Bertram’s cut. Three hundred piculs of prime sandalwood were worth a fortune in Honolulu, and worth half the tea in China at Canton.
Bennie offered Bertram a cigar, which was accepted. “You’re going to be a daddy now, Bertram! That’s reason enough to celebrate. And the way business is going, pretty soon I’ll be bringing you good cigars by the gross! In any event, I reckon your cut will be worth enough to more than just put butter in the larder and steaks in the frypan. What do you say, Bertram! What do you think? What’s on your wish list? I can’t very well bring you cash.”
Bertram wasn’t sure. That the sandalwood was cut by the blood, sweat, and tears of the people of the valley had not ceased to trouble him. True, he had done nothing more than to introduce the idea to Wolohu, who had then taken it up with the chief. What they did with it was their business. For that reason, it could not be tainted money, could it? What to do, dear Lord? But God hadn’t answered him.
“Thanks, Bennie,” he said dispiritedly.
“Thanks, hell. You earned it! Now do your congregation and your family a favor. What can I bring you from town?”
For his part, the list was long enough. But for the Hawaiians, until now there had never been a desire for wealth. There had been no shiny goods made from brass, no trinkets, no bolts of gaily-colored cloth, no tobacco, no money even. The farmers of the valley had little understanding of commerce. Business was a genial barter of fish and salt and poi and kapa that assured the common good and sustained body, soul, and self-respect for each member of the community. It used to be that generosity, rather than material wealth, was esteemed, and the more you gave, the more you were admired.
Nature’s bounty channeled itself through the Hawaiian and came out as aloha, a natural congeniality, as natural an outgrowth of the land as the taro. The farmer was the product of a lush environment that surrounded him with emerald forests, towering crags that brewed up great lustrous clouds, rich humus watered by sparkling streams, and the dazzling blue of sky and sea. Though it was a life of hard work, there were few extremes, and generally he was left to enjoy and share all of life’s bounty.
But now whole families were sent into the mountains above Hi’ilawe for days at a time, subsisting there on little but wild bananas and dried poi. Since there were no beasts of burden, the heavy sandalwood logs were hauled by the men with chains, along narrow, rainy, and slippery trails. They grew callouses on their shoulders, but these offered scant protection against the cold rain and wind in the mountains as they cut the sandalwood, even by the light of the moon and the constellations.
At the end of the day, they ached in every joint from cutting sandalwood and pulling up roots. Their reward and release was awa, which was chewed and spat into a bowl until the bowl was filled. Then, if the farmer had bartered poi for some fish that day, he took from the underground oven the head of the jack fish, the bundle of mullet flesh wrapped in ti, a hand of ripe bananas, and a deep red sweet potato. He thanked the gods for their generosity. He gulped down the awa, and rinsed out the bitter taste with a draught from his water gourd. Then he picked a mouthful of fish, a piece of banana, a section of sugar cane to chew, a bite of sweet potato, the fatty eyeball of the fish, perhaps some pork in taro leaf. The candlenut lamp would glow as he listened to the inner sounds of whistling shells and chirping crickets, or of wind sighing in the trees. He would slip into reverie and contentment, and all of his pains would be forgotten.
Wolohu, too, sought to soothe their aches, with his glowing accounts of the white man’s heaven, in which all who embraced Jesus would live in comfortable houses with windows and lace curtains and four poster beds. They would eat tinned meats no less than three times a day and wear fine clothes. Yes, cutting sandalwood was hard work, but the people of Hi’ilawe already enjoyed a new way of life, he reminded them, one that provided them with cloth, tobacco, and such things as mirrors. They lived in huts now that had panes of glass to keep the rain out and admit light, much as the Gospel admitted light into their souls. They had a day of leisure, Sunday, that they had never enjoyed before, on which to attend services in his Sunday School and listen to the new organ.
The valley had been transformed from a scene of bucolic innocence to one of Christian industry. Some of the women were now clothed in mu’u mu’u of gay cotton prints, and the men were given saws and chains and other iron tools to cut sandalwood and later to farm their own fields.
The sandalwood trade had brought numerous blessings to the chief of Hi’ilawe. This was, Wolohu had assured the chief, because the chief and his people were now good in the eyes of God.
As Wolohu took delivery of the goods from the kanaka Noah, and delivered them in turn to the chief, he knew he had the chief’s ear on things. Wolohu appreciated his burgeoning responsibilities, and turn, the chief distributed his goods to his delighted subjects, and reminded them to send their children to Wolohu’s Sunday School, to learn what would make them good in the eyes of Jesus and deserving of his generosity. The chief, who was good in the eyes of Jesus, greatly enjoyed this generosity. And of the goods Bennie so generously delivered up aboard Falcon each month, what the chief wanted most of all was more sarsaparilla.
The chief loved his presents. It made business easier to transact, since the more sandalwood he delivered, the more bottles among the sarsaparilla he might find marked with red dots.
But the intricacies of modern business were lost, for the most part, on the chief. Being unlettered in such matters, he was slow to appreciate the delicate relationship between output and income. So when the deliveries of sandalwood were less than robust, the chief found to his dismay that there were fewer bottles marked with red dots.
He protested this shortfall, and Wolohu was left to explain to him that Noah had told him that the Captain of Falcon had told him that his sources had told him that they would deliver only a quantity of whiskey that was consistent with the amount of wood tendered.
The lesson was learned, and the chief demanded that his people redouble their efforts to cut the sandalwood.
“How’s the Sunday School going?” Bertram asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Alva said. “Wolohu’s gotten to the point where he handles most of the lessons just fine. At least he never seems to run out of things to talk about with the children.”
In her delicate condition, she just couldn’t be bothered with it any longer. If the truth be known, she still didn’t like the children very much. They seemed so dull, and interested more in play than learning. But Wolohu was doing very well indeed with his show-and-tell with the Godey’s pictures and what-not for the children– and their parents sometimes as well. Everyone seemed to enjoy his lessons, and she was entirely content to let him look after the Sunday School.
“You mean you can explain scripture to him that readily?”
“I mean… oh, I don’t know what I mean. I think he’s reaching his audience quite nicely with all that we’ve discussed.”
“I thought the idea was for him to translate for you.”
“Dear, I think there’s a limit to how much he can translate. I can’t very well just stand up there and talk and talk, you know. It would take ten words of explaining to him, and heaven knows how much pantomime and gesturing, for every word of scripture I might try to impart.”
“So he’s sort of improvising as he goes.”
“I wouldn’t presume that!”
“How do you know what he’s telling them?” he said. “I wonder what he is telling them.”
“Don’t worry about it! I happen to think it’s just as important that the children are at least starting to look and act Christian. They come wearing clothes, at least, and they have an education at last—the only one they’ve ever had! They even bring their parents. They’re not quite a pack of savages any longer, and if you ask me, that’s progress!”
Syphilis had blessed Wolohu with lucid insights to impart to his congregation at the Sunday School. The audience at Wolohu’s Sunday School had swollen, in part because the chief told them to come, but also because Sunday School was fun. The children, and the parents and the elders as well, all came to hear Wolohu’s fantastic accounts of all that the White Magic could bring them, wonderful stories of what life was like for God and his adoring flock in San Francisco.
True believers, Wolohu deduced, lived with God in San Francisco in white-style houses, their interiors furnished with tables, chairs, and beds, and served meals of tinned meat, rice, and other delicacies, all served by white angels. The White Kahuna had real mana, and his religion was the key that opened the vault of San Francisco and its riches.
He had seen drawings in Godey’s Magazine, another holy book like the Bible, he explained to his audience. Actually prints of Yuletide scenes, they seemed to Wolohu to depict the forbidden fruit of the White Magic. For there was God, sitting in his red kapa robe and flowing white beard, surrounded with books on the secrets of making treasure, smiling cherub-like as He watched His menehune make the treasure: hard candy, carved soldiers, colored blocks and cones and bricks. At His heiau, a great tree was strewn with stars plucked from the sky and burning candles and odd tin fetishes and colored balls. On the table were piled offerings, foremost among them an enormous roast moa in place of the hog. This, then, was San Francisco, covered with drifts of shimmering white mana, so deep that there were footprints like those in the volcanic ash of the caldera of Kilauea.
This was treasure from the white man’s God, who loved His own people and lavished these gifts on them. The white man’s Heaven was not the ethereal never-never land of Paliuli, to which the souls of Hawaiians went but from which they never returned to tell the tale, much less bring souvenirs of. The white man enjoyed an open conduit of material largesse from his Heaven—a place that Wolohu had heard the kanaka Noah call “San Francisco”—being the source, to Noah’s understanding, of all that was so beloved to the white man. It was there that they made things like tinned beef and tinned fish and tobacco and toys and all the furniture and wondrous things he had seen pictures of in the holy books, and stuffed them into warehouses to be taken away on sleds drawn by fantastic flying animals, to deliver up to those who were deserving.
Even if some members of the congregation tried to discount these stories and explain to their children that they detracted from soul growth, the children would not listen. Eventually, tired of being laughed at, the elders kept their feelings to themselves, for the children knew—and could not be told otherwise– that the old ways meant living in flea-infested thatch hovels and mucking about in taro patches and getting their skins darkened by the sun and their feet dirty. The children knew what they wanted. They wanted to be clean and light-skinned like Bertram and Alva’s little boy, wear gowns and shoes like he did, and learn to shake hands and say how do you do, like he did. All this talk from the elders about soul growth and reverence for old bones was nonsense.
Wolohu expected that the day might come when he would be selected by Jesus Christ to replace the White Kahuna Bertram. Then the warehouses in San Francisco would open their doors and Falcon would make delivery of all the things that God would provide, and which he would then distribute.
Still, it remained a mystery to him as to why he was forbidden to meet the captain of the little ship in the bay. It must be that it was Jesus Christ himself on the boat, kapu and forbidden to any but the White Kahuna.
Bertram tried to accept his own assembly’s low attendance as a result of his shortcomings in the language, though actually, his Hawaiian was quite good these days. Still, he was uneasy. There were many things that made him uneasy now, though Alva did not share his misgivings.
“If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times!” she declared. “A Christian way of life is a life with proper clothing, shoes, decent and clean accommodations, proper food, and quite a few other things that were absent here when we arrived. To say nothing of a proper work ethic!”
“I’m not sure,” Bertram said, “that denuding the valley of sandalwood, with entire families engaged in hewing and hauling wood in miserable conditions, is what the Good Lord asks in return for living a decent Christian life!”
“Then how are these people to have any respect for Christianity, if they see that all it brings them is more darkness and savagery… and living in filthy hovels!”
“I’m frankly more concerned with the salvation of their souls,” Bertram said, “so they can live in Christian bliss for the rest of their immortal lives!”
“And that’s no doubt what you would have been content with for me– and your child as well– if I hadn’t had the common sense that God gave you none of, and engaged Wolohu to assist in making some practical application of Christian precepts! So, count your blessings, Bertram! You’ve got Wolohu to thank for lots more than you can imagine. As a father, you shouldn’t have to be told these things!”
Despite his misgivings, things continued as they had, until one fateful evening when Bertram, while out on stroll, heard caterwauling and uproar from the direction of the chief’s house. When he went to investigate, he could scarcely believe his eyes: the chief was drunk. Seeing Bertram, he was jolly, and he clapped his enormous hands on his shoulders and embraced him. But the smell of liquor was so thick that the fumes alone might have made Bertram drunk as well, had he not pushed him away. Bertram did not share the chief’s jollity and good will, and he angrily demanded to know where he had gotten the liquor. The chief at once grew sullen, and stared at him with bloodshot eyes and growing anger. When Bertram persisted, the chief took hold of him and bodily evicted him.
Bertram was livid. He knew right away that the liquor could only have come from Captain Cahoun. It might be weeks before Falcon once again pulled into the bay at Hi’ilawe, but when it did, he would obtain the clearest accounting on this matter.
When at last Falcon did return, Bertram’s indignation was undiminished. ”Bennie, you’re nothing but a common pirate!” he spat. “Anything for a buck, right?!”
Bennie stared at him, the picture of innocence offended. “Bertram, why so huhu? What did I do?”
“As if you don’t know! I’ve gone along with things so far because, as you must surely appreciate, it’s not entirely my choice. I’ve acquiesced in the plunder of this valley for your pecuniary gain, and watched the people here descend from heaven into hell– but what must you have taken me for!” He leaned into Bennie and shook his fist, his eyes bulging cholerically. “Did you think the chief was going to just have a quiet little nip, and that I would never be the wiser? Wouldn’t a person of your shrewd insight have thought it possible that he might someday go a bit overboard with it, braying to the high heavens and all who would listen the virtues of your moonshine?!”
“He was drunk, you say?”
“That, and you’re stupid, if you think you’re going to bluff your way out of this one!”
“What are you accusing me of? You think that I gave it to him? Maybe he got it from Hilo.”
“And pigs may fly! Just give me a straight answer, Bennie! Did you or did you not give him the liquor?!”
“Look Bertram, I didn’t realize this was your very own private valley, and these were your very own precious children! It just so happens that Hawaii’s a part of the modern world now, and these people have got a perfect right to do as they please, just like any other.”
“So you admit it then!”
“As far as I’m concerned, the chief is lord and master of his own domain, and has a perfect right to do as he pleases. If whiskey’s what he wants, and he’s willing to pay for it, whiskey is what he gets. I’m just the delivery boy.”
“You’re also the one that put his nose in it! You know as well as I do that he didn’t know whiskey from water until you came along!”
“So what? Look, I’m not my brother’s keeper, despite what you may have been told. So if you go around telling grown men they can’t have a bit of tipple like anyone else, you’re going to wear out your welcome here.”
“And so will you!” Bertram shot back. “Let’s understand each other, Captain Cahoun, if you don’t stop this sordid little bootlegging business instantly, I will personally go to Honolulu to take my complaint to the church, and demand that it rescind its contract with you—even if I have to swim there!”
Bertram presented his case to his wife, demanding both an end to the trade, and to what he knew was Wolohu’s complicity in it. “This has gone too far, Alva,” Bertram said. “I’m sorry I ever got mixed up in it.”
“I might have known you’d start your complaining again sooner or later,” she said. “Can’t bear to have some of the comforts in life, can you Bertram? And why, may I ask? Does it impede your spiritual growth?”
“That’s disgraceful! It seems as if you’re mocking the Good Lord Himself!”
“I’m mocking your laughable infatuation with poverty! Except that it’s not at all laughable to me.”
“I’m not saying I don’t want to provide for us! But look at what it’s done to the people here, their way of life! They’re slaving like beasts up there, cutting and hauling sandalwood in all kinds of weather! They’re tired, they’ve got blisters on their backs, and for what? So the chief can drink himself to into a stupor?! Is that what you want?”
“I don’t favor drink, Bertram—you know that. But as I see it, it’s to their benefit to embrace a Christian work ethic. Because all they ever did before was sit around naked and sleep all day! Is that what you want for them? I’m seeing a real improvement in things since we came here. And I have no intention, Bertram, no intention whatsoever, of going back to the good old days! I have no intention of ever again living in the sort of shabby circumstances that you seem to find so praiseworthy! I think that Wolohu has been doing a commendable job, and if he’s obtaining some measure of influence as a result, then that’s only his just due!”
Disconcerted over the loss of his whiskey and knowing that Bertram was responsible, the chief demanded that Bertram close the church and leave his valley.
This presented a terrible dilemma for Wolohu, since without the White Kahuna and most especially his wife, and without the Sunday School certainly, all would be lost. It was clear to him that the only way to ease the impasse was to reinstate the chief’s supply of whiskey. But how? The kanaka Noah had told him that the ship’s captain, concerned that he would lose his contract, would no longer acquiesce in delivering whiskey, even if there was still lots of sandalwood to be bartered for it. And if Captain Cahoun would no longer cooperate, perhaps an arrangement could be entered into with the kanaka Noah.
Wolohu took Noah aside one evening to discuss his concerns. Noah would be pleased to help resolve the matter, but he said he would need cash to buy whiskey. But what was cash? It took some doing before Wolohu was at last made to understand, and when he did, he asked Noah to tell the ship’s captain that since he was unwilling to barter whiskey for wood, the chief would no longer accept any of the usual baubles in trade either. Henceforth, Wolohu said, the chief would accept only cash for his sandalwood, so that some of it might then be redirected to Noah for his cooperation in delivering the whiskey.
It would mean a bit of a wait, Wolohu told the chief, but he assured him that the crisis would be resolved soon.
The Great Mahele promulgated by Kamehameha III decreed that the land be distributed to the farmers who worked it. But in order for the farmer to obtain clear title to the land, he would have to register his name with the authorities, and his name would then be published in the newspaper. But this did not accord with the elusive nature of the Hawaiian, some of whom called themselves by different names, as was convenient to them. Some were known to white people by one name and to their own people by another.
Many simply shrugged when offered goods in exchange for the deeds to their land. Much of the land had been given to the chiefs, and they too bargained it away for baubles, or simply gave it away outright, in some cases to missionaries who would manage the land in return for concessions. They accepted the bolts of gaily-colored cloth and tobacco and whiskey and thought to themselves, “more foreign nonsense.” In their way of life, things had always been collectively owned. The land, the sky, the sea—these things belonged to no man.
It was said that the missionaries came to Hawaii to do good, and did very well indeed. Some of them held positions of power in His Majesty’s cabinet. Others became preoccupied with the business of serving Mammon, not God– especially when the land they were given, initially thought to be arid and worthless, was discovered to hold aquifers of water that was pure and sweet and excellent for growing things. With water, the land could be made to produce crops of considerable value.
The missionaries had begun to leave the church in droves to pursue their newfound business interests. As Bertram could confirm, the Board in Boston had been miserly in its support for its missions in Hawaii. Salaries had been late or had been skipped altogether, there was no money to keep the existing missions in good repair or to establish new ones, and nothing for supplies. There had long been speculation that the church must either change its ways or cease to be. The departure of so many of the brethren confirmed this trend, and it sent a clear signal to the church that it must become financially viable.
Unable to muster the support from the members of its churches that had once been so reliably forthcoming, the Board of Missions now desired that all missions become more self-sufficient. It had become necessary for the missions to somehow acquire their own land and conduct whatever business was necessary to support themselves.
Princess Ruth Kamakawiwo’ole lay on her death bed, confessing her sins to Brother Johnson, head of the mission in Honolulu.
“I’m dying, Reverend Johnson. But I am at peace. I am at peace because of you. You have been a great comfort to me. And when I die, I will go into the light of the Savior, not to some dark place.”
“You are an inspiration to your race, Princess Ruth.”
“I wish there was more I could do to thank you. But you are a man of God, and there is nothing I could give you that would interest you.”
“Of course not. My reward is in witnessing the salvation of your immortal soul. There’s nothing that could gratify me more.”
“But there is something more that I want to do for my people, Reverend Johnson. Something that you can help me with, if you don’t mind. One last time.”
“What is it?”
“I have some land, in Waikiki. It isn’t worth much, it’s just duck ponds and coral and keawe brush. But I don’t want to sell it. I want you to take care of it, rent it out if you can. And use the money to start a school for Hawaiian children, so that they too can be educated and become Christians and someday die saved.
“Actually,” she continued, “my brother’s the one that has the valuable land. He’s a chief, you know, the chief of Hi’ilawe, a valley on the Big Island. He’s the one who can really help you. He’s got so much land, land that grows the best taro in all Hawai’i!
“Problem is, he don’t know nothing! You know how those people are over there, they live in the past. They still worship the old gods, some of them! I don’t know about him, though. Maybe I can write one letter. Can you write that letter for me?”
“Of course, Ruth. Certainly. But let me be clear on what you’re saying. Are you saying that you want to will your lands to the church, so that the church might hold them in trust? Manage them, and use the money to educate Hawaiian children?”
“God bless you, Princess Ruth. God will surely have a very special place in His Heaven for you.”
The next day, Princess Ruth dictated a letter to be taken and read to her brother the chief of Hi’ilawe, telling him of her conversion to the Christian faith, and asking that he too abandon his pagan ways and embrace Jesus Christ. She told him that she was willing her lands to the Christian mission, with the stipulation that the rents derived from them be used to educate Hawaiian children at the mission school in Honolulu. As a final favor to her, would he do the same?
Bertram was summoned to a meeting of all the ministers of the church’s missions throughout the islands. He strolled into the church office in Honolulu.
“Brother Bertram!” exclaimed Brother Johnson. “What a pleasure! It’s been a very long time since we’ve seen you! How’s life treating you over in Hi’ilawe?”
“A bit better, on balance. Mrs. Bingham and I are at last building a proper church now, and a new house. Our old quarters were a bit cramped, as I’m sure you’ve heard.”
“Ah yes. I almost miss your impassioned entreaties for material assistance. They used to come so regularly.” The poor fellow, Brother Johnson thought, one of the last of the faithful, and so ill-rewarded for that. “Every time Captain Cahoun came by to collect for his services, he had the same tale of woe to relate. Sorry we couldn’t be of much assistance. It’s just that funding from the Board… well, that of course is the subject of our upcoming meeting here.
“But there’s another reason I asked you to come to Honolulu,” Brother Johnson continued, “apart from what we’ll discuss in the meeting. Not only does the Board want us to provide better for ourselves, as I’m sure you’ll concur we should, but a few of the brethren have even acquired their own land from the local chiefs. I think you might be well advised to take some initiative in that respect. Actually, it’s on more than just our advice that you should do so.”
Brother Johnson pulled open his desk drawer, and removed the letter. “I have here a letter from Princess Ruth Kamakawiwo’ole to her brother, the chief of Hi’ilawe, which she dictated to me on her deathbed. I’d like you to deliver it when you return.”
Wolohu listened as Alva read him the letter from Princess Ruth and patiently explained everything it had to say. It was sad that the chief’s sister was dying, she said. But it was her dying wish that her brother promise his land to the church, so that it might someday provide for the education of Hawaiian children.
It all made perfect sense to Wolohu. This, he realized, was the “Promise of Land” that the Great White Kahuna Moses had secured for his own flock, and for which Moses had been showered with mana in the desert.
Since the chief could not read, and as Bertram’s own good offices with the chief had been ruined in their recent encounter, Alva read Wolohu the letter and discussed things with him. She made it clear to Wolohu that she would regard this as a great favor to her. This in turn affirmed to Wolohu that he would continue to have her support for his Sunday School. Indeed, if it was he that secured the Promise of Land, then surely Jesus Christ would favor him, as He had Moses, as his chosen disciple in place of Bertram, who had lost his touch.
The Promise of Land was a crucial element of the White Magic, one that would ensure that Jesus Christ would deliver the cargo. The Promise of Land would cause mana to pile up in great drifts, just as he had seen it in San Francisco. Jesus Christ was a jealous god, much like Ku, who would lavish his generosity upon those who promised him their land.
It was a moment of seminal insight: Wolohu now realized that he held in his hands the Key to Christmas. He saw that Wahine-of-the-White-Kahuna was giving him her blessing and the opportunity to secure for his people the Promise of Land. Wolohu was dazzled by the prospects it held. This would bring such prestige and fame to his Sunday School that the foolish and inept Bertram would be put to everlasting shame. But knowing that the chief would have nothing to do with Bertram, he wondered how he might persuade the chief to sign over his lands to the church?
Alva and Wolohu arrived at the chief’s house for the sad duty of informing him of his sister’s dying wish. When the chief received the news that his sister, Princess Ruth, was dying, he became distraught, and was thrown into the throes of a personal and spiritual crisis. Heart-broken and hysterical with grief, he bashed his head against a rock in the traditional display of mourning, and broke some of his teeth.
But Alva and Wolohu were there, with him in his hour of despair, to console him. Wolohu reminded the chief of what the Bible taught, that salvation awaited people like Ruth, who were good. But that misfortune would be visited upon her people here in punishment for their sins. He spoke of the Hawaiians’ fall from grace and of the need for them to find favor in God’s eyes, as Ruth had, to moderate His wrath and escape certain Divine Retribution.
Wolohu confided that the death of Princess Ruth was a harbinger of a dire fate about to beset the people of Hi’ilawe. For God had decided to punish the Hawaiians of Hi’ilawe, who– as followers of Caan– were bad. He would punish them with a mudslide. But Wolohu assured the chief that Jesus had thought upon his brethren in Hi’ilawe, and had pleaded with God to stop Him from destroying them.
Jesus had wanted to return personally to Hi’ilawe to help his people make amends, Wolohu explained, and he had intended to bring goods, including whiskey. But the missionaries had conspired against him, as they did not want the Hawaiians to share the wealth they alone enjoyed. This much the chief readily understood, since it sounded just like Bertram, who had not wanted the chief to have any whiskey. In fact, Wolohu explained, the missionaries had tied Jesus to a scaffold, and were prepared to sacrifice him at their own heiau.
The chief listened, emotionally fraught and susceptible in his grief to the wiles of Wolohu’s design. He wasn’t sure he understood any of it, but now that Wolohu was talking whiskey, he was interested.
In his hour of grief, Wolohu assured him, the chief was not to despair. For he was here to share with him the Good News: Jesus had escaped from the heiau. In fact, the mysterious person on the sailing ship in the bay was Jesus Christ. The reason that Jesus had not tipped his hand all this time was that he was undecided as to how sincere the Hawaiians were in their desire to give up their old ways for a better life. Jesus had bartered away only bits and pieces of the treasure thus far, Wolohu confided, but would soon consider sending in the bulk of the treasure, including the whiskey, to the chief.
Wolohu knew that Falcon had arrived just that morning with more than just tragic news and the usual trade goods. True to his word, the kanaka Noah had obtained a quantity of whiskey, and now that the chief had broken his teeth, his pain– and its prospective relief– lent great impetus to his cooperation.
Jesus had insisted that the chief must first signify his sincerity, in the white man’s way, by affixing his mark, in ink, upon a promise, written in English, to reform. If he signed the pledge, then Jesus Christ, the captain of the Falcon, would give him all the whiskey he wanted and his people would be spared the mudslide.
Stricken with grief over his sister’s death, and with his teeth in great pain, the chief indeed took consolation in the news that Jesus Christ, and the whiskey, had arrived on the ship in the bay. He regarded this as an unmistakable sign that he must at last let God into his life, as his sister Ruth had urged him to do in her dying testament. Thus reassured, he agreed to sign, so that Jesus might personally confer divine grace upon his poor sister Ruth, and deliver forgiveness and prosperity to his people and whiskey to himself.
Wolohu told Alva that the chief had reached a turning point in his spiritual affairs, where he wished to convey land for the mission to call its very own. But all of his lands? Bertram was astonished at the generosity of the chief, but took it as a sign that at last the Word of God had found its way into the man’s heart, and that the chief had been touched by the Christian example of his sister’s generosity.
Bertram prepared the deed for the chief to affix his mark upon. He and Alva would sign as well, attesting that the chief had made his mark upon this pledge of sincerity of his own free will.
Later that day, with Alva looking on and Wolohu reading to the chief his spurious translation of the deed, the chief made his mark upon the Promise of Land.
In keeping with his end of the bargain, Wolohu took delivery of the whiskey from the kanaka Noah, and brought it to the chief who, having suffered too long from the pain of his broken teeth, drank down more than he should.
In the middle of the rainy night, he awoke with a raging headache and a burning thirst. He stumbled out the door to fetch a drink from the rainwater barrel. In a daze, he slipped and twisted his ankle horribly. He lay there in the rain all night before he was discovered the next morning, his breathing shallow and labored, and suffering from the onset of pneumonia. Several days later he was dead.
When Bertram realized that the chief had died drunk, there was hell to pay.
“I am shocked beyond words!” he told Alva. “He was dead drunk when he died! You could smell it, thick as fog! This has gone far enough, as I told you once before, I won’t put up with it!”
Captain Cahoun swore he had nothing to do with it. And what could Bertram prove anyway, except that he knew that Wolohu was up to his eyeballs in this somehow.
“Since you’re talking about Wolohu,” Alva said, “we have already discussed this.”
“That’s right! There will be no more discussion! It has gone well beyond mere regret on my part. It has become tragedy!”
“It’s not Wolohu’s fault!” Alva said. “It was purely an accident, and Wolohu had nothing with it!”
“Well, I’m not so sure of that, either! It all smells wrong to me—the whole sandalwood business– monkey business more likely! First it was swindling the chief out of his land, and now the poor devil’s dead!”
“Nobody swindled anybody out of anything, Bertram! I was there! Wolohu was there! It was all entirely above-board! It was nothing more than what Princess Ruth wanted for the benefit of the very children that we are here to teach!”
“Nevertheless,” Bertram said, “I am shutting down the Sunday School– and I am shutting down the Reverend Wolohu!”
“You’re doing no such— ”
Alva was stunned, and momentarily at a loss.
“Bertram,” she started again in a small voice, “don’t talk to me like that.”
“I am shutting down the Sunday School! I will nail it shut with boards if need be! And I am sending your friend Wolohu packing, to wherever it may be! I will no longer have a house of God made into a laughingstock!”
Surprised and stricken at his outburst, “Suit yourself” was all she could say.
The spirochetes teemed and the madness worsened. Wolohu had at last been handed the sack by Bertram, and the Sunday School was shut down. Denied the use of its facilities, Wolohu had erected a dais on top a low hill at the opposite end of the beach from where the mission was. It was there that he would receive messages from God in San Francisco. He told his congregation that those who would follow the true Christianity should gather at his dais on the hilltop, where God, in His infinite mercy, would provide them with sanctuary from His punishment of the followers of Bertram.
Today was Wolohu’s opening sermon, and this, he realized, was the moment of truth, either Bertram’s or his. Before the assembled multitude, Wolohu proclaimed his prophecy that the followers of the White Kahuna would soon be punished by a mudslide. He reminded his audience of an earlier vision that he had experienced, in which an angel had warned him of the coming of hard times and famine to Hi’ilawe, and that had proven true in spades. He went on. Wolohu predicted that rains would soon commence that would engulf Hi’ilawe and bring on the mudslide. But here, on the hillside, the Elect would be safe. Following the cataclysm, he told them, Falcon would dock in the bay and unload its cargo. The mud would recede, and as heirs to God’s goodwill, the Elect would then rise up to claim their treasure and their valley, purged and cleansed of the wrong-mindedness of Bertramites.
He ordained special prayers, and later, when it indeed began to rain, he announced that this was a divine sign that the mudslide would soon begin. He urged that the Elect hasten to enter into their covenant with God and place their trust in him, Wolohu, here atop the hill and safe from the imminent muck. As a bonus and added inducement for them to embrace Jesus, God was prepared to change the color of their skin from dark to light. He would turn their skin white to signify His covenant with them.
Accordingly, Wolohu enjoined his congregation to sit outside in the rain so that their sins, and their skin color, might be washed away, and God would see that they were good, and maybe, just maybe, hold the mudslide in abeyance.
His followers sat before the dais and sang hymns. The rain, which heralded the beginning of the end for those who would not join in his revival, continued to fall throughout the day and into the night. But as was often the case, the next day dawned clear and bright, and those who had stayed rose and warmed themselves in the rising sun.
As the hot day wore on and not a cloud materialized, some of them repaired to the shade of nearby trees to watch and await the next deluge. Others who wandered by looked at them and laughed.
“This is madness!” Bertram said. “Look at him! He’s behaving like a madman, sitting out there in the rain all night, caterwauling about the Second Coming, of himself namely, I should think! God only knows what these people have come to believe about Christ and Christianity!”
Kehau had come along too, to accompany Bertram and to see for herself what the old woman Moana was noising about in the village. She arrived at the scene before the dais, looked at Wolohu drying out on his dais, and laughed. She laughed so hard that she doubled over and fell over backwards. Roused by this ruckus from his communion with God, Wolohu came to and stared at Bertram and Kehau, aghast. The laughter quickly spread amongst the spectators and swelled into a chorus that even the rain-soaked true believers joined in.
In that moment, Wolohu understood that he was finished, that he had played his hand and lost. Humiliated, he had lost his dignity and his mana. He had become a generalized laughingstock, but nothing so mortified him as to watch Kehau laugh as she did.
A tremendous surf thundered beyond the the grove of ironwoods and the remains of Wolohu’s dais. It was a desolate area of sand dunes, not far from an ancient burial ground. The rain had eroded some of the sand hills into weird gargoyle forms, and it was there amongst the gargoyles, some smooth and red, others white and filled with glare, that Wolohu had made his new home. Around his shack lay the detritus of his doomed cult– broken bottles and tin cans, rusted odds and ends of implements, rotted swatches of kapa. The sand whistled and lashed like cat’s claws, and the wind hissed like a coiled serpent, malignant and venomous, like Wolohu’s hatred of Bertram.
Lightning shot through the skies and a cannonade of thunder erupted just overhead. Wolohu stared, wild-eyed. Bertram had made a fool out of him and discredited him before his flock. People had laughed at him and his followers for sitting out in the rain all night, awaiting the promised mudslide. Ever since Bertram disbanded the Sunday School, everyone was laughing at him. Kehau, most of all. The sight of her, doubled over with hilarity at Bertram’s outrage at the spectacle in the rain, was seared into his mind’s eye, and he burned with humiliation.
The die was cast then, and he girded himself for the final showdown. They might laugh at him and mock him as they wished. But with the hour at hand for the Battle for Christmas, who would Jesus Christ favor? Would he not favor the devout? Would he not favor the one who had consecrated himself to the Mysteries, and proven himself worthy by winning for the church the Promise of Land?
Thunder rumbled, and things were said to him he did not hear clearly, so he did not know what had been said. But he was quite sure of what must have been said, for there was only one last chance for Wolohu to reclaim for himself the leadership of Christianity in Hi’ilawe and claim for his people the cargo of Christmas.
No one except Bertram and his kanaka Noah had ever actually seen the captain of the little ship Falcon. He never showed himself, nor had he ever come ashore. But it had made sense that he would not reveal himself, since he had been dispensing only token bits of cargo in order to test the faith of the people. Wolohu had told the people that it was Jesus Christ on the boat, and the more he thought about it, the more he knew it was so.
Jesus Christ would not deliver the corpus of the cargo until Wolohu went out to claim it. Now that the chief was no more, it was for Wolohu to seize the day.
Falcon had been away for some time, but at last the day came when morning revealed it anchored in the still waters of the bay. In the meantime, Wolohu had perfected his plan. He had resolved that when at last the little ship returned, he would confront Jesus Christ on the boat, and if necessary tie him up with a rope and compel him to sail to San Francisco. There, they would load the cargo onto a sailing ship, one of the great ships that Wolohu remembered from Godey’s, and sail it to Hi’ilawe in time for Christmas, so that Wolohu might once again be a hero to his people.
That night, he made ready the canoe, which he had taken from the beach in front of some fisherman’s hut hours before. He paddled stealthily out toward Falcon and its waiting captain, Jesus Christ. The canoe pulled up alongside the ship, and Wolohu reached out to pull himself up onto deck. But then the canoe thumped against the ship’s hull. Awakened by the noise, Bennie emerged from the cabin, musket in hand, and beheld the intruder standing before him.
In the light of the moon, Wolohu stared, disbelieving. The shock of recognizing his old nemesis, the thief of his affections and of the Ark of Lono, paralyzed him. In the next instant, Captain Cahoun raised up his musket and discharged a loud blast into the night sky. Wolohu, who had never seen nor heard a musket before, leaped into the ocean. As Bennie watched, he thrashed about in the sea, terrified as he scrambled to regain his canoe and paddle frantically for shore.
Awakened by the sound of gunfire, some came running to the beach from their houses, just in time to see a dark figure struggle from the water, climb over the rocks, and run off into the night, his syphilitic gait unmistakable.
His humiliation was complete. Sitting in his hovel, his shame and his rage festered. He did not dare to emerge into daylight, for he knew that by now the entire valley would have heard of his rout by Jesus Christ. There was no sense in telling anyone that it wasn’t Jesus Christ. He was completely disgraced. The only thing that mattered to him now was revenge.
He pondered the treachery which had caused his carefully considered plans to come to grief. It became clear to him that Bertram had long ago entered into complicity with the thief Bennie, so that they might plunder the land of sandalwood to enrich themselves, and to take the lands of the chief for their own nefarious ends. He saw now what a fool he had been. He had been defrauded and used for their unspeakable purposes. Bertram had done him a terrible injustice in closing the Sunday School, and after all that, had seen fit to mock his efforts to win converts for the mission, to incite their ridicule of him, and now revel with Kehau in his final humiliation. His rage was murderous.
At the far end of the bay was a tide pool, strictly kapu. In it there grew a soft coral that glowed faintly at night, like the phosphorescence of the surf. The coral was a deadly poison, and was known to kill hogs that it had been fed to, and to even kill the dogs that had licked up the vomit of the hogs that it had sickened.
One night, Wolohu went to the tide pool. There, he carefully scraped off some of the coral. He brought it back to his hut, where he spread it on a banana leaf to dry in the sun for a few days. When it was dry, Wolohu pulverized it in a stone mortar, grinding it into a fine powder.
That night, he went to the mission. He stole inside, treading softly down the hall and into Bertram’s study, where he knew he would find Bertram’s tobacco pouch. Just as he expected, there on the desk lay the pouch. Alva had never allowed him to smoke inside, but Bertram had faithfully taken with him his pipe and the pouch each evening on his stroll along the beach. Wolohu picked up the pouch, smelled the fragrant weed within, and then tipped in the powdered coral. Then he wrapped up the pouch and gave it a good shake.
“I really think you’ve been too hard on poor Wolohu,” Alva said.
“I think we should just let sleeping dogs lie, thank you,” Bertram said.
“I think it would be the Christian thing to do to reach out a hand of friendship to him. You can just imagine how the poor man feels just now. He doesn’t have a friend in the world. You should forgive him.”
“He’ll only take advantage.”
“Then you’re not much of an example to your flock, are you?”
She did have a point. Who, more than he, could better demonstrate Christian forgiveness? Would it not the ideal time for him to take the high road?
“I’ll think upon it, Alva. I’m going out for a walk.”
In truth, Bertram wasn’t up to taking a high road anywhere. The past few days he felt like he was catching something, grippe perhaps, and he wasn’t really up to the walk tonight. but since he said he’d think about it, he thought he better take the walk just the same. He ducked into his study, collected his pipe and tobacco, and set out for the evening stroll.
When Bertram was found dead on the beach that night, there were no outward signs of foul play. The Hawaiians immediately thought of Night Marchers. First the chief, and now Bertram.
These were things that people must not involve themselves with, things supernatural. The land was generous, but the spirits of the land would not forgive avarice; they punished it. When people behaved that way, it would come back to them in ways they could not possibly expect.
The people of Hi’ilawe had become possessed by possessions. Now that they had things, they didn’t seem to need each other’s company so much. Their talk was mostly about things and of getting things. There was less joy in the Hawaiian heart, and more fear and more desire. Both of which seemed two sides of the same coin.
The spirit of the valley had sickened. And not long after his murder of Bertram, Wolohu died, too, alone and out of his mind.
Kehau, who suffered from the same illness that had maddened Wolohu, but which in her had taken a different course and inflicted few symptoms, was heartbroken over Bertram’s death.
Gone was the White Kahuna and his God. Gone too were the old-time kahunas, and their gods that once upon a time ensured a plentiful catch of opelu and an abundant harvest of taro and potatoes. Gone was the assurance that the events of each day and the rhythms of nature would repeat themselves faithfully.
Now nothing seemed assured. Farmers let their farms go to ruin. The banks of the taro patches were poorly tended, their intakes clogged with Hilo grass and wandering Jew. The fresh water that was lifeblood to the taro didn’t circulate, and the taro that grew nowadays was nothing like the taro of old. There used to be sacks of taro heavy enough to bend a man down to his waist.
Nowadays there was much affliction and many shortcomings. People no longer prayed to the gods or beseeched their guardian spirits. Only when the taro matured did they pray. But others did not pray at all. They were people who followed rain showers, so to speak. When rain fell on one side of the land they followed it there. When it fell on the other side, they followed it there to plant. Never mind there was plenty of rain in Hi’ilawe to go around.
The little ship that used to bring things to Hi’ilawe, and take away the sandalwood, came but one last time, to pick up Mrs. Bingham and her little boy. It never came again. The old mission stood empty. Nobody would approach it or enter it. It was a cursed place.