The Hawaiian Archipelago, by Isabella L. Bird

Letter X. —(continued.)

We were thoroughly rested this morning, and very glad of a fine day for a visit to the great cascade which is rarely seen by foreigners. My mule was slightly galled with the girth, and having a strong fellow feeling with Elisha’s servant, “Alas, master, for it was borrowed!” I have bought for $20 a pretty, light, half-broken bay mare, which I rode today and liked much.

After breakfast, which was a repetition of last night’s supper, we three, with Halemanu’s daughter as guide, left on horseback for the waterfall, though the natives tried to dissuade us by saying that stones came down, and it was dangerous; also that people could not go in their clothes, there was so much wading. In deference to this last opinion, D. rode without boots, and I without stockings. We rode through the beautiful valley till we reached a deep gorge turning off from it, which opens out into a nearly circular chasm with walls 2,000 feet in height, where we tethered our horses. A short time after leaving them, D. said, “She says we can’t go further in our clothes,” but when the natives saw me plunge boldly into the river in my riding dress, which is really not unlike a fashionable Newport bathing suit, they thought better of it. It was a thoroughly rough tramp, wading ten times through the river, which was sometimes up to our knees, and sometimes to our waists, and besides the fighting among slippery rocks in rushing water, we had to crawl and slide up and down wet, mossy masses of dislodged rock, to push with eyes shut through wet jungles of Indian shot, guava, and a thorny vine, and sometimes to climb from tree to tree at a considerable height. When, after an hour’s fighting we arrived in sight of the cascade, but not of the basin into which it falls, our pretty guide declined to go further, saying that the wind was rising, and that stones would fall and kill us, but being incredulous on this point, I left them, and with great difficulty and many bruises, got up the river to its exit from the basin, and there, being unable to climb the rocks on either side, stood up to my throat in the still tepid water till the scene became real to me.

I do not care for any waterfall but Niagara, nor do I care in itself for this one, for though its first leap is 200 feet and its second 1,600, it is so frittered away and dissipated in spray, owing to the very magnitude of its descent, that there is no volume of water within sight to create mass or sound. But no words can paint the majesty of the surroundings, the caverned, precipitous walls of rock coming down in one black plunge from the blue sky above to the dark abyss of water below, the sullen shuddering sound with which pieces of rock came hurtling down among the trees, the thin tinkle of the water as it falls, the full rush of the river, the feathery growth of ferns, gigantic below, but so diminished by the height above, as only to show their presence by the green tinge upon the rocks, while in addition to the gloom produced by the stupendous height of the cliffs, there is a cool, green darkness of dense forest, and mighty trees of strange tropical forms glass themselves in the black mirror of the basin. For one moment a ray of sunshine turned the upper part of the spray into a rainbow, and never to my eyes had the bow of promise looked so heavenly as when it spanned the black, solemn, tree-shadowed abyss, whose deep, still waters only catch a sunbeam on five days of the year.

I found the natives regaling themselves on papaya, and on live fresh-water shrimps, which they find in great numbers in the river. I remembered that white people at home calling themselves civilized, eat live, or at least raw, oysters, but the sight of these active, squirming shrimps struggling between the white teeth of my associates was yet more repulsive.

We finished our adventurous expedition with limbs much bruised, as well as torn and scratched, and before we emerged from the chasm saw a rock dislodged, which came crashing down not far from us, carrying away an ohia. It is a gruesome and dowie den, but well worth a visit.

We mounted again, and rode as far as we could up the valley, fording the river in deep water several times, and coming down the other side. The coffee trees in full blossom were very beautiful, and they, as well as the oranges, have escaped the blight which has fallen upon both in other parts of the island. In addition to the usual tropical productions, there were some very fine fig trees and thickets of the castor-oil plant, a very handsome shrub, when, as here, it grows to a height of from ten to twenty-two feet. The natives, having been joined by some Waipio women, rode at full gallop over all sorts of ground, and I enjoyed the speed of my mare without any apprehension of being thrown off. We rode among most extensive kalo plantations, and large artificial fish-ponds, in which hundreds of gold-fish were gleaming, and came back by the sea shore, green with the maritime convolvulus, and the smooth-bottomed river, which the Waipio folk use as a road. Canoes glide along it, brown-skinned men wade down it floating bundles of kalo after them, and strings of laden horses and mules follow each other along its still waters. I hear that in another and nearly unapproachable valley, a river serves the same purpose. While we were riding up it, a great gust lifted off its surface in fine spray, and almost blew us from our horses. Hawaii has no hurricanes, but at some hours of the day Waipio is subject to terrific gusts, which really justify the people in their objection to visiting the cascade. Some time ago, in one of these, this house was lifted up, carried twenty feet, and deposited in its present position.

Supper was ready for us — kalo, yams, spatchcock, poi, coffee, rolls, and Oregon kippered salmon; and when I told Halemanu that the spatchcock and salmon reminded me of home, he was quite pleased, and said he would provide the same for breakfast tomorrow.

The owner of the mare, which I have named “Bessie Twinker,” had willingly sold her to me, though I told him I could not pay him for her until I reached Onomea. I do not know what had caused my credit to suffer during my absence, but D., after talking long with him this evening, said to me, “He says he can’t let you have the horse, because when you’ve taken it away, he thinks you will never send him the money.” I told her indignantly to tell him that English women never cheated people, a broad and totally unsustainable assertion, which had the effect of satisfying the poor fellow.

After Halemanu, Deborah, Kaluna, and a number of natives had eaten their poi, Halemanu brought in a very handsome silver candlestick, and expressed a wish that Deborah should interpret for us. He asked a great many sensible questions about England, specially about the state of the poor, the extent of the franchise, and the influence of religion. When he heard that I had spent some years in Scotland, he said, “Do you know Mr. Wallace?” I was quite puzzled, and tried to recall any man of that name who I had heard of as having visited Hawaii, when a happy flash of comprehension made me aware of his meaning, and I replied that I had seen his sword several times, but that he died long before I knew Scotland, and indeed before I was born; but that the Scotch held his memory in great veneration, and were putting up a monument to him. But for the mistake as to dates, he seemed to have the usual notions as to the exploits of Wallace. He deplores most deeply the dwindling of his people, and his manner became very sad about it. D. said, “He’s very unhappy; he says, soon there will be no more Kanakas.” He told me that this beautiful valley was once very populous, and even forty years ago, when Mr. Ellis visited it, there were 1,300 people here. Now probably there are not more than 200.

Here was the Puhonua, or place of refuge for all this part of the island. This, and the very complete one of Honaunau, on the other side of Hawaii, were the Hawaiian “Cities of Refuge.” Could any tradition of the Mosaic ordinance on this subject have travelled hither? These two sanctuaries were absolutely inviolable. The gates stood perpetually open, and though the fugitive was liable to be pursued to their very threshold, he had no sooner crossed it than he was safe from king, chief, or avenger. These gates were wide, and some faced the sea, and others the mountains. Hither the murderer, the manslayer, the tabu-breaker fled, repaired to the presence of the idol, and thanked it for aiding him to reach the place of security. After a certain time the fugitives were allowed to return to their families, and none dared to injure those to whom the high gods had granted their protection.

In time of war, tall spears from which white flags were unfurled, were placed at each end of the enclosure, and until the proclamation of peace invited the vanquished to enter. These flags were fixed a short distance outside the walls, and no pursuing warrior, even in the hot flush of victory, could pursue his routed foe one foot beyond. Within was the sacred pale of pahu tabu, and anyone attempting to strike his victim there would have been put to death by the priests and their adherents. In war time the children, old people, and many of the women of the neighbouring districts, were received within the enclosure, where they awaited the issue of the conflict in security, and were safe from violence in the event of defeat. These puhonuas contain pieces of stone weighing from two to three tons, raised six feet from the ground, and the walls, narrowing gradually towards the top, are fifteen feet wide at the base and twelve feet high. They are truly grand monuments of humanity in the midst of the barbarous institutions of heathenism, and it shows a considerable degree of enlightenment that even rebels in arms and fugitives from invading armies were safe, if they reached the sacred refuge, for the priests of Keawe knew no distinctions of party.

In dreadful contrast to this place of mercy, there were some very large heiaus (or temples) here, on whose hideous altars eighty human sacrifices are said to have been offered at one time. One of the legends told me concerning this lovely valley is, that King Umi, having vanquished the kings of the six divisions of Hawaii, was sacrificing captives in one of these heiaus, when the voice of his god, Kuahilo, was heard from the clouds, demanding more slaughter. Fresh human blood streamed from the altars, but the insatiable demon continued to call for more, till Umi had sacrificed all the captives and all his own men but one, whom he at first refused to give up, as he was a great favourite, but Kuahilo thundered from heaven, till the favourite warrior was slain, and only the king and the sacrificing priest remained.

This valley of the “vanquished waters” abounds in legends. Some of these are about a cruel monster, King Hooku, who lived here, and whose memory, so far as he is remembered, is much execrated. It is told of him that if a man were said to have a handsome head he sent some of his warriors to behead him, and then hacked and otherwise disfigured the face for a diversion. On one occasion he ordered a man’s arm to be cut off and brought to him, simply because it was said to be more beautifully tattooed than his own. It is fifty-four years since the last human sacrifice was exposed on the Waipio altars, but there are several old people here who must have been at least thirty when Hawaii threw off idolatry for ever. Halemanu has again closed the evening with the simple worship of the true God.

I.L.B.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:41