Those were savage times

In my diary of our third day in Honolulu, I find this:

I am probably the most sensitive man in Hawaii to-night–especially about
sitting down in the presence of my betters. I have ridden fifteen or
twenty miles on horse-back since 5 P.M. and to tell the honest truth, I
have a delicacy about sitting down at all.

An excursion to Diamond Head and the King’s Coacoanut Grove was planned
to-day–time, 4:30 P.M.–the party to consist of half a dozen gentlemen
and three ladies. They all started at the appointed hour except myself.
I was at the Government prison, (with Captain Fish and another
whaleship-skipper, Captain Phillips,) and got so interested in its
examination that I did not notice how quickly the time was passing.
Somebody remarked that it was twenty minutes past five o’clock, and that
woke me up. It was a fortunate circumstance that Captain Phillips was
along with his “turn out,” as he calls a top-buggy that Captain Cook
brought here in 1778, and a horse that was here when Captain Cook came.
Captain Phillips takes a just pride in his driving and in the speed of
his horse, and to his passion for displaying them I owe it that we were
only sixteen minutes coming from the prison to the American Hotel–a
distance which has been estimated to be over half a mile. But it took
some fearful driving. The Captain’s whip came down fast, and the blows
started so much dust out of the horse’s hide that during the last half of
the journey we rode through an impenetrable fog, and ran by a pocket
compass in the hands of Captain Fish, a whaler of twenty-six years
experience, who sat there through the perilous voyage as self-possessed
as if he had been on the euchre-deck of his own ship, and calmly said,
“Port your helm–port,” from time to time, and “Hold her a little free
–steady–so–so,” and “Luff–hard down to starboard!” and never once
lost his presence of mind or betrayed the least anxiety by voice or
manner. When we came to anchor at last, and Captain Phillips looked at
his watch and said, “Sixteen minutes–I told you it was in her! that’s
over three miles an hour!” I could see he felt entitled to a compliment,
and so I said I had never seen lightning go like that horse. And I never

The landlord of the American said the party had been gone nearly an hour,
but that he could give me my choice of several horses that could overtake
them. I said, never mind–I preferred a safe horse to a fast one–I
would like to have an excessively gentle horse–a horse with no spirit
whatever–a lame one, if he had such a thing. Inside of five minutes I
was mounted, and perfectly satisfied with my outfit. I had no time to
label him “This is a horse,” and so if the public took him for a sheep I
cannot help it. I was satisfied, and that was the main thing. I could
see that he had as many fine points as any man’s horse, and so I hung my
hat on one of them, behind the saddle, and swabbed the perspiration from
my face and started. I named him after this island, “Oahu” (pronounced
O-waw-hee). The first gate he came to he started in; I had neither whip
nor spur, and so I simply argued the case with him. He resisted
argument, but ultimately yielded to insult and abuse. He backed out of
that gate and steered for another one on the other side of the street.
I triumphed by my former process. Within the next six hundred yards he
crossed the street fourteen times and attempted thirteen gates, and in
the meantime the tropical sun was beating down and threatening to cave
the top of my head in, and I was literally dripping with perspiration.
He abandoned the gate business after that and went along peaceably
enough, but absorbed in meditation. I noticed this latter circumstance,
and it soon began to fill me with apprehension. I said to my self, this
creature is planning some new outrage, some fresh deviltry or other–no
horse ever thought over a subject so profoundly as this one is doing just
for nothing. The more this thing preyed upon my mind the more uneasy I
became, until the suspense became almost unbearable and I dismounted to
see if there was anything wild in his eye–for I had heard that the eye
of this noblest of our domestic animals is very expressive.

I cannot describe what a load of anxiety was lifted from my mind when I
found that he was only asleep. I woke him up and started him into a
faster walk, and then the villainy of his nature came out again. He
tried to climb over a stone wall, five or six feet high. I saw that I
must apply force to this horse, and that I might as well begin first as
last. I plucked a stout switch from a tamarind tree, and the moment he
saw it, he surrendered. He broke into a convulsive sort of a canter,
which had three short steps in it and one long one, and reminded me
alternately of the clattering shake of the great earthquake, and the
sweeping plunging of the Ajax in a storm.

And now there can be no fitter occasion than the present to pronounce a
left-handed blessing upon the man who invented the American saddle.
There is no seat to speak of about it–one might as well sit in a shovel
–and the stirrups are nothing but an ornamental nuisance. If I were to
write down here all the abuse I expended on those stirrups, it would make
a large book, even without pictures. Sometimes I got one foot so far
through, that the stirrup partook of the nature of an anklet; sometimes
both feet were through, and I was handcuffed by the legs; and sometimes
my feet got clear out and left the stirrups wildly dangling about my
shins. Even when I was in proper position and carefully balanced upon
the balls of my feet, there was no comfort in it, on account of my
nervous dread that they were going to slip one way or the other in a
moment. But the subject is too exasperating to write about.

A mile and a half from town, I came to a grove of tall cocoanut trees,
with clean, branchless stems reaching straight up sixty or seventy feet
and topped with a spray of green foliage sheltering clusters of
cocoa-nuts–not more picturesque than a forest of collossal ragged
parasols, with bunches of magnified grapes under them, would be.

I once heard a gouty northern invalid say that a cocoanut tree might be
poetical, possibly it was; but it looked like a feather-duster struck by
lightning. I think that describes it better than a picture–and yet,
without any question, there is something fascinating about a cocoa-nut
tree–and graceful, too.

About a dozen cottages, some frame and the others of native grass,
nestled sleepily in the shade here and there. The grass cabins are of a
grayish color, are shaped much like our own cottages, only with higher
and steeper roofs usually, and are made of some kind of weed strongly
bound together in bundles. The roofs are very thick, and so are the
walls; the latter have square holes in them for windows. At a little
distance these cabins have a furry appearance, as if they might be made
of bear skins. They are very cool and pleasant inside. The King’s flag
was flying from the roof of one of the cottages, and His Majesty was
probably within. He owns the whole concern thereabouts, and passes his
time there frequently, on sultry days “laying off.” The spot is called
“The King’s Grove.”

Near by is an interesting ruin–the meagre remains of an ancient heathen
temple–a place where human sacrifices were offered up in those old
bygone days when the simple child of nature, yielding momentarily to sin
when sorely tempted, acknowledged his error when calm reflection had
shown it him, and came forward with noble frankness and offered up his
grandmother as an atoning sacrifice–in those old days when the luckless
sinner could keep on cleansing his conscience and achieving periodical
happiness as long as his relations held out; long, long before the
missionaries braved a thousand privations to come and make them
permanently miserable by telling them how beautiful and how blissful a
place heaven is, and how nearly impossible it is to get there; and showed
the poor native how dreary a place perdition is and what unnecessarily
liberal facilities there are for going to it; showed him how, in his
ignorance he had gone and fooled away all his kinfolks to no purpose;
showed him what rapture it is to work all day long for fifty cents to buy
food for next day with, as compared with fishing for pastime and lolling
in the shade through eternal Summer, and eating of the bounty that nobody
labored to provide but Nature. How sad it is to think of the multitudes
who have gone to their graves in this beautiful island and never knew
there was a hell!

This ancient temple was built of rough blocks of lava, and was simply a
roofless inclosure a hundred and thirty feet long and seventy wide
–nothing but naked walls, very thick, but not much higher than a man’s
head. They will last for ages no doubt, if left unmolested. Its three
altars and other sacred appurtenances have crumbled and passed away years
ago. It is said that in the old times thousands of human beings were
slaughtered here, in the presence of naked and howling savages. If these
mute stones could speak, what tales they could tell, what pictures they
could describe, of fettered victims writhing under the knife; of massed
forms straining forward out of the gloom, with ferocious faces lit up by
the sacrificial fires; of the background of ghostly trees; of the dark
pyramid of Diamond Head standing sentinel over the uncanny scene, and the
peaceful moon looking down upon it through rifts in the cloud-rack!

When Kamehameha (pronounced Ka-may-ha-may-ah) the Great–who was a sort
of a Napoleon in military genius and uniform success–invaded this island
of Oahu three quarters of a century ago, and exterminated the army sent
to oppose him, and took full and final possession of the country, he
searched out the dead body of the King of Oahu, and those of the
principal chiefs, and impaled their heads on the walls of this temple.

Those were savage times when this old slaughter-house was in its prime.
The King and the chiefs ruled the common herd with a rod of iron; made
them gather all the provisions the masters needed; build all the houses
and temples; stand all the expenses, of whatever kind; take kicks and
cuffs for thanks; drag out lives well flavored with misery, and then
suffer death for trifling offences or yield up their lives on the
sacrificial altars to purchase favors from the gods for their hard
rulers. The missionaries have clothed them, educated them, broken up the
tyrannous authority of their chiefs, and given them freedom and the right
to enjoy whatever their hands and brains produce with equal laws for all,
and punishment for all alike who transgress them. The contrast is so
strong–the benefit conferred upon this people by the missionaries is so
prominent, so palpable and so unquestionable, that the frankest
compliment I can pay them, and the best, is simply to point to the
condition of the Sandwich Islanders of Captain Cook’s time, and their
condition to-day.

Their work speaks for itself.