HAWAII

IMPRESSIONS OF A MINISTER OF RELIGION, 1851

 

The following impressions provide a valuable insight into the attitudes and beliefs of the early missionaries in Oceania and in Hawaii. They also provide a valuable record of Hawaiian life as it existed in the early part of the 19th century.

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The celebrity which Kealakekua Bay acquired by Cook's visit and death, and its being laid down, for a long time, more accurately on the charts than any other place, has caused it to be more or less visited, from time to time, by whale ships and men-of-war. I arrived here a few days ago from Kailua, and find the anchorage good, so that vessels of the largest burden may ride safely at all times of the year, and recruit with wood, hogs, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Supplies, however, of every thing but wood are often scarce and dear, and good water is not to be had at all.

Foreigners have left the marks of their lust deep and destructive in the constitution of the people, from Captain Cook's ships until the present time. Seamen now begin to have to smart for their lewdness, and it is considerably  repressed. A case was tried a few days ago, just after my arrival from Kailua, of a man belonging to one of the ships now in port. Notwithstanding his stout denial, he was clearly convicted, and compelled to pay a fine of $15 - that is, a barred of oil. There were two trials of the offender, and every effort was made by his shipmates to evade the law; but the Hawaiian judge and justice triumphed, and the captain, unlike too many of his fraternity who have visited these seas, was too conscientious and just to set at naught the law, and refuse to pay the man's fine.

Kealakekua Bay

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Disease here is rife, and some forms of it, consequent upon the taint from licentiousness, are truly dreadful. Cases of secondary syphilis are frequent, and horrid syphilitic ulcers, such as are seen in those wards of hospitals devoted to this class of diseases. From what one sees who has much to do with their maladies, his conclusion is, that the very national blood is so corrupted the Hawaiian constitution so deeply venomously diseased, and the habits of the people such, in their living, and intercourse one with another, and with lewd foreigners, that there is little hope of their preservation and perpetuity as a race. Unwilling as a benevolent man feels to admit it, yet most of it be acknowledged that all facts and reasonings look that way. Unless there speedily ensue a great change in the habits of the people, unless the youth be kept from early vice and untimely marriages, and the married learn chastity, the race will run out and cease to be.

There are causes at work, which, if they are not soon arrested, will insure national depopulation and decay. Whether it is not even now too late to apply a remedy; whether the national stock is not already so much impaired as to preclude recovery, as in the case of an individual who has ruined himself by his excesses, and whose repentance comes too late, remains to be seen. Certain it is, they are dying off fast, rotten with disease. Like sheep they are laid in the grave. They seem to have little or no constitutional stamina to rally against the incursions of their maladies, which are always aggravated, too, by neglect, or the want of proper nourishment and nursing, and frequently by the villainous abuse of native doctors, who give large doses of emetic and drastic medicines, especially the seeds and juice of a certain gourd that has often been known to produce death. What is done for their salvation must be done quickly to be of any avail, or they too will be written among the nations whom the sons of Japheth have dispossessed.

It will be worth while for some one here to note the fate of those men who have infamously distinguished themselves by the injury they have done at these islands, through licentiousness and rum, and by their opposition to the Gospel; from early navigators and the English whaling captains, whose crews at different times threatened the missionaries, and fired upon the missionary establishment at Lahaina; and the American lieutenant, who disgraced himself and his nation's flag, by a licentious defiance of the law, and insults to God's ministers at Honolulu; down to loose men and slanderers of the present day, whose mouths, indeed, have been stopped, but who have not yet passed off the stage. The record might afford an instructive comment upon three passages of Scripture: Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished; his mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pale - Whoso diggeth a pit shall full therein; and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him. - A false witness shall not be unpunished; and he that speaketh lies shall not escape.

We are of the opinion that the missionaries have been somewhat too sparing in their exposure and rebuke of infamous deeds and infamous living at these islands; while at the same time they have had to bear the brunt of all the blows struck in men's blind fury at the gradual leaking out and disclosure at home of their evil lives beyond the seas. It was not strange that there should be wrath and revenge, to find that there is no darkness, neither shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity can hide themselves.

Men once thought to play the libertine in these seas as they like, to wallow a while in the sensual sty, and then, after amassing property, to return to England or America, and be accounted as faithful husbands and reputable livers as if they had been pure as Joseph all their days. Some have been mad to find themselves mistaken; and others equally angry that the moral influence of missionaries has become so great upon chiefs and people, that they cannot now try the experiment, and give full swing to passion, as men once could. This is the well-known, though underground cause of all the oppositions and slander missionaries have here met with. The stale charges of persecuting the Catholics and meddling with government were the mere raised letters in the stereo type plate, to take the ink and be printed, while vexation and wrath at the restraints upon the license they call liberty were the metal bed in which the types were fixed, and without which they could never be steady enough to make an impression.

As to the charge of meddling with government, we think it would have been much better for the nation had it been truer, and had missionaries much earlier have been concerned in the councils and laws of the kingdom. Nor do we see any good reasons why they should wish to avoid the imputation of being implicated in government measures that are good, any more than Christians anywhere of being concerned in politics (in the proper sense), to be interested in which is one of the duties of a good citizen.

For ministers anywhere to avoid giving good advice to rulers, or proposing salutary laws, especially in an infant state like the Hawaiian, merely because some graceless Jacobins for whose countenance or discountenance a man of rectitude does not care a straw would be no less a cowardly dereliction of duty than unwise...

We hold it to be as much the duty of ministers nowadays to instruct kings and governors in the law of God, to inform and rebuke them when wrong, and to advise them to what is right, as it was the duty of Jewish prophets of old. If this be meddling, the more faithfully such meddling it practised, the better; and in this sense, we take it, the missionaries at the Sandwich Islands have meddled, though not, perhaps, as early or as much as they should have done, for fear of the consequences...

It was meddling in this sense for the missionaries at their general meeting at Honolulu in 1848, in an interview with the king to remind him, as they did, of the wretched estate of himself and his whole kingdom in 1820, and of the marvellous and happy change which had been since effected, through the blessing of God upon the labours as missionaries.   

 

The above is an extract from Chapter X, The Island World of the Pacific by Reverend Henry T. Cheever, published in New York by Harper & Brothers, 1851, being the personal narrative and results of travel through the Sandwich or Hawaiian Islands, and other parts of Polynesia.

 

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