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The Water Baby
I lent a weary ear to old Kohokumu’s interminable chanting of the
deeds and adventures of Maui, the Promethean demi-god of Polynesia
who fished up dry land from ocean depths with hooks made fast to
heaven, who lifted up the sky whereunder previously men had gone on
all-fours, not having space to stand erect, and who made the sun
with its sixteen snared legs stand still and agree thereafter to
traverse the sky more slowly–the sun being evidently a trade
unionist and believing in the six-hour day, while Maui stood for
the open shop and the twelve-hour day.
“Now this,” said Kohokumu, “is from Queen Lililuokalani’s own
“Maui became restless and fought the sun
With a noose that he laid.
And winter won the sun,
And summer was won by Maui . . . “
Born in the Islands myself, I knew the Hawaiian myths better than
this old fisherman, although I possessed not his memorization that
enabled him to recite them endless hours.
“And you believe all this?” I demanded in the sweet Hawaiian
“It was a long time ago,” he pondered. “I never saw Maui with my
own eyes. But all our old men from all the way back tell us these
things, as I, an old man, tell them to my sons and grandsons, who
will tell them to their sons and grandsons all the way ahead to
“You believe,” I persisted, “that whopper of Maui roping the sun
like a wild steer, and that other whopper of heaving up the sky
from off the earth?”
“I am of little worth, and am not wise, O Lakana,” my fisherman
made answer. “Yet have I read the Hawaiian Bible the missionaries
translated to us, and there have I read that your Big Man of the
Beginning made the earth, and sky, and sun, and moon, and stars,
and all manner of animals from horses to cockroaches and from
centipedes and mosquitoes to sea lice and jellyfish, and man and
woman, and everything, and all in six days. Why, Maui didn’t do
anything like that much. He didn’t make anything. He just put
things in order, that was all, and it took him a long, long time to
make the improvements. And anyway, it is much easier and more
reasonable to believe the little whopper than the big whopper.”
And what could I reply? He had me on the matter of reasonableness.
Besides, my head ached. And the funny thing, as I admitted it to
myself, was that evolution teaches in no uncertain voice that man
did run on all-fours ere he came to walk upright, that astronomy
states flatly that the speed of the revolution of the earth on its
axis has diminished steadily, thus increasing the length of day,
and that the seismologists accept that all the islands of Hawaii
were elevated from the ocean floor by volcanic action.
Fortunately, I saw a bamboo pole, floating on the surface several
hundred feet away, suddenly up-end and start a very devil’s dance.
This was a diversion from the profitless discussion, and Kohokumu
and I dipped our paddles and raced the little outrigger canoe to
the dancing pole. Kohokumu caught the line that was fast to the
butt of the pole and under-handed it in until a two-foot ukikiki,
battling fiercely to the end, flashed its wet silver in the sun and
began beating a tattoo on the inside bottom of the canoe. Kohokumu
picked up a squirming, slimy squid, with his teeth bit a chunk of
live bait out of it, attached the bait to the hook, and dropped
line and sinker overside. The stick floated flat on the surface of
the water, and the canoe drifted slowly away. With a survey of the
crescent composed of a score of such sticks all lying flat,
Kohokumu wiped his hands on his naked sides and lifted the
wearisome and centuries-old chant of Kuali:
“Oh, the great fish-hook of Maui!
Manai-i-ka-lani–“made fast to the heavens”!
An earth-twisted cord ties the hook,
Engulfed from lofty Kauiki!
Its bait the red-billed Alae,
The bird to Hina sacred!
It sinks far down to Hawaii,
Struggling and in pain dying!
Caught is the land beneath the water,
Floated up, up to the surface,
But Hina hid a wing of the bird
And broke the land beneath the water!
Below was the bait snatched away
And eaten at once by the fishes,
The Ulua of the deep muddy places!
His aged voice was hoarse and scratchy from the drinking of too
much swipes at a funeral the night before, nothing of which
contributed to make me less irritable. My head ached. The sun-
glare on the water made my eyes ache, while I was suffering more
than half a touch of mal de mer from the antic conduct of the
outrigger on the blobby sea. The air was stagnant. In the lee of
Waihee, between the white beach and the roof, no whisper of breeze
eased the still sultriness. I really think I was too miserable to
summon the resolution to give up the fishing and go in to shore.
Lying back with closed eyes, I lost count of time. I even forgot
that Kohokumu was chanting till reminded of it by his ceasing. An
exclamation made me bare my eyes to the stab of the sun. He was
gazing down through the water-glass.
“It’s a big one,” he said, passing me the device and slipping over-
side feet-first into the water.
He went under without splash and ripple, turned over and swam down.
I followed his progress through the water-glass, which is merely an
oblong box a couple of feet long, open at the top, the bottom
sealed water-tight with a sheet of ordinary glass.
Now Kohokumu was a bore, and I was squeamishly out of sorts with
him for his volubleness, but I could not help admiring him as I
watched him go down. Past seventy years of age, lean as a
toothpick, and shrivelled like a mummy, he was doing what few young
athletes of my race would do or could do. It was forty feet to
bottom. There, partly exposed, but mostly hidden under the bulge
of a coral lump, I could discern his objective. His keen eyes had
caught the projecting tentacle of a squid. Even as he swam, the
tentacle was lazily withdrawn, so that there was no sign of the
creature. But the brief exposure of the portion of one tentacle
had advertised its owner as a squid of size.
The pressure at a depth of forty feet is no joke for a young man,
yet it did not seem to inconvenience this oldster. I am certain it
never crossed his mind to be inconvenienced. Unarmed, bare of body
save for a brief malo or loin cloth, he was undeterred by the
formidable creature that constituted his prey. I saw him steady
himself with his right hand on the coral lump, and thrust his left
arm into the hole to the shoulder. Half a minute elapsed, during
which time he seemed to be groping and rooting around with his left
hand. Then tentacle after tentacle, myriad-suckered and wildly
waving, emerged. Laying hold of his arm, they writhed and coiled
about his flesh like so many snakes. With a heave and a jerk
appeared the entire squid, a proper devil-fish or octopus.
But the old man was in no hurry for his natural element, the air
above the water. There, forty feet beneath, wrapped about by an
octopus that measured nine feet across from tentacle-tip to
tentacle-tip and that could well drown the stoutest swimmer, he
coolly and casually did the one thing that gave to him and his
empery over the monster. He shoved his lean, hawk-like face into
the very centre of the slimy, squirming mass, and with his several
ancient fangs bit into the heart and the life of the matter. This
accomplished, he came upward, slowly, as a swimmer should who is
changing atmospheres from the depths. Alongside the canoe, still
in the water and peeling off the grisly clinging thing, the
incorrigible old sinner burst into the pule of triumph which had
been chanted by the countless squid-catching generations before
“O Kanaloa of the taboo nights!
Stand upright on the solid floor!
Stand upon the floor where lies the squid!
Stand up to take the squid of the deep sea!
Rise up, O Kanaloa!
Stir up! Stir up! Let the squid awake!
Let the squid that lies flat awake! Let the squid that lies spread
out . . . “
I closed my eyes and ears, not offering to lend him a hand, secure
in the knowledge that he could climb back unaided into the unstable
craft without the slightest risk of upsetting it.
“A very fine squid,” he crooned. “It is a wahine” (female) “squid.
I shall now sing to you the song of the cowrie shell, the red
cowrie shell that we used as a bait for the squid–“
“You were disgraceful last night at the funeral,” I headed him off.
“I heard all about it. You made much noise. You sang till
everybody was deaf. You insulted the son of the widow. You drank
swipes like a pig. Swipes are not good for your extreme age. Some
day you will wake up dead. You ought to be a wreck to-day–“
“Ha!” he chuckled. “And you, who drank no swipes, who was a babe
unborn when I was already an old man, who went to bed last night
with the sun and the chickens–this day are you a wreck. Explain
me that. My ears are as thirsty to listen as was my throat thirsty
last night. And here to-day, behold, I am, as that Englishman who
came here in his yacht used to say, I am in fine form, in devilish
“I give you up,” I retorted, shrugging my shoulders. “Only one
thing is clear, and that is that the devil doesn’t want you.
Report of your singing has gone before you.”
“No,” he pondered the idea carefully. “It is not that. The devil
will be glad for my coming, for I have some very fine songs for
him, and scandals and old gossips of the high aliis that will make
him scratch his sides. So, let me explain to you the secret of my
birth. The Sea is my mother. I was born in a double-canoe, during
a Kona gale, in the channel of Kahoolawe. From her, the Sea, my
mother, I received my strength. Whenever I return to her arms, as
for a breast-clasp, as I have returned this day, I grow strong
again and immediately. She, to me, is the milk-giver, the life-
“Shades of Antaeus!” thought I.
“Some day,” old Kohokumu rambled on, “when I am really old, I shall
be reported of men as drowned in the sea. This will be an idle
thought of men. In truth, I shall have returned into the arms of
my mother, there to rest under the heart of her breast until the
second birth of me, when I shall emerge into the sun a flashing
youth of splendour like Maui himself when he was golden young.”
“A queer religion,” I commented.
“When I was younger I muddled my poor head over queerer religions,”
old Kohokumu retorted. “But listen, O Young Wise One, to my
elderly wisdom. This I know: as I grow old I seek less for the
truth from without me, and find more of the truth from within me.
Why have I thought this thought of my return to my mother and of my
rebirth from my mother into the sun? You do not know. I do not
know, save that, without whisper of man’s voice or printed word,
without prompting from otherwhere, this thought has arisen from
within me, from the deeps of me that are as deep as the sea. I am
not a god. I do not make things. Therefore I have not made this
thought. I do not know its father or its mother. It is of old
time before me, and therefore it is true. Man does not make truth.
Man, if he be not blind, only recognizes truth when he sees it. Is
this thought that I have thought a dream?”
“Perhaps it is you that are a dream,” I laughed. “And that I, and
sky, and sea, and the iron-hard land, are dreams, all dreams.”
“I have often thought that,” he assured me soberly. “It may well
be so. Last night I dreamed I was a lark bird, a beautiful singing
lark of the sky like the larks on the upland pastures of Haleakala.
And I flew up, up, toward the sun, singing, singing, as old
Kohokumu never sang. I tell you now that I dreamed I was a lark
bird singing in the sky. But may not I, the real I, be the lark
bird? And may not the telling of it be the dream that I, the lark
bird, am dreaming now? Who are you to tell me ay or no? Dare you
tell me I am not a lark bird asleep and dreaming that I am old
I shrugged my shoulders, and he continued triumphantly:
“And how do you know but what you are old Maui himself asleep and
dreaming that you are John Lakana talking with me in a canoe? And
may you not awake old Maui yourself, and scratch your sides and say
that you had a funny dream in which you dreamed you were a haole?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “Besides, you wouldn’t believe me.”
“There is much more in dreams than we know,” he assured me with
great solemnity. “Dreams go deep, all the way down, maybe to
before the beginning. May not old Maui have only dreamed he pulled
Hawaii up from the bottom of the sea? Then would this Hawaii land
be a dream, and you, and I, and the squid there, only parts of
Maui’s dream? And the lark bird too?”
He sighed and let his head sink on his breast.
“And I worry my old head about the secrets undiscoverable,” he
resumed, “until I grow tired and want to forget, and so I drink
swipes, and go fishing, and sing old songs, and dream I am a lark
bird singing in the sky. I like that best of all, and often I
dream it when I have drunk much swipes . . . “
In great dejection of mood he peered down into the lagoon through
“There will be no more bites for a while,” he announced. “The
fish-sharks are prowling around, and we shall have to wait until
they are gone. And so that the time shall not be heavy, I will
sing you the canoe-hauling song to Lono. You remember:
“Give to me the trunk of the tree, O Lono!
Give me the tree’s main root, O Lono!
Give me the ear of the tree, O Lono!–“
“For the love of mercy, don’t sing!” I cut him short. “I’ve got a
headache, and your singing hurts. You may be in devilish fine form
to-day, but your throat is rotten. I’d rather you talked about
dreams, or told me whoppers.”
“It is too bad that you are sick, and you so young,” he conceded
cheerily. “And I shall not sing any more. I shall tell you
something you do not know and have never heard; something that is
no dream and no whopper, but is what I know to have happened. Not
very long ago there lived here, on the beach beside this very
lagoon, a young boy whose name was Keikiwai, which, as you know,
means Water Baby. He was truly a water baby. His gods were the
sea and fish gods, and he was born with knowledge of the language
of fishes, which the fishes did not know until the sharks found it
out one day when they heard him talk it.
“It happened this way. The word had been brought, and the
commands, by swift runners, that the king was making a progress
around the island, and that on the next day a luau” (feast) “was to
be served him by the dwellers here of Waihee. It was always a
hardship, when the king made a progress, for the few dwellers in
small places to fill his many stomachs with food. For he came
always with his wife and her women, with his priests and sorcerers,
his dancers and flute-players, and hula-singers, and fighting men
and servants, and his high chiefs with their wives, and sorcerers,
and fighting men, and servants.
“Sometimes, in small places like Waihee, the path of his journey
was marked afterward by leanness and famine. But a king must be
fed, and it is not good to anger a king. So, like warning in
advance of disaster, Waihee heard of his coming, and all food-
getters of field and pond and mountain and sea were busied with
getting food for the feast. And behold, everything was got, from
the choicest of royal taro to sugar-cane joints for the roasting,
from opihis to limu, from fowl to wild pig and poi-fed puppies–
everything save one thing. The fishermen failed to get lobsters.
“Now be it known that the king’s favourite food was lobster. He
esteemed it above all kai-kai” (food), “and his runners had made
special mention of it. And there were no lobsters, and it is not
good to anger a king in the belly of him. Too many sharks had come
inside the reef. That was the trouble. A young girl and an old
man had been eaten by them. And of the young men who dared dive
for lobsters, one was eaten, and one lost an arm, and another lost
one hand and one foot.
“But there was Keikiwai, the Water Baby, only eleven years old, but
half fish himself and talking the language of fishes. To his
father the head men came, begging him to send the Water Baby to get
lobsters to fill the king’s belly and divert his anger.
“Now this what happened was known and observed. For the fishermen,
and their women, and the taro-growers and the bird-catchers, and
the head men, and all Waihee, came down and stood back from the
edge of the rock where the Water Baby stood and looked down at the
lobsters far beneath on the bottom.
“And a shark, looking up with its cat’s eyes, observed him, and
sent out the shark-call of ‘fresh meat’ to assemble all the sharks
in the lagoon. For the sharks work thus together, which is why
they are strong. And the sharks answered the call till there were
forty of them, long ones and short ones and lean ones and round
ones, forty of them by count; and they talked to one another,
saying: ‘Look at that titbit of a child, that morsel delicious of
human-flesh sweetness without the salt of the sea in it, of which
salt we have too much, savoury and good to eat, melting to delight
under our hearts as our bellies embrace it and extract from it its
“Much more they said, saying: ‘He has come for the lobsters. When
he dives in he is for one of us. Not like the old man we ate
yesterday, tough to dryness with age, nor like the young men whose
members were too hard-muscled, but tender, so tender that he will
melt in our gullets ere our bellies receive him. When he dives in,
we will all rush for him, and the lucky one of us will get him,
and, gulp, he will be gone, one bite and one swallow, into the
belly of the luckiest one of us.’
“And Keikiwai, the Water Baby, heard the conspiracy, knowing the
shark language; and he addressed a prayer, in the shark language,
to the shark god Moku-halii, and the sharks heard and waved their
tails to one another and winked their cat’s eyes in token that they
understood his talk. And then he said: ‘I shall now dive for a
lobster for the king. And no hurt shall befall me, because the
shark with the shortest tail is my friend and will protect me.
“And, so saying, he picked up a chunk of lava-rock and tossed it
into the water, with a big splash, twenty feet to one side. The
forty sharks rushed for the splash, while he dived, and by the time
they discovered they had missed him, he had gone to bottom and come
back and climbed out, within his hand a fat lobster, a wahine
lobster, full of eggs, for the king.
“‘Ha!’ said the sharks, very angry. ‘There is among us a traitor.
The titbit of a child, the morsel of sweetness, has spoken, and has
exposed the one among us who has saved him. Let us now measure the
lengths of our tails!
“Which they did, in a long row, side by side, the shorter-tailed
ones cheating and stretching to gain length on themselves, the
longer-tailed ones cheating and stretching in order not to be out-
cheated and out-stretched. They were very angry with the one with
the shortest tail, and him they rushed upon from every side and
devoured till nothing was left of him.
“Again they listened while they waited for the Water Baby to dive
in. And again the Water Baby made his prayer in the shark language
to Moku-halii, and said: ‘The shark with the shortest tail is my
friend and will protect me.’ And again the Water Baby tossed in a
chunk of lava, this time twenty feet away off to the other side.
The sharks rushed for the splash, and in their haste ran into one
another, and splashed with their tails till the water was all foam,
and they could see nothing, each thinking some other was swallowing
the titbit. And the Water Baby came up and climbed out with
another fat lobster for the king.
“And the thirty-nine sharks measured tails, devoting the one with
the shortest tail, so that there were only thirty-eight sharks.
And the Water Baby continued to do what I have said, and the sharks
to do what I have told you, while for each shark that was eaten by
his brothers there was another fat lobster laid on the rock for the
king. Of course, there was much quarrelling and argument among the
sharks when it came to measuring tails; but in the end it worked
out in rightness and justice, for, when only two sharks were left,
they were the two biggest of the original forty.
“And the Water Baby again claimed the shark with the shortest tail
was his friend, fooled the two sharks with another lava-chunk, and
brought up another lobster. The two sharks each claimed the other
had the shorter tail, and each fought to eat the other, and the one
with the longer tail won–“
“Hold, O Kohokumu!” I interrupted. “Remember that that shark had
“I know just what you are going to say,” he snatched his recital
back from me. “And you are right. It took him so long to eat the
thirty-ninth shark, for inside the thirty-ninth shark were already
the nineteen other sharks he had eaten, and inside the fortieth
shark were already the nineteen other sharks he had eaten, and he
did not have the appetite he had started with. But do not forget
he was a very big shark to begin with.
“It took him so long to eat the other shark, and the nineteen
sharks inside the other shark, that he was still eating when
darkness fell, and the people of Waihee went away home with all the
lobsters for the king. And didn’t they find the last shark on the
beach next morning dead, and burst wide open with all he had
Kohokumu fetched a full stop and held my eyes with his own shrewd
“Hold, O Lakana!” he checked the speech that rushed to my tongue.
“I know what next you would say. You would say that with my own
eyes I did not see this, and therefore that I do not know what I
have been telling you. But I do know, and I can prove it. My
father’s father knew the grandson of the Water Baby’s father’s
uncle. Also, there, on the rocky point to which I point my finger
now, is where the Water Baby stood and dived. I have dived for
lobsters there myself. It is a great place for lobsters. Also,
and often, have I seen sharks there. And there, on the bottom, as
I should know, for I have seen and counted them, are the thirty-
nine lava-rocks thrown in by the Water Baby as I have described.”
“But–” I began.
“Ha!” he baffled me. “Look! While we have talked the fish have
begun again to bite.”
He pointed to three of the bamboo poles erect and devil-dancing in
token that fish were hooked and struggling on the lines beneath.
As he bent to his paddle, he muttered, for my benefit:
“Of course I know. The thirty-nine lava rocks are still there.
You can count them any day for yourself. Of course I know, and I
know for a fact.”
October 2, 1916.
From Jack London: ON THE MAKALOA MAT/ISLAND TALES
The Tears of Ah Kim
There was a great noise and racket, but no scandal, in Honolulu’s
Chinatown. Those within hearing distance merely shrugged their
shoulders and smiled tolerantly at the disturbance as an affair of
accustomed usualness. “What is it?” asked Chin Mo, down with a
sharp pleurisy, of his wife, who had paused for a second at the
open window to listen.
“Only Ah Kim,” was her reply. “His mother is beating him again.”
The fracas was taking place in the garden, behind the living rooms
that were at the back of the store that fronted on the street with
the proud sign above: AH KIM COMPANY, GENERAL MERCHANDISE. The
garden was a miniature domain, twenty feet square, that somehow
cunningly seduced the eye into a sense and seeming of illimitable
vastness. There were forests of dwarf pines and oaks, centuries
old yet two or three feet in height, and imported at enormous care
and expense. A tiny bridge, a pace across, arched over a miniature
river that flowed with rapids and cataracts from a miniature lake
stocked with myriad-finned, orange-miracled goldfish that in
proportion to the lake and landscape were whales. On every side
the many windows of the several-storied shack-buildings looked
down. In the centre of the garden, on the narrow gravelled walk
close beside the lake Ah Kim was noisily receiving his beating.
No Chinese lad of tender and beatable years was Ah Kim. His was
the store of Ah Kim Company, and his was the achievement of
building it up through the long years from the shoestring of
savings of a contract coolie labourer to a bank account in four
figures and a credit that was gilt edged. An even half-century of
summers and winters had passed over his head, and, in the passing,
fattened him comfortably and snugly. Short of stature, his full
front was as rotund as a water-melon seed. His face was moon-
faced. His garb was dignified and silken, and his black-silk
skull-cap with the red button atop, now, alas! fallen on the
ground, was the skull-cap worn by the successful and dignified
merchants of his race.
But his appearance, in this moment of the present, was anything but
dignified. Dodging and ducking under a rain of blows from a bamboo
cane, he was crouched over in a half-doubled posture. When he was
rapped on the knuckles and elbows, with which he shielded his face
and head, his winces were genuine and involuntary. From the many
surrounding windows the neighbourhood looked down with placid
And she who wielded the stick so shrewdly from long practice!
Seventy-four years old, she looked every minute of her time. Her
thin legs were encased in straight-lined pants of linen stiff-
textured and shiny-black. Her scraggly grey hair was drawn
unrelentingly and flatly back from a narrow, unrelenting forehead.
Eyebrows she had none, having long since shed them. Her eyes, of
pin-hole tininess, were blackest black. She was shockingly
cadaverous. Her shrivelled forearm, exposed by the loose sleeve,
possessed no more of muscle than several taut bowstrings stretched
across meagre bone under yellow, parchment-like skin. Along this
mummy arm jade bracelets shot up and down and clashed with every
“Ah!” she cried out, rhythmically accenting her blows in series of
three to each shrill observation. “I forbade you to talk to Li
Faa. To-day you stopped on the street with her. Not an hour ago.
Half an hour by the clock you talked.–What is that?”
“It was the thrice-accursed telephone,” Ah Kim muttered, while she
suspended the stick to catch what he said. “Mrs. Chang Lucy told
you. I know she did. I saw her see me. I shall have the
telephone taken out. It is of the devil.”
“It is a device of all the devils,” Mrs. Tai Fu agreed, taking a
fresh grip on the stick. “Yet shall the telephone remain. I like
to talk with Mrs. Chang Lucy over the telephone.”
“She has the eyes of ten thousand cats,” quoth Ah Kim, ducking and
receiving the stick stinging on his knuckles. “And the tongues of
ten thousand toads,” he supplemented ere his next duck.
“She is an impudent-faced and evil-mannered hussy,” Mrs. Tai Fu
“Mrs. Chang Lucy was ever that,” Ah Kim murmured like the dutiful
son he was.
“I speak of Li Faa,” his mother corrected with stick emphasis.
“She is only half Chinese, as you know. Her mother was a shameless
kanaka. She wears skirts like the degraded haole women–also
corsets, as I have seen for myself. Where are her children? Yet
has she buried two husbands.”
“The one was drowned, the other kicked by a horse,” Ah Kim
“A year of her, unworthy son of a noble father, and you would
gladly be going out to get drowned or be kicked by a horse.”
Subdued chucklings and laughter from the window audience applauded
“You buried two husbands yourself, revered mother,” Ah Kim was
stung to retort.
“I had the good taste not to marry a third. Besides, my two
husbands died honourably in their beds. They were not kicked by
horses nor drowned at sea. What business is it of our neighbours
that you should inform them I have had two husbands, or ten, or
none? You have made a scandal of me, before all our neighbours,
and for that I shall now give you a real beating.”
Ah Kim endured the staccato rain of blows, and said when his mother
paused, breathless and weary:
“Always have I insisted and pleaded, honourable mother, that you
beat me in the house, with the windows and doors closed tight, and
not in the open street or the garden open behind the house.
“You have called this unthinkable Li Faa the Silvery Moon Blossom,”
Mrs. Tai Fu rejoined, quite illogically and femininely, but with
utmost success in so far as she deflected her son from continuance
of the thrust he had so swiftly driven home.
“Mrs. Chang Lucy told you,” he charged.
“I was told over the telephone,” his mother evaded. “I do not know
all voices that speak to me over that contrivance of all the
Strangely, Ah Kim made no effort to run away from his mother, which
he could easily have done. She, on the other hand, found fresh
cause for more stick blows.
“Ah! Stubborn one! Why do you not cry? Mule that shameth its
ancestors! Never have I made you cry. From the time you were a
little boy I have never made you cry. Answer me! Why do you not
Weak and breathless from her exertions, she dropped the stick and
panted and shook as if with a nervous palsy.
“I do not know, except that it is my way,” Ah Kim replied, gazing
solicitously at his mother. “I shall bring you a chair now, and
you will sit down and rest and feel better.”
But she flung away from him with a snort and tottered agedly across
the garden into the house. Meanwhile recovering his skull-cap and
smoothing his disordered attire, Ah Kim rubbed his hurts and gazed
after her with eyes of devotion. He even smiled, and almost might
it appear that he had enjoyed the beating.
Ah Kim had been so beaten ever since he was a boy, when he lived on
the high banks of the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse river. Here
his father had been born and toiled all his days from young manhood
as a towing coolie. When he died, Ah Kim, in his own young
manhood, took up the same honourable profession. Farther back than
all remembered annals of the family, had the males of it been
towing coolies. At the time of Christ his direct ancestors had
been doing the same thing, meeting the precisely similarly modelled
junks below the white water at the foot of the canyon, bending the
half-mile of rope to each junk, and, according to size, tailing on
from a hundred to two hundred coolies of them and by sheer, two-
legged man-power, bowed forward and down till their hands touched
the ground and their faces were sometimes within a foot of it,
dragging the junk up through the white water to the head of the
Apparently, down all the intervening centuries, the payment of the
trade had not picked up. His father, his father’s father, and
himself, Ah Kim, had received the same invariable remuneration–per
junk one-fourteenth of a cent, at the rate he had since learned
money was valued in Hawaii. On long lucky summer days when the
waters were easy, the junks many, the hours of daylight sixteen,
sixteen hours of such heroic toil would earn over a cent. But in a
whole year a towing coolie did not earn more than a dollar and a
half. People could and did live on such an income. There were
women servants who received a yearly wage of a dollar. The net-
makers of Ti Wi earned between a dollar and two dollars a year.
They lived on such wages, or, at least, they did not die on them.
But for the towing coolies there were pickings, which were what
made the profession honourable and the guild a close and hereditary
corporation or labour union. One junk in five that was dragged up
through the rapids or lowered down was wrecked. One junk in every
ten was a total loss. The coolies of the towing guild knew the
freaks and whims of the currents, and grappled, and raked, and
netted a wet harvest from the river. They of the guild were looked
up to by lesser coolies, for they could afford to drink brick tea
and eat number four rice every day.
And Ah Kim had been contented and proud, until, one bitter spring
day of driving sleet and hail, he dragged ashore a drowning
Cantonese sailor. It was this wanderer, thawing out by his fire,
who first named the magic name Hawaii to him. He had himself never
been to that labourer’s paradise, said the sailor; but many Chinese
had gone there from Canton, and he had heard the talk of their
letters written back. In Hawaii was never frost nor famine. The
very pigs, never fed, were ever fat of the generous offal disdained
by man. A Cantonese or Yangtse family could live on the waste of
an Hawaii coolie. And wages! In gold dollars, ten a month, or, in
trade dollars, two a month, was what the contract Chinese coolie
received from the white-devil sugar kings. In a year the coolie
received the prodigious sum of two hundred and forty trade dollars-
-more than a hundred times what a coolie, toiling ten times as
hard, received on the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse. In short,
all things considered, an Hawaii coolie was one hundred times
better off, and, when the amount of labour was estimated, a
thousand times better off. In addition was the wonderful climate.
When Ah Kim was twenty-four, despite his mother’s pleadings and
beatings, he resigned from the ancient and honourable guild of the
eleventh cataract towing coolies, left his mother to go into a boss
coolie’s household as a servant for a dollar a year, and an annual
dress to cost not less than thirty cents, and himself departed down
the Yangtse to the great sea. Many were his adventures and severe
his toils and hardships ere, as a salt-sea junk-sailor, he won to
Canton. When he was twenty-six he signed five years of his life
and labour away to the Hawaii sugar kings and departed, one of
eight hundred contract coolies, for that far island land, on a
festering steamer run by a crazy captain and drunken officers and
rejected of Lloyds.
Honourable, among labourers, had Ah Kim’s rating been as a towing
coolie. In Hawaii, receiving a hundred times more pay, he found
himself looked down upon as the lowest of the low–a plantation
coolie, than which could be nothing lower. But a coolie whose
ancestors had towed junks up the eleventh cataract of the Yangtse
since before the birth of Christ inevitably inherits one character
in large degree, namely, the character of patience. This patience
was Ah Kim’s. At the end of five years, his compulsory servitude
over, thin as ever in body, in bank account he lacked just ten
trade dollars of possessing a thousand trade dollars.
On this sum he could have gone back to the Yangtse and retired for
life a really wealthy man. He would have possessed a larger sum,
had he not, on occasion, conservatively played che fa and fan tan,
and had he not, for a twelve-month, toiled among the centipedes and
scorpions of the stifling cane-fields in the semi-dream of a
continuous opium debauch. Why he had not toiled the whole five
years under the spell of opium was the expensiveness of the habit.
He had had no moral scruples. The drug had cost too much.
But Ah Kim did not return to China. He had observed the business
life of Hawaii and developed a vaulting ambition. For six months,
in order to learn business and English at the bottom, he clerked in
the plantation store. At the end of this time he knew more about
that particular store than did ever plantation manager know about
any plantation store. When he resigned his position he was
receiving forty gold a month, or eighty trade, and he was beginning
to put on flesh. Also, his attitude toward mere contract coolies
had become distinctively aristocratic. The manager offered to
raise him to sixty fold, which, by the year, would constitute a
fabulous fourteen hundred and forty trade, or seven hundred times
his annual earning on the Yangtse as a two-legged horse at one-
fourteenth of a gold cent per junk.
Instead of accepting, Ah Kim departed to Honolulu, and in the big
general merchandise store of Fong & Chow Fong began at the bottom
for fifteen gold per month. He worked a year and a half, and
resigned when he was thirty-three, despite the seventy-five gold
per month his Chinese employers were paying him. Then it was that
he put up his own sign: AH KIM COMPANY, GENERAL MERCHANDISE.
Also, better fed, there was about his less meagre figure a
foreshadowing of the melon-seed rotundity that was to attach to him
in future years.
With the years he prospered increasingly, so that, when he was
thirty-six, the promise of his figure was fulfilling rapidly, and,
himself a member of the exclusive and powerful Hai Gum Tong, and of
the Chinese Merchants’ Association, he was accustomed to sitting as
host at dinners that cost him as much as thirty years of towing on
the eleventh cataract would have earned him. Two things he missed:
a wife, and his mother to lay the stick on him as of yore.
When he was thirty-seven he consulted his bank balance. It stood
him three thousand gold. For twenty-five hundred down and an easy
mortgage he could buy the three-story shack-building, and the
ground in fee simple on which it stood. But to do this, left only
five hundred for a wife. Fu Yee Po had a marriageable, properly
small-footed daughter whom he was willing to import from China, and
sell to him for eight hundred gold, plus the costs of importation.
Further, Fu Yee Po was even willing to take five hundred down and
the remainder on note at 6 per cent.
Ah Kim, thirty-seven years of age, fat and a bachelor, really did
want a wife, especially a small-footed wife; for, China born and
reared, the immemorial small-footed female had been deeply
impressed into his fantasy of woman. But more, even more and far
more than a small-footed wife, did he want his mother and his
mother’s delectable beatings. So he declined Fu Yee Po’s easy
terms, and at much less cost imported his own mother from servant
in a boss coolie’s house at a yearly wage of a dollar and a thirty-
cent dress to be mistress of his Honolulu three-story shack
building with two household servants, three clerks, and a porter of
all work under her, to say nothing of ten thousand dollars’ worth
of dress goods on the shelves that ranged from the cheapest cotton
crepes to the most expensive hand-embroidered silks. For be it
known that even in that early day Ah Kim’s emporium was beginning
to cater to the tourist trade from the States.
For thirteen years Ah Kim had lived tolerably happily with his
mother, and by her been methodically beaten for causes just or
unjust, real or fancied; and at the end of it all he knew as
strongly as ever the ache of his heart and head for a wife, and of
his loins for sons to live after him, and carry on the dynasty of
Ah Kim Company. Such the dream that has ever vexed men, from those
early ones who first usurped a hunting right, monopolized a sandbar
for a fish-trap, or stormed a village and put the males thereof to
the sword. Kings, millionaires, and Chinese merchants of Honolulu
have this in common, despite that they may praise God for having
made them differently and in self-likable images.
And the ideal of woman that Ah Kim at fifty ached for had changed
from his ideal at thirty-seven. No small-footed wife did he want
now, but a free, natural, out-stepping normal-footed woman that,
somehow, appeared to him in his day dreams and haunted his night
visions in the form of Li Faa, the Silvery Moon Blossom. What if
she were twice widowed, the daughter of a kanaka mother, the wearer
of white-devil skirts and corsets and high-heeled slippers! He
wanted her. It seemed it was written that she should be joint
ancestor with him of the line that would continue the ownership and
management through the generations, of Ah Kim Company, General
“I will have no half-pake daughter-in-law,” his mother often
reiterated to Ah Kim, pake being the Hawaiian word for Chinese.
“All pake must my daughter-in-law be, even as you, my son, and as
I, your mother. And she must wear trousers, my son, as all the
women of our family before her. No woman, in she-devil skirts and
corsets, can pay due reverence to our ancestors. Corsets and
reverence do not go together. Such a one is this shameless Li Faa.
She is impudent and independent, and will be neither obedient to
her husband nor her husband’s mother. This brazen-faced Li Faa
would believe herself the source of life and the first ancestor,
recognizing no ancestors before her. She laughs at our joss-
sticks, and paper prayers, and family gods, as I have been well
“Mrs. Chang Lucy,” Ah Kim groaned.
“Not alone Mrs. Chang Lucy, O son. I have inquired. At least a
dozen have heard her say of our joss house that it is all monkey
foolishness. The words are hers–she, who eats raw fish, raw
squid, and baked dog. Ours is the foolishness of monkeys. Yet
would she marry you, a monkey, because of your store that is a
palace and of the wealth that makes you a great man. And she would
put shame on me, and on your father before you long honourably
And there was no discussing the matter. As things were, Ah Kim
knew his mother was right. Not for nothing had Li Faa been born
forty years before of a Chinese father, renegade to all tradition,
and of a kanaka mother whose immediate forebears had broken the
taboos, cast down their own Polynesian gods, and weak-heartedly
listened to the preaching about the remote and unimageable god of
the Christian missionaries. Li Faa, educated, who could read and
write English and Hawaiian and a fair measure of Chinese, claimed
to believe in nothing, although in her secret heart she feared the
kahunas (Hawaiian witch-doctors), who she was certain could charm
away ill luck or pray one to death. Li Faa would never come into
Ah Kim’s house, as he thoroughly knew, and kow-tow to his mother
and be slave to her in the immemorial Chinese way. Li Faa, from
the Chinese angle, was a new woman, a feminist, who rode horseback
astride, disported immodestly garbed at Waikiki on the surf-boards,
and at more than one luau (feast) had been known to dance the hula
with the worst and in excess of the worst, to the scandalous
delight of all.
Ah Kim himself, a generation younger than his mother, had been
bitten by the acid of modernity. The old order held, in so far as
he still felt in his subtlest crypts of being the dusty hand of the
past resting on him, residing in him; yet he subscribed to heavy
policies of fire and life insurance, acted as treasurer for the
local Chinese revolutionises that were for turning the Celestial
Empire into a republic, contributed to the funds of the Hawaii-born
Chinese baseball nine that excelled the Yankee nines at their own
game, talked theosophy with Katso Suguri, the Japanese Buddhist and
silk importer, fell for police graft, played and paid his insidious
share in the democratic politics of annexed Hawaii, and was
thinking of buying an automobile. Ah Kim never dared bare himself
to himself and thrash out and winnow out how much of the old he had
ceased to believe in. His mother was of the old, yet he revered
her and was happy under her bamboo stick. Li Faa, the Silvery Moon
Blossom, was of the new, yet he could never be quite completely
happy without her.
For he loved Li Faa. Moon-faced, rotund as a water-melon seed,
canny business man, wise with half a century of living–
nevertheless Ah Kim became an artist when he thought of her. He
thought of her in poems of names, as woman transmuted into flower-
terms of beauty and philosophic abstractions of achievement and
easement. She was, to him, and alone to him of all men in the
world, his Plum Blossom, his Tranquillity of Woman, his Flower of
Serenity, his Moon Lily, and his Perfect Rest. And as he murmured
these love endearments of namings, it seemed to him that in them
were the ripplings of running waters, the tinklings of silver wind-
bells, and the scents of the oleander and the jasmine. She was his
poem of woman, a lyric delight, a three-dimensions of flesh and
spirit delicious, a fate and a good fortune written, ere the first
man and woman were, by the gods whose whim had been to make all men
and women for sorrow and for joy.
But his mother put into his hand the ink-brush and placed under it,
on the table, the writing tablet.
“Paint,” said she, “the ideograph of TO MARRY.”
He obeyed, scarcely wondering, with the deft artistry of his race
and training painting the symbolic hieroglyphic.
“Resolve it,” commanded his mother.
Ah Kim looked at her, curious, willing to please, unaware of the
drift of her intent.
“Of what is it composed?” she persisted. “What are the three
originals, the sum of which is it: to marry, marriage, the coming
together and wedding of a man and a woman? Paint them, paint them
apart, the three originals, unrelated, so that we may know how the
wise men of old wisely built up the ideograph of to marry.”
And Ah Kim, obeying and painting, saw that what he had painted were
three picture-signs–the picture-signs of a hand, an ear, and a
“Name them,” said his mother; and he named them.
“It is true,” said she. “It is a great tale. It is the stuff of
the painted pictures of marriage. Such marriage was in the
beginning; such shall it always be in my house. The hand of the
man takes the woman’s ear, and by it leads her away to his house,
where she is to be obedient to him and to his mother. I was taken
by the ear, so, by your long honourably dead father. I have looked
at your hand. It is not like his hand. Also have I looked at the
ear of Li Faa. Never will you lead her by the ear. She has not
that kind of an ear. I shall live a long time yet, and I will be
mistress in my son’s house, after our ancient way, until I die.”
“But she is my revered ancestress,” Ah Kim explained to Li Faa.
He was timidly unhappy; for Li Faa, having ascertained that Mrs.
Tai Fu was at the temple of the Chinese AEsculapius making a food
offering of dried duck and prayers for her declining health, had
taken advantage of the opportunity to call upon him in his store.
Li Faa pursed her insolent, unpainted lips into the form of a half-
opened rosebud, and replied:
“That will do for China. I do not know China. This is Hawaii, and
in Hawaii the customs of all foreigners change.”
“She is nevertheless my ancestress,” Ah Kim protested, “the mother
who gave me birth, whether I am in China or Hawaii, O Silvery Moon
Blossom that I want for wife.”
“I have had two husbands,” Li Faa stated placidly. “One was a
pake, one was a Portuguese. I learned much from both. Also am I
educated. I have been to High School, and I have played the piano
in public. And I learned from my two husbands much. The pake
makes the best husband. Never again will I marry anything but a
pake. But he must not take me by the ear–“
“How do you know of that?” he broke in suspiciously.
“Mrs. Chang Lucy,” was the reply. “Mrs. Chang Lucy tells me
everything that your mother tells her, and your mother tells her
much. So let me tell you that mine is not that kind of an ear.”
“Which is what my honoured mother has told me,” Ah Kim groaned.
“Which is what your honoured mother told Mrs. Chang Lucy, which is
what Mrs. Chang Lucy told me,” Li Faa completed equably. “And I
now tell you, O Third Husband To Be, that the man is not born who
will lead me by the ear. It is not the way in Hawaii. I will go
only hand in hand with my man, side by side, fifty-fifty as is the
haole slang just now. My Portuguese husband thought different. He
tried to beat me. I landed him three times in the police court and
each time he worked out his sentence on the reef. After that he
“My mother has been my mother for fifty years,” Ah Kim declared
“And for fifty years has she beaten you,” Li Faa giggled. “How my
father used to laugh at Yap Ten Shin! Like you, Yap Ten Shin had
been born in China, and had brought the China customs with him.
His old father was for ever beating him with a stick. He loved his
father. But his father beat him harder than ever when he became a
missionary pake. Every time he went to the missionary services,
his father beat him. And every time the missionary heard of it he
was harsh in his language to Yap Ten Shin for allowing his father
to beat him. And my father laughed and laughed, for my father was
a very liberal pake, who had changed his customs quicker than most
foreigners. And all the trouble was because Yap Ten Shin had a
loving heart. He loved his honourable father. He loved the God of
Love of the Christian missionary. But in the end, in me, he found
the greatest love of all, which is the love of woman. In me he
forgot his love for his father and his love for the loving Christ.
“And he offered my father six hundred gold, for me–the price was
small because my feet were not small. But I was half kanaka. I
said that I was not a slave-woman, and that I would be sold to no
man. My high-school teacher was a haole old maid who said love of
woman was so beyond price that it must never be sold. Perhaps that
is why she was an old maid. She was not beautiful. She could not
give herself away. My kanaka mother said it was not the kanaka way
to sell their daughters for a money price. They gave their
daughters for love, and she would listen to reason if Yap Ten Shin
provided luaus in quantity and quality. My pake father, as I have
told you, was liberal. He asked me if I wanted Yap Ten Shin for my
husband. And I said yes; and freely, of myself, I went to him. He
it was who was kicked by a horse; but he was a very good husband
before he was kicked by the horse.
“As for you, Ah Kim, you shall always be honourable and lovable for
me, and some day, when it is not necessary for you to take me by
the ear, I shall marry you and come here and be with you always,
and you will be the happiest pake in all Hawaii; for I have had two
husbands, and gone to high school, and am most wise in making a
husband happy. But that will be when your mother has ceased to
beat you. Mrs. Chang Lucy tells me that she beats you very hard.”
“She does,” Ah Kim affirmed. “Behold! He thrust back his loose
sleeves, exposing to the elbow his smooth and cherubic forearms.
They were mantled with black and blue marks that advertised the
weight and number of blows so shielded from his head and face.
“But she has never made me cry,” Ah Kim disclaimed hastily.
“Never, from the time I was a little boy, has she made me cry.”
“So Mrs. Chang Lucy says,” Li Faa observed. “She says that your
honourable mother often complains to her that she has never made
A sibilant warning from one of his clerks was too late. Having
regained the house by way of the back alley, Mrs. Tai Fu emerged
right upon them from out of the living apartments. Never had Ah
Kim seen his mother’s eyes so blazing furious. She ignored Li Faa,
as she screamed at him:
“Now will I make you cry. As never before shall I beat you until
you do cry.”
“Then let us go into the back rooms, honourable mother,” Ah Kim
suggested. “We will close the windows and the doors, and there may
you beat me.”
“No. Here shall you be beaten before all the world and this
shameless woman who would, with her own hand, take you by the ear
and call such sacrilege marriage! Stay, shameless woman.”
“I am going to stay anyway,” said Li Faa. She favoured the clerks
with a truculent stare. “And I’d like to see anything less than
the police put me out of here.”
“You will never be my daughter-in-law,” Mrs. Tai Fu snapped.
Li Faa nodded her head in agreement.
“But just the same,” she added, “shall your son be my third
“You mean when I am dead?” the old mother screamed.
“The sun rises each morning,” Li Faa said enigmatically. “All my
life have I seen it rise–“
“You are forty, and you wear corsets.”
“But I do not dye my hair–that will come later,” Li Faa calmly
retorted. “As to my age, you are right. I shall be forty-one next
Kamehameha Day. For forty years I have seen the sun rise. My
father was an old man. Before he died he told me that he had
observed no difference in the rising of the sun since when he was a
little boy. The world is round. Confucius did not know that, but
you will find it in all the geography books. The world is round.
Ever it turns over on itself, over and over and around and around.
And the times and seasons of weather and life turn with it. What
is, has been before. What has been, will be again. The time of
the breadfruit and the mango ever recurs, and man and woman repeat
themselves. The robins nest, and in the springtime the plovers
come from the north. Every spring is followed by another spring.
The coconut palm rises into the air, ripens its fruit, and departs.
But always are there more coconut palms. This is not all my own
smart talk. Much of it my father told me. Proceed, honourable
Mrs. Tai Fu, and beat your son who is my Third Husband To Be. But
I shall laugh. I warn you I shall laugh.”
Ah Kim dropped down on his knees so as to give his mother every
advantage. And while she rained blows upon him with the bamboo
stick, Li Faa smiled and giggled, and finally burst into laughter.
“Harder, O honourable Mrs. Tai Fu!” Li Faa urged between paroxysms
Mrs. Tai Fu did her best, which was notably weak, until she
observed what made her drop the stick by her side in amazement. Ah
Kim was crying. Down both cheeks great round tears were coursing.
Li Faa was amazed. So were the gaping clerks. Most amazed of all
was Ah Kim, yet he could not help himself; and, although no further
blows fell, he cried steadily on.
“But why did you cry?” Li Faa demanded often of Ah Kim. “It was so
perfectly foolish a thing to do. She was not even hurting you.”
“Wait until we are married,” was Ah Kim’s invariable reply, “and
then, O Moon Lily, will I tell you.”
Two years later, one afternoon, more like a water-melon seed in
configuration than ever, Ah Kim returned home from a meeting of the
Chinese Protective Association, to find his mother dead on her
couch. Narrower and more unrelenting than ever were the forehead
and the brushed-back hair. But on her face was a withered smile.
The gods had been kind. She had passed without pain.
He telephoned first of all to Li Faa’s number but did not find her
until he called up Mrs. Chang Lucy. The news given, the marriage
was dated ahead with ten times the brevity of the old-line Chinese
custom. And if there be anything analogous to a bridesmaid in a
Chinese wedding, Mrs. Chang Lucy was just that.
“Why,” Li Faa asked Ah Kim when alone with him on their wedding
night, “why did you cry when your mother beat you that day in the
store? You were so foolish. She was not even hurting you.”
“That is why I cried,” answered Ah Kim.
Li Faa looked up at him without understanding.
“I cried,” he explained, “because I suddenly knew that my mother
was nearing her end. There was no weight, no hurt, in her blows.
I cried because I knew SHE NO LONGER HAD STRENGTH ENOUGH TO HURT
ME. That is why I cried, my Flower of Serenity, my Perfect Rest.
That is the only reason why I cried.”
June 16, 1916.
From Jack London: ON THE MAKALOA MAT/ISLAND TALES
They have gone down to the pit with their weapons of war, and they have laid their swords under their heads.
“It was a sad thing to see the old lady revert.”
Prince Akuli shot an apprehensive glance sideward to where, under the shade of a kukui tree, an old wahine (Hawaiian woman) was just settling herself to begin on some work in hand.
“Yes,” he nodded half-sadly to me, “in her last years Hiwilani went back to the old ways, and to the old beliefs–in secret, of course. And, BELIEVE me, she was some collector herself. You should have seen her bones. She had them all about her bedroom, in big jars, and they constituted most all her relatives, except a half-dozen or so that Kanau beat her out of by getting to them first. The way the pair of them used to quarrel about those bones was aweinspiring. And it gave me the creeps, when I was a boy, to go into that big, for-ever-twilight room of hers, and know that in this jar was all that remained of my maternal grand-aunt, and that in that jar was my great-grandfather, and that in all the jars were the preserved bone-remnants of the shadowy dust of the ancestors whose seed had come down and been incorporated in the living, breathing me. Hiwilani had gone quite native at the last, sleeping on mats on the hard floor–she’d fired out of the room the great, royal, canopied four-poster that had been presented to her grandmother by Lord Byron, who was the cousin of the Don Juan Byron and came here in the frigate Blonde in 1825.
“She went back to all native, at the last, and I can see her yet, biting a bite out of the raw fish ere she tossed them to her women to eat. And she made them finish her poi, or whatever else she did not finish of herself. She–“
But he broke off abruptly, and by the sensitive dilation of his nostrils and by the expression of his mobile features I saw that he had read in the air and identified the odour that offended him.
“Deuce take it!” he cried to me. “It stinks to heaven. And I shall be doomed to wear it until we’re rescued.”
There was no mistaking the object of his abhorrence. The ancient crone was making a dearest-loved lei (wreath) of the fruit of the hala which is the screw-pine or pandanus of the South Pacific. She was cutting the many sections or nut-envelopes of the fruit into fluted bell-shapes preparatory to stringing them on the twisted and tough inner bark of the hau tree. It certainly smelled to heaven, but, to me, a malahini (new-comer), the smell was wine-woody and fruit-juicy and not unpleasant.
Prince Akuli’s limousine had broken an axle a quarter of a mile away, and he and I had sought shelter from the sun in this veritable bowery of a mountain home. Humble and grass-thatched was the house, but it stood in a treasure-garden of begonias that sprayed their delicate blooms a score of feet above our heads, that were like trees, with willowy trunks of trees as thick as a man’s arm. Here we refreshed ourselves with drinking-coconuts, while a cowboy rode a dozen miles to the nearest telephone and summoned a machine from town. The town itself we could see, the Lakanaii metropolis of Olokona, a smudge of smoke on the shore-line, as we looked down across the miles of cane-fields, the billow-wreathed reef-lines, and the blue haze of ocean to where the island of Oahu shimmered like a dim opal on the horizon.
Maui is the Valley Isle of Hawaii, and Kauai the Garden Isle; but Lakanaii, lying abreast of Oahu, is recognized in the present, and was known of old and always, as the Jewel Isle of the group. Not the largest, nor merely the smallest, Lakanaii is conceded by all to be the wildest, the most wildly beautiful, and, in its size, the richest of all the islands. Its sugar tonnage per acre is the highest, its mountain beef-cattle the fattest, its rainfall the most generous without ever being disastrous. It resembles Kauai in that it is the first-formed and therefore the oldest island, so that it had had time sufficient to break down its lava rock into the richest soil, and to erode the canyons between the ancient craters until they are like Grand Canyons of the Colorado, with numberless waterfalls plunging thousands of feet in the sheer or dissipating into veils of vapour, and evanescing in mid-air to descend softly and invisibly through a mirage of rainbows, like so much dew or gentle shower, upon the abyss-floors.
Yet Lakanaii is easy to describe. But how can one describe Prince Akuli? To know him is to know all Lakanaii most thoroughly. In addition, one must know thoroughly a great deal of the rest of the world. In the first place, Prince Akuli has no recognized nor legal right to be called “Prince.” Furthermore, “Akuli” means the “squid.” So that Prince Squid could scarcely be the dignified title of the straight descendant of the oldest and highest aliis (high chiefs) of Hawaii–an old and exclusive stock, wherein, in the ancient way of the Egyptian Pharaohs, brothers and sisters had even wed on the throne for the reason that they could not marry beneath rank, that in all their known world there was none of higher rank, and that, at every hazard, the dynasty must be perpetuated.
I have heard Prince Akuli’s singing historians (inherited from his father) chanting their interminable genealogies, by which they demonstrated that he was the highest alii in all Hawaii. Beginning with Wakea, who is their Adam, and with Papa, their Eve, through as many generations as there are letters in our alphabet they trace down to Nanakaoko, the first ancestor born in Hawaii and whose wife was Kahihiokalani. Later, but always highest, their generations split from the generations of Ua, who was the founder of the two distinct lines of the Kauai and Oahu kings.
In the eleventh century A.D., by the Lakanaii historians, at the time brothers and sisters mated because none existed to excel them, their rank received a boost of new blood of rank that was next to heaven’s door. One Hoikemaha, steering by the stars and the ancient traditions, arrived in a great double-canoe from Samoa. He married a lesser alii of Lakanaii, and when his three sons were grown, returned with them to Samoa to bring back his own youngest brother. But with him he brought back Kumi, the son of Tui Manua, which latter’s rank was highest in all Polynesia, and barely second to that of the demigods and gods. So the estimable seed of Kumi, eight centuries before, had entered into the aliis of Lakanaii, and been passed down by them in the undeviating line to reposit in Prince Akuli.
Him I first met, talking with an Oxford accent, in the officers’ mess of the Black Watch in South Africa. This was just before that famous regiment was cut to pieces at Magersfontein. He had as much right to be in that mess as he had to his accent, for he was Oxford-educated and held the Queen’s Commission. With him, as his guest, taking a look at the war, was Prince Cupid, so nicknamed, but the true prince of all Hawaii, including Lakanaii, whose real and legal title was Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, and who might have been the living King of Hawaii Nei had it not been for the haole (white man) Revolution and Annexation–this, despite the fact that Prince Cupid’s alii genealogy was lesser to the heaven-boosted genealogy of Prince Akuli. For Prince Akuli might have been King of Lakanaii, and of all Hawaii, perhaps, had not his grandfather been soundly thrashed by the first and greatest of the Kamehamehas.
This had occurred in the year 1810, in the booming days of the sandalwood trade, and in the same year that the King of Kauai came in, and was good, and ate out of Kamehameha’s hand. Prince Akuli’s grandfather, in that year, had received his trouncing and subjugating because he was “old school.” He had not imaged island empire in terms of gunpowder and haole gunners. Kamehameha, farther-visioned, had annexed the service of haoles, including such men as Isaac Davis, mate and sole survivor of the massacred crew of the schooner Fair American, and John Young, captured boatswain of the snow Eleanor. And Isaac Davis, and John Young, and others of their waywardly adventurous ilk, with six-pounder brass carronades from the captured Iphigenia and Fair American, had destroyed the war canoes and shattered the morale of the King of Lakanaii’s landfighters, receiving duly in return from Kamehameha, according to agreement: Isaac Davis, six hundred mature and fat hogs; John Young, five hundred of the same described pork on the hoof that was split.
And so, out of all incests and lusts of the primitive cultures and beast-man’s gropings toward the stature of manhood, out of all red murders, and brute battlings, and matings with the younger brothersof the demigods, world-polished, Oxford-accented, twentieth century to the tick of the second, comes Prince Akuli, Prince Squid, pure-veined Polynesian, a living bridge across the thousand centuries, comrade, friend, and fellow-traveller out of his wrecked seven-thousand-dollar limousine, marooned with me in a begonia paradise fourteen hundred feet above the sea, and his island metropolis of Olokona, to tell me of his mother, who reverted in her old age to ancientness of religious concept and ancestor worship, and collected and surrounded herself with the charnel bones of those who had been her forerunners back in the darkness of time.
“King Kalakaua started this collecting fad, over on Oahu,” Prince Akuli continued. “And his queen, Kapiolani, caught the fad from him. They collected everything–old makaloa mats, old tapas, old calabashes, old double-canoes, and idols which the priests had saved from the general destruction in 1819. I haven’t seen a pearl-shell fish-hook in years, but I swear that Kalakaua accumulated ten thousand of them, to say nothing of human jaw-bone fish-hooks, and feather cloaks, and capes and helmets, and stone adzes, and poi-pounders of phallic design. When he and Kapiolani made their royal progresses around the islands, their hosts had to hide away their personal relics. For to the king, in theory, belongs all property of his people; and with Kalakaua, when it came to the old things, theory and practice were one.
“From him my father, Kanau, got the collecting bee in his bonnet, and Hiwilani was likewise infected. But father was modern to his finger-tips. He believed neither in the gods of the kahunas” (priests) “nor of the missionaries. He didn’t believe in anything except sugar stocks, horse-breeding, and that his grandfather had been a fool in not collecting a few Isaac Davises and John Youngs and brass carronades before he went to war with Kamehameha. So he collected curios in the pure collector’s spirit; but my mother took it seriously. That was why she went in for bones. I remember, too, she had an ugly old stone-idol she used to yammer to and crawl around on the floor before. It’s in the Deacon Museum now. I sent it there after her death, and her collection of bones to the Royal Mausoleum in Olokona.
“I don’t know whether you remember her father was Kaaukuu. Well, he was, and he was a giant. When they built the Mausoleum, his bones, nicely cleaned and preserved, were dug out of their hidingplace, and placed in the Mausoleum. Hiwilani had an old retainer, Ahuna. She stole the key from Kanau one night, and made Ahuna go and steal her father’s bones out of the Mausoleum. I know. And he must have been a giant. She kept him in one of her big jars. One day, when I was a tidy size of a lad, and curious to know if Kaaukuu was as big as tradition had him, I fished his intact lower jaw out of the jar, and the wrappings, and tried it on. I stuck my head right through it, and it rested around my neck and on my shoulders like a horse collar. And every tooth was in the jaw, whiter than porcelain, without a cavity, the enamel unstained and unchipped. I got the walloping of my life for that offence, although she had to call old Ahuna in to help give it to me. But the incident served me well. It won her confidence in me that I was not afraid of the bones of the dead ones, and it won for me my Oxford education. As you shall see, if that car doesn’t arrive first.
“Old Ahuna was one of the real old ones with the hall-mark on him and branded into him of faithful born-slave service. He knew more about my mother’s family, and my father’s, than did both of them put together. And he knew, what no living other knew, the burial-place of centuries, where were hid the bones of most of her ancestors and of Kanau’s. Kanau couldn’t worm it out of the old fellow, who looked upon Kanau as an apostate.
“Hiwilani struggled with the old codger for years. How she ever succeeded is beyond me. Of course, on the face of it, she was faithful to the old religion. This might have persuaded Ahuna to loosen up a little. Or she may have jolted fear into him; for she knew a lot of the line of chatter of the old Huni sorcerers, and she could make a noise like being on terms of utmost intimacy with Uli, who is the chiefest god of sorcery of all the sorcerers. She could skin the ordinary kahuna lapaau” (medicine man) “when it came to praying to Lonopuha and Koleamoku; read dreams and visions and signs and omens and indigestions to beat the band; make the practitioners under the medicine god, Maiola, look like thirty cents; pull off a pule hee incantation that would make them dizzy; and she claimed to a practice of kahuna hoenoho, which is modern spiritism, second to none. I have myself seen her drink the wind, throw a fit, and prophesy. The aumakuas were brothers to her when she slipped offerings to them across the altars of the ruined heiaus” (temples) “with a line of prayer that was as unintelligible to me as it was hair-raising. And as for old Ahuna, she could make him get down on the floor and yammer and bite himself when she pulled the real mystery dope on him.
“Nevertheless, my private opinion is that it was the anaana stuff that got him. She snipped off a lock of his hair one day with a pair of manicure scissors. This lock of hair was what we call the maunu, meaning the bait. And she took jolly good care to let him know she had that bit of his hair. Then she tipped it off to him that she had buried it, and was deeply engaged each night in her offerings and incantations to Uli.”
“That was the regular praying-to-death?” I queried in the pause of Prince Akuli’s lighting his cigarette.
“Sure thing,” he nodded. “And Ahuna fell for it. First he tried to locate the hiding-place of the bait of his hair. Failing that, he hired a pahiuhiu sorcerer to find it for him. But Hiwilani queered that game by threatening to the sorcerer to practise apo leo on him, which is the art of permanently depriving a person of the power of speech without otherwise injuring him.
“Then it was that Ahuna began to pine away and get more like a corpse every day. In desperation he appealed to Kanau. I happened to be present. You have heard what sort of a man my father was.
“‘Pig!’ he called Ahuna. ‘Swine-brains! Stinking fish! Die and be done with it. You are a fool. It is all nonsense. There is nothing in anything. The drunken haole, Howard, can prove the missionaries wrong. Square-face gin proves Howard wrong. The doctors say he won’t last six months. Even square-face gin lies.
Life is a liar, too. And here are hard times upon us, and a slump in sugar. Glanders has got into my brood mares. I wish I could lie down and sleep for a hundred years, and wake up to find sugar up a hundred points.’
“Father was something of a philosopher himself, with a bitter wit and a trick of spitting out staccato epigrams. He clapped his hands. ‘Bring me a high-ball,’ he commanded; ‘no, bring me two high-balls.’ Then he turned on Ahuna. ‘Go and let yourself die, old heathen, survival of darkness, blight of the Pit that you are. But don’t die on these premises. I desire merriment and laughter, and the sweet tickling of music, and the beauty of youthful motion,
not the croaking of sick toads and googly-eyed corpses about me still afoot on their shaky legs. I’ll be that way soon enough if I live long enough. And it will be my everlasting regret if I don’t live long enough. Why in hell did I sink that last twenty thousand into Curtis’s plantation? Howard warned me the slump was coming, but I thought it was the square-face making him lie. And Curtis has blown his brains out, and his head luna has run away with his daughter, and the sugar chemist has got typhoid, and everything’s going to smash.’
“He clapped his hands for his servants, and commanded: ‘Bring me my singing boys. And the hula dancers–plenty of them. And send for old Howard. Somebody’s got to pay, and I’ll shorten his six months of life by a month. But above all, music. Let there be music. It is stronger than drink, and quicker than opium.’
“He with his music druggery! It was his father, the old savage, who was entertained on board a French frigate, and for the first time heard an orchestra. When the little concert was over, the captain, to find which piece he liked best, asked which piece he’d like repeated. Well, when grandfather got done describing, what piece do you think it was?”
I gave up, while the Prince lighted a fresh cigarette.
“Why, it was the first one, of course. Not the real first one, but the tuning up that preceded it.”
I nodded, with eyes and face mirthful of appreciation, and Prince Akuli, with another apprehensive glance at the old wahine and her half-made hala lei, returned to his tale of the bones of his ancestors.
“It was somewhere around this stage of the game that old Ahuna gave in to Hiwilani. He didn’t exactly give in. He compromised. That’s where I come in. If he would bring her the bones of her mother, and of her grandfather (who was the father of Kaaukuu, and who by tradition was rumoured to have been even bigger than his giant son, she would return to Ahuna the bait of his hair she was praying him to death with. He, on the other hand, stipulated that he was not to reveal to her the secret burial-place of all the alii of Lakanaii all the way back. Nevertheless, he was too old to dare the adventure alone, must be helped by some one who of necessity would come to know the secret, and I was that one. I was the highest alii, beside my father and mother, and they were no higher than I.
“So I came upon the scene, being summoned into the twilight room to confront those two dubious old ones who dealt with the dead. They were a pair–mother fat to despair of helplessness, Ahuna thin as a skeleton and as fragile. Of her one had the impression that if she lay down on her back she could not roll over without the aid of block-and-tackle; of Ahuna one’s impression was that the tooth-pickedness of him would shatter to splinters if one bumped into him.
“And when they had broached the matter, there was more pilikia” (trouble). “My father’s attitude stiffened my resolution. I refused to go on the bone-snatching expedition. I said I didn’t care a whoop for the bones of all the aliis of my family and race. You see, I had just discovered Jules Verne, loaned me by old Howard, and was reading my head off. Bones? When there were North Poles, and Centres of Earths, and hairy comets to ride across space among the stars! Of course I didn’t want to go on any bonesnatching expedition. I said my father was able-bodied, and he could go, splitting equally with her whatever bones he brought back. But she said he was only a blamed collector–or words to that effect, only stronger.
“‘I know him,’ she assured me. ‘He’d bet his mother’s bones on a horse-race or an ace-full.’
“I stood with fat her when it came to modern scepticism, and I told her the whole thing was rubbish. ‘Bones?’ I said. ‘What are bones? Even field mice, and many rats, and cockroaches have bones, though the roaches wear their bones outside their meat instead of inside. The difference between man and other animals,’ I told her, ‘is not bones, but brain. Why, a bullock has bigger bones than a man, and more than one fish I’ve eaten has more bones, while a whale beats creation when it comes to bone.’
“It was frank talk, which is our Hawaiian way, as you have long since learned. In return, equally frank, she regretted she hadn’t given me away as a feeding child when I was born. Next she bewailed that she had ever borne me. From that it was only a step to anaana me. She threatened me with it, and I did the bravest thing I have ever done. Old Howard had given me a knife of many blades, and corkscrews, and screw-drivers, and all sorts of contrivances, including a tiny pair of scissors. I proceeded to pare my finger-nails.
“‘There,’ I said, as I put the parings into her hand. ‘Just to show you what I think of it. There’s bait and to spare. Go on and anaana me if you can.’
“I have said it was brave. It was. I was only fifteen, and I had lived all my days in the thick of the mystery stuff, while my scepticism, very recently acquired, was only skin-deep. I could be a sceptic out in the open in the sunshine. But I was afraid of the dark. And in that twilight room, the bones of the dead all about me in the big jars, why, the old lady had me scared stiff. As we say to-day, she had my goat. Only I was brave and didn’t let on. And I put my bluff across, for my mother flung the parings into my face and burst into tears. Tears in an elderly woman weighing three hundred and twenty pounds are scarcely impressive, and I hardened the brassiness of my bluff.
“She shifted her attack, and proceeded to talk with the dead. Nay, more, she summoned them there, and, though I was all ripe to see but couldn’t, Ahuna saw the father of Kaaukuu in the corner and lay down on the floor and yammered. Just the same, although I almost saw the old giant, I didn’t quite see him.
“‘Let him talk for himself,’ I said. But Hiwilani persisted in doing the talking for him, and in laying upon me his solemn injunction that I must go with Ahuna to the burial-place and bring back the bones desired by my mother. But I argued that if the dead ones could be invoked to kill living men by wasting sicknesses, and that if the dead ones could transport themselves from their burialcrypts into the corner of her room, I couldn’t see why they shouldn’t leave their bones behind them, there in her room and ready to be jarred, when they said good-bye and departed for the middle world, the over world, or the under world, or wherever they abided when they weren’t paying social calls.
“Whereupon mother let loose on poor old Ahuna, or let loose upon him the ghost of Kaaukuu’s father, supposed to be crouching there in the corner, who commanded Ahuna to divulge to her the burialplace. I tried to stiffen him up, telling him to let the old ghost divulge the secret himself, than whom nobody else knew it better, seeing that he had resided there upwards of a century. But Ahuna was old school. He possessed no iota of scepticism. The more Hiwilani frightened him, the more he rolled on the floor and the louder he yammered.
“But when he began to bite himself, I gave in. I felt sorry for him; but, over and beyond that, I began to admire him. He was sterling stuff, even if he was a survival of darkness. Here, with the fear of mystery cruelly upon him, believing Hiwilani’s dope implicitly, he was caught between two fidelities. She was his living alii, his alii kapo” (sacred chiefess). “He must be faithful to her, yet more faithful must he be to all the dead and gone aliis of her line who depended solely on him that their bones should not be disturbed.
“I gave in. But I, too, imposed stipulations. Steadfastly had my father, new school, refused to let me go to England for my education. That sugar was slumping was reason sufficient for him. Steadfastly had my mother, old school, refused, her heathen mind too dark to place any value on education, while it was shrewd enough to discern that education led to unbelief in all that was old. I wanted to study, to study science, the arts, philosophy, to study everything old Howard knew, which enabled him, on the edge of the grave, undauntedly to sneer at superstition, and to give me Jules Verne to read. He was an Oxford man before he went wild and wrong, and it was he who had set the Oxford bee buzzing in my noddle.
“In the end Ahuna and I, old school and new school leagued together, won out. Mother promised that she’d make father send me to England, even if she had to pester him into a prolonged drinking that would make his digestion go back on him. Also, Howard was to accompany me, so that I could decently bury him in England. He was a queer one, old Howard, an individual if there ever was one. Let me tell you a little story about him. It was when Kalakaua was starting on his trip around the world. You remember, when Armstrong, and Judd, and the drunken valet of a German baron accompanied him. Kalakaua made the proposition to Howard . . . “
But here the long-apprehended calamity fell upon Prince Akuli. The old wahine had finished her lei hala. Barefooted, with no adornment of femininity, clad in a shapeless shift of much-washed cotton, with age-withered face and labour-gnarled hands, she cringed before him and crooned a mele in his honour, and, still cringing, put the lei around his neck. It is true the hala smelled most freshly strong, yet was the act beautiful to me, and the old woman herself beautiful to me. My mind leapt into the Prince’s narrative so that to Ahuna I could not help likening her.
Oh, truly, to be an alii in Hawaii, even in this second decade of the twentieth century, is no light thing. The alii, utterly of the new, must be kindly and kingly to those old ones absolutely of the old. Nor did the Prince without a kingdom, his loved island long since annexed by the United States and incorporated into a territory along with the rest of the Hawaiian Islands–nor did the Prince betray his repugnance for the odour of the hala. He bowed his head graciously; and his royal condescending words of pure Hawaiian I knew would make the old woman’s heart warm until she died with remembrance of the wonderful occasion. The wry grimace he stole to me would not have been made had he felt any uncertainty of its escaping her.
“And so,” Prince Akuli resumed, after the wahine had tottered away in an ecstasy, “Ahuna and I departed on our grave-robbing adventure. You know the Iron-bound Coast.”
I nodded, knowing full well the spectacle of those lava leagues of weather coast, truly iron-bound so far as landing-places or anchorages were concerned, great forbidding cliff-walls thousands of feet in height, their summits wreathed in cloud and rain squall, their knees hammered by the trade-wind billows into spouting, spuming white, the air, from sea to rain-cloud, spanned by a myriad leaping waterfalls, provocative, in day or night, of countless sun and lunar rainbows. Valleys, so called, but fissures rather, slit the cyclopean walls here and there, and led away into a lofty and madly vertical back country, most of it inaccessible to the foot of man and trod only by the wild goat.
“Precious little you know of it,” Prince Akuli retorted, in reply to my nod. “You’ve seen it only from the decks of steamers. There are valleys there, inhabited valleys, out of which there is no exit by land, and perilously accessible by canoe only on the selected days of two months in the year. When I was twenty-eight I was over there in one of them on a hunting trip. Bad weather, in the auspicious period, marooned us for three weeks. Then five of my party and myself swam for it out through the surf. Three of us made the canoes waiting for us. The other two were flung back on the sand, each with a broken arm. Save for us, the entire party remained there until the next year, ten months afterward. And one of them was Wilson, of Wilson & Wall, the Honolulu sugar factors. And he was engaged to be married.
“I’ve seen a goat, shot above by a hunter above, land at my feet a thousand yards underneath. BELIEVE me, that landscape seemed to rain goats and rocks for ten minutes. One of my canoemen fell off the trail between the two little valleys of Aipio and Luno. He hit first fifteen hundred feet beneath us, and fetched up in a ledge three hundred feet farther down. We didn’t bury him. We couldn’t get to him, and flying machines had not yet been invented. His bones are there now, and, barring earthquake and volcano, will be there when the Trumps of Judgment sound.
“Goodness me! Only the other day, when our Promotion Committee, trying to compete with Honolulu for the tourist trade, called in the engineers to estimate what it would cost to build a scenic drive around the Iron-bound Coast, the lowest figures were a quarter of a million dollars a mile!
“And Ahuna and I, an old man and a young boy, started for that stern coast in a canoe paddled by old men! The youngest of them, the steersman, was over sixty, while the rest of them averaged seventy at the very least. There were eight of them, and we started in the night-time, so that none should see us go. Even these old ones, trusted all their lives, knew no more than the fringe of the secret. To the fringe, only, could they take us. “And the fringe was–I don’t mind telling that much–the fringe was Ponuloo Valley. We got there the third afternoon following. The old chaps weren’t strong on the paddles. It was a funny expedition, into such wild waters, with now one and now another of our ancient-mariner crew collapsing and even fainting. One of them actually died on the second morning out. We buried him overside. It was positively uncanny, the heathen ceremonies those grey ones pulled off in burying their grey brother. And I was only fifteen, alii kapo over them by blood of heathenness and right of hereditary heathen rule, with a penchant for Jules Verne and shortly to sail for England for my education! So one learns. Small wonder my father was a philosopher, in his own lifetime spanning the history of man from human sacrifice and idol worship, through the religions of man’s upward striving, to the Medusa of rank atheism at the end of it all. Small wonder that, like old Ecclesiastes, he found vanity in all things and surcease in sugar stocks, singing boys, and hula dancers.”
Prince Akuli debated with his soul for an interval. “Oh, well,” he sighed, “I have done some spanning of time myself.” He sniffed disgustedly of the odour of the hala lei that stifled him. “It stinks of the ancient.” he vouchsafed. “I? I stink of the modern. My father was right. The sweetest of all is sugar up a hundred points, or four aces in a poker game. If the Big War lasts another year, I shall clean up three-quarters of a million over a million. If peace breaks to-morrow, with the consequent slump, I could enumerate a hundred who will lose my direct bounty, and go into the old natives’ homes my father and I long since endowed for them.” He clapped his hands, and the old wahine tottered toward him in an excitement of haste to serve. She cringed before him, as he drew pad and pencil from his breast pocket.
“Each month, old woman of our old race,” he addressed her, “will you receive, by rural free delivery, a piece of written paper that you can exchange with any storekeeper anywhere for ten dollars gold. This shall be so for as long as you live. Behold! I write the record and the remembrance of it, here and now, with this pencil on this paper. And this is because you are of my race and service, and because you have honoured me this day with your mats to sit upon and your thrice-blessed and thrice-delicious lei hala.”
He turned to me a weary and sceptical eye, saying: “And if I die to-morrow, not alone will the lawyers contest my disposition of my property, but they will contest my benefactions and my pensions accorded, and the clarity of my mind.
“It was the right weather of the year; but even then, with our old weak ones at the paddles, we did not attempt the landing until we had assembled half the population of Ponuloo Valley down on the steep little beach. Then we counted our waves, selected the best one, and ran in on it. Of course, the canoe was swamped and the outrigger smashed, but the ones on shore dragged us up unharmed beyond the wash.
“Ahuna gave his orders. In the night-time all must remain within their houses, and the dogs be tied up and have their jaws bound so that there should be no barking. And in the night-time Ahuna and I stole out on our journey, no one knowing whether we went to the right or left or up the valley toward its head. We carried jerky, and hard poi and dried aku, and from the quantity of the food I knew we were to be gone several days. Such a trail! A Jacob’s ladder to the sky, truly, for that first pali” (precipice), “almost straight up, was three thousand feet above the sea. And we did it in the dark!
“At the top, beyond the sight of the valley we had left, we slept until daylight on the hard rock in a hollow nook Ahuna knew, and that was so small that we were squeezed. And the old fellow, for fear that I might move in the heavy restlessness of lad’s sleep, lay on the outside with one arm resting across me. At daybreak, I saw why. Between us and the lip of the cliff scarcely a yard intervened. I crawled to the lip and looked, watching the abyss take on immensity in the growing light and trembling from the fear of height that was upon me. At last I made out the sea, over half a mile straight beneath. And we had done this thing in the dark!
“Down in the next valley, which was a very tiny one, we found evidence of the ancient population, but there were no people. The only way was the crazy foot-paths up and down the dizzy valley walls from valley to valley. But lean and aged as Ahuna was, he seemed untirable. In the second valley dwelt an old leper in hiding. He did not know me, and when Ahuna told him who I was, he grovelled at my feet, almost clasping them, and mumbled a mele of all my line out of a lipless mouth.
“The next valley proved to be the valley. It was long and so narrow that its floor had caught not sufficient space of soil to grow taro for a single person. Also, it had no beach, the stream that threaded it leaping a pali of several hundred feet down to the sea. It was a god-forsaken place of naked, eroded lava, to which only rarely could the scant vegetation find root-hold. For miles we followed up that winding fissure through the towering walls, far into the chaos of back country that lies behind the Iron-bound Coast. How far that valley penetrated I do not know, but, from the quantity of water in the stream, I judged it far. We did not go to the valley’s head. I could see Ahuna casting glances to all the peaks, and I knew he was taking bearings, known to him alone, from natural objects. When he halted at the last, it was with abrupt certainty. His bearings had crossed. He threw down the portion of food and outfit he had carried. It was the place. I looked on either hand at the hard, implacable walls, naked of vegetation, and could dream of no burial-place possible in such bare adamant.
“We ate, then stripped for work. Only did Ahuna permit me to retain my shoes. He stood beside me at the edge of a deep pool, likewise apparelled and prodigiously skinny.
“‘You will dive down into the pool at this spot,’ he said. ‘Search the rock with your hands as you descend, and, about a fathom and a half down, you will find a hole. Enter it, head-first, but going slowly, for the lava rock is sharp and may cut your head and body.’
“‘And then?’ I queried. ‘You will find the hole growing larger,’ was his answer. ‘When you have gone all of eight fathoms along the passage, come up slowly, and you will find your head in the air, above water, in the dark. Wait there then for me. The water is very cold.’
“It didn’t sound good to me. I was thinking, not of the cold water and the dark, but of the bones. ‘You go first,’ I said. But he claimed he could not. ‘You are my alii, my prince,’ he said. ‘It is impossible that I should go before you into the sacred burialplace of your kingly ancestors.’
“But the prospect did not please. ‘Just cut out this prince stuff,’ I told him. ‘It isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. You go first, and I’ll never tell on you.’ ‘Not alone the living must we please,’ he admonished, ‘but, more so, the dead must we please. Nor can we lie to the dead.’
“We argued it out, and for half an hour it was stalemate. I
wouldn’t, and he simply couldn’t. He tried to buck me up by appealing to my pride. He chanted the heroic deeds of my ancestors; and, I remember especially, he sang to me of Mokomoku, my great-grandfather and the gigantic father of the gigantic Kaaukuu, telling how thrice in battle Mokomoku leaped among his foes, seizing by the neck a warrior in either hand and knocking their heads together until they were dead. But this was not what decided me. I really felt sorry for old Ahuna, he was so beside himself for fear the expedition would come to naught. And I was coming to a great admiration for the old fellow, not least among the reasons being the fact of his lying down to sleep between me and the cliff-lip.
“So, with true alii-authority of command, saying, ‘You will immediately follow after me,’ I dived in. Everything he had said was correct. I found the entrance to the subterranean passage, swam carefully through it, cutting my shoulder once on the lavasharp roof, and emerged in the darkness and air. But before I could count thirty, he broke water beside me, rested his hand on my arm to make sure of me, and directed me to swim ahead of him for the matter of a hundred feet or so. Then we touched bottom and climbed out on the rocks. And still no light, and I remember I was glad that our altitude was too high for centipedes.
“He had brought with him a coconut calabash, tightly stoppered, of whale-oil that must have been landed on Lahaina beach thirty years before. From his mouth he took a water-tight arrangement of a matchbox composed of two empty rifle-cartridges fitted snugly together. He lighted the wicking that floated on the oil, and I looked about, and knew disappointment. No burial-chamber was it, but merely a lava tube such as occurs on all the islands.
“He put the calabash of light into my hands and started me ahead of him on the way, which he assured me was long, but not too long. It was long, at least a mile in my sober judgment, though at the time it seemed five miles; and it ascended sharply. When Ahuna, at the last, stopped me, I knew we were close to our goal. He knelt on his lean old knees on the sharp lava rock, and clasped my knees with his skinny arms. My hand that was free of the calabash lamp he placed on his head. He chanted to me, with his old cracked, quavering voice, the line of my descent and my essential high aliiness. And then he said: “‘Tell neither Kanau nor Hiwilani aught of what you are about to behold. There is no sacredness in Kanau. His mind is filled with sugar and the breeding of horses. I do know that he sold a feather cloak his grandfather had worn to that English collector for eight thousand dollars, and the money he lost the next day betting on the polo game between Maui and Oahu. Hiwilani, your mother, is filled with sacredness. She is too much filled with sacredness. She grows old, and weak-headed, and she traffics over-much with sorceries.’ “‘No,’ I made answer. ‘I shall tell no one. If I did, then would I have to return to this place again. And I do not want ever to return to this place. I’ll try anything once. This I shall never try twice.’
“‘It is well,’ he said, and arose, falling behind so that I should enter first. Also, he said: ‘Your mother is old. I shall bring her, as promised, the bones of her mother and of her grandfather. These should content her until she dies; and then, if I die before her, it is you who must see to it that all the bones in her family collection are placed in the Royal Mausoleum.’
“I have given all the Islands’ museums the once-over,” Prince Akuli lapsed back into slang, “and I must say that the totality of the collections cannot touch what I saw in our Lakanaii burial-cave. Remember, and with reason and history, we trace back the highest and oldest genealogy in the Islands. Everything that I had ever dreamed or heard of, and much more that I had not, was there. The place was wonderful. Ahuna, sepulchrally muttering prayers and meles, moved about, lighting various whale-oil lamp-calabashes. They were all there, the Hawaiian race from the beginning of Hawaiian time. Bundles of bones and bundles of bones, all wrapped decently in tapa, until for all the world it was like the parcelspost department at a post office.
“And everything! Kahilis, which you may know developed out of the fly-flapper into symbols of royalty until they became larger than hearse-plumes with handles a fathom and a half and over two fathoms in length. And such handles! Of the wood of the kauila, inlaid with shell and ivory and bone with a cleverness that had died out among our artificers a century before. It was a centuries-old family attic. For the first time I saw things I had only heard of, such as the pahoas, fashioned of whale-teeth and suspended by braided human hair, and worn on the breast only by the highest of rank.
“There were tapes and mats of the rarest and oldest; capes and leis and helmets and cloaks, priceless all, except the too-ancient ones, of the feathers of the mamo, and of the iwi and the akakane and the o-o. I saw one of the mamo cloaks that was superior to that finest one in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and that they value at between half a million and a million dollars. Goodness me, I thought at the time, it was lucky Kanau didn’t know about it.
“Such a mess of things! Carved gourds and calabashes, shellscrapers, nets of olona fibre, a junk of ie-ie baskets, and fishhooks of every bone and spoon of shell. Musical instruments of the forgotten days–ukukes and nose flutes, and kiokios which are likewise played with one unstoppered nostril. Taboo poi bowls and finger bowls, left-handed adzes of the canoe gods, lava-cup lamps, stone mortars and pestles and poi-pounders. And adzes again, a myriad of them, beautiful ones, from an ounce in weight for the finer carving of idols to fifteen pounds for the felling of trees, and all with the sweetest handles I have ever beheld.
“There were the kaekeekes–you know, our ancient drums, hollowed sections of the coconut tree, covered one end with shark-skin. The first kaekeeke of all Hawaii Ahuna pointed out to me and told me the tale. It was manifestly most ancient. He was afraid to touch it for fear the age-rotted wood of it would crumble to dust, the ragged tatters of the shark-skin head of it still attached. ‘This is the very oldest and father of all our kaekeekes,’ Ahuna told me. ‘Kila, the son of Moikeha, brought it back from far Raiatea in the South Pacific. And it was Kila’s own son, Kahai, who made that same journey, and was gone ten years, and brought back with him from Tahiti the first breadfruit trees that sprouted and grew on Hawaiian soil.’
“And the bones and bones! The parcel-delivery array of them! Besides the small bundles of the long bones, there were full skeletons, tapa-wrapped, lying in one-man, and two- and three-man canoes of precious koa wood, with curved outriggers of wiliwiliwood, and proper paddles to hand with the io-projection at the point simulating the continuance of the handle, as if, like a skewer, thrust through the flat length of the blade. And their war weapons were laid away by the sides of the lifeless bones that had wielded them–rusty old horse-pistols, derringers, pepper-boxes, five-barrelled fantastiques, Kentucky long riffles, muskets handled in trade by John Company and Hudson’s Bay, shark-tooth swords, wooden stabbing-knives, arrows and spears bone-headed of the fish and the pig and of man, and spears and arrows wooden-headed and fire-hardened.
“Ahuna put a spear in my hand, headed and pointed finely with the long shin-bone of a man, and told me the tale of it. But first he unwrapped the long bones, arms, and legs, of two parcels, the bones, under the wrappings, neatly tied like so many faggots. ‘This,’ said Ahuna, exhibiting the pitiful white contents of one parcel, ‘is Laulani. She was the wife of Akaiko, whose bones, now placed in your hands, much larger and male-like as you observe, held up the flesh of a large man, a three-hundred pounder sevenfooter, three centuries agone. And this spear-head is made of the shin-bone of Keola, a mighty wrestler and runner of their own time and place. And he loved Laulani, and she fled with him. But in a forgotten battle on the sands of Kalini, Akaiko rushed the lines of the enemy, leading the charge that was successful, and seized upon Keola, his wife’s lover, and threw him to the ground, and sawed through his neck to the death with a shark-tooth knife. Thus, in the old days as always, did man combat for woman with man. And Laulani was beautiful; that Keola should be made into a spearhead for her! She was formed like a queen, and her body was a long bowl of sweetness, and her fingers lomi’d’ (massaged) ‘to slimness and smallness at her mother’s breast. For ten generations have we remembered her beauty. Your father’s singing boys to-day sing of her beauty in the hula that is named of her! This is Laulani, whom you hold in your hands.’
“And, Ahuna done, I could but gaze, with imagination at the one time sobered and fired. Old drunken Howard had lent me his Tennyson, and I had mooned long and often over the Idyls of the King. Here were the three, I thought–Arthur, and Launcelot, and Guinevere. This, then, I pondered, was the end of it all, of life and strife and striving and love, the weary spirits of these longgone ones to be invoked by fat old women and mangy sorcerers, the bones of them to be esteemed of collectors and betted on horseraces and ace-fulls or to be sold for cash and invested in sugar stocks. “For me it was illumination. I learned there in the burialcave the great lesson. And to Ahuna I said: ‘The spear headed with the long bone of Keola I shall take for my own. Never shall I sell it. I shall keep it always.’
“‘And for what purpose?’ he demanded. And I replied: ‘That the contemplation of it may keep my hand sober and my feet on earth with the knowledge that few men are fortunate enough to have as much of a remnant of themselves as will compose a spearhead when they are three centuries dead.’
“And Ahuna bowed his head, and praised my wisdom of judgment. But at that moment the long-rotted olona-cord broke and the pitiful woman’s bones of Laulani shed from my clasp and clattered on the rocky floor. One shin-bone, in some way deflected, fell under the dark shadow of a canoe-bow, and I made up my mind that it should be mine. So I hastened to help him in the picking up of the bones and the tying, so that he did not notice its absence.
“‘This,’ said Ahuna, introducing me to another of my ancestors, ‘is your great-grandfather, Mokomoku, the father of Kaaukuu. Behold the size of his bones. He was a giant. I shall carry him, because of the long spear of Keola that will be difficult for you to carry away. And this is Lelemahoa, your grandmother, the mother of your mother, that you shall carry. And day grows short, and we must still swim up through the waters to the sun ere darkness hides the sun from the world.’
“But Ahuna, putting out the various calabashes of light by drowning the wicks in the whale-oil, did not observe me include the shinbone of Laulani with the bones of my grandmother.”
The honk of the automobile, sent up from Olokona to rescue us, broke off the Prince’s narrative. We said good-bye to the ancient and fresh-pensioned wahine, and departed. A half-mile on our way, Prince Akuli resumed.
“So Ahuna and I returned to Hiwilani, and to her happiness, lasting to her death the year following, two more of her ancestors abided about her in the jars of her twilight room. Also, she kept her compact and worried my father into sending me to England. I took old Howard along, and he perked up and confuted the doctors, so that it was three years before I buried him restored to the bosom of my family. Sometimes I think he was the most brilliant man I have ever known. Not until my return from England did Ahuna die, the last custodian of our alii secrets. And at his death-bed he pledged me again never to reveal the location in that nameless valley, and never to go back myself.
“Much else I have forgotten to mention did I see there in the cave that one time. There were the bones of Kumi, the near demigod, son of Tui Manua of Samoa, who, in the long before, married into my line and heaven-boosted my genealogy. And the bones of my greatgrandmother who had slept in the four-poster presented her by Lord Byron. And Ahuna hinted tradition that there was reason for that presentation, as well as for the historically known lingering of the Blonde in Olokona for so long. And I held her poor bones in my hands–bones once fleshed with sensate beauty, informed with sparkle and spirit, instinct with love and love-warmness of arms around and eyes and lips together, that had begat me in the end of the generations unborn. It was a good experience. I am modern, ’tis true. I believe in no mystery stuff of old time nor of the kahunas. And yet, I saw in that cave things which I dare not name to you, and which I, since old Ahuna died, alone of the living know. I have no children. With me my long line ceases. This is the twentieth century, and we stink of gasolene. Nevertheless these other and nameless things shall die with me. I shall never revisit the burial-place. Nor in all time to come will any man gaze upon it through living eyes unless the quakes of earth rend the mountains asunder and spew forth the secrets contained in the hearts of the mountains.”
Prince Akuli ceased from speech. With welcome relief on his face, he removed the lei hala from his neck, and, with a sniff and a sigh, tossed it into concealment in the thick lantana by the side of the road.
“But the shin-bone of Laulani?” I queried softly.
He remained silent while a mile of pasture land fled by us and yielded to caneland.
“I have it now,” he at last said. “And beside it is Keola, slain ere his time and made into a spear-head for love of the woman whose shin-bone abides near to him. To them, those poor pathetic bones, I owe more than to aught else. I became possessed of them in the period of my culminating adolescence. I know they changed the entire course of my life and trend of my mind. They gave to me a modesty and a humility in the world, from which my father’s fortune has ever failed to seduce me.
“And often, when woman was nigh to winning to the empery of my mind over me, I sought Laulani’s shin-bone. And often, when lusty manhood stung me into feeling over-proud and lusty, I consulted the spearhead remnant of Keola, one-time swift runner, and mighty wrestler and lover, and thief of the wife of a king. The contemplation of them has ever been of profound aid to me, and you might well say that I have founded my religion or practice of living upon them.”
WAIKIKI, HONOLULU, HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.
July 16, 1916.
From Jack London: ON THE MAKALOA MAT/ISLAND TALES
kempis.nl poetry magazine
When Alice told her soul
This, of Alice Akana, is an affair of Hawaii, not of this day, but
of days recent enough, when Abel Ah Yo preached his famous revival
in Honolulu and persuaded Alice Akana to tell her soul. But what
Alice told concerned itself with the earlier history of the then
For Alice Akana was fifty years old, had begun life early, and,
early and late, lived it spaciously. What she knew went back into
the roots and foundations of families, businesses, and plantations.
She was the one living repository of accurate information that
lawyers sought out, whether the information they required related
to land-boundaries and land gifts, or to marriages, births,
bequests, or scandals. Rarely, because of the tight tongue she
kept behind her teeth, did she give them what they asked; and when
she did was when only equity was served and no one was hurt.
For Alice had lived, from early in her girlhood, a life of flowers,
and song, and wine, and dance; and, in her later years, had herself
been mistress of these revels by office of mistress of the hula
house. In such atmosphere, where mandates of God and man and
caution are inhibited, and where woozled tongues will wag, she
acquired her historical knowledge of things never otherwise
whispered and rarely guessed. And her tight tongue had served her
well, so that, while the old-timers knew she must know, none ever
heard her gossip of the times of Kalakaua’s boathouse, nor of the
high times of officers of visiting warships, nor of the diplomats
and ministers and councils of the countries of the world.
So, at fifty, loaded with historical dynamite sufficient, if it
were ever exploded, to shake the social and commercial life of the
Islands, still tight of tongue, Alice Akana was mistress of the
hula house, manageress of the dancing girls who hula’d for royalty,
for luaus (feasts), house-parties, poi suppers, and curious
tourists. And, at fifty, she was not merely buxom, but short and
fat in the Polynesian peasant way, with a constitution and lack of
organic weakness that promised incalculable years. But it was at
fifty that she strayed, quite by chance of time and curiosity, into
Abel Ah Yo’s revival meeting.
Now Abel Ah Yo, in his theology and word wizardry, was as much
mixed a personage as Billy Sunday. In his genealogy he was much
more mixed, for he was compounded of one-fourth Portuguese, one-
fourth Scotch, one-fourth Hawaiian, and one-fourth Chinese. The
Pentecostal fire he flamed forth was hotter and more variegated
than could any one of the four races of him alone have flamed
forth. For in him were gathered together the cannyness and the
cunning, the wit and the wisdom, the subtlety and the rawness, the
passion and the philosophy, the agonizing spirit-groping and he
legs up to the knees in the dung of reality, of the four radically
different breeds that contributed to the sum of him. His, also,
was the clever self-deceivement of the entire clever compound.
When it came to word wizardry, he had Billy Sunday, master of slang
and argot of one language, skinned by miles. For in Abel Ah Yo
were the five verbs, and nouns, and adjectives, and metaphors of
four living languages. Intermixed and living promiscuously and
vitally together, he possessed in these languages a reservoir of
expression in which a myriad Billy Sundays could drown. Of no
race, a mongrel par excellence, a heterogeneous scrabble, the
genius of the admixture was superlatively Abel Ah Yo’s. Like a
chameleon, he titubated and scintillated grandly between the
diverse parts of him, stunning by frontal attack and surprising and
confouding by flanking sweeps the mental homogeneity of the more
simply constituted souls who came in to his revival to sit under
him and flame to his flaming.
Abel Ah Yo believed in himself and his mixedness, as he believed in
the mixedness of his weird concept that God looked as much like him
as like any man, being no mere tribal god, but a world god that
must look equally like all races of all the world, even if it led
to piebaldness. And the concept worked. Chinese, Korean,
Japanese, Hawaiian, Porto Rican, Russian, English, French–members
of all races–knelt without friction, side by side, to his revision
Himself in his tender youth an apostate to the Church of England,
Abel Ah Yo had for years suffered the lively sense of being a Judas
sinner. Essentially religious, he had foresworn the Lord. Like
Judas therefore he was. Judas was damned. Wherefore he, Abel Ah
Yo, was damned; and he did not want to be damned. So, quite after
the manner of humans, he squirmed and twisted to escape damnation.
The day came when he solved his escape. The doctrine that Judas
was damned, he concluded, was a misinterpretation of God, who,
above all things, stood for justice. Judas had been God’s servant,
specially selected to perform a particularly nasty job. Therefore
Judas, ever faithful, a betrayer only by divine command, was a
saint. Ergo, he, Abel Ah Yo, was a saint by very virtue of his
apostasy to a particular sect, and he could have access with clear
grace any time to God.
This theory became one of the major tenets of his preaching, and
was especially efficacious in cleansing the consciences of the
back-sliders from all other faiths who else, in the secrecy of
their subconscious selves, were being crushed by the weight of the
Judas sin. To Abel Ah Yo, God’s plan was as clear as if he, Abel
Ah Yo, had planned it himself. All would be saved in the end,
although some took longer than others, and would win only to
backseats. Man’s place in the ever-fluxing chaos of the world was
definite and pre-ordained–if by no other token, then by denial
that there was any ever-fluxing chaos. This was a mere bugbear of
mankind’s addled fancy; and, by stinging audacities of thought and
speech, by vivid slang that bit home by sheerest intimacy into his
listeners’ mental processes, he drove the bugbear from their
brains, showed them the loving clarity of God’s design, and,
thereby, induced in them spiritual serenity and calm.
What chance had Alice Akana, herself pure and homogeneous Hawaiian,
against his subtle, democratic-tinged, four-race-engendered, slang-
munitioned attack? He knew, by contact, almost as much as she
about the waywardness of living and sinning–having been singing
boy on the passenger-ships between Hawaii and California, and,
after that, bar boy, afloat and ashore, from the Barbary Coast to
Heinie’s Tavern. In point of fact, he had left his job of Number
One Bar Boy at the University Club to embark on his great
So, when Alice Akana strayed in to scoff, she remained to pray to
Abel Ah Yo’s god, who struck her hard-headed mind as the most
sensible god of which she had ever heard. She gave money into Abel
Ah Yo’s collection plate, closed up the hula house, and dismissed
the hula dancers to more devious ways of earning a livelihood, shed
her bright colours and raiments and flower garlands, and bought a
It was a time of religious excitement in the purlieus of Honolulu.
The thing was a democratic movement of the people toward God.
Place and caste were invited, but never came. The stupid lowly,
and the humble lowly, only, went down on its knees at the penitent
form, admitted its pathological weight and hurt of sin, eliminated
and purged all its bafflements, and walked forth again upright
under the sun, child-like and pure, upborne by Abel Ah Yo’s god’s
arm around it. In short, Abel Ah Yo’s revival was a clearing house
for sin and sickness of spirit, wherein sinners were relieved of
their burdens and made light and bright and spiritually healthy
But Alice was not happy. She had not been cleared. She bought and
dispersed Bibles, contributed more money to the plate, contralto’d
gloriously in all the hymns, but would not tell her soul. In vain
Abel Ah Yo wrestled with her. She would not go down on her knees
at the penitent form and voice the things of tarnish within her–
the ill things of good friends of the old days. “You cannot serve
two masters,” Abel Ah Yo told her. “Hell is full of those who have
tried. Single of heart and pure of heart must you make your peace
with God. Not until you tell your soul to God right out in meeting
will you be ready for redemption. In the meantime you will suffer
the canker of the sin you carry about within you.”
Scientifically, though he did not know it and though he continually
jeered at science, Abel Ah Yo was right. Not could she be again as
a child and become radiantly clad in God’s grace, until she had
eliminated from her soul, by telling, all the sophistications that
had been hers, including those she shared with others. In the
Protestant way, she must bare her soul in public, as in the
Catholic way it was done in the privacy of the confessional. The
result of such baring would be unity, tranquillity, happiness,
cleansing, redemption, and immortal life.
“Choose!” Abel Ah Yo thundered. “Loyalty to God, or loyalty to
man.” And Alice could not choose. Too long had she kept her
tongue locked with the honour of man. “I will tell all my soul
about myself,” she contended. “God knows I am tired of my soul and
should like to have it clean and shining once again as when I was a
little girl at Kaneohe–“
“But all the corruption of your soul has been with other souls,”
was Abel Ah Yo’s invariable reply. “When you have a burden, lay it
down. You cannot bear a burden and be quit of it at the same time.”
“I will pray to God each day, and many times each day,” she urged.
“I will approach God with humility, with sighs and with tears. I
will contribute often to the plate, and I will buy Bibles, Bibles,
Bibles without end.”
“And God will not smile upon you,” God’s mouthpiece retorted. “And
you will remain weary and heavy-laden. For you will not have told
all your sin, and not until you have told all will you be rid of any.”
“This rebirth is difficult,” Alice sighed.
“Rebirth is even more difficult than birth.” Abel Ah Yo did
anything but comfort her. “‘Not until you become as a little child . . . ‘”
“If ever I tell my soul, it will be a big telling,” she confided.
“The bigger the reason to tell it then.”
And so the situation remained at deadlock, Abel Ah Yo demanding
absolute allegiance to God, and Alice Akana flirting on the fringes
“You bet it will be a big telling, if Alice ever begins,” the
beach-combing and disreputable kamaainas (old-timers) gleefully
told one another over their Palm Tree gin.
In the clubs the possibility of her telling was of more moment.
The younger generation of men announced that they had applied for
front seats at the telling, while many of the older generation of
men joked hollowly about the conversion of Alice. Further, Alice
found herself abruptly popular with friends who had forgotten her
existence for twenty years.
One afternoon, as Alice, Bible in hand, was taking the electric
street car at Hotel and Fort, Cyrus Hodge, sugar factor and
magnate, ordered his chauffeur to stop beside her. Willy nilly, in
excess of friendliness, he had her into his limousine beside him
and went three-quarters of an hour out of his way and time
personally to conduct her to her destination.
“Good for sore eyes to see you,” he burbled. “How the years fly!
You’re looking fine. The secret of youth is yours.”
Alice smiled and complimented in return in the royal Polynesian way
“My, my,” Cyrus Hodge reminisced. “I was such a boy in those days!”
“SOME boy,” she laughed acquiescence.
“But knowing no more than the foolishness of a boy in those long-
“Remember the night your hack-driver got drunk and left you–“
“S-s-sh!” he cautioned. “That Jap driver is a high-school graduate
and knows more English than either of us. Also, I think he is a
spy for his Government. So why should we tell him anything?
Besides, I was so very young. You remember . . . “
“Your cheeks were like the peaches we used to grow before the
Mediterranean fruit fly got into them,” Alice agreed. “I don’t
think you shaved more than once a week then. You were a pretty
boy. Don’t you remember the hula we composed in your honour, the– “
“S-s-sh!” he hushed her. “All that’s buried and forgotten. May it
And she was aware that in his eyes was no longer any of the
ingenuousness of youth she remembered. Instead, his eyes were keen
and speculative, searching into her for some assurance that she
would not resurrect his particular portion of that buried past.
“Religion is a good thing for us as we get along into middle age,”
another old friend told her. He was building a magnificent house
on Pacific Heights, but had recently married a second time, and was
even then on his way to the steamer to welcome home his two
daughters just graduated from Vassar. “We need religion in our old
age, Alice. It softens, makes us more tolerant and forgiving of
the weaknesses of others–especially the weaknesses of youth of–of
others, when they played high and low and didn’t know what they
He waited anxiously.
“Yes,” she said. “We are all born to sin and it is hard to grow
out of sin. But I grow, I grow.”
“Don’t forget, Alice, in those other days I always played square.
You and I never had a falling out.”
“Not even the night you gave that luau when you were twenty-one and
insisted on breaking the glassware after every toast. But of
course you paid for it.”
“Handsomely,” he asserted almost pleadingly.
“Handsomely,” she agreed. “I replaced more than double the
quantity with what you paid me, so that at the next luau I catered
one hundred and twenty plates without having to rent or borrow a
dish or glass. Lord Mainweather gave that luau–you remember him.”
“I was pig-sticking with him at Mana,” the other nodded. “We were
at a two weeks’ house-party there. But say, Alice, as you know, I
think this religion stuff is all right and better than all right.
But don’t let it carry you off your feet. And don’t get to telling
your soul on me. What would my daughters think of that broken
“I always did have an aloha” (warm regard) “for you, Alice,” a
member of the Senate, fat and bald-headed, assured her.
And another, a lawyer and a grandfather: “We were always friends,
Alice. And remember, any legal advice or handling of business you
may require, I’ll do for you gladly, and without fees, for the sake
of our old-time friendship.”
Came a banker to her late Christmas Eve, with formidable, legal-
looking envelopes in his hand which he presented to her.
“Quite by chance,” he explained, “when my people were looking up
land-records in Iapio Valley, I found a mortgage of two thousand on
your holdings there–that rice land leased to Ah Chin. And my mind
drifted back to the past when we were all young together, and wild-
-a bit wild, to be sure. And my heart warmed with the memory of
you, and, so, just as an aloha, here’s the whole thing cleared off
Nor was Alice forgotten by her own people. Her house became a
Mecca for native men and women, usually performing pilgrimage
privily after darkness fell, with presents always in their hands–
squid fresh from the reef, opihis and limu, baskets of alligator
pears, roasting corn of the earliest from windward Cahu, mangoes
and star-apples, taro pink and royal of the finest selection,
sucking pigs, banana poi, breadfruit, and crabs caught the very day
from Pearl Harbour. Mary Mendana, wife of the Portuguese Consul,
remembered her with a five-dollar box of candy and a mandarin coat
that would have fetched three-quarters of a hundred dollars at a
fire sale. And Elvira Miyahara Makaena Yin Wap, the wife of Yin
Wap the wealthy Chinese importer, brought personally to Alice two
entire bolts of pina cloth from the Philippines and a dozen pairs
of silk stockings.
The time passed, and Abel Ah Yo struggled with Alice for a properly
penitent heart, and Alice struggled with herself for her soul,
while half of Honolulu wickedly or apprehensively hung on the
outcome. Carnival week was over, polo and the races had come and
gone, and the celebration of Fourth of July was ripening, ere Abel
Ah Yo beat down by brutal psychology the citadel of her reluctance.
It was then that he gave his famous exhortation which might be
summed up as Abel Ah Yo’s definition of eternity. Of course, like
Billy Sunday on certain occasions, Abel Ah Yo had cribbed the
definition. But no one in the Islands knew it, and his rating as a
revivalist uprose a hundred per cent.
So successful was his preaching that night, that he reconverted
many of his converts, who fell and moaned about the penitent form
and crowded for room amongst scores of new converts burnt by the
pentecostal fire, including half a company of negro soldiers from
the garrisoned Twenty-Fifth Infantry, a dozen troopers from the
Fourth Cavalry on its way to the Philippines, as many drunken man-
of-war’s men, divers ladies from Iwilei, and half the riff-raff of
Abel Ah Yo, subtly sympathetic himself by virtue of his racial
admixture, knowing human nature like a book and Alice Akana even
more so, knew just what he was doing when he arose that memorable
night and exposited God, hell, and eternity in terms of Alice
Akana’s comprehension. For, quite by chance, he had discovered her
cardinal weakness. First of all, like all Polynesians, an ardent
lover of nature, he found that earthquake and volcanic eruption
were the things of which Alice lived in terror. She had been, in
the past, on the Big Island, through cataclysms that had slacken
grass houses down upon her while she slept, and she had beheld
Madame Pele (the Fire or Volcano Goddess) fling red-fluxing lava
down the long slopes of Mauna Loa, destroying fish-ponds on the
sea-brim and licking up droves of beef cattle, villages, and humans
on her fiery way.
The night before, a slight earthquake had shaken Honolulu and given
Alice Akana insomnia. And the morning papers had stated that Mauna
Kea had broken into eruption, while the lava was rising rapidly in
the great pit of Kilauea. So, at the meeting, her mind vexed
between the terrors of this world and the delights of the eternal
world to come, Alice sat down in a front seat in a very definite
state of the “jumps.”
And Abel Ah Yo arose and put his finger on the sorest part of her
soul. Sketching the nature of God in the stereotyped way, but
making the stereotyped alive again with his gift of tongues in
Pidgin-English and Pidgin-Hawaiian, Abel Ah Yo described the day
when the Lord, even His infinite patience at an end, would tell
Peter to close his day book and ledgers, command Gabriel to summon
all souls to Judgment, and cry out with a voice of thunder: “Welakahao!”
This anthromorphic deity of Abel Ah Yo thundering the modern
Hawaiian-English slang of welakahao at the end of the world, is a
fair sample of the revivalist’s speech-tools of discourse.
Welakahao means literally “hot iron.” It was coined in the
Honolulu Iron-works by the hundreds of Hawaiian men there employed,
who meant by it “to hustle,” “to get a move on,” the iron being hot
meaning that the time had come to strike.
“And the Lord cried ‘Welakahao,’ and the Day of Judgment began and
was over wiki-wiki” (quickly) “just like that; for Peter was a
better bookkeeper than any on the Waterhouse Trust Company Limited,
and, further, Peter’s books were true.”
Swiftly Abel Ah Yo divided the sheep from the goats, and hastened
the latter down into hell.
“And now,” he demanded, perforce his language on these pages being
properly Englished, “what is hell like? Oh, my friends, let me
describe to you, in a little way, what I have beheld with my own
eves on earth of the possibilities of hell. I was a young man, a
boy, and I was at Hilo. Morning began with earthquakes.
Throughout the day the mighty land continued to shake and tremble,
till strong men became seasick, and women clung to trees to escape
falling, and cattle were thrown down off their feet. I beheld
myself a young calf so thrown. A night of terror indescribable
followed. The land was in motion like a canoe in a Kona gale.
There was an infant crushed to death by its fond mother stepping
upon it whilst fleeing her falling house.
“The heavens were on fire above us. We read our Bibles by the
light of the heavens, and the print was fine, even for young eyes.
Those missionary Bibles were always too small of print. Forty
miles away from us, the heart of hell burst from the lofty
mountains and gushed red-blood of fire-melted rock toward the sea.
With the heavens in vast conflagration and the earth hulaing
beneath our feet, was a scene too awful and too majestic to be
enjoyed. We could think only of the thin bubble-skin of earth
between us and the everlasting lake of fire and brimstone, and of
God to whom we prayed to save us. There were earnest and devout
souls who there and then promised their pastors to give not their
shaved tithes, but five-tenths of their all to the church, if only
the Lord would let them live to contribute.
“Oh, my friends, God saved us. But first he showed us a foretaste
of that hell that will yawn for us on the last day, when he cries
‘Welakahao!’ in a voice of thunder. When the iron is hot! Think
of it! When the iron is hot for sinners!
“By the third day, things being much quieter, my friend the
preacher and I, being calm in the hand of God, journeyed up Mauna
Loa and gazed into the awful pit of Kilauea. We gazed down into
the fathomless abyss to the lake of fire far below, roaring and
dashing its fiery spray into billows and fountaining hundreds of
feet into the air like Fourth of July fireworks you have all seen,
and all the while we were suffocating and made dizzy by the immense
volumes of smoke and brimstone ascending.
“And I say unto you, no pious person could gaze down upon that
scene without recognizing fully the Bible picture of the Pit of
Hell. Believe me, the writers of the New Testament had nothing on
us. As for me, my eyes were fixed upon the exhibition before me,
and I stood mute and trembling under a sense never before so fully
realized of the power, the majesty, and terror of Almighty God–the
resources of His wrath, and the untold horrors of the finally
impenitent who do not tell their souls and make their peace with
“But oh, my friends, think you our guides, our native attendants,
deep-sunk in heathenism, were affected by such a scene? No. The
devil’s hand was upon them. Utterly regardless and unimpressed,
they were only careful about their supper, chatted about their raw
fish, and stretched themselves upon their mats to sleep. Children
of the devil they were, insensible to the beauties, the
sublimities, and the awful terror of God’s works. But you are not
heathen I now address. What is a heathen? He is one who betrays a
stupid insensibility to every elevated idea and to every elevated
emotion. If you wish to awaken his attention, do not bid him to
look down into the Pit of Hell. But present him with a calabash of
poi, a raw fish, or invite him to some low, grovelling, and
sensuous sport. Oh, my friends, how lost are they to all that
elevates the immortal soul! But the preacher and I, sad and sick
at heart for them, gazed down into hell. Oh, my friends, it WAS
hell, the hell of the Scriptures, the hell of eternal torment for
the undeserving . . . “
Alice Akana was in an ecstasy or hysteria of terror. She was
mumbling incoherently: “O Lord, I will give nine-tenths of my all.
I will give all. I will give even the two bolts of pina cloth, the
mandarin coat, and the entire dozen silk stockings . . . “
By the time she could lend ear again, Abel Ah Yo was launching out
on his famous definition of eternity.
“Eternity is a long time, my friends. God lives, and, therefore,
God lives inside eternity. And God is very old. The fires of hell
are as old and as everlasting as God. How else could there be
everlasting torment for those sinners cast down by God into the Pit
on the Last Day to burn for ever and for ever through all eternity?
Oh, my friends, your minds are small–too small to grasp eternity.
Yet is it given to me, by God’s grace, to convey to you an
understanding of a tiny bit of eternity.
“The grains of sand on the beach of Waikiki are as many as the
stars, and more. No man may count them. Did he have a million
lives in which to count them, he would have to ask for more time.
Now let us consider a little, dinky, old minah bird with one broken
wing that cannot fly. At Waikiki the minah bird that cannot fly
takes one grain of sand in its beak and hops, hops, all day lone
and for many days, all the day to Pearl Harbour and drops that one
grain of sand into the harbour. Then it hops, hops, all day and
for many days, all the way back to Waikiki for another grain of
sand. And again it hops, hops all the way back to Pearl Harbour.
And it continues to do this through the years and centuries, and
the thousands and thousands of centuries, until, at last, there
remains not one grain of sand at Waikiki and Pearl Harbour is
filled up with land and growing coconuts and pine-apples. And
then, oh my friends, even then, IT WOULD NOT YET BE SUNRISE IN
Here, at the smashing impact of so abrupt a climax, unable to
withstand the sheer simplicity and objectivity of such artful
measurement of a trifle of eternity, Alice Akana’s mind broke down
and blew up. She uprose, reeled blindly, and stumbled to her knees
at the penitent form. Abel Ah Yo had not finished his preaching,
but it was his gift to know crowd psychology, and to feel the heat
of the pentecostal conflagration that scorched his audience. He
called for a rousing revival hymn from his singers, and stepped
down to wade among the hallelujah-shouting negro soldiers to Alice
Akana. And, ere the excitement began to ebb, nine-tenths of his
congregation and all his converts were down on knees and praying
and shouting aloud an immensity of contriteness and sin.
Word came, via telephone, almost simultaneously to the Pacific and
University Clubs, that at last Alice was telling her soul in
meeting; and, by private machine and taxi-cab, for the first time
Abel Ah Yo’s revival was invaded by those of caste and place. The
first comers beheld the curious sight of Hawaiian, Chinese, and all
variegated racial mixtures of the smelting-pot of Hawaii, men and
women, fading out and slinking away through the exits of Abel Ah
Yo’s tabernacle. But those who were sneaking out were mostly men,
while those who remained were avid-faced as they hung on Alice’s
Never was a more fearful and damning community narrative enunciated
in the entire Pacific, north and south, than that enunciated by
Alice Akana; the penitent Phryne of Honolulu.
“Huh!” the first comers heard her saying, having already disposed
of most of the venial sins of the lesser ones of her memory. “You
think this man, Stephen Makekau, is the son of Moses Makekau and
Minnie Ah Ling, and has a legal right to the two hundred and eight
dollars he draws down each month from Parke Richards Limited, for
the lease of the fish-pond to Bill Kong at Amana. Not so. Stephen
Makekau is not the son of Moses. He is the son of Aaron Kama and
Tillie Naone. He was given as a present, as a feeding child, to
Moses and Minnie, by Aaron and Tillie. I know. Moses and Minnie
and Aaron and Tillie are dead. Yet I know and can prove it. Old
Mrs. Poepoe is still alive. I was present when Stephen was born,
and in the night-time, when he was two months old, I myself carried
him as a present to Moses and Minnie, and old Mrs. Poepoe carried
the lantern. This secret has been one of my sins. It has kept me
from God. Now I am free of it. Young Archie Makekau, who collects
bills for the Gas Company and plays baseball in the afternoons, and
drinks too much gin, should get that two hundred and eight dollars
the first of each month from Parke Richards Limited. He will blow
it in on gin and a Ford automobile. Stephen is a good man. Archie
is no good. Also he is a liar, and he has served two sentences on
the reef, and was in reform school before that. Yet God demands
the truth, and Archie will get the money and make a bad use of it.”
And in such fashion Alice rambled on through the experiences of her
long and full-packed life. And women forgot they were in the
tabernacle, and men too, and faces darkened with passion as they
learned for the first time the long-buried secrets of their other halves.
“The lawyers’ offices will be crowded to-morrow morning,”
MacIlwaine, chief of detectives, paused long enough from storing
away useful information to lean and mutter in Colonel Stilton’s ear.
Colonel Stilton grinned affirmation, although the chief of
detectives could not fail to note the ghastliness of the grin.
“There is a banker in Honolulu. You all know his name. He is ‘way
up, swell society because of his wife. He owns much stock in
General Plantations and Inter-Island.”
MacIlwaine recognized the growing portrait and forbore to chuckle.
“His name is Colonel Stilton. Last Christmas Eve he came to my
house with big aloha” (love) “and gave me mortgages on my land in
Iapio Valley, all cancelled, for two thousand dollars’ worth. Now
why did he have such big cash aloha for me? I will tell you . . .”
And tell she did, throwing the searchlight on ancient business
transactions and political deals which from their inception had
lurked in the dark.
“This,” Alice concluded the episode, “has long been a sin upon my
conscience, and kept my heart from God.
“And Harold Miles was that time President of the Senate, and next
week he bought three town lots at Pearl Harbour, and painted his
Honolulu house, and paid up his back dues in his clubs. Also the
Ramsay home at Honokiki was left by will to the people if the
Government would keep it up. But if the Government, after two
years, did not begin to keep it up, then would it go to the Ramsay
heirs, whom old Ramsay hated like poison. Well, it went to the
heirs all right. Their lawyer was Charley Middleton, and he had me
help fix it with the Government men. And their names were . . . “
Six names, from both branches of the Legislature, Alice recited,
and added: “Maybe they all painted their houses after that. For
the first time have I spoken. My heart is much lighter and softer.
It has been coated with an armour of house-paint against the Lord.
And there is Harry Werther. He was in the Senate that time.
Everybody said bad things about him, and he was never re-elected.
Yet his house was not painted. He was honest. To this day his
house is not painted, as everybody knows.
“There is Jim Lokendamper. He has a bad heart. I heard him, only
last week, right here before you all, tell his soul. He did not
tell all his soul, and he lied to God. I am not lying to God. It
is a big telling, but I am telling everything. Now Azalea Akau,
sitting right over there, is his wife. But Lizzie Lokendamper is
his married wife. A long time ago he had the great aloha for
Azalea. You think her uncle, who went to California and died, left
her by will that two thousand five hundred dollars she got. Her
uncle did not. I know. Her uncle cried broke in California, and
Jim Lokendamper sent eighty dollars to California to bury him. Jim
Lokendamper had a piece of land in Kohala he got from his mother’s
aunt. Lizzie, his married wife, did not know this. So he sold it
to the Kohala Ditch Company and wave the twenty-five hundred to
Here, Lizzie, the married wife, upstood like a fury long-thwarted,
and, in lieu of her husband, already fled, flung herself tooth and
nail on Azalea.
“Wait, Lizzie Lokendamper!” Alice cried out. “I have much weight
of you on my heart and some house-paint too . . . “
And when she had finished her disclosure of how Lizzie had painted
her house, Azalea was up and raging.
“Wait, Azalea Akau. I shall now lighten my heart about you. And
it is not house-paint. Jim always paid that. It is your new bath-
tub and modern plumbing that is heavy on me . . . “
Worse, much worse, about many and sundry, did Alice Akana have to
say, cutting high in business, financial, and social life, as well
as low. None was too high nor too low to escape; and not until two
in the morning, before an entranced audience that packed the
tabernacle to the doors, did she complete her recital of the
personal and detailed iniquities she knew of the community in which
she had lived intimately all her days. Just as she was finishing,
she remembered more.
“Huh!” she sniffed. “I gave last week one lot worth eight hundred
dollars cash market price to Abel Ah Yo to pay running expenses and
add up in Peter’s books in heaven. Where did I get that lot? You
all think Mr. Fleming Jason is a good man. He is more crooked than
the entrance was to Pearl Lochs before the United States Government
straightened the channel. He has liver disease now; but his
sickness is a judgment of God, and he will die crooked. Mr.
Fleming Jason gave me that lot twenty-two years ago, when its cash
market price was thirty-five dollars. Because his aloha for me was
big? No. He never had aloha inside of him except for dollars.
“You listen. Mr. Fleming Jason put a great sin upon me. When
Frank Lomiloli was at my house, full of gin, for which gin Mr.
Fleming Jason paid me in advance five times over, I got Frank
Lomiloli to sign his name to the sale paper of his town land for
one hundred dollars. It was worth six hundred then. It is worth
twenty thousand now. Maybe you want to know where that town land
is. I will tell you and remove it off my heart. It is on King
Street, where is now the Come Again Saloon, the Japanese Taxicab
Company garage, the Smith & Wilson plumbing shop, and the Ambrosia
lee Cream Parlours, with the two more stories big Addison Lodging
House overhead. And it is all wood, and always has been well
painted. Yesterday they started painting it attain. But that
paint will not stand between me and God. There are no more paint
pots between me and my path to heaven.”
The morning and evening papers of the day following held an unholy
hush on the greatest news story of years; but Honolulu was half a-
giggle and half aghast at the whispered reports, not always basely
exaggerated, that circulated wherever two Honoluluans chanced to meet.
“Our mistake,” said Colonel Chilton, at the club, “was that we did
not, at the very first, appoint a committee of safety to keep track
of Alice’s soul.”
Bob Cristy, one of the younger islanders, burst into laughter, so
pointed and so loud that the meaning of it was demanded.
“Oh, nothing much,” was his reply. “But I heard, on my way here,
that old John Ward had just been run in for drunken and disorderly
conduct and for resisting an officer. Now Abel Ah Yo fine-
toothcombs the police court. He loves nothing better than soul-
snatching a chronic drunkard.”
Colonel Chilton looked at Lask Finneston, and both looked at Gary
Wilkinson. He returned to them a similar look.
“The old beachcomber!” Lask Finneston cried. “The drunken old
reprobate! I’d forgotten he was alive. Wonderful constitution.
Never drew a sober breath except when he was shipwrecked, and, when
I remember him, into every deviltry afloat. He must be going on eighty.”
“He isn’t far away from it,” Bob Cristy nodded. “Still beach-
combs, drinks when he gets the price, and keeps all his senses,
though he’s not spry and has to use glasses when he reads. And his
memory is perfect. Now if Abel Ah Yo catches him . . . “
Gary Wilkinson cleared his throat preliminary to speech.
“Now there’s a grand old man,” he said. “A left-over from a
forgotten age. Few of his type remain. A pioneer. A true
kamaaina” (old-timer). “Helpless and in the hands of the police in
his old age! We should do something for him in recognition of his
yeoman work in Hawaii. His old home, I happen to know, is Sag
Harbour. He hasn’t seen it for over half a century. Now why
shouldn’t he be surprised to-morrow morning by having his fine
paid, and by being presented with return tickets to Sag Harbour,
and, say, expenses for a year’s trip? I move a committee. I
appoint Colonel Chilton, Lask Finneston, and . . . and myself. As
for chairman, who more appropriate than Lask Finneston, who knew
the old gentleman so well in the early days? Since there is no
objection, I hereby appoint Lask Finneston chairman of the
committee for the purpose of raising and donating money to pay the
police-court fine and the expenses of a year’s travel for that
noble pioneer, John Ward, in recognition of a lifetime of devotion
of energy to the upbuilding of Hawaii.”
There was no dissent.
“The committee will now go into secret session,” said Lask
Finneston, arising and indicating the way to the library.
GLEN ELLEN, CALIFORNIA,
August 30, 1916.
From Jack London: ON THE MAKALOA MAT/ISLAND TALES
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