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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LXXII

Roughing It

Chapter LXXII


In the breezy morning we went ashore and visited the ruined temple of the
last god Lono. The high chief cook of this temple--the priest who
presided over it and roasted the human sacrifices--was uncle to Obookia,
and at one time that youth was an apprentice-priest under him. Obookia
was a young native of fine mind, who, together with three other native
boys, was taken to New England by the captain of a whaleship during the
reign of Kamehameha I, and they were the means of attracting the
attention of the religious world to their country. This resulted in the
sending of missionaries there. And this Obookia was the very same
sensitive savage who sat down on the church steps and wept because his
people did not have the Bible. That incident has been very elaborately
painted in many a charming Sunday School book--aye, and told so
plaintively and so tenderly that I have cried over it in Sunday School
myself, on general principles, although at a time when I did not know
much and could not understand why the people of the Sandwich Islands
needed to worry so much about it as long as they did not know there was a
Bible at all.

Obookia was converted and educated, and was to have returned to his
native land with the first missionaries, had he lived. The other native
youths made the voyage, and two of them did good service, but the third,
William Kanui, fell from grace afterward, for a time, and when the gold
excitement broke out in California he journeyed thither and went to
mining, although he was fifty years old. He succeeded pretty well, but
the failure of Page, Bacon & Co. relieved him of six thousand dollars,
and then, to all intents and purposes, he was a bankrupt in his old age
and he resumed service in the pulpit again. He died in Honolulu in 1864.

Quite a broad tract of land near the temple, extending from the sea to
the mountain top, was sacred to the god Lono in olden times--so sacred
that if a common native set his sacrilegious foot upon it it was
judicious for him to make his will, because his time had come. He might
go around it by water, but he could not cross it. It was well sprinkled
with pagan temples and stocked with awkward, homely idols carved out of
logs of wood. There was a temple devoted to prayers for rain--and with
fine sagacity it was placed at a point so well up on the mountain side
that if you prayed there twenty-four times a day for rain you would be
likely to get it every time. You would seldom get to your Amen before
you would have to hoist your umbrella.

And there was a large temple near at hand which was built in a single
night, in the midst of storm and thunder and rain, by the ghastly hands
of dead men! Tradition says that by the weird glare of the lightning a
noiseless multitude of phantoms were seen at their strange labor far up
the mountain side at dead of night--flitting hither and thither and
bearing great lava-blocks clasped in their nerveless fingers--appearing
and disappearing as the pallid lustre fell upon their forms and faded
away again. Even to this day, it is said, the natives hold this dread
structure in awe and reverence, and will not pass by it in the night.

At noon I observed a bevy of nude native young ladies bathing in the sea,
and went and sat down on their clothes to keep them from being stolen.
I begged them to come out, for the sea was rising and I was satisfied
that they were running some risk. But they were not afraid, and
presently went on with their sport. They were finished swimmers and
divers, and enjoyed themselves to the last degree.

They swam races, splashed and ducked and tumbled each other about, and
filled the air with their laughter. It is said that the first thing an
Islander learns is how to swim; learning to walk being a matter of
smaller consequence, comes afterward. One hears tales of native men and
women swimming ashore from vessels many miles at sea--more miles, indeed,
than I dare vouch for or even mention. And they tell of a native diver
who went down in thirty or forty-foot waters and brought up an anvil!
I think he swallowed the anvil afterward, if my memory serves me.
However I will not urge this point.

I have spoken, several times, of the god Lono--I may as well furnish two
or three sentences concerning him.

The idol the natives worshipped for him was a slender, unornamented staff
twelve feet long. Tradition says he was a favorite god on the Island of
Hawaii--a great king who had been deified for meritorious services--just
our own fashion of rewarding heroes, with the difference that we would
have made him a Postmaster instead of a god, no doubt. In an angry
moment he slew his wife, a goddess named Kaikilani Aiii. Remorse of
conscience drove him mad, and tradition presents us the singular
spectacle of a god traveling "on the shoulder;" for in his gnawing grief
he wandered about from place to place boxing and wrestling with all whom
he met. Of course this pastime soon lost its novelty, inasmuch as it
must necessarily have been the case that when so powerful a deity sent a
frail human opponent "to grass" he never came back any more. Therefore,
he instituted games called makahiki, and ordered that they should be held
in his honor, and then sailed for foreign lands on a three-cornered raft,
stating that he would return some day--and that was the last of Lono.
He was never seen any more; his raft got swamped, perhaps. But the
people always expected his return, and thus they were easily led to
accept Captain Cook as the restored god.

Some of the old natives believed Cook was Lono to the day of their death;
but many did not, for they could not understand how he could die if he
was a god.

Only a mile or so from Kealakekua Bay is a spot of historic interest--the
place where the last battle was fought for idolatry. Of course we
visited it, and came away as wise as most people do who go and gaze upon
such mementoes of the past when in an unreflective mood.

While the first missionaries were on their way around the Horn, the
idolatrous customs which had obtained in the island, as far back as
tradition reached were suddenly broken up. Old Kamehameha I., was dead,
and his son, Liholiho, the new King was a free liver, a roystering,
dissolute fellow, and hated the restraints of the ancient tabu. His
assistant in the Government, Kaahumanu, the Queen dowager, was proud and
high-spirited, and hated the tabu because it restricted the privileges of
her sex and degraded all women very nearly to the level of brutes.
So the case stood. Liholiho had half a mind to put his foot down,
Kaahumahu had a whole mind to badger him into doing it, and whiskey did
the rest. It was probably the rest. It was probably the first time
whiskey ever prominently figured as an aid to civilization. Liholiho
came up to Kailua as drunk as a piper, and attended a great feast; the
determined Queen spurred his drunken courage up to a reckless pitch, and
then, while all the multitude stared in blank dismay, he moved
deliberately forward and sat down with the women!

They saw him eat from the same vessel with them, and were appalled!
Terrible moments drifted slowly by, and still the King ate, still he
lived, still the lightnings of the insulted gods were withheld!
Then conviction came like a revelation--the superstitions of a hundred
generations passed from before the people like a cloud, and a shout went
up, "the tabu is broken! the tabu is broken!"

Thus did King Liholiho and his dreadful whiskey preach the first sermon
and prepare the way for the new gospel that was speeding southward over
the waves of the Atlantic.

The tabu broken and destruction failing to follow the awful sacrilege,
the people, with that childlike precipitancy which has always
characterized them, jumped to the conclusion that their gods were a weak
and wretched swindle, just as they formerly jumped to the conclusion that
Captain Cook was no god, merely because he groaned, and promptly killed
him without stopping to inquire whether a god might not groan as well as
a man if it suited his convenience to do it; and satisfied that the idols
were powerless to protect themselves they went to work at once and pulled
them down--hacked them to pieces--applied the torch--annihilated them!

The pagan priests were furious. And well they might be; they had held
the fattest offices in the land, and now they were beggared; they had
been great--they had stood above the chiefs--and now they were vagabonds.
They raised a revolt; they scared a number of people into joining their
standard, and Bekuokalani, an ambitious offshoot of royalty, was easily
persuaded to become their leader.

In the first skirmish the idolaters triumphed over the royal army sent
against them, and full of confidence they resolved to march upon Kailua.
The King sent an envoy to try and conciliate them, and came very near
being an envoy short by the operation; the savages not only refused to
listen to him, but wanted to kill him. So the King sent his men forth
under Major General Kalaimoku and the two host met a Kuamoo. The battle
was long and fierce--men and women fighting side by side, as was the
custom--and when the day was done the rebels were flying in every
direction in hopeless panic, and idolatry and the tabu were dead in the
land!

The royalists marched gayly home to Kailua glorifying the new
dispensation. "There is no power in the gods," said they; "they are a
vanity and a lie. The army with idols was weak; the army without idols
was strong and victorious!"

The nation was without a religion.

The missionary ship arrived in safety shortly afterward, timed by
providential exactness to meet the emergency, and the Gospel was planted
as in a virgin soil.


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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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