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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LXXIII

Roughing It

Chapter LXXIII


At noon, we hired a Kanaka to take us down to the ancient ruins at
Honaunan in his canoe--price two dollars--reasonable enough, for a sea
voyage of eight miles, counting both ways.

The native canoe is an irresponsible looking contrivance. I cannot think
of anything to liken it to but a boy's sled runner hollowed out, and that
does not quite convey the correct idea. It is about fifteen feet long,
high and pointed at both ends, is a foot and a half or two feet deep, and
so narrow that if you wedged a fat man into it you might not get him out
again. It sits on top of the water like a duck, but it has an outrigger
and does not upset easily, if you keep still. This outrigger is formed
of two long bent sticks like plow handles, which project from one side,
and to their outer ends is bound a curved beam composed of an extremely
light wood, which skims along the surface of the water and thus saves you
from an upset on that side, while the outrigger's weight is not so easily
lifted as to make an upset on the other side a thing to be greatly
feared. Still, until one gets used to sitting perched upon this
knifeblade, he is apt to reason within himself that it would be more
comfortable if there were just an outrigger or so on the other side also.
I had the bow seat, and Billings sat amidships and faced the Kanaka, who
occupied the stern of the craft and did the paddling. With the first
stroke the trim shell of a thing shot out from the shore like an arrow.
There was not much to see. While we were on the shallow water of the
reef, it was pastime to look down into the limpid depths at the large
bunches of branching coral--the unique shrubbery of the sea. We lost
that, though, when we got out into the dead blue water of the deep. But
we had the picture of the surf, then, dashing angrily against the crag-
bound shore and sending a foaming spray high into the air.

There was interest in this beetling border, too, for it was honey-combed
with quaint caves and arches and tunnels, and had a rude semblance of the
dilapidated architecture of ruined keeps and castles rising out of the
restless sea. When this novelty ceased to be a novelty, we turned our
eyes shoreward and gazed at the long mountain with its rich green forests
stretching up into the curtaining clouds, and at the specks of houses in
the rearward distance and the diminished schooner riding sleepily at
anchor. And when these grew tiresome we dashed boldly into the midst of
a school of huge, beastly porpoises engaged at their eternal game of
arching over a wave and disappearing, and then doing it over again and
keeping it up--always circling over, in that way, like so many well-
submerged wheels. But the porpoises wheeled themselves away, and then we
were thrown upon our own resources. It did not take many minutes to
discover that the sun was blazing like a bonfire, and that the weather
was of a melting temperature. It had a drowsing effect, too.
In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes
and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-
bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards out to
sea, (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a
particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he
would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board,
and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem
that a lightning express train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting
speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of
it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but
missed the connection myself.--The board struck the shore in three
quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about
the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me. None but natives
ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.

At the end of an hour, we had made the four miles, and landed on a level
point of land, upon which was a wide extent of old ruins, with many a
tall cocoanut tree growing among them. Here was the ancient City of
Refuge--a vast inclosure, whose stone walls were twenty feet thick at the
base, and fifteen feet high; an oblong square, a thousand and forty feet
one way and a fraction under seven hundred the other. Within this
inclosure, in early times, has been three rude temples; each two hundred
and ten feet long by one hundred wide, and thirteen high.

In those days, if a man killed another anywhere on the island the
relatives were privileged to take the murderer's life; and then a chase
for life and liberty began--the outlawed criminal flying through pathless
forests and over mountain and plain, with his hopes fixed upon the
protecting walls of the City of Refuge, and the avenger of blood
following hotly after him!

Sometimes the race was kept up to the very gates of the temple, and the
panting pair sped through long files of excited natives, who watched the
contest with flashing eye and dilated nostril, encouraging the hunted
refugee with sharp, inspiriting ejaculations, and sending up a ringing
shout of exultation when the saving gates closed upon him and the cheated
pursuer sank exhausted at the threshold. But sometimes the flying
criminal fell under the hand of the avenger at the very door, when one
more brave stride, one more brief second of time would have brought his
feet upon the sacred ground and barred him against all harm. Where did
these isolated pagans get this idea of a City of Refuge--this ancient
Oriental custom?

This old sanctuary was sacred to all--even to rebels in arms and invading
armies. Once within its walls, and confession made to the priest and
absolution obtained, the wretch with a price upon his head could go forth
without fear and without danger--he was tabu, and to harm him was death.
The routed rebels in the lost battle for idolatry fled to this place to
claim sanctuary, and many were thus saved.

Close to the corner of the great inclosure is a round structure of stone,
some six or eight feet high, with a level top about ten or twelve in
diameter. This was the place of execution. A high palisade of cocoanut
piles shut out the cruel scenes from the vulgar multitude. Here
criminals were killed, the flesh stripped from the bones and burned, and
the bones secreted in holes in the body of the structure. If the man had
been guilty of a high crime, the entire corpse was burned.

The walls of the temple are a study. The same food for speculation that
is offered the visitor to the Pyramids of Egypt he will find here--the
mystery of how they were constructed by a people unacquainted with
science and mechanics. The natives have no invention of their own for
hoisting heavy weights, they had no beasts of burden, and they have never
even shown any knowledge of the properties of the lever. Yet some of the
lava blocks quarried out, brought over rough, broken ground, and built
into this wall, six or seven feet from the ground, are of prodigious size
and would weigh tons. How did they transport and how raise them?

Both the inner and outer surfaces of the walls present a smooth front and
are very creditable specimens of masonry. The blocks are of all manner
of shapes and sizes, but yet are fitted together with the neatest
exactness. The gradual narrowing of the wall from the base upward is
accurately preserved.

No cement was used, but the edifice is firm and compact and is capable of
resisting storm and decay for centuries. Who built this temple, and how
was it built, and when, are mysteries that may never be unraveled.
Outside of these ancient walls lies a sort of coffin-shaped stone eleven
feet four inches long and three feet square at the small end (it would
weigh a few thousand pounds), which the high chief who held sway over
this district many centuries ago brought thither on his shoulder one day
to use as a lounge! This circumstance is established by the most
reliable traditions. He used to lie down on it, in his indolent way, and
keep an eye on his subjects at work for him and see that there was no
"soldiering" done. And no doubt there was not any done to speak of,
because he was a man of that sort of build that incites to attention to
business on the part of an employee.

He was fourteen or fifteen feet high. When he stretched himself at full
length on his lounge, his legs hung down over the end, and when he snored
he woke the dead. These facts are all attested by irrefragable
tradition.

On the other side of the temple is a monstrous seven-ton rock, eleven
feet long, seven feet wide and three feet thick. It is raised a foot or
a foot and a half above the ground, and rests upon half a dozen little
stony pedestals. The same old fourteen-footer brought it down from the
mountain, merely for fun (he had his own notions about fun), and propped
it up as we find it now and as others may find it a century hence, for it
would take a score of horses to budge it from its position. They say
that fifty or sixty years ago the proud Queen Kaahumanu used to fly to
this rock for safety, whenever she had been making trouble with her
fierce husband, and hide under it until his wrath was appeased. But
these Kanakas will lie, and this statement is one of their ablest
efforts--for Kaahumanu was six feet high--she was bulky--she was built
like an ox--and she could no more have squeezed herself under that rock
than she could have passed between the cylinders of a sugar mill. What
could she gain by it, even if she succeeded? To be chased and abused by
a savage husband could not be otherwise than humiliating to her high
spirit, yet it could never make her feel so flat as an hour's repose
under that rock would.

We walked a mile over a raised macadamized road of uniform width; a road
paved with flat stones and exhibiting in its every detail a considerable
degree of engineering skill. Some say that that wise old pagan,
Kamehameha I planned and built it, but others say it was built so long
before his time that the knowledge of who constructed it has passed out
of the traditions. In either case, however, as the handiwork of an
untaught and degraded race it is a thing of pleasing interest. The
stones are worn and smooth, and pushed apart in places, so that the road
has the exact appearance of those ancient paved highways leading out of
Rome which one sees in pictures.

The object of our tramp was to visit a great natural curiosity at the
base of the foothills--a congealed cascade of lava. Some old forgotten
volcanic eruption sent its broad river of fire down the mountain side
here, and it poured down in a great torrent from an overhanging bluff
some fifty feet high to the ground below. The flaming torrent cooled in
the winds from the sea, and remains there to-day, all seamed, and frothed
and rippled a petrified Niagara. It is very picturesque, and withal so
natural that one might almost imagine it still flowed. A smaller stream
trickled over the cliff and built up an isolated pyramid about thirty
feet high, which has the semblance of a mass of large gnarled and knotted
vines and roots and stems intricately twisted and woven together.

We passed in behind the cascade and the pyramid, and found the bluff
pierced by several cavernous tunnels, whose crooked courses we followed a
long distance.

Two of these winding tunnels stand as proof of Nature's mining abilities.
Their floors are level, they are seven feet wide, and their roofs are
gently arched. Their height is not uniform, however. We passed through
one a hundred feet long, which leads through a spur of the hill and opens
out well up in the sheer wall of a precipice whose foot rests in the
waves of the sea. It is a commodious tunnel, except that there are
occasional places in it where one must stoop to pass under. The roof is
lava, of course, and is thickly studded with little lava-pointed icicles
an inch long, which hardened as they dripped. They project as closely
together as the iron teeth of a corn-sheller, and if one will stand up
straight and walk any distance there, he can get his hair combed free of
charge.

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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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