The Hawaiian Archipelago:
Six months amongst the palm groves, coral reefs, and volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands
By Isabella L. Bird, 1875



Cookery— "Father Lynmn's" Party—Lunalilo's Intelligence—A Hilo "At Home"—The last of Upa


Hilo, Hawaii


The king "signified his intention to honour Mr. and Mrs. Severance with his company" on the evening of the day after the reception, and this involved a regular party and supper. You can hardly imagine the difficulties connected with "refreshments," where few, if any, of the materials which we consider necessary for dishes suitable for such occasions can be procured at the stores, and even milk and butter are scarce commodities. I had won a reputation as a cook by making a much appreciated Bengal curry, and an English "roly-poly" pudding, and when I offered my services, Mrs. S. kindly accepted them, and she and I, with the Chinese cook and a Chinese prisoner to assist us, have been cooking for a day and a half. I wanted to make a gigantic trifle, a dish not known here, and we hunted every store, hoping to find almonds and raspberry jam among the "assorted notions," but in vain; however, grated cocoanut supplied the place of the first, and a kind friend sent a pot of the last The Chinamen were very diverting. The cook looked on, and laughed constantly, and perhaps was a little jealous: at all events when he thought we had spoilt some cakes in the oven, he capered into Mrs. S.'s room, gesticulating, and exclaiming satirically, “Lu, Lu! cakes so good, cakes so fine!" No intoxicants were to be used on the occasion, Hilo notions being rigid on this subject; but I hope it was not a crime that I clandestinely used two glasses of sherry, without which my trifle would have been a failure. We worked hard, and made trifle, sponge cake, pound cake, spiced cake, dozens of cocoanut cakes and drops, custards, and sandwiches of potted meat, and enjoyed our preparations so much that we found it hard to exchange kitchen for social duties, and go to "Father Lyman," who entertained the king and a number of Hilo folk in the evening.


Their rooms, not very large, were quite full. When the king entered, the company received him standing, and the flute band in the verandah played the national anthem, and afterwards at intervals during the evening sang some Hawaiian songs of the king's composition. I was presented to him, and as he is very courteous to strangers, he talked to me a good deal. He is a gentlemanly, courteous, unassuming man, hardly assuming enough in fact, and apparently very intelligent and well read. I was exceedingly pleased with him. He spoke a good deal of Queen Emma's reception in England, and of her raptures with Venice, and some other cities of the continent. He said he had the greatest desire to visit some parts of Europe, Great Britain specially, because he thought that by coming in contact with some of our leading statesmen, he might gain a more accurate knowledge than he possessed of the principles of constitutional government. He said he hoped that in two years Hawaii-nei would be so settled as to allow of his travelling, and that in the meantime he was studying French with a view to enjoying the continent.


He asked a great many questions regarding things at home, specially concerning the limitation of the power of the Crown. He cannot reconcile the theoretical right of the sovereign to choose his advisers with his practically submitting to receive them from a Parliamentary majority. He seemed to find a difficulty in understanding that the sovereign's right to refuse his assent to a Bill which had passed both Houses was by no means the same thing in practice as the possession of a veto. He said that in his reading of our constitutional history, the power of the sovereign seemed almost absolute, while if he understood facts rightly, the throne was more of an "ornament," or "figure-head," than a power at all. He asked me if it were true that Republican feeling was spreading very much in England, and if I thought that the monarchy would survive the present sovereign, on whose prudence and exalted virtues he seemed to think it rested. He said he thought his little kingdom had aped the style of the great monarchies too much, and that he should like to abolish a good many high sounding titles, sinecure offices, the household troops, and some of the "imitation pomp" of his court. He said he had never enjoyed anything so much since his accession as the hookupu of the morning, and asked me what I thought of it. I was glad to be able to answer truthfully that I had never seen a state pageant or ceremonial that I had enjoyed half so much, or that had impressed me so favourably. He has a very musical voice, a natural nobility and refinement of manner, and obvious tact and good feeling, rather, I should think, the result of amiable and gentlemanly instincts than of training or consideration, all which combine to make him interesting, altogether apart from his position as a Polynesian sovereign.


Where there are no servants, a party involves the hosts and their friends in the bustle of personal preparation, but all worked with a will, and by sunset the decorations were completed. All the Chinese lamps in Hilo were hung in the front verandah, and seats were placed in the front and side verandahs, on which the drawing-room opens by four doors, so there was plenty of room, though there were thirty people. The side verandah was enclosed by a drapery of flags, and the whole was tastefully decorated with festoons and wreaths of ferns. The king arrived early with his attendants, and was received by the host and hostess, and like a perfectly civilized guest, he handed Mrs. S. into the room. The great wish of the genial entertainers was to prevent stiffness and give the king a really social evening, so the "chair game," magical music, and a refined kind of blind man's buff, better suited to the occasion, but less "jolly" than the old riotous game, were shortly introduced. Lunalilo only looked on at first, and then entered into the games with a heartiness and zest which showed that he at least enjoyed the evening. Supper was served at nine. Several nests of Japanese tables had been borrowed, and these, dispersed about the room and verandah, broke up the guests into little social knots. Three Hilo ladies and I were the waitresses, and I was pleased to see that the good things were thoroughly appreciated, and that the trifle was universally popular. After supper there was a little dancing, and as few of the Hilo people knew any dance correctly, it was very amusing for the on-lookers. There was a great deal of promenading in the verandah, and a great deal of talking and merriment, which were enjoyed by a crowd of natives who stood the whole evening outside the garden fence. I don't think that any of the Hilo people are so unhappy as to possess an evening dress, and the pretty morning dresses of the ladies, and the thick boots, easy morning coats, and black ties of the gentlemen, gave a jolly "break-down" look to the affair, which would have been deemed inadmissible in less civilized society.


Some of my photographs of some of our eminent literary and scientific men were lying on the table, and the king in looking at them showed a surprising amount of knowledge of what they had written or done, quite entitling him to unite in Dean Stanley's " Communion of Educated Men." I had previously asked him for his signature for my autograph collection, and he said he had composed a stanza for me which he thought I might like to have in addition. He called with it on the following afternoon, apologising for his dress, a short jacket and blue trowsers, stuffed into boots plastered with mud up to the knees. I was surprised when he asked me if the lines were correctly spelt, for he speaks English remarkably well. They are simply a kind wish, unaffectedly expressed


Hilo, Hawaii, Feb. 26th

“Whereso'er thou may'st roam,

Whereso'er thou mak'st thy home,

May God thy footsteps guide,

Watch o'er thee and provide.

This is my earnest prayer for thee,

Welcome, stranger, from over the sea.

Lunalilo R."

It startles one sometimes to hear American vulgarisms uttered in his harmonious tones. The American admiral and generals had just arrived from the volcano, stiff, sore, bruised, jaded, "done," and the king said, "I guess the Admiral's about used up." He is really remarkably attractive, but I observe a look of irresolution about his mouth, indicative of a facility of disposition capable of being turned to the worst account. I think from what I have heard that the Hawaiian kings have fallen victims rather to unscrupulous foreigners, than to their own bad instincts.


My last day has been taken up with farewell visits, and I finish this on board the "Kilauea." Miss Karpe and I had to ride two miles, to a point at which it was possible to embark without risk, a heavy surf having for three weeks rendered it impossible for loaded boats to communicate with the shore at Hilo. My clothes were soaked when we reached the rocks, and Upa, very wet, carried us into a wet whale-boat, with water up to our ankles, which brought us over a heavy, sickening swell into this steamer, which is dirty as well as wet. I told Upa to lead my mare, and ride his own horse, but the last I saw of him was on the mare's back, racing a troop of natives along the beach.



Letter 15: Leeward Hawaii, A Heathen Temple, The Waimea Plains, and The Early Settlers


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