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



A few facts concerning the Hawaiian islands may serve to supplement the deficiencies of the previous letters. The group is an hereditary and constitutional monarchy. There is a House of Nobles numbering twenty members, appointed by the Crown. The House of Representatives consists of not less than twenty-four, or more than forty members elected biennially. The Legislature fixes the number, and apportions the same. The Houses sit together, and constitute the Legislative Assembly. The property qualification for a representative is, real estate worth $500, or an annual income of $250 from property, and that for an elector is an annual income of $75. The Legislators are paid, and the expense of a session is about $15,000. There are three cabinet ministers appointed by the Crown, of the Interior, Finance, and Foreign Affairs respectively, and an Attorney-General, who may be regarded as a minister of justice. There is a Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and two associate justices, and there are circuit and district judges on all the larger islands, as well as sheriffs, prisons, and police. There is a standing army of sixty men, mainly for the purposes of guard duty, and rendering assistance to the police.


The question of "how to make ends meet" sorely exercises the little kingdom. All sorts of improvements involving a largely increased outlay are continually urged, while at the same time the burden of taxation presses increasingly heavily, and there is a constant clamour for the removal of some of the most lucrative imposts. Indeed, the Hawaiian dog, with his tax and his "tag," is seldom out of the Legislative Assembly. What may be termed the per capita taxes are, an annual poll tax of one dollar levied on each male inhabitant between the ages of seventeen and sixty, an annual road tax of two dollars upon all persons between seventeen and fifty, and an annual school tax of two dollars upon all persons between twenty-one and sixty. There is a direct tax upon property of 1/2 per cent, upon its valuation, and specific taxes of a dollar on every horse above two years old, and a dollar and a half on each dog. Of the $206,000 raised by internal taxes during the last biennial period, the horses paid $50,000, the mules $6,000, and the dogs $19,000!


The indirect taxation in the shape of customs duties amounted to $350,000 in the same period. The poor Hawaiian does not know the blessing of a "Free Breakfast Table."


The islands are large importers. The value of imported goods was $1,184,054 in 1875, on which the Hawaiian Treasury received $213,285 as customs duties. Forty-seven thousand dollars' worth of ale, porter, cider, and light wines, and forty-nine thousand dollars' worth of spirits, show that the foreign population of 6000 is more than sufficiently bibulous. The Chinamen, about 2000 in number, are, or ought to be, responsible for $22,000 worth of opium j and the $42,000 worth of tobacco and cigars is doubtless distributed pretty equally over all the nationalities. Twenty-one thousand gallons of spirits were taken out of bond for consumption in 1875. The licenses to sell spirits brought $18,000 into the Treasury in the last biennial period, but those for the sale of awa and opium brought in $55,000 during the same time. These licenses are confined to Honolulu.


There are two interesting items of customs receipts, a sum of $924, the proceeds of a per capita tax of two dollars levied on passengers landing on the islands, for the support of the Queen's Hospital, and a sum of $1477, the proceeds of a tax levied on seamen for the support of the Marine Hospital. There is a sum of $700 for passports, as no Hawaiian or stranger can leave the kingdom without an official permit.


There are 51 vessels registered under the Hawaiian flag, of which 35 are coasters, and 16 engaged in foreign freighting and whaling.


The value of domestic exports, in 1875, was $1,774,082. Among these bananas, pineapples, pulu, cocoanuts, oranges, limes, sandal-wood, tamarinds, betel leaves, sharks' fins, paiai, whale oil, sperm oil, cocoanut oil, and whalebone. Among other commodities there was exported,  165,000 lbs. of coffee, 45,000 lbs. of fungus,  21,000 lbs. of peanuts, 1,573,000 lbs. of rice, 556,000 lbs. of paddy, 22,000 packages of hides, 60,000 goat-skins, 13,000 horns, and 851,000 lbs. of tallow. The imports, in 1875, amounted to $1,184,054. The expense of "keeping things going" on the islands for the two years ending March 1st, 1874, amounted to $1,193,276, but this included the funeral expenses of two kings, as well as of two extra sessions of the Legislature, which amounted to $42,000. The decrease in the revenue for the same period amounted to $45,000. The items of Hawaiian expenditure were as follows:—

For Civil List

    Permanent Settlements, Queen Emma

    Legislature and Privy Council

    Extra Legislative Expenses

    Department of the Judiciary

    Department of Foreign Affairs and War

    Department of the Interior

    Department of Finance

    Department of the Attorney-General

    Bureau of Public Instruction

    Miscellaneous Expenditure

    The balance on hand in the Treasury, March 31st 1874
















That, under the head Finance, includes the interest on borrowed money. The funded national debt is $340,000. Of this sum a portion bears no stated interest, only such as may arise from the very dubious profits of the Hawaiian hotel. The interest charges are 12 per cent, on $25,000, and 9 per cent. on $272,000. The estimates for the present biennial period involve a large increase of debt. The present financial position of the kingdom is, an increasing expenditure and a decreasing revenue. The statistics of the Judiciary Department for the last two years present a few features of interest. There were 4000 convictions out of 5764 cases brought before the courts, equal to a fourteenth part of the population. The total number of offences in the category is 125. Of these some are decidedly local. Thus, for "furnishing intoxicating liquors to Hawaiians" 92 persons were punished; for "exhibition of Hula," 10; for "selling awa without licence," 12; for "selling opium without licence," 24. It is not surprising to those who know the habits of the people, that the convictions for violations of the marriage tie, though greatly diminished, should reach the number of 384, while under the head "Deserting Husbands and Wives," 67 convictions are recorded. For "practising medicine without a licence," 56 persons were punished; for "furious riding," 197; for "cruelty to animals," 37; for "gaming," 121; for "gross cheating," 32; for "violating the Sabbath," 61. We must remember that the returns include foreigners and Chinamen, or else the reputation for "harmlessness" which Hawaiians possess would suffer seriously when we read that within the last two years there were 178 convictions for "assault," 248 for "assault and battery," 12 for "assaults with dangerous weapons," 49 for "affray," 674 for "drunkenness," 87 for "disturbing quiet of the night," and 13 for "murder." Yet the number of criminal cases has largely diminished, and taking civil and criminal together, there has been a decrease of 656 for the last biennial period, as compared with that immediately preceding it.


The administration of justice is confessedly one of the most efficient departments of Hawaiian affairs. Chief Justice Allen, both as a lawyer and a gentleman, is worthy to fill the highest position in his native country (America), and the Associate Justices, as well as the native and foreign judges throughout the islands, are highly esteemed for honour and uprightness. I never heard an uttered suspicion of venality or unfairness against anyone of them, and apparently the Judiciary Department of Hawaii deserves the same confidence which we repose in our own.


The Educational System has been carefully modelled, and is carried out with tolerable efficiency. Eighty-seven per cent, of the whole school population are actually at school, and the inspector of schools states that a person who cannot read and write is rarely met with. Each common school is graded into two, three, or four classes, according to the intelligence and proficiency of the pupils, and the curriculum of study is as follows:—


Class I.—Reading, mental and written arithmetic, geography, penmanship, and composition.

Class II.—Reading, mental arithmetic, geography, penmanship.

Class III.—Reading, first principles of arithmetic, penmanship.

Class IV.—Primer, use of slate and pencil.


The youngest children are not classified until they can put letters together in syllables.


Vocal music is taught wherever competent teachers are found.


The total sum expended on education, including the grants to "family" and other schools, is about $40,000 a year.


It has been remarked that the rising race of Hawaiians has an increased contempt for industry in the form of manual labour, and it is proposed by the Board of Education that such labour shall be made a part of common school education, so that on both girls and boys a desire to provide for their own wants in an honest way shall be officially inculcated. There is a Government Reformatory School, and industrial and family schools for both girls and boys are scattered over the islands. The supply of literature in the vernacular is meagre, and few of the natives have an intelligent comprehension of English.


The group has an area of about 4,000,000 acres, of which about 200,000 may be regarded as arable, and 150,000 as specially adapted for the culture of sugar-cane. Sugar, the great staple production, gives employment in its cultivation and manufacture to nearly 4000 hands. Only a fifteenth part of the estimated arable area is under cultivation. Over 6000 natives are returned as the possessors of Kuleanas or freeholds, but many of these are heavily mortgaged. Many of the larger lands are held on lease from the crown or chiefs, and there are difficulties attending the purchase of small properties.


Almost all the roots and fruits of the torrid and temperate zones can be grown upon the islands, and the banana, kalo, yam, sweet potato, cocoanut, breadfruit, arrowroot, sugar cane, strawberry, raspberry, whortleberry, and native apple, are said to be indigenous.


* The schools of the Kingdom are as follows:

  Number Boys Girls Total
Common Schools
Government Boarding Schools
Government Hawaiian-English Day Schools
Subsidized Boarding Schools
Subsidized Day Schools
Independent Boarding Schools
Independent Day Schools



242 4,463 3,292 7,755


The indigenous fauna is small, consisting only of hogs, dogs, rats, and an anomalous bat which flies by day. There are few insects, except such as have been imported, and these, which consist of centipedes, scorpions, cockroaches, mosquitos, and fleas, are happily confined to certain localities, and the two first have left most of their venom behind them. A small lizard is abundant, but snakes, toads, and frogs have not yet effected a landing.


The ornithology of the islands is scanty. Domestic fowls are supposed to be indigenous. Wild geese are numerous among the mountains of Hawaii, and plovers, snipe, and wild ducks, are found on all the islands. A handsome owl, called the owl-hawk, is common. There is a paroquet with purple feathers, another with scarlet, a woodpecker with variegated plumage of red, green, and yellow, and a small black bird with a single yellow feather under each wing.


Hawaii is still in process of construction, and is subject to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tidal waves. Hurricanes are unknown, and thunderstorms are rare and light.


Under favourable circumstances of moisture the soil is most prolific, and "patch cultivation" in glens and ravines, as well as on mountain sides, produces astonishing results. A Kalo patch of forty square feet will support a man for a year. An acre of favourably situated land will grow a thousand stems of bananas, which will produce annually ten tons of fruit. The sweet potato flourishes on the most unpromising lava, where soil can hardly be said to exist, and in good localities produces 200 barrels to the acre. On dry light soils the Irish potato grows anyhow and anywhere, with no other trouble than that of planting the sets. Most vegetable dyes, drugs, and spices can be raised. Forty diverse fruits present an overflowing cornucopia. The esculents of the temperate zones flourish. The coffee bush produces from three to five pounds of berries the third year after planting. The average yield of sugar is two and a half tons to the acre. Pineapples grow like weeds in some districts, and water melons are almost a drug. The bamboo is known to grow sixteen inches in a day. Wherever there is a sufficient rainfall, the earth teems with plenty.


Yet the Hawaiian Islands can hardly be regarded as a field for emigration, though nature is lavish, and the climate the most delicious and salubrious in the world. Farming, as we understand it, is unknown. The dearth of insectivorous birds seriously affects the cultivation of a soil naturally bounteous to excess. The narrow gorges in which terraced "patched cultivation" is so successful, offer no temptations to a man with the world before him. The larger areas require labour, and labour is not to be had. Though wheat and other cereals mature, attacks of weevil prevent their storage, and all the grain and flour consumed are imported from California.


Cacao, cinnamon, and allspice, are subject to an apparently ineradicable blight. The blight which has attacked the coffee shrub is so severe, that the larger plantations have been dug up, and coffee is now raised by patch culture, mainly among the guava scrub which fringes the forests. Oranges suffer from blight also, and some of the finest groves have been cut down. Cotton suffers from the ravages of a caterpillar. The mulberry tree, which, from its rapid growth, would be invaluable to silk growers, is covered with a black and white blight. Sheep are at present very successful, but in some localities the spread of a pestilent "oat-burr" is depreciating the value of their wool. The forests, which are essential to the well-being of the islands, are disappearing in some quarters, owing to the attacks of a grub, as well as the ravages of cattle.


Cocoanuts, bananas, yams, sweet potatoes, kalo, and breadfruit, the staple food of the native population, are free from blight, and so are potatoes and rice. Beef cattle can be raised for almost nothing, and in some districts beef can be bought for the cent or two per pound which pays for the cutting up of the carcass. Every one can live abundantly, and without the “sweat of the brow," but few can make money, owing to the various forms of blight, the scarcity of labour, and the lack of a profitable market.


There is little healthy activity in any department of business. The whaling fleet has deserted the islands. A general pilikia prevails. Settlements are disappearing, valley lands are falling out of cultivation, Hilo grass and guava scrub are burying the traces of a former population. The natives are rapidly diminishing,* the old industries are abandoned, and the inherent immorality of the race, the great outstanding cause of its decay, still resists the influence of Christian teaching and example.


An exotic civilization is having a fair trial on these islands. With, the exception of the serious maladies introduced by foreigners in the early days, and the disastrous moral influence exercised by worthless whites, the Hawaiians have suffered none of the wrongs usually inflicted on the feebler by the stronger race. Their rights were in the first instance carefully secured to them, and have since been protected by equal laws, righteously administered. They have been aided towards independence in political matters, and the foreigners who framed the laws and constitution, and have directed Hawaiian affairs, such as Richards, Lee, Judd, Allen, and Wyllie, were men above reproach; and missionary influence, of all others the most friendly to the natives, has predominated for fifty years.


The effects of missionary labour have been scarcely touched upon in the foregoing letters, and here, in preference to giving any opinion of my own, I quote from Mr. R. H. Dana, an Episcopalian, and a barrister of the highest standing in America, well known in this country by his writings, who sums up his investigations on the Sandwich Islands in the following dispassionate words: "It is no small thing to say of the missionaries of the American Board, that in less than forty years they have taught this whole people to read and to write, to cipher and to sew. They have given them an alphabet, grammar, and dictionary; preserved their language from extinction; given it a literature, and translated into it the Bible, and works of devotion, science, and entertainment, &c. They have established schools, reared up native teachers, and so pressed their work, that now the proportion of inhabitants who can read and write is greater than in New England. And whereas they found these islanders a nation of half-naked savages, living in the surf and on the sand, eating raw fish, fighting among themselves, tyrannized over by feudal chiefs, and abandoned to sensuality, they now see them decently clothed, recognizing the law of marriage, knowing something of accounts, going to school and public worship more regularly than the people do at home, and the more elevated of them taking part in conducting the affairs of the constitutional monarchy under which they live, holding seats on the judicial bench and in the legislative chambers, and filling posts in the local magistracies."


If space permitted, the testimony of "Mark Twain," given in "Roughing It," might be added to the above, and the remaining missionaries may well point to the visible results of their labours, with the one word Circumspice!


 A Chapter on Hawaiian History


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