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By Isabella Bird
Hawaiian Hotel, Honolulu, January 26, 1873.
Yesterday morning at six-thirty I was aroused by the news that "The Islands" were in sight. Oahu in the distance, a group of gray, barren peaks rising verdureless out of the lonely sea, was not an exception to the rule that the first sight of land is a disappointment.
Owing to the clear atmosphere, we seemed only five miles off, but in reality we were twenty, and the land improved as we neared it. It was the fiercest day we had had, the deck was almost too hot to stand upon, the sea and sky were both magnificently blue, and the unveiled sun turned every minute ripple into a diamond flash.
As we approached, the island changed its character. There were lofty peaks, truly - gray and red, sun-scorched and wind-bleached, glowing here and there with traces of their fiery origin; but they were cleft by deep chasms and ravines of cool shadow and entrancing green, and falling water streaked their sides -a most welcome vision after eleven months of the desert sea and the dusty browns of Australia and New Zealand.
Nearer yet, and the coastline came into sight, fringed by the feathery coconut tree of the tropics, and marked by a long line of surf. The grand promontory of Diamond Head, its fiery sides now softened by a haze of green, terminated the wavy line of palms; then the Punchbowl, a very perfect extinct crater, brilliant with every shade of red volcanic ash, blazed against the green skirts of the mountains.
We were close to the coral reef before the cry, "There's Honolulu!" made us aware of the proximity of the capital of the island kingdom, and then, indeed, its existence had almost to be taken upon trust, for besides the lovely wooden and grass huts, with deep verandas, which nestled under palms and bananas on soft greensward, margined by the bright sea sand, only two church spires and a few gray roofs appeared above the trees.
We were just outside the reef, and near enough to hear that deep sound of the surf which, through the ever serene summer years, girdles the Hawaiian Islands with perpetual thunder, before the pilot glided alongside, bringing the news which Mark Twain had prepared us to receive with interest, that "Prince Bill" (Lunalilo) had been unanimously elected to the throne.
The surf ran white and pure over the environing coral reef, and as we passed through the narrow channel, we almost saw the coral forests deep down under the Nevada's keel; the coral fishers plied their graceful trade; canoes with outriggers rode the combers and glided with inconceivable rapidity round our ship; amphibious brown beings sported in the transparent waves; and within the reef lay a calm surface of water of a wonderful blue, entered by a narrow, intricate passage of the deepest indigo. And beyond the reef and beyond the blue, nestling among coconut trees and bananas, umbrella trees and breadfruits, oranges, mangoes, hibiscus, algarroba, and passionflowers, almost hidden in the deep, dense greenery, was Honolulu. Bright blossom of a summer sea! Fair Paradise of the Pacific!
Inside the reef the magnificent ironclad California (the flagship) and another huge American war vessel, the Benicia, are moored in line with the British corvette Scout, within two hundred yards of the shore; and their boats were constantly passing and reprising, among countless canoes filled with natives.
Two coasting schooners were just leaving the harbor, and the interisland steamer Kilauea, with her deck crowded with natives, was just coming in. By noon the great decrepit Nevada, which has no wharf at which she can lie in sleepy New Zealand, was moored alongside a very respectable one in this enterprising little Hawaiian capital.
We looked down from the towering deck on a crowd of two or three thousand people - whites, Kanakas, Chinamen - and hundreds of them at once made their way on board, and streamed over the ship, talking, laughing, and remarking upon us in a language which seemed without backbone.
Such rich brown men and women they were, with wavy, shining black hair, large, brown, lustrous eyes, and rows of perfect teeth like ivory. Everyone was smiling. The forms of the women seem to be inclined toward obesity, but their drapery, which consists of a sleeved garment which falls in ample and unconfined folds from their shoulders to their feet, partly conceals this defect, which is here regarded as beauty.
Some of these dresses were black, but many of those worn by the younger women were of pure white, crimson, yellow, scarlet, blue, or light green. The men displayed their lithe, graceful figures to the best advantage in white trousers and gay Garibaldi shirts. A few of the women wore colored handkerchiefs twined round their hair, but generally both men and women wore straw hats, which the men set jauntily on one side of their heads, and aggravated their appearance yet more by bandanna handkerchiefs of rich bright colors round their necks, knotted loosely on the left side, with a grace to which, I think, no Anglo-Saxon dandy could attain.
Without an exception the men and women wore wreaths and garlands of flowers, carmine, orange, or pure white, twined round their hats, and thrown carelessly round their necks, flowers unknown to me, but redolent of the tropics in fragrance and color.
Many of the young beauties wore the gorgeous blossom of the red hibiscus among their abundant, unconfined black hair, and many, besides the garlands, wore festoons of a sweet-scented vine, or of an exquisitely beautiful fern, knotted behind and hanging halfway down their dresses.
These adornments of natural flowers are most attractive. Chinamen, all alike, very yellow, with almond shaped eyes, youthful, hairless faces, long pigtails, spotlessly clean clothes, and an expression of mingled cunning and simplicity, "foreigners," half-whites, a few Negroes, and a very few dark-skinned Polynesians from the far-off South Seas, made up the rest of rainbow-tinted crowd.
The "foreign" ladies, who were there in great numbers, generally wore simple light prints or muslins and white straw hats, and many of them so far conformed to native custom as to wear natural flowers round their hats and throats. But where were the hard, angular, care worn, sallow, passionate faces of men and women, such as form majority of every crowd at home, as well as in America and Australia? The conditions of life must surely be easier here, and people must have found rest from some of its burdensome conventionalities.The foreign ladies, in their simple, tasteful, fresh attire, innocent the humpings and bunchings, the monstrosities and deformities of ultrafashionable bad taste, beamed with cheerfulness, and kindliness. Men and women looked as easy, contented, and happy as if care never came near them. I never saw such bright complexions as among the women, or such "sparkling smiles" or such a diffusion of feminine grace and graciousness anywhere.
Outside this motley, genial, picturesque crowd about two hundred saddled horses were standing, each with the Mexican saddle, with its lassoing horn in front, high peak behind, immense wooden stirrups, with great leathern guards, silver or brass bosses, and colored saddlecloths.
The saddles were the only element of the picturesque that these Hawaiian steeds possessed. They were sorry, lean, and under-sized beasts, looking in general as if the emergencies of life left the little time for eating or sleeping. They stood calmly, in the broiling sun, heavy-headed and heavy-hearted, with flabby ears and pendulous lower lips, limp and rawboned, a doleful type of the "creaton which groaneth and travaileth in misery." All these belonged to the natives, who are passionately fond of riding.
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