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Mark Twain Visits Kona (4)
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 ....
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 mementos 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 roistering, 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, and Kaahumanu had a whole mind to badger him into doing it, and whiskey did 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 [Kekuaokalani], 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 hosts met at 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 gaily 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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