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A Russian Visits Kamehameha I
By Otto von Kotzebue
At one o'clock in the afternoon, we were distant only fifty miles from Hawaii, and were in sight of the mountain, Mauna Loa. By Elliot's advice, I determined first to sail around the north side of Hawaii, in order to obtain, in Kawaihae Bay, where the Englishman, Young, lived, information respecting both the situation of the island, and the present residence of the king.
This precaution seemed to me to be the more necessary because, in case Kamehameha should happen to be dead, we ought to know how the people were disposed toward the Europeans. Besides this, the king often lives on the island of Oahu, and you save a considerable distance by avoiding the southern point of Hawaii, where the lofty Mauna Loa detains the navigator by calms. According to Elliot's assurance, provisions could not be obtained but by bargaining with the king himself; because the inhabitants have not the liberty of supplying the ships.
At sunset, we were near the island; sailed along the north part, kept to the east side during the night, and, at daybreak, steered toward the northern point, which, on the twenty-second, at noon, lay southwest at the distance of eleven miles. The northeast side of Hawaii affords to the mariner a picturesque, but not inviting, prospect. The land rises regularly and gradually to an elevation which loses itself in the clouds.
It is said that the island is not fruitful on this side; but, to judge from the number of columns of smoke which we saw rise, it must be very populous. Elliot assured us that the piece of ground which he possessed on this side could only be used as a pasture for his hogs.
A canoe with two men, rowed toward us; and as I lay to, in hopes of obtaining some information here, one of the islanders immediately came on board, who offered to sell us a fowl, and some ropes of his own manufacture.
Elliot, who understood his language, was directly recognized by him as the Naja (so the king called him), and with much trouble drew from him the intelligence that the king was in the Bay of Kealakekua, and Young (Olohana) in the island of Oahu. The reserved and suspicious manner of the savage made us doubt the truth of his statement; and Elliot was of opinion that some disagreeable circumstance had occurred on the island which required the greatest precaution.
While we were engaged with the islander, the boat, which was fastened with a rope to the ship, was upset, and the man sitting in it fell out, but he immediately seized the rope, and suffered himself to be dragged behind the ship, though we were sailing very fast.
We were astonished at the strength of this man; we lay to, and our dealer leaped into the sea to untie the boat; hereupon both the men had much trouble to right it, and to bale out the water, as the high waves continually dashed over it. As all this was done swimming, the reader may form some notion of their expertness in this art.
They were at last seated, but they had no oars, having lost them when the boat upset. An European would not have known how to help himself; they were, however, not at all embarrassed, for they found their safety in their strength, and rowed with their hands, briskly forward.
At two o'clock in the afternoon, we doubled the north point and sailed, at a distance of three quarters of a mile, along the shore, to Kawaihae Bay. Ships which double the north point of Hawaii must be very careful not to lose the oars, as sudden gusts of wind generally come from shore: some Americans who were negligent have lost theirs in this place.
We now plainly distinguished the objects on shore, and enjoyed a very pleasing prospect of green fields and many dwellings shaded by banana and palm trees. We saw here several morais, which belong to the chiefs of these parts, and may be recognized by the stone fence and the idols placed in them. Several canoes filled with girls rowed up to us; but as I had no time to show the politeness due to the fair sex, I sailed quickly on, in order to reach Kealakekua Bay as soon as possible, where I hoped to find Kamehameha.
The north point of Hawaii consists of low land, which rises in a straight line under an acute angle into the region of the clouds. As soon as you reach these parts, the monsoon has no longer any effect, and you may expect sea and land winds, frequently interrupted by total calms, and light breezes from every point of the compass; this was our case near Kawaihae Bay, where the wind entirely died away.
We now saw Young's settlement of several houses built of white stone, after the European fashion, surrounded by palm and banana trees; the land has a barren appearance, and is said to be little adapted to agriculture, as it consists, for the most part, of masses of lava. A canoe, with six people, took advantage of the calm to come on board; and, being the king's subjects (Kanakas, a name given to the lower class in the Sandwich Islands), they all recognized Mr. Elliot as the Naja; one of them, who had been a sailor on board an American ship in Boston, spoke a little English, and was a clever fellow; he remained on board, at Elliot's request, to pilot our ship.
He was of opinion that the king was in Kealakekua, and that Young had been sent on business to Oahu; he further told us that there were lying at anchor two ships at Oahu, and one at Kealakekua, all with the American flag, of which the latter had lost all her masts in a violent storm near the Sandwich Islands.
When our pilot learned that he was on board a Russian ship, he became very uneasy; and, on Mr. Elliot's questioning him about the ground of his apprehension, he stated as follows: Five months since, two Russian ships belonging to the American Company (the Elemenia and the Discovery) had stopped here; there had been some disputes between the Russians and the natives, in which the latter, according to the account of the relater, appeared in a very favorable fight. When the ships left the Sandwich Islands, they had threatened to return very soon with a strong force, and had likewise mentioned a ship of war whose views were also hostile to the inhabitants.
We now understood the uneasiness shown by the first islander, and it was with much difficulty that Mr. Elliot prevented our savage, who wanted to escape us by jumping into the sea; while we assured him that we had come solely for the purpose of repairing the injury done by our countrymen to his people. I was very glad to have received all this information before my interview with Kamehameha, who, being incensed against the Russians, might easily take our ship for the expected hostile man-of-war. I now doubly felt how useful Elliot was to us, as he might become here, in some measure, our guardian genius. A perfect calm detained us this day on the same spot.
We made but little progress all this day for want of wind. Early in the morning we were visited by a canoe, for the purpose of inquiring what our vessel was. They brought us news, at the same time, that the king had left Kealakekua, and had gone to Kailua, a small bay a few miles to the north, where he would only remain for the night, and in the morning proceed farther northward along the coast to the bonito fishery. I therefore immediately dispatched the canoe to the king with the information that a Russian ship of war had come with friendly intentions, the commander of which wished to speak with His Majesty, and therefore requested him not to leave Kailua, where he hoped to arrive tomorrow: the Naja also announced his arrival to the king.
During the night a fresh breeze carried us near to Kailua. The current set by day toward the south, and at night toward the north, parallel with the coast, which is a consequence of the land and sea winds.
At daybreak we approached the bay; several boats, sent by the king, came to meet us, and I embraced this opportunity of sending Elliot and our gentlemen on shore, to acquaint the king with the object of our voyage. As the island of Hawaii does not afford a convenient harbor, I had determined, as soon as I had settled with the king respecting the delivery of the provisions, to sail to the island of Oahu, where Elliot assured me there was a very safe harbor, not mentioned by any preceding navigator.
I left the Rurik, got under sail, and made short tacks close shore. We saw the American ship which had been lying at Kealakekua sailing to Kailua, where she cast anchor, though the bay was not secure, being open, and the bottom consisting of corals.
At eight o'clock in the morning Elliot had happily executed his commission advantageously for us, and came on board with of the most distinguished chiefs of the country, of whom one was the queen's brother; and these welcomed us in the name of the king. They were two extremely tall Herculean figures, whose dress in the newest fashion of Hawaii, struck us very much, as it merely consisted of a black frock and a small white straw hat. I learned from Elliot that the king had really expected the hostile ship of war, and had immediately given orders to station soldiers all along the coast; they were all prepared, and consisted already of four hundred men armed with muskets.
The king sent me word that he was very sorry not to be able visit me on board my ship, as his mistrustful people would not suffer him, but for his own part he had a better opinion of us, after Naja had acquainted him with the object of our voyage; and, as proof of his friendly intentions, he invited me to his camp, where he would entertain me with a pig baked in the ground. He had ordered, for my security, that one of the chiefs should remain on boadr as long as I stayed on shore, and accordingly I rowed on shore at ten o'clock, accompanied by Messrs. Elliot and Schischmareff, and a chief named John Adams.
The view of the king's camp was concealed only by a narrow tongue of land, consisting of naked rocks, but when we had sailed round we were surprised at the sight of the most beautiful landscape. We found ourselves in a small sandy bay of the smoothest water, protected against the waves of the sea; on the bank was a pleasant wood of palm trees, under whose shade were built several straw houses; to the right, between the green leaves of the banana trees, peeped two snow-white houses, built of stone, after the European fashion, on which account this place has the mixed appearance of an European and Hawaiian village, which afforded us a new but charming prospect.
To the left, close to the water, on an artificial elevation, stood the morai of the king, surrounded by large wooden statues of his gods, representing caricatures of the human figure. The background of this valley is formed by the high, majestic Mauna Hualalai, the height of which, according to my estimation, is 1,687 toises. It rises on this side pretty steep; its ascent is varied by green fields and vales, with beautiful woods, between which you frequently perceive very large and overhanging rocks of lava, which give the whole landscape, by this mixture of wildness and cultivation, a most picturesque appearance.
A number of islanders armed with muskets stood on the shore. The king came to meet us as far as the landing place with some of his most distinguished warriors, and when we got out of the boat he came up to me and cordially shook me by the hand.
Curiosity brought the people from all sides, but the greatest order prevailed, and no noise or importunity was permitted. I now stood at the side of the celebrated Kamehameha, who had attracted the attention of all Europe, and who inspired me with the greatest confidence by his unreserved and friendly behavior.
He conducted me to his straw palace, which, according to the custom of the country, consisted only of one spacious apartment, and, like all the houses here, afforded a free draft both to the land and sea breezes, which alleviates the oppressive heat. They offered us European chairs, very neatly made, placed a mahogany table before us, and we were then in possession of all the furniture of the palace.
Though the king has houses built of stone in the European fashion, he prefers this simple dwelling, not to forsake the customs of his country; he imitates everything he knows to be useful, and tries to introduce it among his people; palaces built of stone appeared to him superfluous, as the straw houses are convenient, and as he only wishes to increase the happiness and not the wants of his subjects.
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