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A Russian Visits Kamehameha I (Page 2)
By Otto von Kotzebue
Kamehameha's dress, which consisted of a white shirt, blue pantaloons, a red waistcoat, and a colored neckcloth, surprised me very much, for I had formed very different notions of the royal attire.
He, however, sometimes dresses very splendidly, having several embroidered uniforms and other articles of dress. The distinguished personages present at our audience, who had all seated themselves on the ground, wore a still more singular costume than the king; for the black frocks look very ludicrous on the naked body; add to this that they seldom fit, being purchased of American ships, where the people are not always so tall and so robust as the chiefs of the Sandwich Islands.
One of the ministers had the waist halfway up his back; the coat had been buttoned with the greatest difficulty; he perspired in his tight state dress; his distress was very evident, but fashion would not suffer him to relieve himself of this inconvenience. It is very singular that the savages should surpass the Europeans in bearing the inconveniencies which the power of fashion imposes on them.
The sentinels at the door were quite naked; a cartridge box and a pair of pistols were tied round their waist, and they held a musket in their hand.
After the king had poured out some very good wine and had himself drunk to our health, I made him acquainted with my intention of taking in fresh provisions, water, and wood. A young man of the name of Cook, the only white whom the king had about him, was quick, not without education, and spoke fluently the language of the country; he had formerly served as pilot on board a ship, but had been settled on the island for several years. He was a favorite with the king, and was in possession of a considerable portion of land; he acted as interpreter between us.
Kamehameha desired him to say to me as follows: "I learn that you are the commander of a ship of war, and are engaged in a voyage similar to those of Cook and Vancouver, and consequently do not engage in trade; it is therefore my intention not to carry on any with you, but to provide you gratis with everything that my islands produce. This affair is now settled, and no further mention need be made of it.
I shall now beg you to inform me whether it is with the consent of your emperor that his subjects begin to disturb me in my old age? Since Kamehameha has been king of these islands, no European has had cause to complain of having suffered injustice here. I have made my islands an asylum for all nations, and honestly supplied with provisions every ship that desired them.
Some time ago there came from the American settlement of Sitka some Russians, a nation with whom I never had any intercourse before; they were kindly received, and supplied with everything necessary; but they have ill rewarded me, for they behaved in a hostile manner to my subjects in the island of Oahu, and threatened us with ships of war, which were to conquer these islands; but this shall not happen as long as Kamehameha lives!
A Russian physician, of the name of Scheffer, who came here some months ago, pretended that he had been sent by the Emperor Alexander to botanize on my islands; as I had heard much good of the Emperor Alexander and was particularly pleased with his bravery, I not only permitted M. Scheffer to botanize, but also promised him every assistance; made him a present of a piece of land, with peasants, so that he could never want for provisions; in short, I tried to make his stay as agreeable as possible, and to refuse none of his demands. But what was the consequence of my hospitality? Even before he left Hawaii, he repaid my kindness with ingratitude, which I bore patiently. Upon this, according to his own desire, he traveled from one island to another; and, at last, settled in the fruitful island of Oahu, where he proved himself to be my most inveterate enemy; destroying our sanctuary, the morai; and exciting against me, in the island of Kauai, King Kaumualii, who had submitted to my power years before. Scheffer is there at this very moment, and threatens my islands."
Such was the account given by the king; for the truth of which I can only say that Kamehameha highly distinguishes every European who settles in his islands, if his conduct be good; and that he is generally known to be an upright and honest man. I am not personally acquainted with M. Scheffer, but have since learned the manner in which he came to the Sandwich Islands. He had served as physician on board the Suvarov, belonging to the Russian American Company, which went, in 1814, from Kronstadt to Sitka, under the command of Lieutenant Lasaref. From motives unknown to me, Lieutenant Lasaref left Dr. Scheffer, in 1815, at Sitka, and returned to Europe without a physician.
M. Baranof,who generally resides at Sitka, as director of all the Russian American colonies, and whose character is but indifferent, took him under his protection, and sent him to the Sandwich Islands; with what intention is not known. How he conducted himself there, the reader has been informed.
I assured Kamehameha that the bad conduct of the Russians here must not be ascribed to the will of our emperor, who never commanded his subjects to do an unjust act; but that the extent of his empire prevented him from being immediately informed of bad actions, which, however, never remained unpunished when they came to his knowledge.
The king seemed very much pleased on my assuring him that our emperor never intended to conquer his island; the glasses were immediately filled, to drink the health of the emperor; he was even more cordial than before, and we could not have desired a more agreeable and obliging host. He conversed with a vivacity surprising at his age, asked us various questions respecting Russia, and made observations.
Cook was not always able to translate the words that the king used, which were peculiar to the Hawaiian language and so witty that his ministers often laughed aloud. One of Kamehameha's wives passed by our house, and in a friendly manner wished me a good morning through the door, but she was not allowed to enter, it being the king's eating house.
With the king's permission, we took a walk, accompanied by Cook and a guard of honor of five naked soldiers. We visited the favorite queen Kaahumanu, mentioned by Vancouver; we found her with the two other wives, and were very politely received by all.
The house which Kaahumanu inhabits is built very neatly, and is very cleanly in the interior; the entrance hall, in which the three wives were seated according to the Asiatic fashion, was covered with fine and elegant mats, and she herself was pretty closely wrapped up in the finest cloth of the country. Kaahumanu was seated in the middle, and the two other ladies on either side; and I had the honor to be invited to sit down opposite to them, likewise on the ground. They put to me several questions, which I answered to their satisfaction through Cook. Watermelons were brought and Kaahumanu was polite enough to cut one and hand me a piece.
The chief employment of the royal ladies consists in smoking tobacco, combing their hair, driving away the flies with a fan, and eating. Kamehameha himself does not smoke; otherwise this custom has become so general in the Sandwich Islands, within these few years, that young children smoke before they learn to walk, and grown-up people have carried it to such an excess that they have fallen down senseless, and often died in consequence. They do not want pipe tubes, but the pipe heads, which, according to the custom of the country, they have always hanging at their side, constitute a part of the royal ornaments; these were of the size of the largest German pipes, made of dark wood, and mounted with brass, but which only rich people can procure.
Kaahumanu took a few whiffs with evident pleasure; she then swallowed a part of the smoke, and emitted the rest through her nostrils. Half dizzy, she gave me the pipe, and as I declined, she, astonished at my European stupidity, gave it to her neighbor, who, after a short enjoyment of it, gave it to the third wife. As soon as the pipe was emptied, a fresh one was filled, and went round in the same manner.
The second employment of the ladies is to dress their hair, which is cut short after their fashion; only over the forehead they let it grow a couple of inches long, smear it with a white sticky substance, and comb it back; the snow-white streaks which by this mode rise above the dark brown countenance give it a ludicrous appearance.
All the three queens were very large, corpulent women, who had lived to above half a century, and did not look as if they had ever been handsome. Their dress was distinguished from that of the other ladies by various silk handkerchiefs.
Before the door, on a mat, was seated the king's daughter, a tolerably handsome girl; behind her stood a little Negro boy, holding a silk umbrella over her head to protect her from the rays of the sun; two other boys, with tufts of red feathers, drove away the flies from her: the whole group had a pleasing effect.
When I was about to rise, Kaahumanu held me back to inquire with much kindness after Vancouver, who, during his stay there, had found Kamehameha at variance with Kaahumanu, and had reconciled them. She seemed much affected at the news of his death.
After we had left the king's wives, we visited his son. Cook informed me that this prince, as successor to the throne, had already begun to exercise the rights of his father, which consist in the fulfilling of the most important tabus.
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