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A Russian Visits Kamehameha I (Page 4)
By Otto von Kotzebue
After we had dined, and left the house, the king was very anxious that my rowers should be well entertained; he gave orders to this effect to one of the chiefs, and the table was immediately laid out again. They were obliged to sit down, and were served with the same attention as had been shown us. The sailors were certainly never in their lives treated with so much ceremony; for each of them had, like us, a Kanaka standing behind him, with a tuft of feathers to drive away the flies.
Kamehameha's first walk was to the morai; he embraced one of the statues, which was hung round more than the others with fruits and pieces of a sacrificed hog, saying, "These are our gods, whom I worship; whether I do right or wrong, I do not know; but I follow my faith, which cannot be wicked, as it commands me never to do wrong." This declaration from a savage, who had raised himself by his own native strength of mind to this degree of civilization, indicated much sound sense, and inspired me with a certain emotion.
While the king is gone into the morai, nobody is allowed to enter; and during that time we admired the colossal idols, cut in wood, and representing the most hideous caricatures. Kamehameha soon returned and conducted us to the house in which he had first received us; and we took our place as before, on chairs, while the distinguished personages seated themselves on the ground.
It was now near the time in which Kamehameha was accustomed to dine; he made an apology for eating in our presence, and said, "I have seen how the Russians eat; now you may satisfy your curiosity and see how Kamehameha eats." The table was not set out; but the dinner was ready placed in a distant corner, on banana leaves, which served instead of dishes; particular attendants, bending very low, brought it near to the king, where it was received by a chief, and placed on the table. The repast consisted of boiled fish, yams, kalo roots, and a roasted bird, a little larger than a sparrow, which lives on the summits of the mountains. It is very rare, and is a dish only for the royal table.
The king ate very quick, and with a good appetite, conversing, however, all the time. Instead of bread, he ate the kalo dough (poi), which, when diluted with water, becomes a soft pap; and, though the king possesses very handsome table utensils, it stands in a gourd shell at his right hand, in which he dips his forefinger when he eats fish or flesh, and dexterously stuffs a good portion of it in his mouth; and this slovenly way of eating is observed from the king down to the lowest menial. Kamehameha, who during the whole repast had made use only of his fingers, perceived very well that I attentively observed his motions, and said to me, "This is the custom in my country, and I will not depart from it!"
The bearer of his spitting tray does not quit him a moment, as he always holds the tray ready, which is made of wood, in the form of a snuffbox, and provided with a lid, which is opened when the king intends to make use of it, and then immediately closed. This careful preservation of the royal saliva is in consequence of a superstition that so long as they are in possession of this treasure, their enemies are not able to send him any sickness by conjuration.
After the king had dined, it was at last agreed what provisions I was to receive from Oahu; they consisted of forty-three hogs, a proportionate number of fowl and geese, every kind of fruit which the island produces, and as much wood as I wished to have. Kamehameha told me that he had sent for a confidential friend who should accompany me to Oahu and see that his orders were punctually obeyed; besides this, that I must have a companion to be able to put into the harbor of Oahu, this not being permitted to any Russian ship.
This highly generous conduct of a half-savage monarch exceeded my expectations, and I was now more fully convinced that, as a king, Kamehameha will not be easily replaced, his government being so greatly distinguished for justice, the instruction of his subjects, and the introduction of useful arts.
To give him some testimony of my gratitude, I presented him, in the name of the emperor, with two brass mortars (eight-pounders) with all their appendages, on the carriages of which the name Rurik was carved; a present which seemed to give him great pleasure. Besides this, I presented him with a quarter of a pipe of wine, as his stock was exhausted, and promised to send him some iron bars from Oahu, which were necessary to build boats. I was very happy in being able to return his presents with articles useful to him.
Some very fine large apples, which I had brought with me from California, were quite new to the king. He immediately shared them with his ministers, and, as everybody found them very agreeable, the pips were preserved to make a trial whether these trees would thrive here, of which I make no doubt.
The skill of our painter was much admired, he having, with great rapidity, taken portraits of some of the chiefs, which were extraordinary likenesses. Even Kamehameha looked with surprise at the work of M. Choris, but long resisted my entreaties to suffer himself, as they here express it, to be transferred to paper: probably because he connected some idea of magic with this art. It was not till I had represented to him how happy our emperor would be to possess his likeness that he consented, and, to my great astonishment, M. Choris succeeded in taking a very good likeness of him, though Kamehameha, in order to embarrass him, did not sit still a moment, and made all kinds of faces, in spite of my entreaties.
At five o'clock in the afternoon we took leave of the king, who again repeated that we should want for nothing in the island of Oahu. As our companion had not yet arrived, I promised to lay to, near the coast, to wait for him. He considered as a great rarity a handsome tame horse, which the king had received from America, by an American ship, and which he suffered to run about unrestrained. A number of little boys had trodden the sand on the shore quite smooth, and with the assistance of a stick had with much skill drawn the Rurik under sail.
I was obliged, though with great regret, to part from Elliot de Castro, who had promised to accompany me to Oahu; but the king wished to have his physician and Naja again about him, and this request I could not refuse. Without the presence of Mr. Elliot, we should probably have fallen victims to the faults of others; and we indisputably owe to him the friendly reception that we met with here.
We had been cruising a couple of hours, and our companion did not yet appear; the sun set, and as our nearness to the coast might be dangerous in the dark, I fired some guns to put the king in mind of us. At eight o'clock Mr. Cook at length appeared, with our companion, who had been unable to come before, as he lived far in the interior of the island; he was a lively man, endowed with natural understanding, of the name of Manuja, who, though he was not one of the chief people of the country, was, however, honored in the highest degree with the confidence of the king, which was especially evinced by his entrusting to his care the most valuable European goods from his store.
Cook told us that Kamehameha never regarded the rank of his subjects; that he generally chose his confidants from the lower classes, and was seldom deceived in his choice. He behaves to his great men with justice indeed, but with rigor, and as he places little confidence in them, they are obliged to accompany him on his journeys, by which he deprives them of the opportunity to throw off his authority by a conspiracy. They have not forgotten that Kamehameha is the conqueror of their lands, and is now sole monarch, and they would certainly attempt to conquer their property if he did not know so well how to keep them in his power.
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