Arrival of the Missionaries

Arrival of the missionaries

By Lucy Goodale Thurston

Married to Asa Thurston, Lucy Goodale Thurston was one of the first missionaries to arrive in Hawaii. She was also the longest lived, and in her old age, she wrote “The Life and Times of Mrs. Lucy G. Thurston”, from which this is taken.

After sailing one hundred and fifty-seven days, we beheld, looming up before us, March 30, 1820, the long looked-for island of Hawaii. As we approached the northern shore, joy sparkled in every eye, gratitude and hope seemed to fill every heart ….

Soon the islanders of both sexes came paddling out in their canoes, with their island fruit. The men wore girdles, and the women a slight piece of cloth wrapped round them, from the hips downward. To a civilized eye their covering seemed to be revoltingly scanty. But we learned that it was a full dress for daily occupation. All was kapa, beaten out of the bark of a certain tree, and could ill bear washing. Kamehameha I as well understood how to govern as how to conquer, and strictly forbade foreign cloth from being assumed by his large plebeian family.

As I was looking out of a cabin window to see a canoe of chattering natives with animated countenances, they approached and gave me a banana. In return I gave them a biscuit. “Wahine maikai” (“Good woman”) was the reply. I then threw out several pieces, and from my scanty vocabulary said, “Wahine” (“Woman”). They with great avidity snatched them up and again repeated, “Wahine maikai”.

Thus, after sailing eighteen thousand miles, I met, for the first time, those children of nature alone. Although our communications by look and speech were limited, and simple, friendly pledges received and given, yet that interview through the cabin window of the brig Thaddeus gave me a strengthening touch in crossing the threshold of the nation.

Approaching Kawaihae, Hopu went ashore to invite on board some of the highest chiefs of the nation. Kindly regarding the feelings of the ladies, he suggested that they put on garments. So they prepared for the occasion.

Kalanimoku was the first person of distinction that came. In dress and manners he appeared with the dignity of a man of culture. He was first introduced to the gentlemen, with whom he shook hands in the most cordial manner. He then turned to the ladies, to whom, while yet at a distance, he respectfully bowed, then came near, and being introduced, presented to each his hand. The effects of that first warm appreciating clasp I feel even now. To be met by such a specimen of heathen humanity on the borders of their land was to “stay us with flagons, and comfort us with apples.”

Kalakua, with a sister queen, next welcomed us with similar civilities. They were two out of five dowager queens of Kamehameha. They had limbs of giant mold. I was taught to estimate their weight at three hundred pounds and even more.

Kalakua was the mother of three of the wives of the young king. Two wives of Kalanimoku followed. They were all attired in a similar manner, a dress, then the pa-u, which consisted of ten thicknesses of the bark cloth three or four yards long and one yard wide, wrapped several times round the middle, and confined by tucking it in on one side. The two queens had loose dresses over these.

Trammeled with clothes and seated on chairs, the queens were out of their element. They divested themselves of their outer dress. Then the one stretched herself full length upon a bench, and the other sat down upon the deck. Mattresses were then brought for them to recline in their own way.

After reaching the cabin, the common sitting room for ladies and gentlemen, one of the queens divested herself of her only remaining dress, simply retaining her pa-u. While we were opening wide our eyes, she looked as self-possessed and easy as though sitting in the shades of Eden.

Kalanimoku dined with our family, eating as others ate. The women declined sitting with us. After we rose from table they had their own food brought on, raw fish and poi, eating with their fingers.

From Kawaihae the chiefs and their large retinue all sailed with us to Kailua, where the king resided. They all slept on deck on the mats. While passing in the gray of evening between two rows of native men in Hawaiian costume, the climax of queer sensations was reached.

Kalakua brought a web of white cambric to have a dress made for herself in the fashion of those of our ladies, and was very particular in her wish to have it finished while sailing along the western side of the island before reaching the king.

Monday morning, April 3, the first sewing circle was formed that the sun ever looked down upon in his Hawaiian realm. Kalakua queen dowager, was directress. She requested all the seven white ladies to take seats with them on mats, on the deck of the Thaddeus. Mrs. Holman and Mrs. Ruggles were executive officers, to ply the scissors and prepare the work. As the sisters were very much in the habit of journalizing, every one was a self-constituted recording secretary. The four native women of distinction were furnished with calico patchwork to sew, a new employment to them.

The dress was made in the fashion of 1819. The length of the skirt accorded with Brigham Young’s rule to his Mormon damsels – have it come down to the tops of the shoes. But in the queen’s case, where the shoes were wanting, the bare feet cropped out very prominently ….

April 4, Tuesday, A.M., one hundred and sixty-three days from Boston, the Thaddeus was anchored before Kailua. The queen dowager, Kalakua, assumed a new appearance. In addition to her newly made white dress, her person was decorated with a lace cap having on a wreath of roses, and a lace half-neckerchief, in the corner of which was a most elegant sprig of various colors. They were presents we had brought her from some American friends. When she went ashore, she was received by hundreds with a shout.

Captain Blanchard, Messrs. Bingham and Thurston, together with Hopu went ashore and called on the king in his grass-thatched house. They found him eating dinner with his five wives, all of them in the free, cool undress of native dishabille. Two of his wives were his sisters, and one the former wife of his father.

After completing their meal, four of the wives, with apparent sisterly affection and great pleasure, turned to a game of cards. As was the custom, one wife was ever the close attendant of her regal lord.

Hopu then introduced Messrs. Bingham and Thurston as priests of the Most High God who made heaven and earth. The letters were then read to the king from Dr. Worcester of Boston, and from the Prudential Committee, and the object for which they came to live among them was explained. The visitors then retired, leaving the subject for royal consideration.

April 6, the king and family dined with us by invitation. They came off in a double canoe with waving kahilis and twenty rowers, ten on each side, and with a large retinue of attendants. The king was introduced to the first white women, and they to the first king, that each had ever seen.

His dress on the occasion was a girdle, a green silk scarf put on under the left arm, brought up and knotted over the right shoulder, a chain of gold around his neck and over his chest, and a wreath of yellow feathers upon his head.

We honored the king, but we loved the cultivated manhood of Kalanimoku. He was the only individual Hawaiian that appeared before us with a full civilized dress. After dining with the royal family, all were gathered on the quarter-deck. There the mission family, the captain and officers sang some hymns, aided by the bass viol played by Kaumualii, a young native chief returning with us. The king appeared with complacency, and retired with that friendly “aloha” that left behind him the quiet hope that he would be gracious.

The next day several of the brothers and sisters of the mission went ashore, hoping that social intercourse might give weight to the scale that was then poising. They visited the palace. Ten or fifteen armed soldiers stood without, and although it was ten or eleven o’clock in the forenoon, we found him on whom devolved the government of a nation, three or four of his chiefs, and five or six of his attendants prostrate on their mats, wrapped in deep slumber.

The king had just put down one religion. In doing it his throne had tottered. It was a grave question for him to accept a new one. Hopu, who was apt to teach, had told them that our religion allowed neither polygamy nor incest. So when Kamamalu, the sister and marked favorite out of five queens, urged the king to receive the mission, he replied: “If I do they will allow me but one wife, and that will not be you.” His royal father had twenty-one wives.

Nor did the king seem to understand about learning what kind of a thing it was, and whether it would be good for his people. He asked a missionary to write his name on a piece of paper. He wrote it Liholiho. The king looked at it and said: “It looks neither like myself nor any other man.”

After various consultations, fourteen days after reaching the Islands, April 12, permission, simply for one year, was obtained from the king for all the missionaries to land upon his shores. Two gentlemen, with their wives, and two native youth were to stop at Kailua. The rest of the mission were to pass on forthwith to Honolulu. Such an early separation was unexpected and painful. But broad views of usefulness were to be taken, and private feelings sacrificed.

At evening twilight we sundered ourselves from close family ties, from the dear old brig, and from civilization. We went ashore and entered, as our home, an abode of the most uncouth and humble character. It was a thatched hut, with one room, having two windows made simply by cutting away the thatch, leaving the bare poles. On the ground for the feet was first a layer of grass, then of mats. Here we found our effects from the Thaddeus, but no arrangement of them could be made till the house was thoroughly cleansed.

On the boxes and trunks, as they were scattered about the room, we formed a circle. We listened to a portion of scripture, sang a hymn, and knelt in prayer. The simple natural fact speaks for itself. It was the first family altar ever reared on this group of islands to the worship of Jehovah.

Flat-topped trunks and chests served admirably in accommodating us to horizontal positions for the night. Honest Dick, a native who had been with us while lying in port, sat within, and the king sent soldiers to keep sentinel without. Notwithstanding all, the night proved to be nearly a sleepless one. There was a secret enemy whose name was legion lying in ambush; or rather we had usurped their rights and taken possession of their own citadel. It was the flea. Thus the night passed. But bright day visited us with its soft climate and gentle sea breeze ….

The two American missionaries rolled up their shirt sleeves above their elbows and went to work in good earnest, removing from the house all their effects brought from the Thaddeus, conveying away all old mats and grass, giving a thorough sweeping to the thatch above and the ground below, spreading down new grass and new mats, putting up two high-post bedsteads of Chinese manufacture lent them by Kamamalu, the queen, and bringing in such articles as would be a substitute for furniture.

A large chest in the middle of the room served for a dining table, small boxes and buckets for dining chairs, and trunks for settees. We had block-tin tumblers, which answered well in receiving hot tea, and likewise served to impress the mind with the philosophical fact, through the lips and tips of the fingers, that metal is a good conductor of heat.

We trimmed the high-post bedsteads with curtains; then added one from the foot corner to the side of the house, thereby forming at the back of each bed a spot perfectly retired. The two native youth were added to the king’s retinue. In twenty-four hours we found ourselves in circumstances comparatively neat and comfortable. For three days the king’s steward kept three pewter platters liberally supplied with fish, taro, and sweet potato, cooked in the native manner.

For several days we received calls from the queens and their whole train of attendants, three or four times in a day, and at each time were solicited to hear them read. When the queens were at our house, we sisters were Marys; when they were away, we were Marthas…

April 29. For two days we heard one continued yell of dogs. I visited their prison. Between one and two hundred were thrown in groups on the ground, utterly unable to move, having their forelegs brought over their backs and bound together. Some had burst the bands that confined their mouths, and some had expired. Their piteous moans would excite the compassion of any feeling heart. Natives consider baked dog a great delicacy, too much so in the days of their idolatry ever to allow it to pass the lips of women. They never offer it to foreigners, who hold it in great abhorrence. Once they mischievously attached a pig’s head to a dog’s body, and thus inveigled a foreigner to partake of it to his great acceptance.

The above-mentioned dogs were collected for the grand feast which is this day made to commemorate the death of Kamehameha I. The king departed from his usual custom and spread a table for his family and ours. There were many thousand people present. The king appeared in a military dress with quite an exhibition of royalty.

Kamamalu, his favorite queen, applied to me for one of my dresses to wear on the occasion; but as it was among the impossibles for her to assume it, the request happily called for neither consent nor denial. She, however, according to court ceremony so arranged a native-cloth pa-u, a yard wide, with ten folds, as to be enveloped round the middle with seventy thicknesses. To array herself in the unwieldy attire, the long cloth was spread out on the ground, where beginning at one end, she laid her body across it, and rolled herself over and over till she had rolled the whole around her.

Two attendants followed her, one bearing up the end of this cumbrous robe of state, and the other waving over her head an elegant nodding fly-brush of beautiful plumes, its long handle completely covered with little tortoise-shell rings of various colors.

Her head was ornamented with a graceful yellow wreath of elegant feathers of great value, from the fact that after a mountain bird been caught in a snare, but just two small feathers of rare beauty, one under each wing, could be obtained from it. A mountain vine, with green leaves, small and lustrous, was the only drapery which went to deck and cover her neck and the upper part of her person.

Thus this noble daughter of nature, at least six feet tall and of comely bulk in proportion, presented herself before the king and the nation, greatly to their admiration. After this presentation was over, her majesty lay down again upon the ground and unrolled the cloth by reversing the process of clothing.

The first time that Mr. Thurston preached before the king through an interpreter was from these words: “I have a message from God unto thee.” The king, his family, and suite listened with attention. When prayer was offered, they all knelt before the white man’s God.

The king’s orders were that none should be taught to read but those of rank, those to whom he gave special permission, and the wives and children of white men. For several months his majesty kept foremost in learning, then the pleasures of the cup caused his books to be quite neglected. Some of the queens were ambitious, and made good progress, but they met with serious interruptions, going from place to place with their intoxicated husband.

The young prince, seven years of age, the successor to the throne, attended to his lessons regularly. Although the king neglected to learn himself, yet he was solicitous to have his little brother apply himself, and threatened chastisement if he neglected his lessons. He told him that he must have learning for his father and mother both, that it would fit him for governing the nation, and make him a wise and good king when old.

The king brought two young men to Mr. Thurston, and said: “Teach these, my favorites, Ii and Kahuhu. It will be the same as teaching me. Through them I shall find out what learning is.” To do his part to distinguish and make them respectable scholars, he dressed them in a civilized manner. They daily came forth from the king, entered the presence of their teacher, clad in white, while his majesty and court continued to sit in their girdles. Although thus distinguished from their fellows, in all the beauty and strength of ripening manhood, with what humility they drank in instruction from the lips of their teacher, even as the dry earth drinks in water!

After an absence of some months, the king returned, and called at our dwelling to hear the two young men, his favorites, read. He was delighted with their improvement, and shook Mr. Thurston most cordially by the hand – pressed it between both his own – then kissed it.

For three weeks after going ashore, our house was constantly surrounded, and our doors and windows filled with natives. From sunrise to dark there would be thirty or forty at least, sometimes eighty or a hundred. For the sake of solitude, I one day retired from the house and seated myself beneath a shade. In five minutes I counted seventy companions. In their curiosity they followed the ladies in crowds from place to place, with simplicity peering under bonnets, and feeling articles of dress. It was amusing to see their efforts in running and taking a stand, that so they might have a full view our faces.

As objects of curiosity, the ladies were by far the most prominent. White men had lived and moved among them for a score of years. In our company were the first white women that ever stepped on these shores. It was thus the natives described the ladies: “They are white and have hats with a spout. Their faces are round and far in. Their necks are long. They look well.”. . .

We could command only green brushwood, brought two miles on the backs of men, for cooking and heating our one iron, for smoothing all our light, thin, tropical dresses, which had been so abundantly prepared for us. But to such dresses we were limited. Every quart of water was brought to us from two to five miles in large gourd shells, on the shoulders of men.

The natives were too ignorant to wash without superintendence. A new article was sent to be washed at the fountain, but five holes were made in it by being rubbed on sharp lava. We had entered a pathway that made it wisdom to take things as they came – and to take them by the smooth handle.