Kapiʻolani (chiefess)

A Story about Kapiolani

AS I entered the sitting-room, I was greeted by a chorus of voices saying, "Aunty, the berries, you know!" So I began.

A good while ago, when the missionaries first went to the Hawaiian Islands, a princess lived there named Kapiolani, the daughter of Keawemauhili. She was a portly person, as most in high rank were, having an engaging countenance, a keen black eye, and black hair put up by a comb. She dressed in a civilized fashion, and used chairs and tables. Her husband's name wasNaihe. In the year 1825, only five years after the mission was commenced, Kapiolani was living at Kaawaloa. Many of her countrymen still supposed that the volcano was the abode of a powerful goddess, whose name was Pele. They were very superstitious, and reverenced and feared to anger this goddess.

Kapiolani had become a Christian, and felt sorry for her poor people who were still in the darkness of paganism, and determined to break the spell that bound them. So she announced her intention to visit the crater of Kilauea, and call upon the goddess to do her worst. Her husband and many others endeavored to dissuade her, but she was not to be moved from her purpose. She traveled, mostly on foot, over a rough and desolate road, a distance of about a hundred miles.

As she drew near the volcano, she was met by one who claimed to be a prophetess of Pele, and threatened her with the displeasure of the goddess, should she come into her domains on this hostile errand. She was told that she would certainly perish if she went to the crater. Kapiolani disregarded the impostor, and went on. Those ohelo berries which I spoke of in my last story were sacred to Pele, and no one dared to eat them unless they had first offered some to the goddess. But Kapiolani gathered and ate them. "She and her company of about eighty," said Mr. Bingham, "accompanied by a missionary, descended from the rim of the crater to the black ledge. There, in full view of the terrific panorama before them, she threw in the berries, and calmly addressed the company thus: 'Jehovah is my God. He kindled these fires. I fear not Pele. If I perish by the anger of Pele, then you may fear the power of Pele; but if I trust in Jehovah, and he shall save me from the wrath of Pele when I break through her tabus, then you must fear and serve the Lord Jehovah. All the gods of Hawaii are vain. Great is the goodness of Jehovah in sending missionaries to turn us from these vanities to the living God and the way of righteousness!'" Then amid the horrid belching and bellowing of the crater, they sung a hymn of praise, and prayed to the God of heaven and earth.

Now wasn't it a grand, a noble thing for this woman, who had been educated in the grossest idolatry, who had only heard of the true God within a very few years, thus to come out and defy her nation's deity, this Pele? Why, even we, brought up in the light and power of the gospel, could not wonder that those benighted savages feared and worshiped. We silently thanked God in our hearts, that we knew him as our Creator and the Maker of this wonderful volcano, instead of a wicked, revengeful heathen god.

"You spoke of Pele's tabus ; what is a tabu, aunty?" said Carrie.

Anything forbidden by their law or customs was called "tabu."

Now we will go back to our journey. The day after we descended the crater, we started for the half-way house on our return. It was a dreary, rainy morning, but cleared up soon, though no sun was visible. The roads were dryer, and we young people cantered off, leaving the more staid portion of the party behind; and reached our resting-place two hours or more before the others, and before our native men too. We were hungry, but our calabashes of food were far behind us, so we fell to decorating the house, in order to occupy our time. It was a simple thatched hut, with no windows and only one door. We built an arch over the doorway of two gigantic ferns, with a bouquet of red roses in the center, and made thence a continuous wreath of ferns and red leaves to the end of the house, and down to the ground each side. The bright red leaves were brought us by the little kanaka [native] children. Inside, opposite the door, we made another arch, and twined a wreath around the center pole supporting the roof. Our native men, as they entered, exclaimed "nani," handsome, or "maikai," good. And Mr. Coan's face, as he came up the hill, smiled approval. It really had entirely transformed the dingy hut into quite a fairy bower. All night, fleas and cockroaches disputed with us for its possession, and we rose in the morning, unrefreshed, to a day's ride in the rain. The road was worse than on the day we first came over it. It had stormed incessantly, the streams were swollen, the mud was deeper, and our horses stiff and weary, not to mention ourselves as in the same predicament. At times it rained so hard that our horses turned their backs to it, and refused to move, and there we had to sit until the violence of the shower was over. We often waded through streams up to the saddle-girth. Part of the way, the road was made of the trunks of fern-trees laid crosswise, not more than two or three feet broad. They were worn and broken, and in some places decayed entirely away. We considered it, however, a good road, and cantered over it, our sure-footed horses never once stumbling. Glad indeed, were we, to see the white spire of the Hilo church, and more glad to reach Mr. Coan's hospitable house, where hot baths and a good dinner in some degree enlivened us. Grandma was tired, but a night and day's rest made her quite herself again. We felt amply repaid for any amount of fatigue or discomfort, by our view of the crater and burning lake. It was a scene for a lifetime; no pen could describe it, no pencil portray it; one must see it with one's own eyes, to appreciate its wonders. God alone could create it; and his power only could say to this surging, fiery torrent, "Thus far shalt thou come, and no farther."

March 24th, we took the steamer Kilauea. It rained as we sailed out of the bay,—Byron's Bay as it is called. The surf rolls in here terrifically, and beats upon the shore with an incessant booming sound. The view of Hilo, as you enter the bay, is said to be very fine; but we were so unfortunate as to come in, in the night, and to go out in a rain-storm. The natives play in the surf a great deal. They have what is called a surfboard perhaps four or five feet long. With this board, they swim out perhaps a mile, and then lying on it, ride in on the top of the surf-billows. I was sorry not to see this amusement; but the little children, with their small boards, I often saw trying to imitate their elders.

"Don't they ever get hurt, aunty?" asked little Alice.

Not often. The natives are perfectly at home in the water, and can swim long distances. The women are about as good swimmers as the men.

Ah, the bell! the bell! we mustn't keep grandpa waiting.