National Geographic : 1960 Jul
Hawaii, U. S. A. their rods in the sands, the lines far out. They tie cowbells to the reels to signal a strike and sit silently for hours by the eerie light of gas lanterns. In near-by pools torch fishermen slosh, peering through glass-bottom boxes for mullet or papio by the flickering rays of kero sene flares. Traces of Hawaii's Past Survive Caught up in world events, the islands have permitted much of the true Hawaiian culture to disappear. But evidences of it remain. In the Bishop Museum you can see the fabulous feather cloaks of warrior chiefs and fishhooks fashioned from human bones. There is a trace of early Hawaii, too, at Kawaiahao Church. Built of coral blocks by missionaries, it reflects in its stern lines the architecture of New England seaports. This past Christmas we took Mike and Louli there to hear 80 voices render "Hookani A'e"-a chorus from "The Messiah" in Hawaiian. From whitewashed walls hung bronze plaques, reminders of the mission families that brought Calvinism to these islands. The magnificent music caught us up. But as might be expected in carefree Hawaii, two events occurred to lighten the occasion. The Hawaiian minister, his white robe and sur plice contrasting with the mahogany of his face, left the pulpit at one point to sing "Holy Night" as a solo, accompanying himself on the guitar. Then I looked down to see that Mike, in the manner of Hawaiian boys, had taken off his shoes and socks. Last resort of the Hawaiians, as a race. is Niihau, the island to the extreme northwest. Niihau is owned by a single family, the Robinsons. Of Scottish descent, they arrived in Hawaii from New Zealand in 1863 and, like so many of us, succumbed to the charms of the islands. They bought Niihau, and, working with the Hawaiians there, they planted trees, built schools and churches, pad docks and homes. They were determined to help the Ha waiians preserve their gentle life on Niihau. That determination continues to this day, and virtually no one goes to Niihau unless he has business there. I set out for the island one morning not long ago with Aylmer Robinson, manager of the place and great-grandson of the family founder. We sailed from Kauai before dawn in a diesel-powered sampan, and on the way we were treated to a rare and beautiful sight. A full moon was mirrored in the smooth sea: a bank of clouds lay pillowed over the moun tains behind us. And as the moonlight played on the clouds and mist, it formed a glowing lunar rainbow. We landed on Niihau through a high surf in a longboat manned by Hawaiians-much, I am sure, as Robinson's ancestors landed nearly a hundred years ago. For the day we were there, I felt a stranger in my own land. All conversation was in the musical cadences of Hawaiian. Except for a few spouses of other bloods, there are only Hawaiians among the 250 people living on the secluded island. We visited the scene of Niihau's most dramatic event in modern times-the spot where a Japanese pilot crashed his crippled plane after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Held under guard by the populace for five days, the pilot broke free before troops ar rived, and cowed the bewildered Niihauans with the machine guns from his plane. He lost his "invasion" when a shepherd, one Bene hakaka Kanahele, though wounded three times by pistol bullets, overpowered him and, lifting him by the neck and one leg, smashed his head against a stone wall! On the return to Kauai with Robinson, I noticed two big boxes with screened vents in the sampan. "Homing pigeons," Robinson said. "When no boats are running, we communicate with the island that way. Whenever we take the sampan over, we exchange birds." But change comes even to remote Niihau. Since I was there, two-way radio has replaced pigeons for interisland messages. Kauai, the Unconquered That Kauai is the oldest of the islands is attested by its fertility. Abundant rainfall over centuries has converted lava flows to rich soil: erosion has carried this soil from volcanic slopes to enrich the lowlands. Kamehameha never conquered Kauai, though old-timers will show you the beach where the bones of "his warriors" are still turned up on occasion. The island later joined the kingdom, but its people retain a sense of rugged independence to this day. Its beaches are the best, Kauai says-else why would the producers of many a movie with a tropic background choose it for their location? Certainly Haena Beach, a South Pacific set, is everyman's Bali Ha'i.