An Hawaiian Garden of Refuge


Now that pestilence walketh in darkness, and destruction wasteth at noonday, this little world of taro patches seems indeed a very place of refuge. Here one can revel, undisturbed, in the crinkled velvet of the taro leaves, and the misty lavender of the Waianae Hills. Plague means so little here that Honolulu might well be a thousand miles away instead of only two, — so far away in time and space that somehow one is reminded of that Italian garden whither the lighthearted people of Boccaccio’s Decameron betook themselves centuries ago. Their old-time gayety and indifference one can fully appreciate only now when the town is filled with portentous beings, wearing continually a funereal expression. For in Honolulu itself a monstrous cloud of smoke is rolling up from Chinatown, and dazed Celestials are being hurried away to quarantine camps, or huddled together in Kawaiahao, the old stone church. A sanitary committee has suddenly sprung into life, all armed like Minerva ; has divided the town into apana, or districts ; and has sent trotting round twice a day a volunteer army of inspectors and sub-inspectors. Transports and liners appear only for a moment beyond Diamond Head, which stands like a crouching lion at the entrance to the harbor. They toss their mail onto a pilot boat, and are off and away with never a glance at the city beyond. For Honolulu is an infected port, and is grimly settling down for a stubborn fight with bubonic plague.

In taro-patch land, with its joyous green, all is different, — smiling Hawaiians sitting pleasantly about under monkey-pod trees, eternally idle ! Here and there one can see or hear a pake (Chinaman) pounding and slapping the baked taro root and making it into poi, — but never a Hawaiian at work. “ How do they live ? ” Ask the Sphinx. Some, perhaps, have leased their taro patches to Chinamen, and buy from them the poi they need. Some live, rent free, on the land owned by American kamaeinas (old residents) who have regard for the natives. Others, perhaps, are partly supported by descendants of royal houses. By working a little — a very little — each week, on the wharves for instance, the average Hawaiian can make enough to buy fish and poi. And he is never so poor but that he can drive about luxuriously in a hired hack. “ But where does the money come from ? ” “ How about clothing ? ” As well ask the hibiscus blossoms for an annual budget, or for details of wardrobe. Cease questioning, and take life as you find it in taro-patch land, — one long, easy loll. And everywhere such charming generosity, such readiness to help, that even “Wrinkled Care ” loses her identity, and becomes instead a fat-smiling goddess in a flowing holoku.

“ Questions of the day ” float lazily overhead, and are rarefied almost beyond recognition. In this pleasant atmosphere, even the burning of Chinatown excites but little interest, and that purely cestlietic. One regrets a little the loss of the only picturesque part of Honolulu, — dusty and rusty perhaps, but with the glamour of the Orient, — a quarter of overhanging balconies and “ Mikado galleries,” of deep stores where, by searching, one could find out glimmering grasscloth, camphor trunks, and dragon china. There, too, was that snare and joy, — the lei corner, where chattering Hawaiians, of all degrees of corpulency, twisted into wreaths the charming laurel-like leaves of the maile, or strung on grass threads fluffy carnations and yellow ilimas (the royalist leis). There they sat, these lei women, in bunches on the sidewalk ; and there they stayed all day long, until evening shades prevailed and Phœbus’ car, in the shape of a rickety ’bus, gathered them up and swept them off, disgracefully merry, to some Arcadia in “ the valley.”

Flowers and flower wreaths ! A lei about your hat, or round your neck, — you must learn to love these things before ever you can hope to understand the little subtleties of Hawaiian character. The melody of life is in them, and everywhere you hear the overtones. Walk by the taro patches or down Liliha Street, and you will find the children stringing oleander blossoms. Look from your window early in the morning, and see the native girl standing on tiptoe, looking into the bougainvillaea flowers. See yesterday’s flowers, the pinks on your table, all glistening with dewdrops when they have been carefully sprinkled by the little girl who sweeps your room. And everywhere leis ! leis ! brilliant or fragrant, or graceful, — on the jolly Hawaiian whose horse is zigzagging across the street; on the defiant boy lounging near Palama Chapel ; on the baby wondering over her first birthday. It is good to be in Hawaii even in plague time.