Mark Twain did come to Hawaii. It was 1866, at the very beginning of his journalism and humorist career. He hadn’t written novels yet–no Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, or Pudd’nhead Wilson. He had just published a novelty story about a jumping frog, when the Sacramento Union decided to give him a go, and sent him off as a correspondent to the Sandwich Islands.
Twain followed in the path of other tourists, missionaries, and entrepreneurs. He followed the British, after Captain Cook, after those intrepid Polynesians who had sailed up from Tahiti and Samoa. There were also French, Spanish, Japanese, and eventually the Americans, with their navy, who decided to anchor more firmly than Cook proved able. After that came a never-ending stream of more tourists, including yours truly.
Like any jewel, the history of Hawaii includes a stream of struggles from those people, over discovery and ownership.
Roughing It in Hawaii
Twain’s Letters from Hawaii cover the long voyage across the Pacific; he curses Magellan for naming the uncooperative waters “peaceful.” Twain writes of being seasick much of the time, despite knowing his way around boats, as he would later describe steering steamboats in Life on the Mississippi. Upon arrival in Honolulu, Twain is smitten by “luxurious banks and thickets of flowers, fresh as a meadow after a rain, and glowing with the richest dyes.”
He is impressed by the presence of the Hawaiian royalty, the kings and queens who governed Hawaii at the time. But the locals are characterized as lazy and flea-ridden, though Twain says virtually the same about his “traveling companion,” the irascible Mr. Brown, a likely mythical figure who complaints constantly of the heat and insects. Upon viewing the plantations for pineapple and coffee, Twain urges the Americans to hurry up and come on over before the Brits and French take everything. American farmers would eventually take him up on the idea.Continue reading “Whose Place of Refuge?”