poked fun at the government in several of his pieces,
proclaiming it to be much too large and unwieldy
for a population of under 60,000, with two out of
three people office holders and the third an office
seeker. He should see us today, eh?
missionaries were not spared either. Yet,
in his satire he was quite impressed with the literacy
of the islands, believed to be the highest in the
world at the time, and he largely credited this
accomplishment to the missionaries.
Twain & The Island of Hawaii
by Bob Olson
Twain sailed to the Big Isle of Hawaii on the schooner
Boomerang skippered by Captain Kangaroo, "she
was so small that when I stood on her deck I felt
but little smaller than the Colossus of Rhodes must
have felt when he had a man-of-war under him."
for the size of his accommodation, "One might
swing a cat in it, perhaps, but then it would be
fatal to the cat to do it."
Travel at this time was anything but restful as
Mr. Twain tells us. "The first night, as I
lay in my coffin, idly watching the dim lamp swinging
to the rolling of the ship, and snuffing the nauseous
odor of bilge water, I felt something gallop over
me. I turned out promptly. However, I turned in
again when I found it was only a rat. Presently
something galloped over me once more. I knew it
was not a rat this time, and I thought it might
be a centipede, because the Captain had killed one
one deck in the afternoon. I turned out. The first
glance at the pillow showed me a repulsive sentinel
perched upon each end of it-cockroaches as large
as peach leaves-fellows with long quivering antennae
and fiery, malignant eyes. They were grating their
teeth like tobacco worms, and appeared to be dissatisfied
about something. I had often heard that these reptiles
were in the habit of eating off sleeping sailors
toe nails to the quick, and I would not get in the
bunk anymore. I lay down on floor. But a rat came
and bothered me, and shortly afterward a procession
of cockroaches arrived and camped in my hair. In
a few moments the rooster was crowing with uncommon
spirit and a party of fleas were throwing double
somersaults about my person in the wildest disorder,
and taking a bite every time they struck. I was
beginning to feel really annoyed. I got up and put
my clothes on and went on deck."
The above is not overdrawn; it is a truthful sketch
of inter-island schooner life. There is no such
thing as keeping a vessel in elegant condition,
"when she carries molasses and kanakas."
Twain on the Island of Hawai`i - Part 2
If you have ever been to Hawaii you know about our
rainbows, if not then let me explain rainbows are
everywhere. You see them in the sky, in your backyard,
from waterfalls, and when I first flew into Hilo
there was one at the end of the runway.
When Mark Twain visited Kealakekua Bay, the spot
where Captain Cook "discovered" Hawaii
this is what he saw. "The setting sun was flaming
upon it, a summer show was falling, and it was spanned
by two magnificent rainbows. Two men who were in
advance of us rode through one of these and for
a moment their garments shone with a more than regal
splendor. Why did not Captain Cook have taste enough
to call his great discovery the Rainbow Islands?"
History has recorded the death of Captain Cook in
different ways, depending on which book you read,
but Mr. Twain seems to sum it up. "Plain unvarnished
history takes the romance out of Captain Cooks
assassination, and renders a deliberate verdict
of justifiable homicide. Wherever he went among
the islands, he was cordially received and welcomed
by the inhabitants, and his ships lavishly supplied
with all manner of food. He returned the kindness
with insult and ill-treatment. Perceiving that the
people took him for the long vanished and lamented
god Lono, he encouraged them in the delusion for
the sake of the limitless power it gave him; but
during the famous disturbance at this spot, and
while he and his comrades were surrounded by fifteen
thousand maddened savages, he received a hurt and
betrayed his earthy origin with a groan. It was
his death-warrant. Instantly a shout went up: 'He
groans! - he is not god!' So they closed upon him
and dispatched him."
In the same location there is a Heiau or
temple, here Twain displays some of his famous wit.
"There is a temple devoted to prayers for rain-and
with fine sagacity it was placed at a point so well
up on the mountain side that if you prayed there
twenty-four times a day for rain you would be likely
to get it every time. You would seldom get to your
Amen before you would have to hoist your umbrella."
Kealakekua, Mark Twain journeyed to the Volcano
and his impressions are incredible. But along the
way, they say he planted a tree, so the next stop
is Mark Twain Square in the lovely community of
After an arduous inter-island journey from Honolulu
to Kailua on the Big Island of Hawai`i, Mark Twain
visited Kealekua Bay, the site of Captain Cook's
death and Pu`uhonua
O Honaunau, the place of refuge. From here he
traveled along the southern coast of Hawaii to reach
Volcano. Along the way, they say he planted a tree,
though there is no mention in his writings of doing
so. Whether local legend or true, the community
of Wai`ôhinu in the Ka`u District of the Big
Island is home to the monkeypod bearing his name.
This isn't the actual tree, which was blown down
in a storm in 1957, but it is the tree that has
grown from one of the shoots of the original tree.
The tree is part of a property called Mark Twain
Square, adjacent to a macadamia nut orchard and
also a great stop for lunch and locally made arts
Twain and the Volcano
On June 3, 1866 Mark Twain and his fictitious traveling
companion, Mr. Brown arrived at "The Great
Volcano of Kilauea". They surveyed the area,
and Twain wrote, "There had been terrible commotion
here once, when these dead waves were seething fire;
but now all was motionless and silent-it was a petrified
I have visited Kilauea several times, the area that
Mark Twain describes as active I have only seen
it dormant. To see it through his eyes, brings it
alive once more. As the two approached the crater,
Twain mused about the size, " I suppose that
any one of natures most celebrated wonders
will always look rather insignificant to a visitor
at first, but on better acquaintance will swell
and stretch out and spread abroad, until it finally
grows clear beyond his grasp-becomes too stupendous
for his comprehension."
Brown and Twain settled in to Volcano House and
after a hearty supper they waited for dark to make
their way to the edge of the caldera. They observed
an incredible sight. "There was a heavy fog
over the crater and it was splendidly illuminated
by the glare from the fires below. The illumination
was two miles wide and a mile high, perhaps; and
if you ever, on a dark night and at a distance,
beheld the light from thirty or forty blocks of
distant buildings all on fire at once, reflected
strongly against overhanging clouds, you can form
a fair idea of what this looked like."
Advancing carefully, they came to a small lookout
house on the side of the crater. "In the strong
light every countenance glowed like red-hot iron,
every shoulder was suffused with crimson and shaded
rearward into dingy, shapeless obscurity! The place
below looked like the infernal regions and these
men like half-cooled devils just come up on a furlough."
Mark Twain and Mr. Brown remained, wrapped in blankets
for warmth recording their experience. "Jets
of lava sprung hundreds of feet into the air and
burst into rocket-sprays that returned to the earth
in a crimson rain: and all the while the laboring
mountain shook with Natures great palsy, and
voiced its distress in moaning and the muffled booming
of subterranean thunders."
Almost as an after thought Mark Twain remarks about
the sound, "I forgot to say that the noise
made by the bubbling lava is not great, heard as
we heard it from our lofty perch. It makes three
distinct sounds-a rushing, a hissing, and a coughing
or puffing sound; and if you stand on the brink
and close your eyes it is no trick at all to imagine
that you are sweeping down a river on a large low-pressure
steamer, and that you hear the hissing of the steam
about her boilers, the puffing from her escape pipes,
and the churning rush of water abaft her wheels.
The smell of sulphur is strong, but not unpleasant
to a sinner."
Since then Madame Pele the Fire Goddess has moved
her eruption to the Puu Oo vent where
it can be seen today.
About Mark Twain
- In the Words of Mark Twain
A collection of quotations from Mark Twain.
Join Mark Twain as he travels to Kilauea Volcano.
Mark Twain in the West and Hawaii, 1861-1866.
A Strange Dream
Written by Mark Twain, and based on a dream he experienced
while staying at Volcano House. This site, hosted
by Jim Zwick is a great jump off point for more
on Mark Twain, in Hawaii and elsewhere.
Resource material taken from:
Day, A. Grove (editor)
Twain's Letters from Hawaii
University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, HI
Mark Twain in Hawaii - Roughing It in the Sandwich
Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, HI
Twain and The Hornet Disaster
One finds reference to Mark Twain frequently in
Hawai`i, so it wasn't too surprising to find a section
of the Pacific Tsunami Museum in historic downtown
Hilo devoted to his visit and his coverage of the
Hornet Disaster in 1866. Forty-Three
Days in an Open Boat was his first publication
in a major Eastern magazine (Harper's Magazine,
Twain probably would have visited the town of Laupahoehoe
on the Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii
on his journey around the island, though he doesn't
specifically mention it. He was back in Honolulu
recuperating from his inter-island adventures when
the survivors of the shipwreck arrived, having been
rescued near Laupahoehoe. More Web resources:
Debut as a Literary Person by Mark Twain
Samuel Clemens was in Honolulu at the time the survivors
landed in Hawaii. This is his account
of this scoop that launched his career as well as
the published account of the Hornet Disaster.
and Singular Rations by Mark Twain
Sketch of the Hornet Disaster describing the rationing
that kept the crew alive after the wreck.
Burlingame and the "Hornet" Disaster
by Albert Bigelow Paine
Portion of Mark Twain's biography describing the
on the Loveliest Fleet of Islands
The idea for this series of articles originated
with Jim Zwick, who manages two excellent Web sites
on the author: About
Mark Twain and Mark
Twain Resources on the World Wide Web.
His articles on Mark
Twain's Hawaii will take you on a literary journey
and lead you to many interesting resources, including
Twain's Hawaii on the Web. Mark
Twain's visit continues to impact Hawai`i, as I
discovered when I researched what one of my favorite
childhood authors had to say about the place that
is now my home.
How did Mark Twain's visit affect Hawai`i?
Perhaps the most significant is that his lectures
and writings gave most Americans the first realistic
view of the islands, so he may have been our first
descriptions are widely used, especially the "loveliest
fleet of islands" quote. He's also misquoted
or inaccurately attributed quite frequently, as
in this description from the Rough Guide - Honolulu:
the most spectacular moment of a tour of Oahu
comes as you cross the Koolau Mountains on the
Pali Highway (Hwy-61) to see the sheer green cliffs
of the windward side of the island, swirling with
mists. The highest spot, just four miles out of
Honolulu heading northeast, is the Nuuanu Pali
Lookout. King Kamehameha finalized his conquest
of Oahu here in 1795, forcing hundreds of enemy
warriors over the edge of the cliffs; Mark Twain
saw the battlefield seventy years later, littered
This sounds good, but it's unlikely this is the
battlefield that Twain was describing, since he
was somewhere near Waikiki, Mo`ili`ili or Kalihi
would be my uneducated guess, which is quite a distance
from Nu`uanu, and even he dismisses this notion.
story [of a great battle] is pretty enough, but
Mr. Jarves' excellent history says the Oahuans
were entrenched in Nuuanu Valley; that Kamehameha
ousted them, routed them, pursued them up the
valley and drove them over the precipice. He makes
no mention of our bone-yard at all in his book."
It Part 65)
Twain goes on to speculate that these bones had
been unearthed from a shallow burial pit, probably
used during the particularly deadly epidemic of
1804. (Note: after "contact" it is estimated
that 95% of the native people of the islands perished
from exposure to western diseases, for which they
had no immunity; measles and venereal disease were
the most deadly, but a form of "plague"
also is recorded.)
impact resulted from his reporting of the tremendous
productivity of Hawaiian sugar plantations and recommendations
that trade with the United States be protected from
European interests in the islands. He did
not seem to favor annexation, but was in favor of
the reciprocity treaty and other protective measures.
Views of Hawaiian Annexation from Jim Zwick.
are many insightful and humorous views of Hawai`i
in Mark Twain's writing. Hope you enjoyed