TO-DAY the thatched house is a curiosity in the Hawaiian Islands. In the time of our story the grass roof was the only shelter from the rain and heat, except the thick-leaved tree or the insecure lava cave. The long rushes and grasses from the sea marshes and the long leaves of the pandanus tree made a very good if not a very enduring home. There the chiefs and common people alike were born, and out of such grass houses their bodies were carried when life was over.
It was the same story told over again on islands or continents. The chief's house might have a few more mats of a little finer texture, or calabashes of wood with markings a little more unique, but birth nights left fully as many beautiful children, and the hours of death took away fully as many noble men and women from the poor hut built by the taro patch as from the better-apportioned home under the silver-leaved kukui or candle-nut tree. Out of the ranks of the unappreciated have come some of the best people of the earth, and some of the strongest influences changing nations.
There was a modest grass house in one of the upland valleys of Kailua, Hawaii. Tall cocoanut trees bent over it. Near it grew the ohia, or native apple tree, luxuriant in crimson tassel-like blossoms. The sacred ohelo berries ripened in the iliahi or sandalwood forest above.
One bright afternoon a tall, finely formed woman broke through the arching branches which obstructed the path and approached the door where an old woman sat crooning to a child resting in her arms. The old woman looked up, and then fell on her face, crying:
"Oh! my chief! my chief! My Ka-ahu-manu!"
The queen gently raised the old woman, calling her "mother," as was the Hawaiian custom when speaking to favourite retainers.
"Where are Oluolu and her husband?" asked the queen.
"Coming soon with the pink taro you so dearly love," was the reply.
While the favourite queen of Ka-meha-meha was visiting with her old nurse, a happy young couple came from the near-by taro patch. The young man carried a bunch of rare bananas. When he saw the queen he prostrated himself at her feet and, without thinking, gave the bananas to her.
Ka-ahu-manu laughed gaily, saying: "O my thoughtless one, you have tempted your queen to break tabu."
A horrified expression crossed his face and he hastily started to withdraw the bananas. But the queen was wayward and self-willed. Her hand was on the bunch as she said:
"This is mine. It is your offering to your chief. I will eat of these bananas." In a moment she was eating the delicious fruit.
Then the old woman began to wail: "Auwe, auwe! The queen must die and we shall all be destroyed!"
"Hush, mother," said the young man, as he glanced significantly over to Oluolu, who had evidently some secret knowledge of the way to violate tabu. "Many people think that the tabu is not right, and that the threatened punishments come not from the gods, but from the priests themselves. The white men in Ka-meha-meha's court do not keep tabu, nor do they die. Even the king does not require human sacrifices. Old things are passing away."
"But the gods will punish the people for the growing unbelief," murmured the grandmother.
"Not if the belief is false," said Oluolu.
Ka-ahu-manu listened in astonishment. She had done many things secretly which she did not care to have come to the ears of the priests, but she could scarcely believe that the common people did the same. She said:
"Is this the talk of the common people?" "No," answered Oluolu. "Only a few speak
freely one to another. The dread of the priest is over the land."
When Ka-ahu-manu returned to the king's houses she kept these things in her heart. She saw the priests and their spies becoming more vigilant and more violent. She realised that the foreigners were exerting a strong influence against the tabu system. Her outspoken speeches, for which the priests did not dare to punish her, were bearing fruit. The indignation of the queens of Ka-meha-meha was aroused when a priest commanded that a little girl who had been caught eating bananas should have one of her eyes gouged out. Then came a carousal, after which a tipsy woman stumbled into her husband's eating-house and was put to death for violating the tabu. Ka-ahu-manu talked these and many other similar experiences over when she visited the old grass house, gaining new ideas and new confidence from her loyal retainers; but the old woman, with aching heart, sat in the door, muttering incantations to keep her queen and her children from the danger which their words seemed to invite.
Ka-meha-meha died about 2 o'clock in the morning of May 8, 1819. When he knew that his illness was serious he gave the kingdom jointly to Ka-ahu-manu and his son, Liho-liho.
The very morning of Ka-meha-meha's death some chiefs came to Ka-ahu-manu with the proposition that she use her authority and declare the
tabu at an end. But there was an indescribable scene of riotous confusion and revelry and lust. Even the ordinary restraints of savage society were laid aside. Priests were occupied with signs and incantations to discover some one who might have prayed the great king to death. Ka-ahu-manu's party of practical unbelievers were under suspicion. Therefore the queen decided that the time had not yet come to take such an eventful step. However, some of the people violated different tabus and suffered no injury. Kee-au-moku, the queen's brother, broke the tabu staff of the priests, and Hewa-hewa, the high priest, later gave his influence not only toward the suppression of the tabus, but also toward the destruction of the idols and their temples.
After a few days Liho-liho, the young king, and Ka-ahu-manu, in their most regal apparel, met and together assumed the government of the Hawaiian Islands. At that time Ka-ahu-manu proposed that they henceforth disregard the tabus. But the king, although under the influence of liquor, was not quite ready to take this step. Some of the chiefs also opposed such action. Keopuolani, one of the queens, asked the king to eat with her. But Liho-liho delayed the answer. Then she took his little brother (afterward Ka-meha-meha III) and induced him to eat with her. This gave an example of the most sacred tabu chief in the land violating tabu with her little son. Soon the king yielded
and openly ate and drank with the queens at a feast in which many tabu articles were placed. The word passed rapidly from island to island, and was hailed with joy by the mass of the people.
But the guardian of the war god, Kaili, felt responsibility placed upon him by the dying charge of Ka-meha-meha. He felt that it was his high trust to protect the tabus and the worship of the gods. He was strong and fearless. The priests and chiefs who wished to perpetuate tabu gathered around him and a rebellion was instituted.
The story of the "battle of Kua-moo" must be told very briefly. It was the death struggle of the fanatics. It was the attack of the handful upon the better armed and larger army. It was a long drawn-out conflict. At last the guardian of the war god, wounded and bleeding, fought, seated upon a block of lava. By his side his wife stood, also fighting bravely. As he, struck by a musket ball, fell back dead, she cried out: "I surrender!" But at that moment a ball struck her in the temple and she fell dead by the body of her husband.
How the tabus were laid aside, the idols destroyed and the temples burned--all this is a matter of history. But no writer has chronicled how the young husband carried the news from Kailua to the grass house under the cocoanut trees. No one has written of the joy of Oluolu in the life of broader privileges secured by abolishing the tabu system. And no one has described the old woman
who could not understand the new order of things, but sat in the door of the grass house in the valley and grieved over the shattered doctrines of her forefathers.