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20 C hap t e r 2 The Sound of Pa, Ko, Li Hear a good deal of opera singing in this town—& pianos. —Twain, Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii When Frank Vincent Jr. sailed into Honolulu in 1870, he was surprised— and not a little disappointed—by what he saw: an American-looking city, with brick and stone warehouses, long lines of drays, crowds of newly arrived immigrants, and, through a half-open door, a glimpse of the inviting interior of a saloon. “We were dumbfounded,” he later wrote. “We had dreamed of groves of cocoa-palms made picturesque by half-naked Undines and houris, and we found billiard-tables, bowling alleys, sangarees, and sample rooms.”1 For many nineteenth-century visitors to Hawaii, as remarkable as the tropical scenery or the volcanoes was the dramatic transformation of what was regarded by westerners as a backward nation of half-naked savages into a country with a written language, Western-style laws and government, churches, schools, commerce—and music.2 “Behold what the missionaries have wrought!” Mark Twain wrote from Honolulu in 1866.3 Yet intertwined with the astonishment at the changes that had come about in less than half a century was a sense of disappointment that the primitive and provocative South Seas society they had hoped to find was a paradise lost to billiard parlors and streetcars. Twenty years after Vincent’s visit, Henry Adams’ vision of hula girls draping leis around his neck on the verdant slope of a volcano turned out “quite different,” he wrote to a friend. “One drives everywhere over hard roads, and can go most places about Honolulu by horse-car or railroad. . . . [It is] about as thoroughly Americanized as Newport.”4 This openness to billiard tables and horse cars, Western harmony and hymns, minstrel shows and melodeons made it possible for the Madeiran machete to be regarded as more than just a foreign novelty after its arrival in the Islands. The new The Sound of Pa, Ko, Li 21 instrument arrived at a time of great change, as a new mix of Western melody and instrumentation combined with Hawaiian poetry, rhythms, and a unique cultural sensibility to create a new kind of music. That music ultimately would be harnessed to address Western visitors’ deep-seated desire for tropical exoticism, providing a soundtrack for the paradise they sought despite the macadamized roads and bottled beer. Honolulu’s transformation into an American-style metropolis could be said to have begun in 1820 with the arrival of the first party of seventeen Protestant missionaries dispatched by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM).5 Through what they regarded as a stroke of divine providence, they arrived just after Liholiho, the son and successor to the late Kamehameha I, abolished the traditional system of kapu and declared the old gods dead. But unlike the explorers of the previous century who viewed the Hawaiians and other Pacific peoples as happy examples of Edenic innocence, the missionaries could not seem to find sufficient adjectives to describe what they regarded as the sinful state of the natives. “We find them destitute, ignorant, wild, beastly, and degraded—inconceivably so,” the Reverend Sheldon Dibble wrote in 1839. “The longer we live among the heathen, the more fully does [the missionary] realize the ignorance, the vileness , and the abominations of the horrible pit in which they are sunk.”6 Like the Madeirans, Hawaiians were regarded as lazy, ignorant, and superstitious—victims of a theory of geographical causation dating back to Hippocrates that insisted such characteristics were the inevitable result of a warm climate.7 Hawaiians’ color—the southerner Twain called them “almost as dark as negroes”—made them seem even more exotic, emphasizing their otherness. The missionaries’ first glimpse of “the chattering, almost naked savages . . . was appalling,” the Reverend Hiram Bingham recalled. “Some of our number, with gushing tears, turned away. . . . Others with firmer nerve continued their gaze, but were ready to exclaim, ‘Can these be human beings!’”8 While the missionaries may have been appalled at their first glimpse of Hawaii, merchants and traders eagerly took advantage of this strategic way station—the only place in the vast North Pacific where their ships could put in for repairs, buy needed supplies, recruit new sailors, or transship cargoes. By 1820, Hawaii had become a central pivot for the trade between the United States, California, the Hudson’s Bay Company on the northwest coast, Russian Alaska, and China.9 Traders...


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