July 27, 1907


Honolulu Letter.


Honolulu, H. I., July 27.--


Tomorrow I sail for Tokio [sic] and my next letter and those following will delve deeper into the queer things across the Pacific. There is so much in these islands however, that one could remain here for weeks, constantly finding something new to write about. Through my medical connection I was able to visit the leper settlement on the island of Molokai, and have been waking up with shudders ever since. It is a place so horrible that it would take a pen stronger and more subtle than mine to adequately describe it. I can tell how it impressed me, but I do not believe it possible to make anyone understand what it really looks like unless they see it.

Leprosy is believed by a majority of the medical world to be both contagious and infectious, but I have my doubts about the latter part of the theory. lThat it is contagious is proven over and over again on these islands, and nine out of ten of these poor unfortunates who are dragging out their loathsome lives on Molokai received the disease by contact with some one who had it, or by using clothing that had been worn by a leper.

The settlement on Molokai is a natural prison, walled in on the land side by high cliffs, while the ocean forms an effectual barrier to escape on that side. It is not necessary to guard these prisoners for they cannot get away. They have a little village with a form of local government, and are directly under regulation of the Board of Health of the islands. They are cared for by the government and when man, woman or child shows signs of leprosy there is no help for the victim. They are hurried to living death and remain there until death relieves them of their suffering. Many tales are told of natives who have fought against this imprisonment and have become outlaws, holding the authorities at bay for many months before they gave up. All the natives except the educated ones are on the side of the victim who has contracted the disease and do all in their power to prevent the officers from taking him to Molokai. One man who was touched with leprosy took his wife and little child to the mountains where they lived in a cave, defying the officers for more than a year. He was finally captured through his child who wandered away and was found by officers. Rather than be separated from his child the father and mother gave up and the entire family went to the settlement.

There is a theory here that leprosy which is so prevalent is caused by eating raw fish. Natives eat a great deal of raw fish, and this with poi, a peculiar custard made of taro root, forms the staple article of diet. Poi is the national dish and its use marks class divisions among the people. According to the consistency of the poi it is known as "one finger poi," "two finger poi" and "three finger poi." It is much more elegant to eat it with one finger, consequently the more fingers one uses when eating poi the lower he is in the social scale.

Taro, from which poi is made, is a peculiar plant which grows in swampy land, and in its cultivation natives utilize the water buffalo, which they have imported from the Philippines. This animal takes kindly to anyone with dark skin, but woe to the person who is white who gets within reach of it. There seems to be something especially distasteful in the odor of a white person to this buffalo, but I have seen native children by the dozen playing about the feet of the animals.

If one went to Honolulu and missed taking a ride on a surf boat he would miss one of the greatest sports of the islands. Out at Waikiki, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the natives take their heavy surf boats far out on the ocean, and, watching for some especially big roller, start home with it, riding on its comb. If the boatman is an expert all goes well, and they go racing in at express train speed, but if there be the slightest turn of the bow there is an upset and a good ducking. No one is hurt for the natives learn to swim before they learn to walk and are wonderful in their expertness.

C. E. E.


Source:  Crittenden Record-Press. (Marion, Ky.) 1907-1918, December 12, 1907, Image 3 - Chronicling America - The Library of Congress.


[My comments are in brackets.]