The Baldwin House

(click to enlarge)

While I’m here, I’ve been re-reading James A. Michiner’s Hawaii;  of which one of the most enthralling parts (for Occidentals) is section about the arrival of the Congregationalist missionaries in 1819, and their (and other westerners’) subsequent impact on the islands and the islanders.

There’s a lot of sadness.  When Captain Cook landed almost 40 years earlier, he’d found a Hawaiian population of at least 400,000 (some estimates are much higher – nearer a million).  A hundred years later, there were fewer than 40,000 native Hawaiians.  Today, there are thought to be no more than a few thousand ‘pure blood’ Hawaiians; although about 250,000 (about 20% of today’s population) can identify themselves as part-Hawaiian.  This wasn’t because the Westerners wiped the native population out through war or starvation.  It was the more prosaic ‘familiarity breeds disease”:  STDs, smallpox, leprosy, and (most virulent of all) the humble measles bug, decimated the native Hawaiian population.

I admit I don’t have much natural empathy for zealots (into which category some, at least, of the early missionaries fell).  But there’s no gainsaying the hardships they put themselves through to get to Hawaii from New England (round Cape Horn, in tiny ships);  or that they fell in love with the islands and their people, and in some cases worked themselves to death to (as they saw it)  improve their lot.   The Baldwin House (in Lahaina, above) is one of the original mission houses.  But it’s easy to forget that they only got as far as building houses like this after many years in traditional mud-floored, straw-roofed hale.

The degree of acceptance of loss (or potential loss) reminds me of this post);  and reminds me that people of my generation, or younger, really have no clue, and little right to judge.


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