Shin-Bones by Jack London
They have gone down to the pit with their weapons of war, and they
have laid their swords under their heads.
"It was a sad thing to see the old lady revert."
Prince Akuli shot an apprehensive glance sideward to where, under
the shade of a kukui tree, an old wahine (Hawaiian woman) was just
settling herself to begin on some work in hand.
"Yes," he nodded half-sadly to me, "in her last years Hiwilani went
back to the old ways, and to the old beliefs--in secret, of course.
And, BELIEVE me, she was some collector herself. You should have
seen her bones. She had them all about her bedroom, in big jars,
and they constituted most all her relatives, except a half-dozen or
so that Kanau beat her out of by getting to them first. The way
the pair of them used to quarrel about those bones was awe-
inspiring. And it gave me the creeps, when I was a boy, to go into
that big, for-ever-twilight room of hers, and know that in this jar
was all that remained of my maternal grand-aunt, and that in that
jar was my great-grandfather, and that in all the jars were the
preserved bone-remnants of the shadowy dust of the ancestors whose
seed had come down and been incorporated in the living, breathing
me. Hiwilani had gone quite native at the last, sleeping on mats
on the hard floor--she'd fired out of the room the great, royal,
canopied four-poster that had been presented to her grandmother by
Lord Byron, who was the cousin of the Don Juan Byron and came here
in the frigate Blonde in 1825.
"She went back to all native, at the last, and I can see her yet,
biting a bite out of the raw fish ere she tossed them to her women
to eat. And she made them finish her poi, or whatever else she did
not finish of herself. She--"
But he broke off abruptly, and by the sensitive dilation of his
nostrils and by the expression of his mobile features I saw that he
had read in the air and identified the odour that offended him.
"Deuce take it!" he cried to me. "It stinks to heaven. And I
shall be doomed to wear it until we're rescued."
There was no mistaking the object of his abhorrence. The ancient
crone was making a dearest-loved lei (wreath) of the fruit of the
hala which is the screw-pine or pandanus of the South Pacific. She
was cutting the many sections or nut-envelopes of the fruit into
fluted bell-shapes preparatory to stringing them on the twisted and
tough inner bark of the hau tree. It certainly smelled to heaven,
but, to me, a malahini (new-comer), the smell was wine-woody and
fruit-juicy and not unpleasant.
Prince Akuli's limousine had broken an axle a quarter of a mile
away, and he and I had sought shelter from the sun in this
veritable bowery of a mountain home. Humble and grass-thatched was
the house, but it stood in a treasure-garden of begonias that
sprayed their delicate blooms a score of feet above our heads, that
were like trees, with willowy trunks of trees as thick as a man's
arm. Here we refreshed ourselves with drinking-coconuts, while a
cowboy rode a dozen miles to the nearest telephone and summoned a
machine from town. The town itself we could see, the Lakanaii
metropolis of Olokona, a smudge of smoke on the shore-line, as we
looked down across the miles of cane-fields, the billow-wreathed
reef-lines, and the blue haze of ocean to where the island of Oahu
shimmered like a dim opal on the horizon.
Maui is the Valley Isle of Hawaii, and Kauai the Garden Isle; but
Lakanaii, lying abreast of Oahu, is recognized in the present, and
was known of old and always, as the Jewel Isle of the group. Not
the largest, nor merely the smallest, Lakanaii is conceded by all
to be the wildest, the most wildly beautiful, and, in its size, the
richest of all the islands. Its sugar tonnage per acre is the
highest, its mountain beef-cattle the fattest, its rainfall the
most generous without ever being disastrous. It resembles Kauai in
that it is the first-formed and therefore the oldest island, so
that it had had time sufficient to break down its lava rock into
the richest soil, and to erode the canyons between the ancient
craters until they are like Grand Canyons of the Colorado, with
numberless waterfalls plunging thousands of feet in the sheer or
dissipating into veils of vapour, and evanescing in mid-air to
descend softly and invisibly through a mirage of rainbows, like so
much dew or gentle shower, upon the abyss-floors.
Yet Lakanaii is easy to describe. But how can one describe Prince
Akuli? To know him is to know all Lakanaii most thoroughly. In
addition, one must know thoroughly a great deal of the rest of the
world. In the first place, Prince Akuli has no recognized nor
legal right to be called "Prince." Furthermore, "Akuli" means the
"squid." So that Prince Squid could scarcely be the dignified
title of the straight descendant of the oldest and highest aliis
(high chiefs) of Hawaii--an old and exclusive stock, wherein, in
the ancient way of the Egyptian Pharaohs, brothers and sisters had
even wed on the throne for the reason that they could not marry
beneath rank, that in all their known world there was none of
higher rank, and that, at every hazard, the dynasty must be
I have heard Prince Akuli's singing historians (inherited from his
father) chanting their interminable genealogies, by which they
demonstrated that he was the highest alii in all Hawaii. Beginning
with Wakea, who is their Adam, and with Papa, their Eve, through as
many generations as there are letters in our alphabet they trace
down to Nanakaoko, the first ancestor born in Hawaii and whose wife
was Kahihiokalani. Later, but always highest, their generations
split from the generations of Ua, who was the founder of the two
distinct lines of the Kauai and Oahu kings.
In the eleventh century A.D., by the Lakanaii historians, at the
time brothers and sisters mated because none existed to excel them,
their rank received a boost of new blood of rank that was next to
heaven's door. One Hoikemaha, steering by the stars and the
ancient traditions, arrived in a great double-canoe from Samoa. He
married a lesser alii of Lakanaii, and when his three sons were
grown, returned with them to Samoa to bring back his own youngest
brother. But with him he brought back Kumi, the son of Tui Manua,
which latter's rank was highest in all Polynesia, and barely second
to that of the demigods and gods. So the estimable seed of Kumi,
eight centuries before, had entered into the aliis of Lakanaii, and
been passed down by them in the undeviating line to reposit in
Him I first met, talking with an Oxford accent, in the officers'
mess of the Black Watch in South Africa. This was just before that
famous regiment was cut to pieces at Magersfontein. He had as much
right to be in that mess as he had to his accent, for he was
Oxford-educated and held the Queen's Commission. With him, as his
guest, taking a look at the war, was Prince Cupid, so nicknamed,
but the true prince of all Hawaii, including Lakanaii, whose real
and legal title was Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, and who might
have been the living King of Hawaii Nei had it not been for the
haole (white man) Revolution and Annexation--this, despite the fact
that Prince Cupid's alii genealogy was lesser to the heaven-boosted
genealogy of Prince Akuli. For Prince Akuli might have been King
of Lakanaii, and of all Hawaii, perhaps, had not his grandfather
been soundly thrashed by the first and greatest of the Kamehamehas.
This had occurred in the year 1810, in the booming days of the
sandalwood trade, and in the same year that the King of Kauai came
in, and was good, and ate out of Kamehameha's hand. Prince Akuli's
grandfather, in that year, had received his trouncing and
subjugating because he was "old school." He had not imaged island
empire in terms of gunpowder and haole gunners. Kamehameha,
farther-visioned, had annexed the service of haoles, including such
men as Isaac Davis, mate and sole survivor of the massacred crew of
the schooner Fair American, and John Young, captured boatswain of
the snow Eleanor. And Isaac Davis, and John Young, and others of
their waywardly adventurous ilk, with six-pounder brass carronades
from the captured Iphigenia and Fair American, had destroyed the
war canoes and shattered the morale of the King of Lakanaii's land-
fighters, receiving duly in return from Kamehameha, according to
agreement: Isaac Davis, six hundred mature and fat hogs; John
Young, five hundred of the same described pork on the hoof that was
And so, out of all incests and lusts of the primitive cultures and
beast-man's gropings toward the stature of manhood, out of all red
murders, and brute battlings, and matings with the younger brothers
of the demigods, world-polished, Oxford-accented, twentieth century
to the tick of the second, comes Prince Akuli, Prince Squid, pure-
veined Polynesian, a living bridge across the thousand centuries,
comrade, friend, and fellow-traveller out of his wrecked seven-
thousand-dollar limousine, marooned with me in a begonia paradise
fourteen hundred feet above the sea, and his island metropolis of
Olokona, to tell me of his mother, who reverted in her old age to
ancientness of religious concept and ancestor worship, and
collected and surrounded herself with the charnel bones of those
who had been her forerunners back in the darkness of time.
"King Kalakaua started this collecting fad, over on Oahu," Prince
Akuli continued. "And his queen, Kapiolani, caught the fad from
him. They collected everything--old makaloa mats, old tapas, old
calabashes, old double-canoes, and idols which the priests had
saved from the general destruction in 1819. I haven't seen a
pearl-shell fish-hook in years, but I swear that Kalakaua
accumulated ten thousand of them, to say nothing of human jaw-bone
fish-hooks, and feather cloaks, and capes and helmets, and stone
adzes, and poi-pounders of phallic design. When he and Kapiolani
made their royal progresses around the islands, their hosts had to
hide away their personal relics. For to the king, in theory,
belongs all property of his people; and with Kalakaua, when it came
to the old things, theory and practice were one.
"From him my father, Kanau, got the collecting bee in his bonnet,
and Hiwilani was likewise infected. But father was modern to his
finger-tips. He believed neither in the gods of the kahunas"
(priests) "nor of the missionaries. He didn't believe in anything
except sugar stocks, horse-breeding, and that his grandfather had
been a fool in not collecting a few Isaac Davises and John Youngs
and brass carronades before he went to war with Kamehameha. So he
collected curios in the pure collector's spirit; but my mother took
it seriously. That was why she went in for bones. I remember,
too, she had an ugly old stone-idol she used to yammer to and crawl
around on the floor before. It's in the Deacon Museum now. I sent
it there after her death, and her collection of bones to the Royal
Mausoleum in Olokona.
"I don't know whether you remember her father was Kaaukuu. Well,
he was, and he was a giant. When they built the Mausoleum, his
bones, nicely cleaned and preserved, were dug out of their hiding-
place, and placed in the Mausoleum. Hiwilani had an old retainer,
Ahuna. She stole the key from Kanau one night, and made Ahuna go
and steal her father's bones out of the Mausoleum. I know. And he
must have been a giant. She kept him in one of her big jars. One
day, when I was a tidy size of a lad, and curious to know if
Kaaukuu was as big as tradition had him, I fished his intact lower
jaw out of the jar, and the wrappings, and tried it on. I stuck my
head right through it, and it rested around my neck and on my
shoulders like a horse collar. And every tooth was in the jaw,
whiter than porcelain, without a cavity, the enamel unstained and
unchipped. I got the walloping of my life for that offence,
although she had to call old Ahuna in to help give it to me. But
the incident served me well. It won her confidence in me that I
was not afraid of the bones of the dead ones, and it won for me my
Oxford education. As you shall see, if that car doesn't arrive
"Old Ahuna was one of the real old ones with the hall-mark on him
and branded into him of faithful born-slave service. He knew more
about my mother's family, and my father's, than did both of them
put together. And he knew, what no living other knew, the burial-
place of centuries, where were hid the bones of most of her
ancestors and of Kanau's. Kanau couldn't worm it out of the old
fellow, who looked upon Kanau as an apostate.
"Hiwilani struggled with the old codger for years. How she ever
succeeded is beyond me. Of course, on the face of it, she was
faithful to the old religion. This might have persuaded Ahuna to
loosen up a little. Or she may have jolted fear into him; for she
knew a lot of the line of chatter of the old Huni sorcerers, and
she could make a noise like being on terms of utmost intimacy with
Uli, who is the chiefest god of sorcery of all the sorcerers. She
could skin the ordinary kahuna lapaau" (medicine man) "when it came
to praying to Lonopuha and Koleamoku; read dreams and visions and
signs and omens and indigestions to beat the band; make the
practitioners under the medicine god, Maiola, look like thirty
cents; pull off a pule hee incantation that would make them dizzy;
and she claimed to a practice of kahuna hoenoho, which is modern
spiritism, second to none. I have myself seen her drink the wind,
throw a fit, and prophesy. The aumakuas were brothers to her when
she slipped offerings to them across the altars of the ruined
heiaus" (temples) "with a line of prayer that was as unintelligible
to me as it was hair-raising. And as for old Ahuna, she could make
him get down on the floor and yammer and bite himself when she
pulled the real mystery dope on him.
"Nevertheless, my private opinion is that it was the anaana stuff
that got him. She snipped off a lock of his hair one day with a
pair of manicure scissors. This lock of hair was what we call the
maunu, meaning the bait. And she took jolly good care to let him
know she had that bit of his hair. Then she tipped it off to him
that she had buried it, and was deeply engaged each night in her
offerings and incantations to Uli."
"That was the regular praying-to-death?" I queried in the pause of
Prince Akuli's lighting his cigarette.
"Sure thing," he nodded. "And Ahuna fell for it. First he tried
to locate the hiding-place of the bait of his hair. Failing that,
he hired a pahiuhiu sorcerer to find it for him. But Hiwilani
queered that game by threatening to the sorcerer to practise apo
leo on him, which is the art of permanently depriving a person of
the power of speech without otherwise injuring him.
"Then it was that Ahuna began to pine away and get more like a
corpse every day. In desperation he appealed to Kanau. I happened
to be present. You have heard what sort of a man my father was.
"'Pig!' he called Ahuna. 'Swine-brains! Stinking fish! Die and
be done with it. You are a fool. It is all nonsense. There is
nothing in anything. The drunken haole, Howard, can prove the
missionaries wrong. Square-face gin proves Howard wrong. The
doctors say he won't last six months. Even square-face gin lies.
Life is a liar, too. And here are hard times upon us, and a slump
in sugar. Glanders has got into my brood mares. I wish I could
lie down and sleep for a hundred years, and wake up to find sugar
up a hundred points.'
"Father was something of a philosopher himself, with a bitter wit
and a trick of spitting out staccato epigrams. He clapped his
hands. 'Bring me a high-ball,' he commanded; 'no, bring me two
high-balls.' Then he turned on Ahuna. 'Go and let yourself die,
old heathen, survival of darkness, blight of the Pit that you are.
But don't die on these premises. I desire merriment and laughter,
and the sweet tickling of music, and the beauty of youthful motion,
not the croaking of sick toads and googly-eyed corpses about me
still afoot on their shaky legs. I'll be that way soon enough if I
live long enough. And it will be my everlasting regret if I don't
live long enough. Why in hell did I sink that last twenty thousand
into Curtis's plantation? Howard warned me the slump was coming,
but I thought it was the square-face making him lie. And Curtis
has blown his brains out, and his head luna has run away with his
daughter, and the sugar chemist has got typhoid, and everything's
going to smash.'
"He clapped his hands for his servants, and commanded: 'Bring me
my singing boys. And the hula dancers--plenty of them. And send
for old Howard. Somebody's got to pay, and I'll shorten his six
months of life by a month. But above all, music. Let there be
music. It is stronger than drink, and quicker than opium.'
"He with his music druggery! It was his father, the old savage,
who was entertained on board a French frigate, and for the first
time heard an orchestra. When the little concert was over, the
captain, to find which piece he liked best, asked which piece he'd
like repeated. Well, when grandfather got done describing, what
piece do you think it was?"
I gave up, while the Prince lighted a fresh cigarette.
"Why, it was the first one, of course. Not the real first one, but
the tuning up that preceded it."
I nodded, with eyes and face mirthful of appreciation, and Prince
Akuli, with another apprehensive glance at the old wahine and her
half-made hala lei, returned to his tale of the bones of his
"It was somewhere around this stage of the game that old Ahuna gave
in to Hiwilani. He didn't exactly give in. He compromised.
That's where I come in. If he would bring her the bones of her
mother, and of her grandfather (who was the father of Kaaukuu, and
who by tradition was rumoured to have been even bigger than his
giant son, she would return to Ahuna the bait of his hair she was
praying him to death with. He, on the other hand, stipulated that
he was not to reveal to her the secret burial-place of all the alii
of Lakanaii all the way back. Nevertheless, he was too old to dare
the adventure alone, must be helped by some one who of necessity
would come to know the secret, and I was that one. I was the
highest alii, beside my father and mother, and they were no higher
"So I came upon the scene, being summoned into the twilight room to
confront those two dubious old ones who dealt with the dead. They
were a pair--mother fat to despair of helplessness, Ahuna thin as a
skeleton and as fragile. Of her one had the impression that if she
lay down on her back she could not roll over without the aid of
block-and-tackle; of Ahuna one's impression was that the tooth-
pickedness of him would shatter to splinters if one bumped into
"And when they had broached the matter, there was more pilikia"
(trouble). "My father's attitude stiffened my resolution. I
refused to go on the bone-snatching expedition. I said I didn't
care a whoop for the bones of all the aliis of my family and race.
You see, I had just discovered Jules Verne, loaned me by old
Howard, and was reading my head off. Bones? When there were North
Poles, and Centres of Earths, and hairy comets to ride across space
among the stars! Of course I didn't want to go on any bone-
snatching expedition. I said my father was able-bodied, and he
could go, splitting equally with her whatever bones he brought
back. But she said he was only a blamed collector--or words to
that effect, only stronger.
"'I know him,' she assured me. 'He'd bet his mother's bones on a
horse-race or an ace-full.'
"I stood with fat her when it came to modern scepticism, and I told
her the whole thing was rubbish. 'Bones?' I said. 'What are
bones? Even field mice, and many rats, and cockroaches have bones,
though the roaches wear their bones outside their meat instead of
inside. The difference between man and other animals,' I told her,
'is not bones, but brain. Why, a bullock has bigger bones than a
man, and more than one fish I've eaten has more bones, while a
whale beats creation when it comes to bone.'
"It was frank talk, which is our Hawaiian way, as you have long
since learned. In return, equally frank, she regretted she hadn't
given me away as a feeding child when I was born. Next she
bewailed that she had ever borne me. From that it was only a step
to anaana me. She threatened me with it, and I did the bravest
thing I have ever done. Old Howard had given me a knife of many
blades, and corkscrews, and screw-drivers, and all sorts of
contrivances, including a tiny pair of scissors. I proceeded to
pare my finger-nails.
"'There,' I said, as I put the parings into her hand. 'Just to
show you what I think of it. There's bait and to spare. Go on and
anaana me if you can.'
"I have said it was brave. It was. I was only fifteen, and I had
lived all my days in the thick of the mystery stuff, while my
scepticism, very recently acquired, was only skin-deep. I could be
a sceptic out in the open in the sunshine. But I was afraid of the
dark. And in that twilight room, the bones of the dead all about
me in the big jars, why, the old lady had me scared stiff. As we
say to-day, she had my goat. Only I was brave and didn't let on.
And I put my bluff across, for my mother flung the parings into my
face and burst into tears. Tears in an elderly woman weighing
three hundred and twenty pounds are scarcely impressive, and I
hardened the brassiness of my bluff.
"She shifted her attack, and proceeded to talk with the dead. Nay,
more, she summoned them there, and, though I was all ripe to see
but couldn't, Ahuna saw the father of Kaaukuu in the corner and lay
down on the floor and yammered. Just the same, although I almost
saw the old giant, I didn't quite see him.
"'Let him talk for himself,' I said. But Hiwilani persisted in
doing the talking for him, and in laying upon me his solemn
injunction that I must go with Ahuna to the burial-place and bring
back the bones desired by my mother. But I argued that if the dead
ones could be invoked to kill living men by wasting sicknesses, and
that if the dead ones could transport themselves from their burial-
crypts into the corner of her room, I couldn't see why they
shouldn't leave their bones behind them, there in her room and
ready to be jarred, when they said good-bye and departed for the
middle world, the over world, or the under world, or wherever they
abided when they weren't paying social calls.
"Whereupon mother let loose on poor old Ahuna, or let loose upon
him the ghost of Kaaukuu's father, supposed to be crouching there
in the corner, who commanded Ahuna to divulge to her the burial-
place. I tried to stiffen him up, telling him to let the old ghost
divulge the secret himself, than whom nobody else knew it better,
seeing that he had resided there upwards of a century. But Ahuna
was old school. He possessed no iota of scepticism. The more
Hiwilani frightened him, the more he rolled on the floor and the
louder he yammered.
"But when he began to bite himself, I gave in. I felt sorry for
him; but, over and beyond that, I began to admire him. He was
sterling stuff, even if he was a survival of darkness. Here, with
the fear of mystery cruelly upon him, believing Hiwilani's dope
implicitly, he was caught between two fidelities. She was his
living alii, his alii kapo" (sacred chiefess). "He must be
faithful to her, yet more faithful must he be to all the dead and
gone aliis of her line who depended solely on him that their bones
should not be disturbed.
"I gave in. But I, too, imposed stipulations. Steadfastly had my
father, new school, refused to let me go to England for my
education. That sugar was slumping was reason sufficient for him.
Steadfastly had my mother, old school, refused, her heathen mind
too dark to place any value on education, while it was shrewd
enough to discern that education led to unbelief in all that was
old. I wanted to study, to study science, the arts, philosophy, to
study everything old Howard knew, which enabled him, on the edge of
the grave, undauntedly to sneer at superstition, and to give me
Jules Verne to read. He was an Oxford man before he went wild and
wrong, and it was he who had set the Oxford bee buzzing in my
"In the end Ahuna and I, old school and new school leagued
together, won out. Mother promised that she'd make father send me
to England, even if she had to pester him into a prolonged drinking
that would make his digestion go back on him. Also, Howard was to
accompany me, so that I could decently bury him in England. He was
a queer one, old Howard, an individual if there ever was one. Let
me tell you a little story about him. It was when Kalakaua was
starting on his trip around the world. You remember, when
Armstrong, and Judd, and the drunken valet of a German baron
accompanied him. Kalakaua made the proposition to Howard . . . "
But here the long-apprehended calamity fell upon Prince Akuli. The
old wahine had finished her lei hala. Barefooted, with no
adornment of femininity, clad in a shapeless shift of much-washed
cotton, with age-withered face and labour-gnarled hands, she
cringed before him and crooned a mele in his honour, and, still
cringing, put the lei around his neck. It is true the hala smelled
most freshly strong, yet was the act beautiful to me, and the old
woman herself beautiful to me. My mind leapt into the Prince's
narrative so that to Ahuna I could not help likening her.
Oh, truly, to be an alii in Hawaii, even in this second decade of
the twentieth century, is no light thing. The alii, utterly of the
new, must be kindly and kingly to those old ones absolutely of the
old. Nor did the Prince without a kingdom, his loved island long
since annexed by the United States and incorporated into a
territory along with the rest of the Hawaiian Islands--nor did the
Prince betray his repugnance for the odour of the hala. He bowed
his head graciously; and his royal condescending words of pure
Hawaiian I knew would make the old woman's heart warm until she
died with remembrance of the wonderful occasion. The wry grimace
he stole to me would not have been made had he felt any uncertainty
of its escaping her.
"And so," Prince Akuli resumed, after the wahine had tottered away
in an ecstasy, "Ahuna and I departed on our grave-robbing
adventure. You know the Iron-bound Coast."
I nodded, knowing full well the spectacle of those lava leagues of
weather coast, truly iron-bound so far as landing-places or
anchorages were concerned, great forbidding cliff-walls thousands
of feet in height, their summits wreathed in cloud and rain squall,
their knees hammered by the trade-wind billows into spouting,
spuming white, the air, from sea to rain-cloud, spanned by a myriad
leaping waterfalls, provocative, in day or night, of countless sun
and lunar rainbows. Valleys, so called, but fissures rather, slit
the cyclopean walls here and there, and led away into a lofty and
madly vertical back country, most of it inaccessible to the foot of
man and trod only by the wild goat.
"Precious little you know of it," Prince Akuli retorted, in reply
to my nod. "You've seen it only from the decks of steamers. There
are valleys there, inhabited valleys, out of which there is no exit
by land, and perilously accessible by canoe only on the selected
days of two months in the year. When I was twenty-eight I was over
there in one of them on a hunting trip. Bad weather, in the
auspicious period, marooned us for three weeks. Then five of my
party and myself swam for it out through the surf. Three of us
made the canoes waiting for us. The other two were flung back on
the sand, each with a broken arm. Save for us, the entire party
remained there until the next year, ten months afterward. And one
of them was Wilson, of Wilson & Wall, the Honolulu sugar factors.
And he was engaged to be married.
"I've seen a goat, shot above by a hunter above, land at my feet a
thousand yards underneath. BELIEVE me, that landscape seemed to
rain goats and rocks for ten minutes. One of my canoemen fell off
the trail between the two little valleys of Aipio and Luno. He hit
first fifteen hundred feet beneath us, and fetched up in a ledge
three hundred feet farther down. We didn't bury him. We couldn't
get to him, and flying machines had not yet been invented. His
bones are there now, and, barring earthquake and volcano, will be
there when the Trumps of Judgment sound.
"Goodness me! Only the other day, when our Promotion Committee,
trying to compete with Honolulu for the tourist trade, called in
the engineers to estimate what it would cost to build a scenic
drive around the Iron-bound Coast, the lowest figures were a
quarter of a million dollars a mile!
"And Ahuna and I, an old man and a young boy, started for that
stern coast in a canoe paddled by old men! The youngest of them,
the steersman, was over sixty, while the rest of them averaged
seventy at the very least. There were eight of them, and we
started in the night-time, so that none should see us go. Even
these old ones, trusted all their lives, knew no more than the
fringe of the secret. To the fringe, only, could they take us.
"And the fringe was--I don't mind telling that much--the fringe was
Ponuloo Valley. We got there the third afternoon following. The
old chaps weren't strong on the paddles. It was a funny
expedition, into such wild waters, with now one and now another of
our ancient-mariner crew collapsing and even fainting. One of them
actually died on the second morning out. We buried him overside.
It was positively uncanny, the heathen ceremonies those grey ones
pulled off in burying their grey brother. And I was only fifteen,
alii kapo over them by blood of heathenness and right of hereditary
heathen rule, with a penchant for Jules Verne and shortly to sail
for England for my education! So one learns. Small wonder my
father was a philosopher, in his own lifetime spanning the history
of man from human sacrifice and idol worship, through the religions
of man's upward striving, to the Medusa of rank atheism at the end
of it all. Small wonder that, like old Ecclesiastes, he found
vanity in all things and surcease in sugar stocks, singing boys,
and hula dancers."
Prince Akuli debated with his soul for an interval.
"Oh, well," he sighed, "I have done some spanning of time myself."
He sniffed disgustedly of the odour of the hala lei that stifled
him. "It stinks of the ancient." he vouchsafed. "I? I stink of
the modern. My father was right. The sweetest of all is sugar up
a hundred points, or four aces in a poker game. If the Big War
lasts another year, I shall clean up three-quarters of a million
over a million. If peace breaks to-morrow, with the consequent
slump, I could enumerate a hundred who will lose my direct bounty,
and go into the old natives' homes my father and I long since
endowed for them."
He clapped his hands, and the old wahine tottered toward him in an
excitement of haste to serve. She cringed before him, as he drew
pad and pencil from his breast pocket.
"Each month, old woman of our old race," he addressed her, "will
you receive, by rural free delivery, a piece of written paper that
you can exchange with any storekeeper anywhere for ten dollars
gold. This shall be so for as long as you live. Behold! I write
the record and the remembrance of it, here and now, with this
pencil on this paper. And this is because you are of my race and
service, and because you have honoured me this day with your mats
to sit upon and your thrice-blessed and thrice-delicious lei hala."
He turned to me a weary and sceptical eye, saying:
"And if I die to-morrow, not alone will the lawyers contest my
disposition of my property, but they will contest my benefactions
and my pensions accorded, and the clarity of my mind.
"It was the right weather of the year; but even then, with our old
weak ones at the paddles, we did not attempt the landing until we
had assembled half the population of Ponuloo Valley down on the
steep little beach. Then we counted our waves, selected the best
one, and ran in on it. Of course, the canoe was swamped and the
outrigger smashed, but the ones on shore dragged us up unharmed
beyond the wash.
"Ahuna gave his orders. In the night-time all must remain within
their houses, and the dogs be tied up and have their jaws bound so
that there should be no barking. And in the night-time Ahuna and I
stole out on our journey, no one knowing whether we went to the
right or left or up the valley toward its head. We carried jerky,
and hard poi and dried aku, and from the quantity of the food I
knew we were to be gone several days. Such a trail! A Jacob's
ladder to the sky, truly, for that first pali" (precipice), "almost
straight up, was three thousand feet above the sea. And we did it
in the dark!
"At the top, beyond the sight of the valley we had left, we slept
until daylight on the hard rock in a hollow nook Ahuna knew, and
that was so small that we were squeezed. And the old fellow, for
fear that I might move in the heavy restlessness of lad's sleep,
lay on the outside with one arm resting across me. At daybreak, I
saw why. Between us and the lip of the cliff scarcely a yard
intervened. I crawled to the lip and looked, watching the abyss
take on immensity in the growing light and trembling from the fear
of height that was upon me. At last I made out the sea, over half
a mile straight beneath. And we had done this thing in the dark!
"Down in the next valley, which was a very tiny one, we found
evidence of the ancient population, but there were no people. The
only way was the crazy foot-paths up and down the dizzy valley
walls from valley to valley. But lean and aged as Ahuna was, he
seemed untirable. In the second valley dwelt an old leper in
hiding. He did not know me, and when Ahuna told him who I was, he
grovelled at my feet, almost clasping them, and mumbled a mele of
all my line out of a lipless mouth.
"The next valley proved to be the valley. It was long and so
narrow that its floor had caught not sufficient space of soil to
grow taro for a single person. Also, it had no beach, the stream
that threaded it leaping a pali of several hundred feet down to the
sea. It was a god-forsaken place of naked, eroded lava, to which
only rarely could the scant vegetation find root-hold. For miles
we followed up that winding fissure through the towering walls, far
into the chaos of back country that lies behind the Iron-bound
Coast. How far that valley penetrated I do not know, but, from the
quantity of water in the stream, I judged it far. We did not go to
the valley's head. I could see Ahuna casting glances to all the
peaks, and I knew he was taking bearings, known to him alone, from
natural objects. When he halted at the last, it was with abrupt
certainty. His bearings had crossed. He threw down the portion of
food and outfit he had carried. It was the place. I looked on
either hand at the hard, implacable walls, naked of vegetation, and
could dream of no burial-place possible in such bare adamant.
"We ate, then stripped for work. Only did Ahuna permit me to
retain my shoes. He stood beside me at the edge of a deep pool,
likewise apparelled and prodigiously skinny.
"'You will dive down into the pool at this spot,' he said. 'Search
the rock with your hands as you descend, and, about a fathom and a
half down, you will find a hole. Enter it, head-first, but going
slowly, for the lava rock is sharp and may cut your head and body.'
"'And then?' I queried. 'You will find the hole growing larger,'
was his answer. 'When you have gone all of eight fathoms along the
passage, come up slowly, and you will find your head in the air,
above water, in the dark. Wait there then for me. The water is
"It didn't sound good to me. I was thinking, not of the cold water
and the dark, but of the bones. 'You go first,' I said. But he
claimed he could not. 'You are my alii, my prince,' he said. 'It
is impossible that I should go before you into the sacred burial-
place of your kingly ancestors.'
"But the prospect did not please. 'Just cut out this prince
stuff,' I told him. 'It isn't what it's cracked up to be. You go
first, and I'll never tell on you.' 'Not alone the living must we
please,' he admonished, 'but, more so, the dead must we please.
Nor can we lie to the dead.'
"We argued it out, and for half an hour it was stalemate. I
wouldn't, and he simply couldn't. He tried to buck me up by
appealing to my pride. He chanted the heroic deeds of my
ancestors; and, I remember especially, he sang to me of Mokomoku,
my great-grandfather and the gigantic father of the gigantic
Kaaukuu, telling how thrice in battle Mokomoku leaped among his
foes, seizing by the neck a warrior in either hand and knocking
their heads together until they were dead. But this was not what
decided me. I really felt sorry for old Ahuna, he was so beside
himself for fear the expedition would come to naught. And I was
coming to a great admiration for the old fellow, not least among
the reasons being the fact of his lying down to sleep between me
and the cliff-lip.
"So, with true alii-authority of command, saying, 'You will
immediately follow after me,' I dived in. Everything he had said
was correct. I found the entrance to the subterranean passage,
swam carefully through it, cutting my shoulder once on the lava-
sharp roof, and emerged in the darkness and air. But before I
could count thirty, he broke water beside me, rested his hand on my
arm to make sure of me, and directed me to swim ahead of him for
the matter of a hundred feet or so. Then we touched bottom and
climbed out on the rocks. And still no light, and I remember I was
glad that our altitude was too high for centipedes.
"He had brought with him a coconut calabash, tightly stoppered, of
whale-oil that must have been landed on Lahaina beach thirty years
before. From his mouth he took a water-tight arrangement of a
matchbox composed of two empty rifle-cartridges fitted snugly
together. He lighted the wicking that floated on the oil, and I
looked about, and knew disappointment. No burial-chamber was it,
but merely a lava tube such as occurs on all the islands.
"He put the calabash of light into my hands and started me ahead of
him on the way, which he assured me was long, but not too long. It
was long, at least a mile in my sober judgment, though at the time
it seemed five miles; and it ascended sharply. When Ahuna, at the
last, stopped me, I knew we were close to our goal. He knelt on
his lean old knees on the sharp lava rock, and clasped my knees
with his skinny arms. My hand that was free of the calabash lamp
he placed on his head. He chanted to me, with his old cracked,
quavering voice, the line of my descent and my essential high alii-
ness. And then he said:
"'Tell neither Kanau nor Hiwilani aught of what you are about to
behold. There is no sacredness in Kanau. His mind is filled with
sugar and the breeding of horses. I do know that he sold a feather
cloak his grandfather had worn to that English collector for eight
thousand dollars, and the money he lost the next day betting on the
polo game between Maui and Oahu. Hiwilani, your mother, is filled
with sacredness. She is too much filled with sacredness. She
grows old, and weak-headed, and she traffics over-much with
"'No,' I made answer. 'I shall tell no one. If I did, then would
I have to return to this place again. And I do not want ever to
return to this place. I'll try anything once. This I shall never
"'It is well,' he said, and arose, falling behind so that I should
enter first. Also, he said: 'Your mother is old. I shall bring
her, as promised, the bones of her mother and of her grandfather.
These should content her until she dies; and then, if I die before
her, it is you who must see to it that all the bones in her family
collection are placed in the Royal Mausoleum.'
"I have given all the Islands' museums the once-over," Prince Akuli
lapsed back into slang, "and I must say that the totality of the
collections cannot touch what I saw in our Lakanaii burial-cave.
Remember, and with reason and history, we trace back the highest
and oldest genealogy in the Islands. Everything that I had ever
dreamed or heard of, and much more that I had not, was there. The
place was wonderful. Ahuna, sepulchrally muttering prayers and
meles, moved about, lighting various whale-oil lamp-calabashes.
They were all there, the Hawaiian race from the beginning of
Hawaiian time. Bundles of bones and bundles of bones, all wrapped
decently in tapa, until for all the world it was like the parcels-
post department at a post office.
"And everything! Kahilis, which you may know developed out of the
fly-flapper into symbols of royalty until they became larger than
hearse-plumes with handles a fathom and a half and over two fathoms
in length. And such handles! Of the wood of the kauila, inlaid
with shell and ivory and bone with a cleverness that had died out
among our artificers a century before. It was a centuries-old
family attic. For the first time I saw things I had only heard of,
such as the pahoas, fashioned of whale-teeth and suspended by
braided human hair, and worn on the breast only by the highest of
"There were tapes and mats of the rarest and oldest; capes and leis
and helmets and cloaks, priceless all, except the too-ancient ones,
of the feathers of the mamo, and of the iwi and the akakane and the
o-o. I saw one of the mamo cloaks that was superior to that finest
one in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, and that they value at
between half a million and a million dollars. Goodness me, I
thought at the time, it was lucky Kanau didn't know about it.
"Such a mess of things! Carved gourds and calabashes, shell-
scrapers, nets of olona fibre, a junk of ie-ie baskets, and fish-
hooks of every bone and spoon of shell. Musical instruments of the
forgotten days--ukukes and nose flutes, and kiokios which are
likewise played with one unstoppered nostril. Taboo poi bowls and
finger bowls, left-handed adzes of the canoe gods, lava-cup lamps,
stone mortars and pestles and poi-pounders. And adzes again, a
myriad of them, beautiful ones, from an ounce in weight for the
finer carving of idols to fifteen pounds for the felling of trees,
and all with the sweetest handles I have ever beheld.
"There were the kaekeekes--you know, our ancient drums, hollowed
sections of the coconut tree, covered one end with shark-skin. The
first kaekeeke of all Hawaii Ahuna pointed out to me and told me
the tale. It was manifestly most ancient. He was afraid to touch
it for fear the age-rotted wood of it would crumble to dust, the
ragged tatters of the shark-skin head of it still attached. 'This
is the very oldest and father of all our kaekeekes,' Ahuna told me.
'Kila, the son of Moikeha, brought it back from far Raiatea in the
South Pacific. And it was Kila's own son, Kahai, who made that
same journey, and was gone ten years, and brought back with him
from Tahiti the first breadfruit trees that sprouted and grew on
"And the bones and bones! The parcel-delivery array of them!
Besides the small bundles of the long bones, there were full
skeletons, tapa-wrapped, lying in one-man, and two- and three-man
canoes of precious koa wood, with curved outriggers of wiliwili
wood, and proper paddles to hand with the io-projection at the
point simulating the continuance of the handle, as if, like a
skewer, thrust through the flat length of the blade. And their war
weapons were laid away by the sides of the lifeless bones that had
wielded them--rusty old horse-pistols, derringers, pepper-boxes,
five-barrelled fantastiques, Kentucky long riffles, muskets handled
in trade by John Company and Hudson's Bay, shark-tooth swords,
wooden stabbing-knives, arrows and spears bone-headed of the fish
and the pig and of man, and spears and arrows wooden-headed and
"Ahuna put a spear in my hand, headed and pointed finely with the
long shin-bone of a man, and told me the tale of it. But first he
unwrapped the long bones, arms, and legs, of two parcels, the
bones, under the wrappings, neatly tied like so many faggots.
'This,' said Ahuna, exhibiting the pitiful white contents of one
parcel, 'is Laulani. She was the wife of Akaiko, whose bones, now
placed in your hands, much larger and male-like as you observe,
held up the flesh of a large man, a three-hundred pounder seven-
footer, three centuries agone. And this spear-head is made of the
shin-bone of Keola, a mighty wrestler and runner of their own time
and place. And he loved Laulani, and she fled with him. But in a
forgotten battle on the sands of Kalini, Akaiko rushed the lines of
the enemy, leading the charge that was successful, and seized upon
Keola, his wife's lover, and threw him to the ground, and sawed
through his neck to the death with a shark-tooth knife. Thus, in
the old days as always, did man combat for woman with man. And
Laulani was beautiful; that Keola should be made into a spearhead
for her! She was formed like a queen, and her body was a long bowl
of sweetness, and her fingers lomi'd' (massaged) 'to slimness and
smallness at her mother's breast. For ten generations have we
remembered her beauty. Your father's singing boys to-day sing of
her beauty in the hula that is named of her! This is Laulani, whom
you hold in your hands.'
"And, Ahuna done, I could but gaze, with imagination at the one
time sobered and fired. Old drunken Howard had lent me his
Tennyson, and I had mooned long and often over the Idyls of the
King. Here were the three, I thought--Arthur, and Launcelot, and
Guinevere. This, then, I pondered, was the end of it all, of life
and strife and striving and love, the weary spirits of these long-
gone ones to be invoked by fat old women and mangy sorcerers, the
bones of them to be esteemed of collectors and betted on horse-
races and ace-fulls or to be sold for cash and invested in sugar
"For me it was illumination. I learned there in the burial-cave
the great lesson. And to Ahuna I said: 'The spear headed with the
long bone of Keola I shall take for my own. Never shall I sell it.
I shall keep it always.'
"'And for what purpose?' he demanded. And I replied: 'That the
contemplation of it may keep my hand sober and my feet on earth
with the knowledge that few men are fortunate enough to have as
much of a remnant of themselves as will compose a spearhead when
they are three centuries dead.'
"And Ahuna bowed his head, and praised my wisdom of judgment. But
at that moment the long-rotted olona-cord broke and the pitiful
woman's bones of Laulani shed from my clasp and clattered on the
rocky floor. One shin-bone, in some way deflected, fell under the
dark shadow of a canoe-bow, and I made up my mind that it should be
mine. So I hastened to help him in the picking up of the bones and
the tying, so that he did not notice its absence.
"'This,' said Ahuna, introducing me to another of my ancestors, 'is
your great-grandfather, Mokomoku, the father of Kaaukuu. Behold
the size of his bones. He was a giant. I shall carry him, because
of the long spear of Keola that will be difficult for you to carry
away. And this is Lelemahoa, your grandmother, the mother of your
mother, that you shall carry. And day grows short, and we must
still swim up through the waters to the sun ere darkness hides the
sun from the world.'
"But Ahuna, putting out the various calabashes of light by drowning
the wicks in the whale-oil, did not observe me include the shinbone
of Laulani with the bones of my grandmother."
The honk of the automobile, sent up from Olokona to rescue us,
broke off the Prince's narrative. We said good-bye to the ancient
and fresh-pensioned wahine, and departed. A half-mile on our way,
Prince Akuli resumed.
"So Ahuna and I returned to Hiwilani, and to her happiness, lasting
to her death the year following, two more of her ancestors abided
about her in the jars of her twilight room. Also, she kept her
compact and worried my father into sending me to England. I took
old Howard along, and he perked up and confuted the doctors, so
that it was three years before I buried him restored to the bosom
of my family. Sometimes I think he was the most brilliant man I
have ever known. Not until my return from England did Ahuna die,
the last custodian of our alii secrets. And at his death-bed he
pledged me again never to reveal the location in that nameless
valley, and never to go back myself.
"Much else I have forgotten to mention did I see there in the cave
that one time. There were the bones of Kumi, the near demigod, son
of Tui Manua of Samoa, who, in the long before, married into my
line and heaven-boosted my genealogy. And the bones of my great-
grandmother who had slept in the four-poster presented her by Lord
Byron. And Ahuna hinted tradition that there was reason for that
presentation, as well as for the historically known lingering of
the Blonde in Olokona for so long. And I held her poor bones in my
hands--bones once fleshed with sensate beauty, informed with
sparkle and spirit, instinct with love and love-warmness of arms
around and eyes and lips together, that had begat me in the end of
the generations unborn. It was a good experience. I am modern,
'tis true. I believe in no mystery stuff of old time nor of the
kahunas. And yet, I saw in that cave things which I dare not name
to you, and which I, since old Ahuna died, alone of the living
know. I have no children. With me my long line ceases. This is
the twentieth century, and we stink of gasolene. Nevertheless
these other and nameless things shall die with me. I shall never
revisit the burial-place. Nor in all time to come will any man
gaze upon it through living eyes unless the quakes of earth rend
the mountains asunder and spew forth the secrets contained in the
hearts of the mountains."
Prince Akuli ceased from speech. With welcome relief on his face,
he removed the lei hala from his neck, and, with a sniff and a
sigh, tossed it into concealment in the thick lantana by the side
of the road.
"But the shin-bone of Laulani?" I queried softly.
He remained silent while a mile of pasture land fled by us and
yielded to caneland.
"I have it now," he at last said. "And beside it is Keola, slain
ere his time and made into a spear-head for love of the woman whose
shin-bone abides near to him. To them, those poor pathetic bones,
I owe more than to aught else. I became possessed of them in the
period of my culminating adolescence. I know they changed the
entire course of my life and trend of my mind. They gave to me a
modesty and a humility in the world, from which my father's fortune
has ever failed to seduce me.
"And often, when woman was nigh to winning to the empery of my mind
over me, I sought Laulani's shin-bone. And often, when lusty
manhood stung me into feeling over-proud and lusty, I consulted the
spearhead remnant of Keola, one-time swift runner, and mighty
wrestler and lover, and thief of the wife of a king. The
contemplation of them has ever been of profound aid to me, and you
might well say that I have founded my religion or practice of
living upon them."
WAIKIKI, HONOLULU, HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.
July 16, 1916.