Category Archives: Hawai’i

Arrival in Honolulu, 1840

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 126-128:

AT daylight on the morning of the 23d of September we made Oahu, one of the Sandwich Islands, and about eight o’clock entered the harbor of Honolulu. A couple of small hawsers were run out from the starboard bow, and these were seized by several hundred natives, men, women, and children, who were on the reef, up to their necks in water, and very soon the ship was warped over the bar and into port, amid such shouting and singing that it seemed as though bedlam had broken loose. All Honolulu, including its land-sharks, was at the waterside and joined in the shouting and cheering. It was not the novelty that created the excitement, for the arrival of a man-of-war, in their port, was no uncommon thing; but they looked upon the event as a sort of golden shower which was to fill their pockets. They had been expecting our arrival for six months.

There were nine whale-ships lying here, besides our squadron. Five of them were American. The next morning between five and six hundred American sailors, all dressed in white frocks and trousers, black tarpaulin hats and neckerchiefs, and their pockets well filled with Spanish dollars, went on shore. Passing the American consul’s house, half-way up Main Street, we hove to, and saluted the Star Spangled Banner, which was proudly waving from his house. The consul, Mr. Brinsmade, and his wife, bowed very gracefully to us from the veranda.

It astonished the natives greatly to see so many sailors let loose at once. The principal street of the town was Main Street. The first settlers lived on this street, in frame houses. Some of these were painted white, with green blinds, and were inclosed with neat picket-fences. The next street was about half a mile back, and ran crosswise. The buildings on this street had thatched roofs and sides, with glass windows and frame doors. Here were located the grog-shops, dancing-halls, billiard-rooms, cock-pits, sailors’ boarding-houses, and gambling-saloons. Some of these houses were inclosed by walls of brick, dried in the sun, and were whitewashed. These were occupied by the middle classes. European garments were worn by this class of people. On the next street the houses were rudely fashioned. They were built of sticks, vines, and half-formed sun-dried bricks, and plastered with mud. The residents on this street were not quite half-dressed. Some of the men wore hat and shirt, and some wore trousers and no shirt. The dress of the ladies was made very much like a bag with a hole in the bottom, for the head to be slipped through, and arm-holes in the sides. It reached to the ankles, and appeared to be of the same width throughout its entire length.

In the outskirts, mud huts were found, which once formed the only habitations of the Sandwich Islanders. The natives occupying these were dressed in the garb of the heathen, a narrow strip of tapa tied around the loins, or a blanket of the same material thrown corner-wise over the left shoulder and tied in a large knot on the breast.

The greatest curiosity I saw while here was the Seaman’s Bethel. This was built in Boston by the Boston Seaman’s Friends’ Society, taken down and shipped to this port in 1826 or 1828. It was in this bethel that Father Damon preached so many years.

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Islands Seeking Hawaiian Protection

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 2340ff:

Unsurprisingly, one of the key elements of this reassertion of Hawaiian political, cultural, and spiritual identity during Gibson’s premiership was a public reiteration of the concept of Hawaiian primacy in the Pacific. In late 1880, still dealing with the aftermath of the Moreno affair and preparing for his voyage around the world, Kalākaua had received a request by Tonga’s King George Tupou I to enter negotiations for a friendship treaty with Hawai‘i, modeled after those Tonga had already concluded with Germany in 1876 and Great Britain in 1879. The Hawaiian king had responded enthusiastically. Tonga did not follow through on it, however, likely because it experienced domestic instability throughout the 1880s (Rutherford 1996, 143). Against this backdrop of renewed interest in the South Pacific for engagement with Hawai‘i, shortly after the king’s return from the world tour, Gibson had once more written an editorial urging that “the policy of this kingdom should be to assist, in every way that is practicable, to preserve the independence of all those communities of Polynesian race which have not already been driven by circumstances to seek the protection of foreign Powers.” He went on to mention “the significant fact that twenty years ago the Hawaiian Government had been thus represented in the South Pacific by a Commissioner, Mr. St. Julian, whose assistance had been gladly availed of by the inhabitants of the islands.” When this proposal was ridiculed by the Missionary Party press, Gibson had provided a lengthy Hawaiian-language rebuttal, written as a fictional discussion between a Hawaiian diplomat and the minister of foreign affairs of the island of Rarotonga. As the new head of the foreign office, Gibson had now full access to the department’s archives and further studied St. Julian’s earlier correspondence with Wyllie (Bailey 1980, 200–201). Being of like mind with the king on this matter, the two men now intended to bring those visionary ideas to fruition at last.

At the same time, during 1882 and 1883, petitions were received from Butaritari and Abaiang in the Gilbert Islands, asking for Hawaiian protection or outright annexation by the kingdom (Horn 1951, 62). One such petition had already been received in 1878 from Tabiteuea in the same archipelago (60), which had led to detailed discussions in the English-language press, referring to Wyllie’s and St. Julian’s earlier project. Replying to these requests, Kalākaua refused outright Hawaiian annexation but declared his intent to establish closer political relations with the islands’ leaders and unsuccessfully invited them to attend his coronation (63). In May 1883, the king of the Tokelauan atoll of Fakaofo also wrote Kalākaua, requesting him to bring back his people who had left the island. To follow up with the Gilbertese chiefs, in July 1883, Gibson commissioned Alfred Tripp, a ship captain involved in recruiting Gilbertese laborers who had been a member of Kalākaua’s privy council since 1874, as special commissioner for Central and Western Polynesia. Tripp’s mission was cut short because his ship was wrecked in the Gilbert Islands, but he communicated with all major chiefs of that archipelago and brought home more petitions for Hawaiian aid or protection.

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Sources of Samoan Legal Terms

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. c. 3412ff:

What is also intriguing about the Samoan constitutional system is that despite the absence of classical state-like political structures, the vocabulary created for concepts of modern statecraft was remarkably traditional, much more than the equivalent terms in Tongan and Fijian. For instance, the Samoan term for law is tulāfono, a concept clearly grounded in classical concepts of governance. Other terms for innovative institutions were literal translations, such as failautusi (someone doing writing or accounting) for secretary (that is, cabinet minister). Very few words, however, were direct borrowings from foreign languages comparable to Tahitian ture and basileia or Tongan lao and minisitā.

In the end, however, the Constitution failed to produce a stable government, but this was due to antagonistic foreign interests, agitation by settlers, and naval intervention. In early 1876, Steinberger was arrested and deported by a visiting British warship due to a conspiracy of the US and British consuls who objected to the premier’s pro-Samoan policies, especially his commitment to examine fraudulent land sales in the past and prevent further such sales (Gilson 1970, 321–331).

In the resulting chaos, the Ta‘imua deposed Laupepa, who then set up a rebel government. Although all parts of the Constitution were not fully in force, the Ta‘imua continued to run at least the external affairs of the government quite successfully for a while. This included sending High Chief M. K. Le Mamea on a diplomatic mission to the United States to sign a Samoan-American treaty in 1878 and concluding similar, albeit unequal, treaties with Germany and the United Kingdom in 1879. After multiple crises and hostilities between the rivaling parties, Malietoa Laupepa was restored to the throne in 1880—Mata‘afa Iosefo, another paramount title holder, serving as premier—but the government’s authority remained tenuous (Gilson 1970, 332–382; So‘o 2008, 39–41). Nonetheless, the Samoan government published a new set of laws, a copy of which was sent to the Hawaiian government (Kingdom of Sāmoa 1880).

In the absence of Steinberger or another trusted European, the position of premier was abolished and a more extensive executive cabinet created instead. By the mid-1880s, this cabinet included a failautusi sili (secretary of state), failautusi mo Sāmoa (secretary of interior, literally secretary for Sāmoa), failautusi teu tupe (secretary of treasury), failautusi o taua (secretary of war), failautusi o fanua (secretary of lands), failautusi o galuega (secretary of works), the faamasino sili (chief justice), and a failautusi faamau-upu (registrar). The American-derived terminology for these offices reflected the continuing legacy of Steinberger’s political ideas.

In Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson was called Tusitala ‘Write-story’.

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Sources of Tahitian Legal Terms

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 3001:

Unlike the Hawaiian constitutional model with its hybrid forms combining classical elements of statecraft with Western forms, the Tahitian legal code and its derivatives primarily used concepts from either biblical or English law, for example, the word ture for “law,” a Tahitian form of the Hebrew word ה רָוֹתּ (torah), basileia (pātīreia in contemporary Tahitian spelling), deriving from Greek βασιλεία (basileía) for kingdom, or tāvana, Tahitian rendering of governor (>*gāvana>tāvana) to designate the heads of the formerly independent clans or chiefdoms that were reorganized as districts within the new Christian kingdom (Académie Tahitienne 1999, 530; Montillier 1999, 270–271).

The marked contrast to the terminology for the equivalent political institutions in the Hawaiian kingdom—namely, kānāwai, aupuni, and kia‘āina, all of which derive from classical Hawaiian statecraft—is clear. It is also hardly surprising, given the nature or Pomare’s kingdom and the other Tahitian-language realms as secondary states modeled on outside examples, and not primary states that developed endogenously, such as the classical Hawaiian predecessor states of the Hawaiian Kingdom (Hommon 2013, 184–185).

For this book, the contrast becomes most relevant where influence of the Tahitian model intersected with that of Hawai‘i. For a short period, this also included the Hawaiian Islands themselves, where Tahitian converts played a significant role in converting the leading figures of the Hawaiian court to Christianity in the 1820s. However, this influence was short lived, and the Hawaiian political system developed along significantly different lines as we have seen earlier in this book.

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Kalākaua as pan-Austronesianist

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Locs. c. 2060, 2160:

During Kalākaua’s stay in Bangkok, relations with King Chulalongkorn of Siam were similarly warm and deep, and included the mutual conferral of high decorations. Like the Meiji Emperor and Viceroy Li, Chulalongkorn was presiding over a rapidly modernizing non-Western nation attempting to reach parity by hybridizing its system of government (Wyatt 1969, 1976, 2003, 166–209; Baker and Phongpaichit 2005, 47–80). Unfortunately, documentation of what exactly might have come out of possible discussions about Siam joining the proposed pan-Asian league has not been found.

During the following visit in Johor, at the southern tip of present-day Malaysia, relations between the Hawaiian king and another non-Western ruler reached another climax. Johor’s ruler, Maharajah Abu-Bakar, was another monarch using the tools of modernity to secure a certain degree of parity for his country (Trocki 1979; Andaya and Andaya 2001, 173–174, 202; Keng 2014). Because he had traveled extensively on his own, Abu-Bakar was Kalākaua’s first non-Western host as fluent in English as himself, so they could talk without an interpreter. But this more familiar atmosphere aside, the king also found the maharajah physically quite similar to a Hawaiian ali‘i, specifically, the late Prince Leleiohōkū I. As Kalākaua remarked in a letter to his brother-in-law, “if [the maharajah] could have spoken our language I would take him to be one of our people the resemblance being so strong.” Although Abu-Bakar could not speak Kalākaua’s native language, the two monarchs compared words in Hawaiian and Malay, and within a few minutes could identify a number of them that the two Austronesian languages had in common, and they reflected on the common origins of their peoples (Armstrong 1977, 44; Requilmán 2002, 164). Back home, Gibson was delighted to see his long-time vision of pan-Austronesian relations finally become reality and used the comparison between the two realms to point out flaws in the current state of affairs in Hawai‘i:

We are very glad that our Hawaiian King visited a Malay sovereign, the Maharajah of Johore: that His Majesty recognized striking evidences of kinship between Hawaiian and Malay: that His Majesty observed that these brown cognates of Johore were healthy, prolific and an increasing people, though living under the guidance and dominion of the European race; that His Majesty recognizes that there is no natural law, or destiny, that the brown races shall pass away in the presence of the whites, as is alleged in Polynesia; and that evidently decay and decline among His Majesty’s native people must be the results of some mischievous interferences with the natural order of things, and of hurtful radical changes affecting the sanitary condition of the aborigines of Polynesia.

Kalākaua maintained close relations with the court of Johor during the rest of his reign, attested by a steady exchange of letters between the two monarchs and their government officials throughout the 1880s. It was likely similar considerations of pan-Austronesian solidarity that later motivated Kalākaua to include Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar among the heads of state he notified via autographed letters of the death of his sister Likelike in February 1887. Like Siam and Johor, the Kingdom of Madagascar was another non-Western hybrid state using strategies of selective similitude to achieve international parity (Valette 1979; Esoavelomandroso 1979; Brown 2006). At the time of Kalākaua’s letter, however, Queen Ranavalona’s government was embattled by French imperialism, which had led to the forcing of a French protectorate on the Indian Ocean island kingdom in 1885 and would culminate in the French conquest and colonial annexation of the island in 1896 (Randrianarisoa 1997). Hence, Kalākaua’s gesture to include the Malagasy queen among the heads of state of the world should be seen as a remarkable gesture of pan-Austronesian anticolonial solidarity.

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‘British Governance’ via Hawaiian Institutions

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 655ff:

The most important aspect of the special relationship with Britain, besides the protection of the kingdom against possible aggression by another Western imperial power (Kauai 2014, 73), was the adoption of what Hawaiian political scientist Keanu Sai has termed a system of “British governance,” a perfect example of similitude, as discussed in the introduction (2008, 39–42). This included equating not only the office of mō‘ī with that of king but also the office of kālaimoku with that of prime minister, including the adoption of the name Billy Pitt (the British prime minister at the time) by Kamehameha’s kālaimoku Kalanimōkū, and the offices of kia‘āina with those of governors, because the British Crown appointed them to head its overseas colonies (Sai 2008, 39). The alliance with Britain also included the British union flag, which was later incorporated in the upper corner of the Hawaiian national flag Kamehameha adopted in 1816 (Williams 1963).

Overall, however, these changes remained rather superficial, and the system of government remained essentially that of a classical Hawaiian state. The core institutions such as the mō‘ī and his executive advisors—including the kia‘āina appointed to govern the conquered islands, the palena of the territorial divisions, and the kānāwai and kapu to regulate society—remained similar if not identical to how they had operated during previous reigns. The one major innovation was the employment of foreigners, preferably Britons, such as the sailors John Young and Isaac Davis, who, as major military and diplomatic aides to Kamehameha, were elevated into the higher ali‘i class. More recently arrived other foreign employees of the king, such as Britons George Beckley and Alexander Adams, the Spaniard Francisco de Paula Marín, and the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Rives were treated much like court retainers of kaukau ali‘i (lower chiefly) rank in the classical system (Kame‘eleihiwa 1992, 59).

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Achieving Parity via Hybridity

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 194ff:

Japan’s late nineteenth-century developments are perfect examples of what scholars have termed the use of similitude and selective appropriation to create a hybrid system in order to achieve parity. Hawai‘i-based Swiss scholar Niklaus Schweizer describes parity as “an effort to be taken seriously by the Western powers, to be accepted as an equal and to be accorded the civilities and privileges established by international law,” adding that “the preferred option in Polynesia was to achieve at least a degree of parity with the West” (2005, 177), a statement that is true not only for Polynesia. In the nineteenth century, transforming one’s political institutions to some degree to achieve such diplomatic parity was a goal most emerging non-Western nation-states shared. One of the ways to do so was the use of what historian Jeremy Prestholdt calls the strategy of similitude—a transformation of certain forms of behavior, cultural protocols, and aesthetic standards—to make them similar to those of the West. Prestholdt defines similitude as “a conscious self-presentation in interpersonal and political relationships that stresses likeliness” (2007, 120). Superficially akin to assimilation under colonial coercion, similitude is voluntarily done by a society outside colonial control yet confronted with Western imperial hegemony. Mentioning the international relations of nineteenth-century Hawai‘i, Siam, and Madagascar as further examples, Prestholdt describes similitude “as a mode of self-representation [that] links symbols and claims to sameness in order to leverage relationships with the more powerful” (120). Rarely, however, would a country push similitude to the point of sameness with the West, but rather appropriate Western elements selectively, resulting not in cultural assimilation but rather in cultural and political hybridity, preserving aspects of traditional governance and culture while also embracing modern technology and the Western model of the nation-state as well as Western cultural protocols. In the case of Hawai‘i, geographer Kamanamaikalani Beamer uses the concept of hybridity, based on an earlier conceptualization by Homi Bhabha (1994, 159–160), “to illustrate the ways in which Hawaiian rulers used traditional structures and systems of knowledge in an attempt to construct a modern nation-state” because “they were modifying existing structures and negotiating European legal forms which created something new, neither completely Anglo American nor traditionally Hawaiian, but a combination of both” (Beamer 2008, 30, 177).

In many cases, such strategies clearly paid off. As a result of their selective use of similitude to hybridize their societies and political systems, which resulted in the achievement of at least a degree of recognition by the Western powers, Japan, Thailand, Iran, Turkey, and Ethiopia never became colonies, an enormous source of pride for their inhabitants to this day.

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Early Japanese Interest in South Seas

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 15-16:

Until the late 19th century the Japanese government had no policies for the South Seas. The government was preoccupied with domestic affairs, while Germany, the United States, Australia, France, Spain, Netherlands, and Britain were involved in the acquisition and exchange of tropical islands. The Japanese government’s primary concern was to centralise governance in order to build a strong empire which could not be colonised. External affairs were secondary concerns in which the government was mainly preoccupied with the removal of unequal treaties imposed by Western nations and the promotion of national prestige. Although Japan’s expansionism was shown in the 1870s in Saigō Takamori‘s claim to invade Korea, Ōkubo Toshimichi‘s decision to send a military expedition to Taiwan and the government’s declaration that the Ryūkyū Islands and Sakhalin were parts of Japan, the expansion was limited to the adjacent region. The government’s involvement in South Seas affairs was marginal and largely confined to matters of national prestige and the rights of citizens abroad.

Japan’s first involvement in the South Seas was an embarrassing episode involving emigrants to Guam. In 1868 about 40 Japanese emigrated as contract labourers to work on a plantation where a Spanish employer treated them harshly. The Japanese were treated no differently from locals and the employer did not pay their promised wages in full. Their complaint to a Spanish administrator was ignored. In 1871, after some had died due to harsh work conditions, three managed to return to Japan to report their plight. The government was astonished and the matter was discussed, but it is unknown whether it took any action to save these migrants or protested to the Spanish administration. In 1868, 153 contract labourers in Hawaii suffered a similar fate. These incidents embarrassed the Japanese government which was acutely sensitive about its national dignity but probably the government, which was just managing to survive by pacifying rebels, chose not to protest in order to avoid conflicts that it could not handle confidently. The government could only ban emigration by enforcing tight regulations to avoid further national disgrace.

However, the issue of sovereignty over the Ogasawara (also known as Bonin) Islands provided an opportunity to stimulate Japanese interest in the South Seas. Although the Tokugawa government hardly resisted when Commodore Perry demanded the opening of Japan and proclaimed US possession of the Ogasawara Islands in 1853, some vocal Meiji officials in 1875 ’emphasised the urgency of return of the islands that could connect Japanese interests to the South Seas’. The report of the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister explained that ‘the islands were a strategic point in the Pacific sea route, which was extremely important in Japan’s advancement in the South Sea’. Then negotiations began and the US compromised. The issue signalled the beginning of the government’s awareness of its interests in the South Seas. It was also significant in that the government promoted national dignity by recovering territory.

As the incidents in Guam and Hawaii showed, the government was aware of its weak internal position and tried not to provoke other Western nations in the South Seas until the 1880s.

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Sinking the Zuikaku and Zuiho

From The Battle for Leyte Gulf: The Incredible Story of World War II’s Largest Naval Battle, by C. Vann Woodward (Skyhorse, 2007), Kindle pp. 141-143:

Comdr. T. H. Winters, target co-ordinator for the strike, led the group northward, passed over the crippled ships without pausing, then pushed ahead with his wingman to locate the main body of undamaged ships. Winters found the Zuikaku, the light carrier Zuiho, one of the battleships, a cruiser, and three destroyers, all apparently undamaged, steaming northward at twenty knots. He reported his discovery to Mitscher, who ordered him to “sink the carriers,” the undamaged ones.

After checking the speed and course of the targets, Winters ordered the Lexington and Langley groups to combine on the two carriers. This time there was a light film of cumulus clouds over the targets, of which the bombers took advantage in making their approach. Gaudily colored antiaircraft fire rose from the ships, together with white bursts of phosphorus with long tentacles, and a new shell that sent whirling spring-like brass wires into the air. One of the Essex planes flamed and went down under the barrage, while several others took hits.

Twelve Lexington bombers armed with half-ton armor-piercing bombs dived on the Zuikaku and planted several hits along her flight deck. These were followed shortly by nine Essex Helldivers similarly armed, which claimed additional hits on the large carrier. The results of the torpedo plane attack on the same ship were variously reported, though it seems probable that a few hits were scored. Large fires were started on the light carrier Zuiho by bombing attacks.

Winters directed the planes from Davison’s carriers to delay their dives until he went down to investigate the results of the first attacks. Once under the cloud cover he found the Zuikaku burning, smoking heavily, almost dead in the water, and listing twenty degrees to port. While she seemed about done for, the light carrier Zuiho had extinguished her fires and was floating normally. Winters climbed back “upstairs,” with shrapnel damage to his plane, and directed the Franklin, Enterprise, and San Jacinto planes, which had been awaiting their turn aloft, to attack the light carrier. The attack of these groups started up the fires on the Zuiho again, but as the planes left for their base she was still headed north under her own steam.

Waiting for a new strike group to arrive over the targets, Winters made a ten mile circle around the new cripples, during which he sighted a battleship and two cruisers between ten and twenty miles south of the main body headed north. He informed Mitscher of the contact and returned to the scene of the last air strike.

Winters arrived over the main enemy group just in time to witness the death throes of the Zuikaku. Mitscher’s pilots had settled some long-standing scores with their strikes of the 25th, for the Zuikaku had earned an impressive name in the Pacific. She was the last survivor of the six Japanese carriers which attacked Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941. During the three years that followed she drew blood from our airmen at Coral Sea, in two Solomons actions, Stewart Island and Santa Cruz, and again in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. She had a hand in the sinking of two of our finest carriers. The last of Japan’s prewar first-line carriers and the last ship of CarDiv One, pride of the Imperial Fleet, the Zuikaku had run through her luck. At about 1430 Winters watched her roll over slowly to starboard and sink without any explosion. She was flying “a battle flag of tremendous size, perhaps fifty feet square,” he said.

Thirty minutes later the first elements of the fourth strike of the day, a small one this time consisting of a series of minor attacks, arrived under the co-ordinating direction of Comdr. Malcolm T. Wordell. At about 1500 several half-ton bombs and two torpedoes finished off the crippled Zuiho, thus evening the score for the old Hornet, which the Zuiho had assisted in sinking in the Battle of Santa Cruz. Japanese destroyers maneuvered to recover survivors of the two carriers. There were now three carriers down and one to go — the cripple left far to the south and deserted by her screening vessels.

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Chinese Overseas Labor Recuitment, 1800s

From Singapore: Unlikely Power, by John Curtis Perry (Oxford U. Press, 2017), Kindle Loc. 2328-68:

During the nineteenth century, in seaports along the China coast, … it was not a good idea for a Chinese man then to walk alone along the waterfront, especially after dark. “To be Shanghaied” entered the English language to signify the kidnapping that occurred, not for service at sea—unless it were pirates desperate for additional crew—but for labor ashore. A ship would simply be the vehicle bearing the victim to his new life. He would be headed for some overseas destination, sometimes Singapore, as a contract laborer, and a virtual slave in many cases.

Customarily brokers would not resort to kidnapping. Instead they would advance a variety of approaches to their quarry: cajolery and threats. Crimps would receive a bounty for every victim delivered to a holding pen, the so-called barracoon, a word taken directly from the African slave trade. The Chinese shipped all the way across the Pacific received treatment as bad as Africans in the Atlantic Middle Passage. Many would die at sea….

In the barracoon, the man would be given a cursory physical examination and if passed, which was highly likely, he would be handed a contract to sign specifying the number of years he must work and the amount of pay he would receive. A governor of Hong Kong, Sir John Bowring, saw this process for himself: “hundreds of them gathered together in barracoons, stripped naked, and stamped or painted with the letter C (Cuba), P (Peru), or S (Sandwich Islands–Hawai’i) on their breasts .” They would be held there until a ship was ready for them. Some did escape from the barracoon, Bowring said, “by going through an opening in the water closet into the mud and water of the river,” which might mean survival—for those who could swim.

Driven by poverty, many Chinese also left the mother country voluntarily. The 1849 gold rush in California encouraged those looking for a new life promising prosperity. The mines and plantations of Southeast Asia beckoned others. Treatment of those bound for Singapore was marginally better than those heading for forced labor elsewhere. Their numbers were heavily male; the few females who came, often kidnapped or deceived, were mostly prostitutes whose services an all-male society craved.

From the China coast the seaborne flow of emigrants to Southeast Asia lay in Chinese hands. The official Qing attitude toward this human traffic, free or forced, was analogous to its attitude toward the opium trade. Many in authority deplored it; but no one took consistent action to stop it. Too many local officials found such activities personally profitable.

Those who went to mine tin in Malaya, tough as it was, were more fortunate than those taken across the Pacific, either to shovel acrid bird dung, guano, prized as fertilizer, in a treeless environment on a desolate island off the coast of Peru with hot sun beating down all day, or to equally disagreeable toil on sugar plantations in Cuba. The tin miners in Malaya were often able to complete a work contract and then find something better to do.

For them, Singapore served as a gathering spot, a free port for people as well as objects. Unlike so many other countries, Singapore welcomed immigrant Chinese, most of whom came as contract laborers who passed through the city to work in the nearby staple industries that were crying for labor. Those who stayed and failed to climb the economic ladder pulled the rickshaws, or carried sacks of rice on the docks, working a long day in the tropical heat. Immigrants were overwhelmingly male until the twentieth century. When females began to come in number after 1918 and the Great War, family life could begin, transforming the immigrant community.

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