Category Archives: Hawai’i

25th Infantry Regiment Black Baseball Champs

From Black Baseball Out of Season: Pay for Play Outside of the Negro Leagues, by William McNeil (McFarland, 2007), pp. 52-55:

The famous 25th Infantry Regiment was the all-black company popularly known as the Buffalo Soldiers. The regiment was formed in 1869 and saw service in the United States, Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, and Mexico. Its baseball tradition had its beginnings in Missoula, Montana, where the first team was formed in 1894 by Master Sergeant Dalbert P. Green, who was instructed to form a regimental team after an informal baseball game between an interracial infantry team and an all-black cavalry team created such interest and enthusiasm that Col. Andrew S. Burt believed that organized teams would be good for morale and would relieve the boredom that existed during periods of peace and quiet on the frontier. Green, who was named team captain, noted that “Players generally furnished their own uniforms and shoes: these consisted of canton flannel drawers (altered by company tailors), a dark blue flannel shirt, and a pair of barrack shoes (heels cut off), stockings, and caps furnished by the players. Practice was held in the evening after retreat, games being played on Sundays and Holidays. The ‘Old Timers’ didn’t take to the game as they do at the present time. An athlete, to be considered, had also to show soldierly qualities of the very highest type.” He considered the 25th Infantry Regiment teams that were stationed in Hawaii between 1914 and 1918 to be among the greatest teams he was ever associated with. As he said, “During my connection with the team it has played against players in different parts of the United States and foreign possessions and who have become famous in both the National and American Leagues, not mentioning the minor leagues at all….

The 25th Infantry baseball team rose to prominence after it was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. They established themselves as the best team on the island of Oahu, and began to compete against college teams and teams of the high classification Pacific Coast League….

The leader of the team was Wilbur Rogan, better known as “Cap,” short for Captain, to his fellow soldiers because of his leadership qualities, not only on the baseball field, but also in army matters….

Rogan seemed to carry the 25th on his back for much of the decade, but he did have help. His teammates included four players who would later follow him to the Kansas City MonarchsDobie Moore, Lem Hawkins, Bob Fagan, and Oscar “Heavy” Johnson—plus Fred Goliath, who would play with the Chicago Giants in 1920, and William “Big C” Johnson, who would join the Dayton Marcos in 1920.


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Hawai‘i Chinese Baseball Team at the Far Eastern Games, 1915

From The Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers: A Multiethnic Baseball Team Tours the Mainland, 1912-1916, by Joel S. Franks (McFarland, 2012), Kindle Loc. 2220-2242:

Luck Yee told readers that China needed a baseball team to represent it adequately at the Far Eastern games. Thus, sports-minded Chinese authorities went to Hawai’i for help because they knew that “a Chinese baseball team” had made several successful journeys to the American mainland. Furthermore, “Manila people” were anxious to see a Chinese Hawaiian team in action.

The son of a Chinese immigrant father and a native-born Hawaiian mother, Luck Yee described the trip westward as pleasant. He said that he and his teammates would climb on deck to do some warming up. However, “It was a queer experience to get out there the first time, throwing the ball while the ship was dipping and rolling. All the boys, except one or two, held conferences with the sharks and other fishes for a day or more, and then were well, ate heartily and slept nicely.”

Luck Yee had generally kind things to say about Japan. After 11 days at sea, the Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers reached Yokohama. Upon arrival, the team roamed by foot the city’s streets because they could not communicate with the “jinrikisha men.” Eventually, they ate at a Chinese restaurant and spent the night at the Hotel De France. The team seemed to like “Tokio” more. There, they took an “enjoyable” ricksha trek around the city. “Wherever we stopped the people would gather around us wonderingly. We had a hard time trying to obtain information from the policemen. All we could get out of them was a shake of the head.”

Luck Yee expressed less warmth for China. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, the Hawaiians noted the Sampras harboring “poor women, carrying children on their backs and rowing the boats too. Some of them had clothes that were tattered and worn out – poor miserable things. They were hungry creatures.” Before actually setting foot on Hong Kong the Hawaiians were accosted by a disagreeable Chinese customs official, according to Luck Yee. The pitcher claimed this bureaucrat “had the hauteur of an absolute ruler of the place.” He searched the players’ trunks for opium, firearms, and cartridges, and his arrogance, Luck Yee stressed, almost led “to blows.”

Still, Hong Kong merchants entertained the visitors. Luck Yee recalled that during one feast put on by local merchants, “beautifully dressed girls” sang for the players. However, the Hawaiians could not understand the lyrics of what the entertainers were singing until the young women sang Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” and the “famous Tipperary.”

A motorcade greeted the Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers upon their arrival in Manila. They were then driven to the local YMCA where they stayed. Unable to practice for the 26 days they were ship-bound, Luck Yee and his teammates tried to work out in Manila their first day. The Chinese Hawaiians drew a large crowd to their practice – a crowd that included several opposing players. However, the weather was so hot they decided to do something else with their time after 15 minutes of exercise.

The Manila sporting press, Luck Yee complained, generally “knock[ed] us” before the Chinese Hawaiians took the field. Luck Yee conceded that there was one “contrarian” among the local sportswriters who praised the visitors. Luck Yee wrote, “It was fun to see them jeer at each other through the columns of their respective papers. The more they knocked the harder we played.”

Even though the team played effectively, the Manila sportswriters continued to scoff, maintaining that the Hawaiians were more lucky than good. Still, the visitors drew well – hefty crowds of as many as 10,000. Luck Yee reported proudly that the team tied the “much touted” Manila nine and then savaged another nine of hometown heroes, 10-0. The Manila press started to change its tune, while the city’s Chinese community invited the Hawaiians to a dinner.

Returning to China, the Hawaiians were feted by Chinese President Yuan Shi Kai. The ballplayers received “little mementoes.” However, political trouble was brewing for the President and the Hawaiians were feeling sorry for Yuan Shi Kai. Luck Yee asserted, “Wonderful indeed must be that man who will eventually lead 500,000,000 countrymen.”

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Japanese vs. Chinese Baseball in Hawai‘i, 1911

From The Barnstorming Hawaiian Travelers: A Multiethnic Baseball Team Tours the Mainland, 1912-1916, by Joel S. Franks (McFarland, 2012), Kindle Loc. 456-490:

The visits of Japanese baseball teams to the American mainland in 1905 and 1911 helped set the stage for the Hawaiian Travelers baseball team’s initial journey in 1912. In 1905, a contingent from Waseda University traveled eastward to the United States. Under the headline of “Japs as Ballplayers,” the Washington Post told readers that Waseda’s trip to America had enhanced baseball’s popularity in Japan as well as “future international contests between the universities of the Pacific Coast and the Orient.” The Japanese nine, moreover, had improved its play during its stay on the mainland. Waseda offered relatively little competition to Stanford, Cal, and St. Mary’s nines. But in Southern California, the Japanese contingent played better.”

Indeed, in Southern California, the Waseda nine managed to take part in the first baseball game played on the American mainland between two teams representing different non-white racial groups. At a Los Angeles ballpark, Waseda encountered a team from Sherman’s Institute, a Riverside County boarding school for Native Americans. Waseda beat the Sherman Institute nine, which included John Tortez, a talented Cahuilla Indian athlete who became better known as “Chief” Meyers, a solid catcher for the New York Giants. Waseda also defeated a Los Angeles High School nine and, more impressively, a team representing the University of Southern California. In all, according to the Seymours, Waseda won seven of 26 games in the U.S.

In 1911, the Waseda nine returned to the American mainland, as did a team from Keio. These Japanese ballplayers from Waseda had a hard time with Stanford but impressed observers. The Daily Palo Alto saw them as both skilled athletes and racialized exotics: “The Japanese proved their reputation for sportsmanlike playing…. They are a nine of small men and they have to work for everything they get. Their native smallness handicaps them in their playing, but what they lose in size is made up in quickness, and in their taking advantage of every opening offered by the opposing nine.”

The next year the “Chinese Traveling Team” left the islands for the U.S. mainland with the blessings of Honolulu’s Chinese community and haole business interests. The team, affiliated with Honolulu’s Chinese Athletic Club, had raised, according to the Hawaiian Star, $6,000 for the trip. Fortuitously, the notion of sending a team of Chinese Hawaiians to the American mainland brought together Honolulu’s Chinese and non-Chinese commercial
interests. The former wanted to divert white mainlanders from their frequently zealous support of anti-Chinese legislation. The latter wanted to entice mainland tourists and investment. The fact that Japanese teams had toured the American mainland in 1905 and again in 1911 with some success and apparently without any major incidents suggested that the logistics of sending a Chinese Hawaiian nine westward were secure and manageable.

Of course, no one wanted to ship off a contingent of incompetents to mainland baseball diamonds. But Honolulu’s small baseball world knew of a number of very good Chinese Hawaiian ballplayers – ballplayers that would be seen as surprisingly skilled curiosities by many mainlanders. Scattered on various Honolulu teams, players such as En Sue Pung, Lai Tin, and infielder Alex Asam were assembled into an All-Chinese nine just in time to greet the Keio University team when it came to the islands in 1911.

Before taking on the Keio nine, the All-Chinese team easily defeated the best team in the Oahu League, the Hawaiis, 8-2. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser bemoaned the inability of the “Celestials” to enter a team in the Oahu League. As it was, fans were surprised that the league champion could fall so readily to the Chinese Hawaiians.

Meanwhile, many Japanese and Chinese Hawaiians were excited about the Keio-All-Chinese game scheduled for July 12, 1911. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser lamented that the game between Keio and the All-Chinese was scheduled for mid-week. Accordingly, Japanese and Chinese Hawaiian working people, as well as other Hawaiian baseball fans, would be prevented from attending. Nevertheless, the game was slated for late in the afternoon and most Honolulu baseball fans, except for Honolulu’s Nikkei population, seemed to back the local team.

A relatively huge crowd arrived for the Keio-All-Chinese match-up. Apparently, feelings ran high. According to the Advertiser, spectators were warned in English, Japanese, and Chinese to refrain from fighting, a warning which was supposedly heeded. The Japanese team won, 6-3. However, a rematch was arranged and the Advertiser speculated on a possible victory this time for the Chinese Hawaiians. “It will be a great feather in the caps of the Chinese team if they can pull a victory from the Japanese players, and the rejoicing in the Chinese community will beat any Fourth of July and Chinese New Year rolled into one that Honolulu has ever seen.” Meanwhile, Chinese Hawaiian baseball fans persisted in attending and rooting against the Keio nine as the Japanese ballplayers opposed Honolulu’s various multi-ethnic teams.

In the rematch, the Chinese Hawaiians proved too much for the visitors. According to the Advertiser, Apau Kau, “the burly, good natured Chinese … pitched the game of his life.” The score was 5-2 to the advantage of the locals when the Keio players left the field to protest an umpire’s decision. The Advertiser surmised as well that violence was simmering between the Japanese and Chinese spectators. However, “the mounted and foot police came in on the lope and stopped the little `tea party’.”

Things had gotten too exciting for all concerned. A rubber match between the All-Chinese and Keio was, indeed, cancelled. Moreover, at least the Advertiser seemed concerned about Asian Pacific athletes assuming a prominent place in Hawaiian baseball. “Aliens” were hurting the sport on the islands, according to the daily, “and the sooner the Europeans and their descendants get busy, and start the best game on earth going like it used to be, years ago, the better for the peace of mind of the Honolulu people.” In truth, the Advertiser appeared most distressed over the behavior of those Nikkei baseball fans determined to boycott all games between Keio and Hawaiian nines because they believed the Japanese ballplayers got a raw deal in the second game against the All-Chinese.

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Punahou and Baseball in the Hawaiian Kingdom

From: Missionaries, Cartwright, and Spalding: The Development of Baseball in Nineteenth-Century Hawaii, by Frank Ardolino, in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture 10(2002):27-45 (Project MUSE subscription required).

The person usually credited with the introduction of the Massachusetts form of early baseball is Captain James H. Black, a Boston printer…. The game flourished at Punahou School…. Daniel Dole, the school’s first principal (1841-54), was a noted baseball enthusiast and player…. The school promoted baseball on campus and in the community, arranging match games with other schools and supporting town leagues. Punahou’s encouragement of the game as a major recreational pastime resulted in the flowering of baseball in Hawaii from 1866 to 1890, a period that will be discussed in greater detail after Cartwright’s influence in analyzed.

Alexander Joy Cartwright is considered an important baseball pioneer because he helped to create the New York Knickerbocker ball club in the 1840s and formulated rules for the version of the game that evolved into the national pastime. In March 1849, he left New York for the gold fields of California and on his cross-country journey became a kind of Johnny Appleseed for baseball by introducing the game to American Indians and settlers, as he recorded in his diary. When he quickly grew disenchanted with California, he decided to sail home via China, but he disembarked in Honolulu at the end of August 1849 and soon determined to settle there permanently, bringing his family from New York in 1852.

In the next two decades, Cartwright not only prospered in shipping, whaling, insurance, and real estate but also became a community builder who helped to construct a new Hawaii. He was the organizer and first chief of the Honolulu Fire Department, one of the founders of the Queen’s Hospital, organizer and president of the Honolulu Library and numismatics society, and founder of Masonic Lodge 21, among numerous other achievements. As a result of his business and legal acumen, he also served as financial advisor to five monarchs.

Despite Cartwright’s considerable presence in the political, economic, and legal sectors of Hawaii, there exists little evidence for his similar role in the development of baseball….

Cartwright’s last two children, his sons Bruce and Allie, were born in Hawaii and attended Punahou from 1864 to 1869. There are contemporary references to their participation in the game. The Punahou Reporter recounts the minutes for the meeting of the Whangdoodle Base Ball Club–composed of Punahou students and graduates–on May 14, 1872, in which the club announces that it expects the Cartwright brothers to resume their ball playing when they return from school in the United States. In the following year, Allie is listed in the Punahou tally book as the captain of the club. Further, the box score from the Hawaiian Gazette of August 18, 1875, records Allie as the Whangdoodle second baseman who scored 2 runs in a 11-10 loss to the Pacifics. Bruce is mentioned as a member of the Married Men’s Baseball Club in 1884, and, finally, at the annual meeting of the Hawaiian Base Ball League on March 10, 1886, Bruce was chosen as one of the official scorers for the upcoming season….

The influence of Punahou and Alexander Cartwright as promoters of baseball resulted in its flourishing between 1866 and 1890. The game’s growing popularity resulted in the creation of league play and match games, an increase in the number of ball fields, and innovations in the rules, equipment, tally book, and box scores, which appeared in the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, the Hawaiian Gazette, and the Punahou Mirror, Reporter.

During this period, the foreign population of Hawaii increased from 4,000 to 49,000, and the native population decreased from 58,000 to 40,000. Although Punahou’s enrollment grew slowly, only tripling its initial enrollment of thirty-four pupils by 1880, its influence on the changing community went far beyond its numbers. Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast and a visitor to Hawaii in 1860, described how Punahou extended its system of excellence by sending its graduates to mainland colleges, where they not only were trained to be future teachers at Punahou but also attracted prestigious recruits to teach there. 24 One illustrious mainland recruit was William H. Chickering, who came to Hawaii in 1871 to teach the classics. He had played shortstop for Amherst College, and at Punahou he served as umpire and catcher for both teams, as well as joining the Whangdoodles, “a downtown club composed of Punahou boys, old and new …

In his Reminiscences, W.R. Castle attests to the central role Punahou played in the development of baseball. Castle was the son of pioneer lay missionary Samuel N. Castle, who also founded the firm of Castle and Cooke, which became one of the Big Five corporations that controlled the sugar industry in Hawaii. W.R. Castle attended Punahou from 1860 to 1864 and then went to Oberlin College for two years. When he returned to Hawaii in 1866, he introduced the New York version to the Punahou Baseball club … When he traveled to the other Hawaiian Islands in 1869, Castle attended games played with enthusiasm and skill by residents who called baseball “the gift of Punahou.”… They used a lively rubber ball but had no mitts, masks, or body protectors….

In 1866, an official league was created composed of the Pacifics and the Pioneers, who were joined in a few years by the Whangdoodles, Pensacolas, and Athletics. At the first organizational meeting on June 1, 1866, the original teams adopted the regulations of the California National Baseball Convention. Future meetings were held at various firehouses, perhaps reflecting Cartwright’s influence on the organization of the league. Rules were enforced, fines levied, and sometimes teams disbanded, with their members joining other teams or forming new ones….

The popularity of baseball was also demonstrated by the scheduling of match games between the Whangdoodles and sailors, the infantry and cavalry on King Kamehameha Day, and interisland teams. The Whangdoodles won 2 games, one at the end of 1871 by the whopping score of 88-43 against the Mariners, a team composed of the officers and sailors from the whaling fleet that had been shipwrecked in the Arctic Ocean….

As the popularity of baseball spread throughout the community, both attendance and the number of fields available for play increased. Women would attend games on horseback, and some fans arrived in carriages. So many new spectators came to see the games at Makiki Reserve that in June 1884 a new and larger attendance stand was erected to accommodate them. At this time, nine fields, representing a geographical spectrum of playing areas within and without the boundaries of what then constituted the city of Honolulu, were used: Punahou Field, the Esplanade behind the Custom House, the field on the grounds where Central Union Church now stands in central Honolulu, Makiki Reserve, the area behind historic Kawaihao Church, and the fields on the prison and parade grounds.

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Japanese Buddhism Fading in Hawai‘i

Just in time for the onset of the Obon season, the July issue of Honolulu Magazine publishes an article by Tiffany Hill (pp. 38-42) on the “Fading Tradition” of Japanese Buddhism in Hawai‘i. Here are a few excerpts:

It’s strange to hear a Christian hymn in a Japanese Buddhist temple, being led by the minister, no less. But [Rev. Earl] Ikeda [of Mō‘ili‘ili Hongwanji Mission temple near the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa] had a reason. “I was invited to do a funeral service recently,” he explains. “I talked with the family and mentioned that it didn’t have to be a strict service done in the Buddhist tradition.” He explained to the family that they could choose a gatha, or song they felt would best honor their loved one. They chose “Amazing Grace.” In fact, adds Ikeda, when it came time to sing, the Buddhist minister himself led the mourners in the Christian hymn.

Speaking to us earlier in his modest office upstairs, Ikeda, sporting his usual attire of T-shirts and shorts, says, “I like that song, and the meaning really fits what Buddhism is about. In Buddhism, the idea is to live the moment. We can’t be attached to certain ways of thinking, that’s exactly what Buddhism isn’t.” It was a story he wanted to share with his membership….

The person most credited with establishing Buddhism in the Islands is Bishop Emyō Imamura. He came from Japan in 1899 to examine life at the plantations, and he was instrumental in building temples in plantation towns. Plantation workers converted plantation homes to create the first temples. By the mid-1920s, there were more than 170 temples in Hawai‘i. They were the lifeblood of the plantation towns, where they served not only as the place of worship, but as a commmunity center and as the nucleus for political and labor discussions as the Japanese fought for a place in the Islands.

There are 33 temples still open on O‘ahu. Visit one of them today and you’ll find a small number of devoted members, all of whom pay annual dues to keep the temples open. It is not uncommon for ministers to speak in front of memberships compromising a dozen members, sometimes fewer. It’s also likely that a temple’s most active members are in their 70s, 80s, sometimes even 90s….

In addition to a shrinking membership, Hawai‘i’s Japanese Buddhist temples are also facing a shortage of ministers. Take [Rev. Jay] Okamoto. For the past six years, he’s not only been the minister of the Waipahu Hongwanji, but also the temples in ‘Ewa and Wai‘anae, neither of which have had their own resident ministers in 30 years. The ‘Ewa temple has 30 members and the Wai‘anae temple has around 50, he says.

All Japanese Buddhist ministers must be ordained in Japan before they can work in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland. This often makes it difficult to attract local men and women in the first place, because they have to speak Japanese for their studies. Often, Japanese ministers end up serving in Hawai‘i’s temples, but, says Okamoto, they, too, face linguistic and cultural challenges. It’s a catch-22.

There’s also a seasonally related article by David Thompson in the same issue headlined “Bondancersizing the Night Away” (pp. 43-45).

UPDATE: The article is about “Bondancercise” classes, a word formed from the merger of Bon + dancer + exercise, but the spelling “Bondancersizing (the Night Away)” implies right-sizing Bon dancers (weight loss).

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Americanizing Buddhist Worship in Hawai‘i

The website of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii has a three long pages devoted to its history. Part 3 (of 3) recounts the changes after the end of World War II. Here are some excerpts I found interesting about adapting Japanese Buddhism to American Christian worship practices.

Chronologically speaking, the second half of the 100 year history of the Nichiren Mission of Hawaii begins with the 50th Anniversary celebration of the birth of Nichiren Buddhism in Hawaii. It is more practical, however, to draw a line in 1946, when Bishop Mochizuki returned from the relocation camp on the mainland U.S.A. and re-opened the Mission. The year marked the end of the Japanese-style and the beginning of the American-style Nichiren Mission of Hawaii. The impact of the war made the change inevitable.

The Japanese living in Hawaii and their descendants who had never been forced to choose between Japan and America, were forced to do so by the Pacific War. Most of them, quite naturally, chose to be Americans. The psychological change caused various changes in the Japanese American society such as the disappearance of Japanese kimono from the group pictures of temple events. Cut off from the roots in Japan, even Japanese Buddhist ministers changed—from sectarian to interdenominational in outlook. English began to replace Japanese in family conversation. Culturally, they have become Americans rather than Japanese.

On the other hand, as the constitutional freedom of religion and assembly was restored to Japanese Americans after the war, many of them flocked to the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, reacting to the religious suppression during the war years.

In the mind of those who flocked to the Buddhist temple, however, there was a subtle change. They felt like seeking refuge in Japanese Buddhism while refuting things Japanese. As a result, they were drawn by the un-Japanese Americanized Buddhism.

A positive effect of the Pacific War on Japanese Buddhism in Hawaii was the consolidation of inter-denominational friendship among Buddhist priests. Almost all Japanese Buddhist priests in Hawaii were sent to relocation camps on the mainland U.S.A. Living together as virtual prisoners in the confinement of these camps for several years required them to stand together. The solidarity among them resulted in the establishment of the Hawaii Buddhist Council to work together actively in the postwar years….

Activities of the temples were Americanizing in many ways: songs in praise of the Buddha were sung at Sunday School; sermons were given in English; and the Young Buddhist Association (YBA) was organized. On Sundays, services were performed in both English and Japanese. Prior to the war, Sunday services were held weekly but only a few members participated in them with most members preferring to visit the temple only for traditional services, such as ohigan and obon. However, as the temple activities became Americanized, members who visit the temple every Sunday increased and it became customary for everything to be carried out on Sundays. Also, under the auspices of the Hawaii Buddhist Council, joint services of the member temples became established as annual events.

Priestly costume also changed. Except for formal services such as ohigan and obon priests at that time wore a robe and stole over a white shirt, black tie and trousers in black. Today this habit has been abandoned except for the priests of the True Pure Land School.

Even the entertainment after special services became international from Japanese. A famous Korean dancer, Ms. Halla Pai Huhm, who became a temple member during Bishop Mochizuki’s tenure, performed traditional Korean dances with her disciples after the annual services for ohigan and obon.

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Remembering Wally Yonamine, 1925–2011

In remembrance of Wally Yonamine (24 June 1925–28 February 2011), here is a collection of links to excerpts I blogged a few years ago from a fascinating biography of him, Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, by Robert K. Fitts (U. Nebraska Press, 2008).

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Drosophila spp.: Guinea Pigs with Wings

From Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion, by Alan Burdick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), pp. 127-128:

Sun filtered down through the trees, rustling in a steady wind: wonderful weather for humans, [David] Foote said, but terrible for flies. “These are the worst possible conditions—I just want to warn you.” Of all the Hawaiian insects, the dearest to Foote is the family Drosophilidae, the pomace flies, better known, not entirely correctly, as fruit flies. Included in the family Drosophilidae is the genus Drosophila. Among genetics researchers, Drosophila is the organism of choice. Its chromosomes are few and big and easily extracted from its salivary glands; it reproduces at ten days of age, so genetic changes unfold observably from generation to generation, which means you can wrap up an experiment in a matter of weeks. Also, flies don’t eat much—not like mice or lab rats, which will quickly chew a hole in one’s departmental budget. Over the past century, the science of genetics has grown up around one drosophila species in particular, Drosophila melanogaster, a tiny red-eyed orange fly so ubiquitous that scientists simply shrug and call it “cosmopolitan.” Drosophila melanogaster is a guinea pig with wings. It has been scrutinized and forcibly mutated, crossbred, back-bred, inbred. Scientists have created drosophilas with extra-long life spans (sixty days, instead of thirty), drosophilas with superior maze-navigating abilities, drosophilas dumb as posts; drosophilas with no legs, with legs sprouting from their heads, even—I saw their photograph a few years ago on the front page of The New York Times—with extra, ectopic eyes peering out from where their knees should be. A great deal of what we know about ourselves has been gleaned from monkeying with this pale orange fly.

In contrast, the drosophilas of Hawaii owe their oddity entirely to the whims of natural selection. They are a tribe unto themselves: oversize, with elaborate stripes and colorations and strange and intricate mating rituals. To prove their sexual worth, males of the species Drosophila heteroneura butt heads, which are elongated like those of hammerhead sharks. Males of the closely related Drosophila silvestris stand on their hind legs and grapple like boxers in the clinch. If you want to understand the genetics of colonization, isolation, and speciation in a nonlaboratory setting, the Hawaiian drosophilas are your subject; they are honeycreepers for entomologists. There are some six hundred species of Drosophila in Hawaii, one-fifth of all the Drosophila species in the world—the progeny of flies that tumbled from earlier Hawaiian islands and have been doing so for forty-two million years, ever since the one fly from which they are all descended blew in from somewhere else, to an island that long ago submerged. From one strange and alluring species to the next, drosophila are themselves a sort of archipelago of biodiversity.

And as surely as the honeycreepers are indicators of environmental change in Hawaii, so too are the drosophilas, perhaps more so. Ecologists sometimes describe an ecosystem as a sort of pyramidal hotel of energy consumers, built up of successive trophic layers of feeders and fed-upons: plants, which draw their energy from light; grazers, which draw their energy from plants and span a range of organisms from leaf-mining insects to fruit-eating bats to Jersey cows; and predators, like tigers, feral cats, Tyrannosaurus rex, and bird-eating brown tree snakes. It is a loose schema, with numerous exceptions and outstanding questions. (Which story, for example, do carnivorous army ants inhabit in the Amazonian rain forest pyramid?) The drosophilas occupy a janitoral closet near the base of this building. They subsist largely on decaying plant material-bark, branches, leaf litter. They are composters, thriving on the senescence and misfortune of their fellow hotel guests. Most everything ends with them. The drosophilas are so ubiquitous in Hawaiian rain forests and their microhabitats so varied that their seemingly minor fates in fact closely reflect the spectrum of disruptions and alterations unfolding above and around them-including but not limited to the damage caused, or said to be caused, by feral pigs. If your quarry is the pig, it pays to follow the flies.

“The drosophilas are decomposers in this ecosystem,” Foote explained to me one afternoon on the Big Island. “They’re responsible for breaking down the organic matter in plants and allowing the nutrients to be cycled up into the forest again. These particular species breed on plants that are some of the most sensitive to disturbance by pigs, cattle, and rats. So we’re very concerned about their status.”

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Fumigating the Polynesian Voyagers, 1995

From Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion, by Alan Burdick (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), pp. 65-66:

In 1995 three Hawaiian canoes sailed south to the Society Islands, met a contingent of three other South Pacific canoes, then sailed to the Marquesas and north again to me Big Island of Hawaii, for the first time retracing the original route of discovery of the Hawaiian Islands.

This historic voyage encountered only one significant problem. Three days before the canoes were due to arrive home, the crew radioed Honolulu with news that they were suffering the painful bite of some undetected insect. Entomologists were consulted. The suspects were narrowed to three: the nono, a tiny, vicious blackfly that plagues beaches of the Marquesas and doomed those islands’ resorts; the punkie midge, a no-see-um half the size of the nono that also haunts the Marquesas; and a biting midge known in French Polynesia as the white beach nono. The first is native to the Marquesas; the latter two arrived in Polynesia sometime between 1920 and 1950. All three are functionally identical—with mouths like scissors, they bite holes in the victim’s skin, producing welts that if scratched can quickly fester. A single nono fly can inflict five thousand bites in an hour. After securing a blood meal, the fly retreats to a crevice in any nearby decaying organic matter—waterlogged wood a coconut husk, the hull of a Polynesian voyaging canoe—to reproduce. Its larvae emerge several days later to begin the cycle anew. With these facts in mind, Honolulu newspapers treated readers to several days of midge coverage, disagreeing only as to whether the midges posed a worse threat to the tourist industry than the brown tree snake, or merely an equivalent one. Cynics whispered of a midge conspiracy, of midges planted aboard the canoes by an environmental group eager to publicize the dangers of alien species in Hawaii.

Riding a strong headwind, a biting midge can cross fifty miles of open ocean. To forestall such an event, and despite prime sailing conditions the six voyaging canoes were ordered to a halt some two hundred miles south-southwest of Hawaii’s Big Island, Hawai’i. The following morning, after much wrangling over which government agency should take responsibility for a nuisance insect that is neither an agricultural pest nor strictly speaking, a public-health threat, and which in any event now sat in international waters, a Coast Guard plane dropped thirty-six aerosol cans of pyrethrin, an insecticide made from daisies, into what were now heavy seas. The canoes’ holds were emptied, clothes and equipment sprayed with disinfectant, the hulls scrubbed four times with seawater, the sails keelhauled. Everything organic was tossed overboard: religions carvings, palm-frond baskets, breadfruit seedlings wrapped in coconut husks, and traditional foods like sweet potato, taro leaf patties, and poi—which crew members perhaps were happy to see go, as they later confessed a preference for sausage and Spam. Inspectors from the Hawaii Department of Health then boarded the canoes and sprayed everything again. A series of triumphal celebrations had been planned to mark the voyage’s end. Instead, the canoes were escorted into Hilo Harbor, sprayed once more, and enclosed in fumigation tents. A crowd of two dozen, including several customs and immigrations officials, greeted them.

Health and agriculture inspectors still do not know what sort of midge they nearly encountered; the cleaning, spraying, scrubbing, and fumigation had left no trace of them. Other survivors were discovered, however, including four species of fly, two species of ant, a cockroach, two spiders, a book louse, a parasitic wasp, a beetle, several snails, some live shrimps, a gecko, two species of eye gnat, and a scale insect that in some parts of the world is considered a serious agricultural pest. Some time afterward the chief of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture was heard expressing nostalgia for the days when state inspectors could walk down the aisles of arriving aircraft and fumigate freely, as they still do in New Zealand. As for the canoes, they reached their destinations. The Hawaiian crews sailed to warm homecomings on Maui, Molokai, and Oahu. The Cook Islanders disembarked, showered, and dried off with one hundred and fifty donated towels. The Tahitian voyagers, though they had a fine canoe, never arrived; in fact, they never embarked. They had failed to apply for U.S. visas, and were gently advised to stay home.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Catenary, Ka‘auila, HEA

Catenary – In a coffee-table book I purchased recently at a collector’s fair, I discovered a new term for what I’ve always just called the overhead wires that power streetcars or trolley buses. The book, Streetcar Days in Honolulu, instead employs the technical term catenary, no doubt following prevailing usage in the records of the Honolulu Rapid Transit & Land Company. It’s a fascinating book for anyone who has spent as much time riding Honolulu’s TheBus system and researching local history as I have.

Ka‘auila – In the same book, I also discovered the Hawaiian word for ‘streetcar’, ka‘auila, which turned up in the name of the company newsletter, Ohua Ka‘auila. ‘Ōhua means ‘retainers, dependents, servants, inmates, members (of a family), visitors or sojourners in a household; passengers, as on a ship’ and the neologism ka‘auila bears only a coincidental resemblance to what one might imagine car and wheel to look like when borrowed into Hawaiian.

The noun ka‘a ‘wheeled vehicle (carriage, wagon, automobile, car, cart, coach, buggy)’ derives instead from the ka‘a that means ‘to roll, turn, twist, wallow, wind, braid, revolve’ or ‘rolling, twisting, turning, sloping’ (< Proto-Polynesian *taka). I first encountered this word in the Hawaiian placename Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a (‘hill + sweet potato + rolling’, with Hawaiian ‘uala ~ Māori kūmara) for the hillside nowadays more commonly called Round Top.

The earlier meaning of uila was ‘lightning’ (< PPN *‘uhila, with PPN *‘ and *h both lost in Hawaiian), which was later extended to mean ‘electricity; electric’. So ka‘auila is literally ‘vehicle-electric’.

TheBus HEA marker

TheBus HEA

HEAHonolulu Estimated Arrival is a new service of TheBus that allows passengers to track bus arrivals at any particular stop electronically via Google Maps. The acronym (or initialism) was crafted to match the Hawaiian question word hea (< PPN *fea), which translates as ‘which’ when it follows a noun, or ‘where’ when it follows a locative preposition. So the catch phrase to promote the new service is the Hawaiian question Aia i HEA ke ka‘a ‘ohua? (‘there at where the vehicle passenger’) ‘Where is the bus?’ The answers, the HEA times, can be found at Not bad, eh, for a municipal transit authority?

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