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The Hawaiian Archipelago: Six Months Among the Palm Groves, Coral Reefs, and Volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands (1875)

by Isabella L. Bird

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1885146,846 (4.17)24
Recommended an open-air life from an early age as a cure for physical and nervous difficulties, the indefatigable Isabella Bird (1831-1904) toured the United States and Canada, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, the Far East, India, Turkey, Persia and Kurdistan. Her accounts of her travels, written in the form of letters to her sister, were bestsellers. In 1875 she published her account of six months in the Hawaiian archipelago. During this time she explored the islands on horseback, visiting volcanos, climbing mountains, and living with the natives. The book includes considerable detail about the lifestyles, customs, and habits of the people she encountered, and of the geography and geology of the islands. Her enthusiasm for Hawaii and its people is evident from her vivid descriptions, but she disliked the restrictive atmosphere of the foreign settlements. The book includes outlines of the history and economy of the islands.… (more)
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» See also 24 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
On advice of her doctors to take a sea voyage for her health, Bird traveled to Australia & New Zealand. On her way to North America and the Rocky Mountains, the shaky paddle wheel steamer she sailed on stopped in Honolulu. Friends convinced her stop and visit and she stayed for more than sim months. She visited most of the large Hawaiian islands except for Molokai on which was located the leper colony although she saw many lepers in her travels as the disease was rampant in the islands.

Because there were few roads, travel was by horse using Mexican style saddles which Bird had to adapt to from her English style riding experience. Adapt she did as she road the east coast of the Big Island through rain swollen streams almost drowning her horse and herself. She rode to the top of Mauna Kea. On another trip she rode to the Halemaumau Crater where she & her companion stood so close to the edge they suddenly realized that it was hollow under their feet and if the ledge collapsed, they would fall into the caldera. They also had to dance around to keep their boots from burning on the hot rocks. She rode and slept in sub-zero temperatures.

Her Scottish conservative religious background made her frown on the dress, morals and laziness of Hawaiians but the longer she stayed, the more she realize that Hawaiians were a happy people who really did not have to work as food was plentiful and mainly free to be picked.

I have been to Hawai'i several times and found this volume fascinating as she describe what Hawai'i looked like in the late 19th Century compared to what it is like in the 21st Century. A plus is her prose is extremely readable making the pages turn quickly. ( )
  lamour | Mar 12, 2017 |
Works from the 19th century can be difficult to read due to dense, repetitive prose and the repulsive attitudes of the time. Bird is a woman of her period, yes, and her biases are pretty clear up front, but she is a complex, fascinating person who would be remarkable even in our time. This is a woman who, because of her "nervous condition," was advised to indulge in open air travel. Therefore, she traveled around the world by herself multiple times. Her six months in the Sandwich Island (aka Hawaii) immediately followed an adventure in New Zealand. I found her prose surprisingly easy to read and quite enjoyable. She is a white woman of privilege, yes, but her outlook on the "heathen natives" evolves substantially in her time on the islands. She falls in love with the place and the people, and trusts them absolutely. She shocks people wherever she goes. She's a white woman, traveling by herself most of the time, sitting astride on a Mexican saddle and riding through absolute wilderness of the Big Island in 1871. She seizes various opportunities--things I sure wouldn't do. A man she just met invites her to climb up Mauna Loa to see the eruption? Off she goes! She is not averse to sleeping on the ground with her saddle as her pillow. Bird learns passable Hawaiian and eats as the locals do, mastering two-finger poi and appreciating whatever her hosts will share (though she accepts the fleas grudgingly).

For my research purposes, her descriptions of Hilo and Kilauea are fabulous. She obviously loves plant life, and goes into detail about the plants around her, mentioning the Latin names if she can.

Bird's book is in public domain and available from various small publishers. I wish my copy had been typeset a bit differently, but it didn't strain my eyes and the binding is fine. I wouldn't mind reading more of Bird's books--she was quite a bestseller in the late 19th century--as she has really gained my respect. ( )
  ladycato | Jan 14, 2017 |
Another fine book ended: The Hawaiian Archipelago by Isabella L. Bird. A remarkable account of visiting the Hawaiian islands in about 1872 which includes descriptions, and appreciations, of the geography, flora and fauna, volcanoes, oceans, people, food, religion, government, and climate. She loved the people she met, ate food with new to the islands Europeans and Americans, and long time inhabitants. She rode horses as well as the "cowboys" on the islands, explored the volcanoes up close and in my opinion entirely too dangerously. She does represent many of the attitudes of the European and American "settlers" however she also was willing to explore the real lives of the people who lived there before these settlers arrived. She slept in the rough with sheep herders, mountain climbers, and cattle ranchers. A remarkable woman and an interesting book even if I did skip some of the more mundane accounting of taxes, and government, and educational institutions. She did write very movingly of the lepers colony on Molokai.

I definitely recommend this book to readers who enjoy reading of unusual adventures, as well as those who love the Hawaiian islands. ( )
  maggie1944 | Dec 10, 2013 |
The thing I love about Isabella Bird's writing is that she is humorous as well as descriptively thorough in her observations. She has a certain playfulness to her otherwise didactic travelogue. The thing I love about Isabella Bird the person is that she is adventurous to the core. To read about her crossing a swollen river like it was a walk in the park is astounding. Her horse nearly drowns but she keeps her cool. According to the introduction to Six Months in Hawaii by Pat Barr Isabella Bird was 41 years old when she first visited the islands of Hawaii. Around my age. Traveling by herself at a time when women were not supposed to be unaccompanied at any age. Fearless. ( )
  SeriousGrace | May 10, 2012 |
In 1873, while travelling by steamer from Auckland, NZ, Isabella Bird made an unexpected debarkation in Honolulu to assist a fellow passenger whose family member had taken ill. What was to be a brief side trip turned into a nearly seven months exploration of the Hawaiian Islands.

Bird, an Englishwoman travelling alone, wrote long, highly descriptive letters to her sister in Scotland. It is these letters, telling of horseback journeys to the top of mountains, long treks to remote valleys, dinners with kings and locals, historic details of volcanic eruptions, detailed accounts of flora and fauna, and miscellaneous humorous anecdotes, which make up this remarkable travelogue. I was continually amazed that in the late 1800s, a foreign woman, the daughter of a vicar, could, and would, travel throughout the islands, both unescorted and unencumbered by the usual conventions of the day. I was, frankly, a bit envious.

This is an intricately written account of a peaceful Hawaii just a few decades before the overthrow of the monarchy and its eventual annexation. It is rich in historical detail – heck, every detail - and is as lush as the islands themselves.

It ends on a thoroughly bittersweet note:

“Those readers who have become interested in the Sandwich Islands through the foregoing Letters, will join me in the earnest wish that this people, which has advanced from heathenism and barbarism to Christianity and civilization in the short space of a single generation, may enjoy peace and prosperity under King Kalakaua, that the extinction which threatens the nation may be averted, and that under a gracious Divine Providence, Hawaii may still remain the inheritance of the Hawaiians.” - Isabella Bird, Six Months in the Sandwich Islands


A gem of a book and recommended for anyone with an interest in Hawaiian history or independent 19th century women. ( )
5 vote Copperskye | Nov 20, 2011 |
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Recommended an open-air life from an early age as a cure for physical and nervous difficulties, the indefatigable Isabella Bird (1831-1904) toured the United States and Canada, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, the Far East, India, Turkey, Persia and Kurdistan. Her accounts of her travels, written in the form of letters to her sister, were bestsellers. In 1875 she published her account of six months in the Hawaiian archipelago. During this time she explored the islands on horseback, visiting volcanos, climbing mountains, and living with the natives. The book includes considerable detail about the lifestyles, customs, and habits of the people she encountered, and of the geography and geology of the islands. Her enthusiasm for Hawaii and its people is evident from her vivid descriptions, but she disliked the restrictive atmosphere of the foreign settlements. The book includes outlines of the history and economy of the islands.

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