Hawaiian History, by Hawaiians.
The early history of all nations without a literature, is necessarily traditionary. That of the Hawaiians, previous to the advent of the missionaries, is of course derivable from the traditions handed down from father to son, of those families immediately attendant upon the chiefs, known by the term of kahus—literally, body attendants. These body servants constituted a class of themselves, and it was their province not only to wait on the chiefs personally, but to carefully commit to memory and to transmit to their successors, everything connected with the birth and lineage of their lords—quite after the style of the bards and harpers of olden times in Britain. On festive occasions, for the gratification of the chiefs or the amusement of the guests, these meles, as they were called—rythmical chants—were recited by the bards, and thus became perpetuated from one generation to another, the deeds and adventures of the chiefs. Many of these meles, when pruned of the impurities so natural to an uncivilized people, are found to be highly poetical, and are particularly valuable as presenting the only medium of ascertaining anything in regard to Hawaiian history previous to what we may term the conquest—the conquest of civilization over barbarism. But civilization, with all its benefits, has not preserved the nation. While it gave them letters and enlightened institutions of government, and the religion of the Bible was made to take the place of the old heathen worship, the people were taught to regard all ancient customs and habits as antagonistic to the new order of things, and to be discouraged and frowned upon. The meles, those sole records of the history of the race, were proscribed and stigmatized as idle remnants of barbarism. So they fell into disuse, were forgetten, or only recited in secret by the kahus. Among the many doubtless fabulous statements of these ancient compositions, there were unquestionably some grains of truth, which if preserved might have rescued from oblivion many interesting circumstances to be woven into the yet unwritten history of this interesting people. It is much to be regretted that the early Christian teachers did not, instead of discouraging, by ignoring if not interdicting these meles, at least have had them written down for preservation and subsequent translation. Recently, that venerable Hawaiian scholar and Ethnologist, the Rev. Lorrin Andrews, commenced the work of translating and rendering into English, some of the most interesting of these ancient poems, in which work he was assisted by Mr. Samuel M. Kamakau, formerly a member of the Legislature, and among the earlier graduates of Lahainaluna Seminary. Unfortunately, after the work had been begun and was fairly progressing, Mr. Andrews’ failing eyesight compelled him to abandon it, and it now seems questionable whether any competent person with sufficient leisure at command can be found to complete the undertaking.
In the native newspaper, the Kuokoa, Mr. Kamakau has published during the last two years in a series of numbers, sketches of the history of the Kamehameha family, which contain many interesting particulars and incidents not included in any history heretofore published. Some of these we propose to reproduce in English in the columns of the Gazette, commencing on the outside of to-day’s issue.
(Hawaiian Gazette, 8/26/1868, p. 2)