Mary Mahiai, the original story, in English, 1901.


PROBABLY the most interesting woman in all Hawaii is the white-haired old wahine of four-score and ten, or thereabouts, who answers to the name of Mary Mahiai.

Last week an intricate land case came up in Judge Gear’s court and Mary Mahiai was summoned to appear as a witness, her testimony being relied upon to establish the validity of certain patents to extensive and valuable lands, the ancient boundaries of which were in dispute.

The old lady scorned the services of the interpreter on the witness stand and proceeded with her own story in good English astonishing the court and silencing the lawyers as, with Hawaiian freedom of gesture and animated features, she related the details of a most remarkable career.

It developed that she was born on the Island of Kauai before the coming of the first missionary, the arrival of Rev. Hiram Bingham being distinctly within her memory; at the age of seven years, little Mahiai, whose name (meaning “Working in the taro”) had been given her by her mother, went out in a rowboat with her uncle and five other men, starting for Molokai, to “go look see.” A storm came up and the boat was driven out of sight of land, its occupants having no food or drink with them, and suffering terribly from the pangs of hunger and thirst: for ten days and nights they drifted, becoming crazed and unable to cry out, and at last, when all hopes had been abandoned, and it was certain that the frail boat would go to pieces before the end of another day, a sail appeared upon the horizon and the faint outcries and feeble signals of the seven unfortunates attracted the attention of a sailor on board the ship, which was a sailing vessel bound for China. The six men and the little girl were taken on board and treated kindly. When the little girl was able to be about she was given the task of taking care of the captain’s little daughter, and the men were put to work on the ship; the vessel put in at Ladrone Islands, and by their own desire, the five men who had set out with little Mahiai and her uncle, were put ashore. It was afterwards learned that they were eaten by cannibals. Continue reading

Mary Mahiai passes away, 1913.


Believed by many of the Hawaiians to be at least 110 years old, and having figured in a history which has been recounted from the Atlantic coast to the far east, Mary Mahiai died at her home on Vineyard street last Monday night, and was buried yesterday afternoon in the cemetery back of the asylum.

The aged Hawaiian was born on the island of Kauai during the period the reign of Kamehameha the Great, long before the first missionaries from New England arrived here, and at the age of seven years went out in a canoe with her uncle and five other men for the island of Molokai. A storm came up and the canoe was driven out of sight of land, and for ten days they drifted at the mercy of the elements without food or water. When nearly dead from hunger and thirst, a sail was sighted, and two boats appeared, the larger of which sent a boat out to take the occupants of the canoe aboard. They were treated kindly by the captain and soon learned that the vessel was bound for China. The little Hawaiian girl was given the task of caring for the captain’s daughter and the men put to work on the vessel. At one of the islands of the Ladrones the five men of the little party were put ashore at their request, and it was afterward earned that they were devoured by cannibals who were known to infest those islands. Mary Mahiai, with her uncle, remained on the vessel and were taken to China, where they were turned over to missionaries there. They remained there several years, during which time Mary’s uncle died. Mary was made nurse to one of the missionary’s children and soon after traveled to New York with her mistress. At the time of the gold rush to California Mary was in the employ of a missionary family named Bates, and in 1848 they set sail for the gold fields, via Cape Horn. They were many months reaching their destination on account of the fierce storms which swept that coast, finally reaching Monterey.

The party sailed for the Hawaiian islands a few years later, arriving in Honolulu in 1850, and Mary at once sent a letter to her friends, who had many years previous mourned her death, thinking that she had been drowned or eaten by sharks. Her friends came to Honolulu and her return was celebrated with a luau which lasted many days. Mary did not accompany her relatives back to Kauai, but remained in the employ of the Bates family, to whom she had become very much attached. Later, she married, her husband dying a few months later. Her second husband died of the smallpox and her third lived only a year after their marriage. She married for the fourth time and she and her husband lived happily for twenty years, he dying in the early part of the present century.

The interesting story of her life was told by her when she appeared before the United States senatorial commission on its visit to Honolulu in 1902. As she became old, Mary Mahiai lapsed into the easy Hawaiian life in her humble home on Vineyard street, where she would be often seen barefooted and clad in a holoku.

(Star-Bulletin, 1/8/1913, p. 4)


Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Volume XX, Number 6479, Page 4. January 8, 1913.

Mary Mahiai, what a story! 1901.


The picture above is of Mary Mahiai, a Hawaiian woman who is ninety years old or more. Last week, she was called to court over land that is being fought over. Here, her story was heard. Because of her good story and her long life, one of our writers went once again to ask her about her history. And this is it:

I don’t know when I was born, but I was born before the arrival of the missionaries. I was very small at that time, and maybe I was this tall. One day, we boarded a canoe, her Uncle and five others; they wanted to visit Molokai. They were caught up in a storm in the middle of the ocean, and blown outward; they did not eat for ten days and nights. Because I was so young, I cried a lot. I wanted to eat, and I was thirsty. We had nothing to eat, and had no water left. Water came in the waa, and some of us drank the bilge water. We were near crazy with hunger and thirst. We lost hope that we would live. One day we spotted a ship. We tried to get noticed. We were fetched and taken aboard the ship. My duty aboard the ship was to care for the children. The captain and his wife were kind. We landed at Lardone [??]. Five of them got off with the intent of living there. We heard that they were eaten after that by the people this place. My uncle and I went all the way to China. I cared for the baby some missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Thereafter, my uncle died and I was left alone with those haole. I was the caretaker of the baby. I lived for perhaps six whole years in China. I travelled around many places. Later, Mrs. Brown died. I lived with Mr. and Mrs. Bates. After that he wanted to go to California to prospect for gold. We accompanied him on a boat, and saw Cape Horn [Kepahoni], that place famous for rough seas. I saw many lands. I lived for three months in the gold fields. I wanted very much to return to Hawaii. Afterwards, these haole agreed and we all left for Hawaii nei. When we arrived, I immediately wrote to my parents and younger siblings. They came to Honolulu at once. They believed that I had died earlier. My father died without me knowing him.

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