Calla Harrison,

"Letter from Hawaii"

in Christian Standard (1901)

Calla Harrison was Hanover College's first female graduate. Shortly after leaving Hanover, she worked as a missionary in Japan, and she later worked among Japanese immigrants living in Hawaii.

In 1898, the United States annexed Hawaii, and Harrison comments here on the changes she observed in Honolulu in the years that followed.

Calla J. Harrison, "Letter from Hawaii," Christian Standard (5 Jan. 1901), p. 9.

Presto! Uncle Sam was the fairy and annexation the magic wand that wrought the change. Once Honolulu lay stretched along the beach like a basking Kanaka maid -- her head pillowed on the hills, her feet in the sea, palm-encircled, lei crowned.

Now a rampant Americanism flaunts its gaudy posters and drags noisy processions through the streets. Saloons spring up like fungi. The city has climbed out of the valley; spread over marshes and hills from Iwilei to Maikiki.

Politics, too -- Republican, Democratic, and Independent -- each with mass meetings, public speaking, torchlight processions and a half-white candidate -- a model of wisdom and virtue.

Once we rode on tram cars and had no occasion to be more than deliberate. Now electric cars and automobiles whiz by. Once we waited for a weekly or fortnightly steamer. Now, at the pier, there is always a clanking of chains through hawseholes -- a bedlam of whistles and band. “Yankee Doodle” and “Star-Spangled Banner” lift their distant melodies. Transports for the Philippines and China turn hordes of sea-weary, rowdy soldiers loose. They pack the saloons, and hustle Chinamen and Japanese about with the pomposity of those little used to inferiors. People no longer dawdle along the streets; they hurry, and only the native flower women sit placidly stringing leis as of yore.

If we sigh for the quiet days of the brown maid, the new Honolulu shifts his tobacco quid to the other cheek and pats his fat pocket suggestively. Money is god. Land values and all other values have taken a wild jump upward. All kinds of syndicates, trusts and Co.’s Limited abound. High, new buildings overtop the narrow streets and in the slums shacks multiply and cover the face of the earth. In Iwilei, Kewato and Palama human vermin packs sometimes a hundred under a single roof. A miserable shanty used by Chinese laundrymen rents for $50 per month.

But Iwilei, meaning “bones of the reef,” is the horror of all. First there is the prison, that is not so bad; and the Chinese washhouses, which are vile; and the prostitute quarters, which are the quintessence of pollution. Chinamen go all over the city and gather up our clothes, and carry them to Iwilei, where the city provides a washhouse that reeks with the accumulated filth of many generations of washers—ditches, foul planks, rotten tables and bacteria galore. Here the Chinamen go pound out some more filth on the tables, soak some more into the clothes, carry them back, sprinkle them in their “antiseptic fashion” by water squirted on them from their mouths. Iron them in little opium-murky dens, and bring them back to us. We put them on and go to our various businesses, clean, starched and respectable.

But sad Iwilei! More bitter than death, more cruel than the grave, more vile than hell, are her prison-pens for women. Inside a high stockade are long rows of rooms each 8 x 10 feet, with cement floor, one window and door. Each rents for $15 per month. The net gain on a whole stockade is from $2,000 to $3,000 per month. The company that owns the largest is composed of good, respectable citizens, church members, etc., all headed by the Treasurer of Hawaii.

Women are brought in from Japan -- mainly. They are mortgaged or sold by parents, husbands or themselves, and smuggled in in boxes as goods. Lied in, gotten in any way and from 4 P.M. to 2 P.M. the stockade gates are open. Then a crowd of men -- moneyed men in hacks: poor men on foot; men white, men brown, men yellow and men black surge up the street and through the gates.

Bro. Azbill found a neglected Hawaiian church opposite the gates of the large stockade, and opened meetings there. Night after night a few workers stood in the street and begged, plead and wept to turn men away from the gates and into the chapel. With aching throats and sore hearts, foul with Iwilei’s foul dust, the workers are beaten back only to rise again as faith rises to beat upon and try to prevail against these gates of hell. Bro. Azbill has at least scored one point of victory. The stockades are closed on Lord’s Day.

Yes, “times” are good in Honolulu, but the mission problem still stands complicated by new factors. The Congregationalist bring tact, money and willing workers to bear with little results. The Salvation Army and Peniel Mission fish out of the gutters and saloons. Our own church has projected some missions, and there is scarce a night that Bro. Cory is not touching hearts for Christ. Bro. Azbill has built a chapel for Japanese in Palama slums. There are twenty preaching places for as many thousand Japanese in Honolulu.

Forget us not, you who plead for America, for we belong to you now, and America cannot rise without us. Plead for us, you who touch the Throne by prayer. No niter of reproof, nor can many washings, cleanse us. Our need is too deep for that. Only the blood can cleanse; only the Spirit can subdue and enlighten; only the precious life spilt so wantonly, whose fragrance fills all the ages, will do for us. When will Christ come to Honolulu?

-- Calla J. Harrison      

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