Sunday, June 13, 2010

Six Months in the Sandwich Islands by Isabella Bird

Six Months in the Sandwich Islands : Among Hawai'i's Palm Groves, Coral Reefs and volcanoes. By Isabella Bird 1881, 1998

I decided a while back that I wanted to keep an eye out for books by women who travel to the South Pacific. I kept seeing this book but it was always for more then I wanted to spend. I eventually found it in paperback for $4 at a local bookstore.

I started to read this while on our vacation to Kauai since she visited Kauai. I made it to about page 20 then spent the next four months reading it off and on. While it was an interesting book, sometimes it was a bit of a slog with the tiny type and detail.

Isabella was an unmarried English woman who liked to travel. She wound up in Hawaii in 1873 at age 42 at the advice of her doctor to help ease her depression and back pain. She explored the islands in a way that is not possible in modern day. She traveled by horse which at first we might think "ok, yeah, I could see that." But remember that the ladies where suppose to ride sidesaddle. I have only ridden a horse a few times, but sidesaddle just sounds totally uncomfortable. In Hawaii the women rode like men which she soon adopted and wouldn't you know, her back pain was greatly improved.

The book is composed of letters to her sister in Scotland and are incredibly detailed. Often with humor especially when she is crossing paths with native cockroaches.

Some chapters are totally gripping like the one where her and a local woman are crossing torrents on their horses. I can't belive they weren't all killed. Or her on trails on the palis with the horse. She found in Hawaii that it was perfectly safe for a woman to travel alone and she often did. She would just hang out with the locals, sleep with them and only speak Hawaiian. Total imersion. But of course in a book this old you will get some observations from her that aren't PC by modern standards.

She made it to Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Kauai and the Big Island. She loved to explore the volcanos on the Big Island.

One thing I found interesting was she was obsererving Hawaii before it was annexed by America but not that long after the missionariers took hold.

If you are interested in Hawaii history, this is really a fascinating book. Not too many illustrations though. She talks about taking photos but I wasn't able to find any online. They would of been great if they could of been included in the book.