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VOL. V NOVEMBER 1953 No. 2

Early Kilauea Explorations

It is significant that the Reverend Asa Thurston, whose grandson sparked the movement to establish Hawaii National Park in the 20th century, was one of the first two American missionaries who came to Hawaii. It is also significant that the Reverend Thurston was a member of the first white party to gaze upon the Land of Pele.

The account written by the English missionary, Reverend William Ellis, of his tour of the Island of Hawaii in 1823 in company with the Reverend Thurston and two other American missionaries gives the first impression of a white man of Kilauea, which was in vigorous activity at the time: "A spectacle, sublime and even appalling, presented itself before us. 'We stopped and trembled.' Astonishment and awe for some moments rendered us mute, and, like statues, we stood fixed to the spot, with our eyes riveted on the abyss below."

Many after Ellis have been variously impressed by the fiery spectacle of Kilauea, including an Oregon visitor who remarked, "I've seen hell. Now I want to go home!"

Ellis and his companions made careful observations in the Kilauea region and recorded many facts relating to its scientific and aesthetic aspects. The missionary told about seeing flocks of Hawaiian geese in an area a few hundred feet west of the present park headquarters. The geese were the Nene, which have since been decimated by hunters, by encroachment upon natural habitat, and other factors into less than fifty. Ellis explored the "banks of sulphur" (now the Sulphur Banks) and Kilauea Iki and reported on the ruins of a heiau (temple) to Pele—located probably between the site of the present Volcano House and Kilauea Iki. The temple bore the name Oola-laua, and a distinguished soothsayer who died in the reign of Kamehameha I was its priest for many years.

The missionaries met a priestess of Pele on their journey who told them haughtily: "I am Pele. I shall never die. Those who follow me, if part of their bones are taken to Kilauea, will live in the bright fire there." Makoa, Ellis' guide, said to the priestess: "It is true you are Pele, or some of Pele's party; and it is you that have destroyed the king's land, devoured his people, and spoiled all the fishing grounds. Ever since you came to the islands, you have been busied in mischief; you spoiled the greater part of the island, shook it to pieces, or cursed it with barrenness, by inundating it with lava. You never did any good, and if I were the king, I would throw you into the sea or banish you from the islands. Hawaii would be quiet if you were away." The quickwitted priestess admitted that she had done some harm, but said also that the rum and diseases of the foreigners had destroyed more of the king's men than all the volcanoes on the island!

Ellis' telling and comprehensive narrative made the Land of Pele known to the civilized world for the first time, and long before it was established as a national park the wonders of the region attracted explorers, sightseers, and entrepreneurs. A significant appraisal was made in 1824 by Lord George Byron, cousin of the distinguished English poet. Byron's voyage to Hawaii aboard the H. M. S. Blonde was a depressing one, for he brought to their final resting place the remains of Kamehameha II and his queen, Kamamalu, who contracted measles on a visit to Great Britain and died of them. After accomplishing his mission, Byron visited Kilauea, and a narrow plateau separating the main crater from one of its satellites, Kilauea Iki, bears the name Byron Ledge to recall this early exploration of the region. The first map of Kilauea Crater was compiled by a colleague of Byron's, Lieutenant Charles Malden.

At the time of Ellis' and Byron's visits, Kilauea sustained several active fire pits. In his map, Malden did not identify Halemaumau by name but by a number 5, which he explained as "The largest Crater always emitting flame and smoke." The first published use of the name Halemaumau was in the form "Han-man-man" and appeared in the Hawaiian Spectator for October 1838. It was recorded by a Polish traveller, Count Strzelecki, who visited Kilauea in August or September of that year. C. S. Lyman's map of 1846 first identified the fire pit as "Lua Pele" (Pit of Pele), which would seem more appropriate than Halemaumau, meaning "House of the Ferns."

Of particular interest is the exploration conducted in 1840 by the United States Exploring Expedition under Commander Charles Wilkes, U. S. N. This expedition was authorized by Congress in 1836 for the purpose of exploring and surveying the Pacific in the interests of science and navigation. Wilkes and his retinue of officers, scientists, seamen, and natives spent a miserable three weeks making scientific observations on the summit of Mauna Loa in the dead of winter and amidst temperatures well below the freezing point. Wilkes compiled important scientific knowledge of Mauna Loa, including the first map of the summit crater, and became one of the first men of record to stand on the summit of the world's most massive mountain. Archibald Menzies, Vancouver's botanist, was the first white man to ascend Mauna Loa, accomplishing the feat in February 1794. The Wilkes Expedition also devoted considerable attention to documenting the scientific aspects of the Kilauea region.

Probably one of the most harrowing experiences sustained by anyone at Kilauea occurred to Dr. G. P. Judd, of Honolulu, a member of the Wilkes party. While collecting volcanic specimens in a crater containing a small lake, the lake level surged rapidly and a jet of molten lava suddenly rose near him to a height of forty-five feet. He found himself under a projecting ledge so close to the lava fountain that he could not turn his face toward it because of the scorching heat. The ledge opposed his ascent and the lava fountain stood between him and the route over which he had descended.

Considering himself lost, Judd prayed, at the same time calling to the natives, all of whom had become terrified and vanished by now, except one, Kalumo. The native held his ground above the endangered man and, stretching his arm over the ledge, grasped Judd and pulled him to safety with a quick and mighty jerk. According to Wilkes, another moment and Judd would have perished in the fiery deluge. So close were Judd and Kalumo to the lava fountain that they both sustained severe burns from the intense heat.

An Early Enterprise

One of the first commercial enterprises in the Kilauea region was undertaken about 1851 with the establishment of a pulu factory between Makaopuhi and Napau Craters. Pulu is a soft, wooly fibre produced by several varieties of ferns growing in the luxuriant forests of the area. The material was used for stuffing mattresses and pillows as well as for certain medical purposes. Natives were hired to pluck the pulu from the buds and stalks of the fern fronds, after which it was dried and bagged in the factory and hauled over a rough road to Keauhou Landing on the coast for further consignment to Honolulu and the mainland. At the peak of its activity, the industry was producing over 300 tons of the fibre annually, with a valuation of some $160,000. This enterprise ended in 1884, its decline coming about with the development of more suitable materials. Remnants of the pulu factory continue in evidence, with old, lichen-covered walls attesting to this early business venture in the Land of Pele.

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