A Poisonous Wood…


They had a number of sea gods, besides those whom they imagined directed the shoals of fishes to their shores. They had also gods who controlled the winds and changed the weather. During a storm, or other season of danger at sea, they offered up their paro, or pulekurana, a particular kind of prayer; but it is not known to what idol they addressed it. On these occasions, their dread of perishing at sea frequently led them to make vows to some favorite deity; and if they ever reached the land, it was their first business to repair to the temple, and fulfil their vows. These vows were generally considered most sacred engagements; and it was expected that, sooner or later, some judgment would overtake those who failed to perform them. It is not improbable, that the priests of those idols, in order to maintain their influence over the people, either poisoned the delinquents, or caused them to sustain some other injury. Karaipahoa was also a famous idol, originally belonging to Molokai. It was a middling-sized wooden image, curiously carved; the arms were extended, the fingers spread out, the head was ornamented with human hair, and the widely distended mouth was armed with rows of shark’s teeth. The wood of which the image was made was so poisonous, that if a small piece of it was chipped into a dish of poi, or steeped in water, whoever ate the poi, or drank the water, the natives reported, would certainly die in less than twenty-four hours afterwards. We were never able to procure a sight of this image, though we have been repeatedly informed that it still exists, not indeed in one compact image, as it was divided in several parts on the death of Kamehameha, and distributed among the principal chiefs. It is a known fact, that the natives use several kinds of vegetable poison; and probably the wood of which the idol was made is poisonous. But the report of the virulence of the poison is most likely one of the many stratagems so frequently employed by the chiefs and priests, to maintain their influence over the minds of the people. A smaller image of the same god was formed of a hard yellow wood, of which idols were usually made. This was left at Molokai, the original being always carried about by Kamehameha, and, it is said, placed under his pillow whenever he slept. (Ellis)

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 (These are excerpts from a book by William Ellis that has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired.)


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