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In a New York Times article entitled “Mark Twain’s Hawai‘i,” Lawrence Downes explores some of the Islands’ earliest travel writing.

Twain spent four months in the islands in 1866, when he was 31 and working on becoming famous. His 25 letters from the Sandwich Islands, written on assignment for The Sacramento Union, are still fresh and rudely funny after almost a century and a half ...

[For example:] America’s greatest writer took a wooden surfboard and paddled out to wait, as he had seen naked locals do, “for a particularly prodigious billow to come along,” upon which billow he prodigiously wiped out.

“None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly,” he wrote.

He also tried swimming with nude native women, but when he got into the surf, they got out.

He might have tasted poi, eaten with the fingers in those days from a communal calabash, but after reading this passage, I suspect not: “Many a different finger goes into the same bowl and many a different kind of dirt and shade and quality of flavor is added to the virtues of its contents. One tall gentleman, with nothing in the world on but a soiled and greasy shirt, thrust in his finger and tested the poi, shook his head, scratched it with the useful finger, made another test, prospected among his hair, caught something and ate it; tested the poi again, wiped the grimy perspiration from his brow with the universal hand, tested again, blew his nose - ‘Let’s move on, Brown,’ said I, and we moved.”

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Honolulu Magazine April 2018
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