issue 46: January - February 2005 

 | author bio

Scots in Hawaii
Rob McClure Smith

In 1784 Archibald Menzies, a Scottish botanist of the Vancouver expedition, became the first non-Hawaiian to ascend the slopes of Mauna Loa.

Flight-delayed four hours in Heathrow, the pair of them were already steaming on vodka and oranges in the airport bar and so, on the overnight stopover, immediately got totally slaughtered on vodka-heavy Bloody Marys in the Hiawatha lounge of the L.A. Marriott. They were still nursing mega-hangovers the next afternoon when the Big Island spooled beneath them in grids of brown and green smudged by the scattered shadows of clouds. The ocean was a patchwork crazy-quilt along the coast too—a shifting wash of greens and yellows and blues. Snow-capped mountains sweeping down to black-sand beaches got Morag to thinking that maybe the trip was going to be worth it after all.
      "Ah cannae believe they make ye pay fur the headphones," said Bethia, stuffing the wires in her tote bag. "Cheapskate bastards. That wis a right sucky film tae."
      They shared their airport taxi with a bald punter from Chicago who was most definitely checking out Bethia big time. You couldn’t blame him really. She was wearing this stunning lei braided with purple orchids, creamy tuberoses and mauve plumeria, which somehow set off the gorgeous drift of her flame hair just magic. Bethia noticed him noticing her too. This Morag noticed. The Yank's Nike flexons were practically misting over.
      "Ah heard that iverybody goat laid here," Bethia said, running her fingers through the necklet. "Bit this wisnae whit ah hud in mind exactly."
      That was Bethia all over. The lassie was funny as all get out sometimes. Sometimes.
      The Chicagoan was major chatty and told them all about how he was an Assistant Professor of Astronomy, off to the Big Island to work for a couple of weeks on one of the telescopes up yonder on Mauna Kea. He pointed out the row of white-domed observatories on the peak and said it was so freezing up there, and the air so thin, that the scientists had to come down a ways to check their data. This halfway house on the mountain they called the Thinkery. His own research mostly involved observing stellar development in the Carinae Nebula. He’d been over here three times before, star-mapping up a storm.
      "That must be terrible fascinating," said Morag, stifling a yawn.
      "We know next to nothing about star formation really," he said, frowning. "Everything we thought we knew about it we didn’t."
      "Paris Hilton wid be a guid example oaf that," said Bethia, who'd chugged a good quart of red on the plane, her being a big believer in hair of the dog, among other myths. She gestured at the People magazine open on her lap. "Weird star furmation, ah mean. Doan't even git me started oan Lindsay Lohan's tits."
      Morag was half-cut too, with a rare rolling glow. She let her brow rest cool on the glass for a moment before winding the window down. She felt her hair whipped back by the same trade winds swirling the ocean creamy. The light and the moisture in the air made all the colors true.
      Pinned halfway up the avenue of palms were signs that read: "Beware of falling coconuts and fronds."
      "Fronds dinna let fronds stand unner coconut trees," said Morag, which cracked Bethia up no end.
      "That's the least of our worries," said the astronomer, grinning. " Hilo is the tsunami capital of the world. Really. The bay is funnel-shaped and that makes the waves bigger."
      Morag pretty much had her fill of him already. What a balloon. He was just shattering her Tom Selleck fantasy about American guys in Hawaii.
      "It’s alright," he added, quickly. "You guys needn't fret. They have a real good warning system in the Pacific. It's called the Pacific Warning System."
      Later, when he interrupted Morag to correct her pronunciation of Hilo, she said: "You say Hee-Lo. Ah say guidbye."

The conflict between the forces of Maui’s King Kahekili and those of the invading Kamehameha I in 1790 is a key event in Hawaiian history. Kamehameha brought with him to the final battle a cannon and John Young and Isaac Davis to operate it. On the third day of the battle, the two Scotsmen wheeled out their death machine and duly slaughtered Kahekili's warriors.

      The taxi looped north of the bay across the Wailuku. The sea was so bright it hurt to look at it. Morag had come to see volcanoes, but glimmer-glass blue was dazzle enough for now. She watched the swishy fronds overhanging the clear water, listened to the slow percussion of surf on lava-lace rocks. She tried to take it all in—the volcanic ridges and their deep green valleys, the low drift of clouds and the coral rubble beaches—and failed.
      "It’s awfu’ pretty, right enough," she said.
      "It is that," said the astronomer. "This place is Honolulu before the jets came in."
      "Everyboady is very nice. At the airport an that."
      "It’s always been a welcoming place. Provided you weren't Captain Cook. When he landed, the natives did for him pronto. He was the first Haole to get offed in these parts."
      "He wis English though, right?" said Bethia, thoughtfully. "That's how ye huv tae deal wi' the Sassenachs. It's them ur you."
      Morag wondered if all the alcohol was mellowing her out. She felt so strangely relaxed. So wonderful.
      The street outside the Hilo Hawaiian was lined with thick-knotted banyans. The roots of the trees hung down, loose brown ropes in places brushing the pavements. Bougainvillea vines choked the trunks green.
      "Coolest thing about those trees," he told them, fast become the tourist guide from hell, "is that famous people planted them here back in the day. Amelia Earhart, Cecil B. De Mille. The massive one outside the hotel is Babe Ruth’s."
      "Niver heard oaf her," said Morag, stretching. "When’s the bar open?"
      "Love your accent," he said, turning to Bethia. "You girls Irish?"
      "Aye," said Bethia, "sumthin like that."

 Alexander Adams came to Hawaii on the Albatross in 1811. Kamehameha I immediately placed his tiny navy under Adams’ command. Five years later, Adams expelled the Russian filibusters from Kauai. As a reward, the king gave the Scot the land of Niu, eastward of Diamond Hill, which was where Adams retired after serving as Honolulu harbor pilot for thirty years. It was Adams who persuaded the king to consent to missionaries taking up residence in Hawaii and who originally inspired the design of the Hawaiian flag, with its Union Jack in the upper corner.

      Pinned in the middle of the notice board in the hotel foyer was a poster featuring a kilted bagpiper. Bethia wrinkled her nose when she saw it.
      "Jesus fuck."
      The Honolulu Police Pipes & Drums, performing Saturday and Sunday at the annual Hawaiian Scottish Festival at Kapiolani Park.
      "Ick" said Morag.
      "It gits worse," wailed Bethia. "Check this oot."

Hawaiian Scottish Festival 2004. Highland Games and Athletics! Entertainment: Piping, Music, Song & Dance; Demonstrations: Swordplay, Weaving; Vendors: Highland Wear, Celtic clothing, Jewelery, musical instruments; Food: Traditional fare.

      "They spelt joolry wrang," noted Morag.
      "D’ye reckon yon traditional fare wid be fish an chips?"
      "How come ah’ve lived in Motherwell 20 year an nivir hud any decent swordplay?"
      Morag slid the door along its metallic groove and stepped out on the verandah. She felt her feet sink in a spiderwebbing of cracks in the concrete. There was an oval ornamental pool below, replenished by a bubbling-froth fountain. Fat Japanese carp swam back and forth all orangey in the pool. She lit up the Regal she’d blagged from her friend.
      "You think mibbe we should hook up wi’ baldy starman later?" called Bethia. She was stretched across one of the beds, flicking through the hotel room mags.
      "You can," said Morag. "Ah need sleep. Don’t ye iver sleep?"
      "Naw. Looks like there’s tons oaf stuff asides snorkelin' though. This fluming the irrigation system thing looks like a blast."
      Morag inhaled the strangeness that was a mingled scent of oleander and frangipani. Mynah birds scolded her from the banyan branches and saffron finches flitted on the vines like yellow budgies. It was nice.
      "Ah'd mibbe like tae test-drive a black guy when ah'm here," said Bethia excitedly. "Some Denzel lookalike. Hawaii Sex-O if ye know whit ah mean." She began ba-ba-bababaing the theme, tapping her knees. Bethia had nice knees too.
      "This is awfu’ nice," Morag said. "Is that a cuckoo ah hear?"
      "Cannae be a cuckoo," said Bethia, "Must be a Hawaaian burd sounds jist like wan."
      "Ah think it’s a cuckoo, really. Only a cuckoo wid sound like a cuckoo?"
      "Whitever. Ah tell ye, ah’ll be cuckoo masel if ah don’t git anither voddie soon."

 In January 1834, David Douglas climbed Mauna Kea, returning after five days with 50 species of fern, and mosses and lichens. During his brief life, Douglas introduced to Europe more than 200 plant species including the Douglas Fir (Pseudotsua douglasii, though Douglas himself gave the tree the botanical name Pseudotsuga menziesii after Archibald Menzies). Several Hawaiian plants including Pukeawe (Cyathodes douglasii) and Hala (Pandanus douglasii) are also named for the Scottish botanist. Douglas died after falling into a pit dug by the islanders to catch wild cattle. A bull was already in the pit. However, there was suspicion of murder by an Englishman named Gurney. Douglas was buried in Honolulu where more than 200 firs were planted at the dedication of his memorial.

      Two Mai-Tai drenched days later Morag finally got to see her volcano at last. What’s more, and what made it all the more worthwhile, was that the volunteer guide from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was hot as red chili peppers. Well Aloha there, boy. His name was Adrian and he said he was a graduate student from Tuscaloosa. He probably was. Mostly, his job involved setting up GPS monitors on the summit of Mauna Loa. But weekend afternoons they let him do the Kileau van tours for an extra buck.
      "Ah widnae mind blowin’ yon volcano boy's tap aff," Morag observed to Bethia.
      Bethia smiled at that, but Morag couldn't help noticing she was also doing that lipwetty thing with her tongue she did when she was looking for a lumber herself.
      As they clambered out the van on Chain of Craters Road, Adrian said, with mock pomposity, "Folks, y'all are about to witness the birth of the planet you stand on."
      In bygone days of yore the natives, so he informed them, worshipped the fire goddess. They believed she lived in the Kilauea Volcano. Today they'd be visitors paying their respects to old Pele herself."
      "Ah thought Pele played fur Brazil," Bethia said.
      The main lava tube system feeding flows to the ocean had broken down earlier in the month, leading to a series of break-outs and surface flows between the Pu`u `O`o vent and the coast. One of these, the Banana flow, had found the water, already amassing new land on the southeast coast.
      Adrian extracted a parcel of yellow waterproof ponchos from the back of the truck.
      The tour party put them on reluctantly.
      "Adrian, naebiddy looks guid in yella bar Arsenal an Brazil!" teased Morag.
      Bethia looked at her and sighed. "Ah suppose the idea is tae look like wee bananas oorselves hen."
      They began the hike towards Kilauea.

Robert Crichton Wyllie, born in Ayrshire, entered the service of King Kamehameha III in 1845, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, a position he held until his death. During his tenure, Hawaii was acknowledged as an independent kingdom by treaties with all the major nations, and Wyllie himself regarded as the most influential man in the kingdom. He often found himself at odds with American and English missionaries over the issue of dancing. A tireless dancer himself, Wyllie made dancing part of palace cultural affairs. Thereafter, missionaries attending state dinners left before the dancing began, one complaining bitterly that Wyllie looked like he could hardly wait until they were out of the room.

      And now here they were inches from creation, watching the earth being born. The burning lava, as it spilled into the ocean from the severed lava tube, was instantly shivered into millions of minute pieces, tephra jets sending fragments of hot rocks, froth-scalding waves and molten splatter across the delta's leading edge where a circular littoral cone the height of a man had stiffened. The water under the shelf was sludgy brown—a mix of glass fragments, filaments and frying plankton—under surging acid plumes of laze. A few meters from the shoreline, a second tube had ruptured, and bubble bursts of molten lava sheets spattered rhythmically.
      "It’s new to us," Adrian shouted, "but old as time. You can see the most incredible littoral explosions on a flow south of here."
      "Ah've hud those," Bethia said to Morag, winking. "They're the best kind."
      "He said littoral," said Morag, near wetting herself.
      "Ah widnae say no tae a littoral explosion wi' volcano boy masel."
      "Paws aff," barked Morag, snapping. 'Ah seen him furst. Ah'm serious as anythin'."
      Bethia rolled her eyes. "Take a chill pill there."
      "Mark Twain said, after seeing what y'all just saw, that here was room for the imagination to work. Isn't that just great?"
      Morag thought it was.
      The tour party strolled, a taut yellow string, across a cooled and set field of lava, a once crystalline stream frozen now into dark rock glazed with silver burnish. They hiked over hummocky surfaces of pahoehoe, smooth and ropelike, cracking underfoot now like thin panes of glass. In places, skylights had formed from the collapsed roof of a lava tube and, crouching rim-ward, their guide urging care, they glimpsed the molten flow beneath. Miles deeper than human ken, the burning magna chambers.
      "Wid ye look at that?" Morag said.
      In the distance, they could see the blood-orange flow on the surface, morphing jewel lava. Black tongues crept down the slope, the leading edges of the glow-ooze blushed red, silver-sooty tendrils in their wake. You could hear the soft hiss of methane, the quiet tinkling of the volcanic glass shedding off cooling rocks, see the haze of the noxious fog long before it seeped deep in nostrils.
      A little shrub burst into flame, sun-bleached branches blazing.
      "A burning bush spoke tae Charlton Heston as well ah hear," said Bethia.
      "You wheesht now," said Morag, irritated. "That's enough. Nae mair kiddin’ aroon. This is. . ." She thought for a moment. 'This is like being in a kirk."
      "Mair like being oan acid," said Bethia. "Nice an hallucinogenic."
      The daytrip ended with a lu'au at the Volcano House on the rim of the caldera. They scoffed their salmon and chicken long rice, pork and coconut pudding, squid with steamed tar greens. Sucking the tiny opiphi out of their little black shells they watched the distant orange arteries stream across the hornito's sulphur banks in the sudden darkness.
      Morag felt something she'd never felt before. It seeped into her heart.

In the 1850’s the huge Ulupalakua Ranch, covering more than 20,000 acres, was the property of the legendary Scottish sea captain James Makee. He settled on Ulupalakua after being seriously injured in a bar-room brawl in Honolulu. The captain is still celebrated to this day in the Hawaiian song and dance Hula O Makee.

      Back at the hotel, they hit the chrome-lipped bar right quick. Sitting on the patio with their cool rum and cokes, mealy damp moths flitting suicidal around the guttering candles, Adrian told them some more about Pele. He was looking mostly at Bethia while he spoke. Morag was starting to think how this one might be full of it too, yet another chancer, and of how Bethia always had them bumming their load in no time.
      "The Hawiaans thought Pele was akua noho," he was saying, "a god who talked. She could take possession of a human and make her a kahu. A zombie, right? You recognized a Pele kahu by the way she makes her hair stand out and by her inflamed red eyes."
      "Sounds like Christina Aguilera," said Morag, finding him more and more a bigtime suave blowhard.
      'They say the kahu blinds her victims," he said, ignoring her.
      "Zombies, eh? D'ye think we should be tellin' either such intimate things this early. . ." said Bethia coyly, flickering those lashes of hers, lime-green eyes flirting up a storm.
      They told Adrian about the competition at the Travel Agents they'd won, anywhere on the globe under a thousand quid, about how they didn't even have passports at the time, and how it took forever to get time off from the Prudential office. Then of how Morag had always wanted to see a volcano up close, ever since she was a wee lassie, so there was no question of where they were heading once they ruled out Etna.
      "Ah wisnae gonnae spend aw ma holidays bein' felt up by randy Tallys" explained Bethia.
      The story took some telling. After a bushel of Bacardis (they ditched the Cokes) they were criminally wasted. Morag oscillated across the lounge to the Ladies for yet another pee. When she came back, Bethia and Adrian were out of there.
      Morag wasn't really gobsmacked. Bethia was a fabulous friend and could be a real sweetheart, but mostly she was a terrible floozy, especially after a serious bevvy. Still.
      The hotel bar seemed to be spinning away from her now. The low ceiling was a visitor from some fluorescent nightmare. She noticed the bald astronomer sitting alone by the bar. He was reading a thick book. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Christ on a fucking bike. How tacky was that? She lurched towards him. She consoled herself that she was wearing a primo pair of going-to-the-doctor knickers. He smiled at her approach, as well he might, Christmas come real early, and offered her a handful of cold dead fish.

The planter James Campbell's vision made it possible for Hawaii's people to grow sugar cane on the dry lands of the Ewa Plain. The wells the Scotsman dug in 1879 uncovered a vast pure water reserve that still provides the Pearl Harbor and Honolulu areas with water.

      He liked variety. She'd been in more positions now than a circus contortionist, just letting him have his way with her, giving him his wee mundane fantasies. Right now he was behind her again, with her hanging off the bed practically, uncomfortable as anything, hand splayed on the carpet, him breathing faster, more insistent. He was the sweaty type, and for all the expanse of effort, all the Olympic gymnastics, not much good. She could tell there would be no second go the night. He'd likely be a snorer too. What a loser. She kept spacing out, thinking about tsunamis.
      He jerked her hair back suddenly. It took her by surprise. She actually gasped.
      "I want to come on your face," he said, his breath hot and wet in her ear.
      "Whit?" she said.
      He stopped moving. "I want to come on your face. Is that alright?"
      "Sure," she said, wheeling around. She knelt on the bed, facing him. "But only if ah git tae shite oan yir heid tae."
      She pushed him away from her hard and he rolled backwards, disappearing over the edge of the bed, legs flailing, his head hitting the floor with a solid clunk.
      "Aye, an after that ah'd like tae puke in yir ear as well. If that's awright?

The song "Hawaii Aloha," is derived from the Scots hymn "I Left It All With Jesus."

      In the bathroom, she put on her bracelets and earrings, her necklace of little cowrie shells, slipped the rubber zoris she’d bought in Puakenikini Passions back on her feet. Her toes looked braw anyway. She risked the mirror. No, her face didn't. She barely recognized herself, looked like hell, eyes red as radial flares of dying galaxies. She was amazed Baldie even needed a hairbrush. She backcombed her own like a machine till it looked mental as anything. The overall effect was wild, mad and sexy. Then she broke the frame in bits, all bar the lenses, which were too thick to snap, and flushed the pieces down the toilet.
      "We're not done here," he said when she came out. He sounded more hopeful than menacing and looked small in every way. She very near felt sorry for him. He'd howked his knees up over his wee potbelly.
      "Let's be sure tae dae it agin sometime though," she said from the doorway. "Like when wur deid."
      "I can't seem to find my glasses," he added plaintively, as the door closed.

Victoria Ka'iulani Cleghorn, Crown Princess of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, was the daughter of Princess Miriam Likelike (sister of Queen Lili'iuokalani) and Archibald Cleghorn, prosperous businessman, horticulturist, and eventual governor of Oíahu during Queen Lili’uokalani’s reign. On Robert Louis Stevenson’s arrival in Honolulu in 1889, the king introduced him to Cleghorn, assuming their common Edinburgh origins would prove a bond. At tea parties under the Ainahau banyan, Stevenson became fascinated with the half-Scottish princess. After all, he reported, she was "the wrong half Edinburgh Scots, like mysel!" In the poem written in her honor, he called her "the daughter of a double race."

      She kicked the door open and it slammed against the rubber stopper on the wall. It was totally her intention to scare the shite out of them. She sure as hell wasn’t going to be sexiled by that pair. But Bethia was sitting up in bed all by herself reading Premiere. She did look startled though. She'd smeared her face with white cream and that helped the look some. She was most startled at Morag's appearance.
      "Christ whit happened tae you!"
      "Yir the wan looks like Caspar the fuckin' friendly ghost. Whit's wi' the gunk?" Morag looked around the room. "Where's yir boyfriend?" she added coldly. She pulled the cupboard open and investigated the coathangers.
      "He left." Bethia grimaced. "He wis tae pissed tae git it up. Goat embarrassed an then hostile, so ah made him git the hell oot. Telt him tae invest in some Levitra."
      Morag began howling with laughter, a regular hysterical fit.
      "The guys ower here ur jist regular forces oaf nature, eh?" said Bethia.
      "It's jist like being at hame" said Morag, sadly.
      Then, before she knew it she was crying like a baby.
      "Don't greet, pet," said Bethia, stroking her hair. "Dinna greet noo."
      Morag was able to stop her bubbling when she began puking in the toilet. Bethia held her head, kept telling her she was fine. Later, when it was her turn to be sick, gagging her own thimbleful of bile, Morag brushed that long red hair of hers smooth away from the edge of the bowl, kissing Bethia soft on the cheek. It was just vomit central for a while in there. But a nice girly-girl bonding experience overall.

HB 74 is the official government act of creating a tartan for the state of Hawaii. The legislature found that Hawaii has a strong and flourishing Scottish heritage, ever present since the early days of the monarchy. Today it is embodied in many local organizations and institutions including the Hawai`i Handweavers Hui, the Caledonian Society of Hawai`i, the Celtic Pipes and Drums of Hawai`i, the Scottish Country Dancers Association, Hawai`i Thistle Pipe Band, the St. Andrews Society, the Scottish Association, the Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Celtic Catholic Church. . .

      The afternoon after, a jackhammering bastard behind her eyes, her mouth rough as a badger’s arse, Morag sat out on the verandah, legs slung over the railing. She was watching a sleepy honeycreeper peck at seed on the catty-corner balcony.
      "Freak," Morag screamed.
      She looked down at the flopping orange fish, who likely felt the same way about her.
      From her sixth floor perch, Morag could see kiddies leaping from the Coconut Island tower into the blue, a wedding party trailing their yellow-pink sarongs through the Liliuokalani gardens, now placing their tapa cloths underneath the standing stones. Thick trees like mushroom clouds loomed over parties of Japanese tourists, their cameras blazing.
      The earthquake shook the ground alive, ten on the Richter, and the fiery lake of Halemaumau, home of wild Pele, erupted in sympathy, vomiting the tide of lava that gushed down the slopes to merge with the tidal wave rushing ashore to greet it. They embraced in a lover's hiss. The island was swallowed, buried like Pompeii in ash, then down, down like Atlantis. The meteor from the Carinae Nebula finished the job. Glug-glug.
      Hell, Morag thought, there surely was room for the imagination to work in a place like this right enough. If she were to stay here, and never go back, this here verandah might well become her very own personal fucking Thinkery.
      She ripped the filter off her Regal to make it stronger, lit up, inhaled, let the smoke curl warm in her lungs, fingers tingling as the lovely nicotine rush made her heart tender. Mellowed out some, she went back inside the room.
      Bethia was skinning up on the bed, Rizla wrappers scattered across the sheets. God alone knew where that girl could have scored already. Unbelievable. Bethia was wearing her very own improvised icepack around her skull. She'd tied a wet white towel around her ears and looped it up on the corners. She looked like Bugs Bunny after a bender.
      "Ah'm gonnae need a drink soon," she said by way of greeting. "Clear mah heid."
      The light filtered yellow through the window, warm on the nape of Morag's neck.
      "Yon D.J. wi' the hair said he'd spin Goldfrapp an the new Basement Jaxx fur us the night," Bethia said. "Might jist hit the spot, eh?"

In a downtown Honolulu museum one can still view the beautiful music box given to the Princess Ka'iulani by Robert Louis Stevenson. This exquisite music box plays an assortment of pretty Celtic tunes, none of which have yet been identified.

© Rob McClure Smith 2005

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author bio

Rob McClure Smith is an expatriate Scot living and working in Galesburg, Illinois. His short fiction has been published in Chelsea, Confrontation, Café Irreal and other literary journals. He was the 2004 winner of the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award.
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issue 46: January - February 2005

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