Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Representations: Baker Island / Puakailima

Plan of the Buildings, Baker Island, by C.H. Judd, 1859
[Source: A.F. Judd II, ed. The Guano Islands (Honolulu: Family Records, House of Judd, c1935)]

Now that the spring semester has begun, so I begin moving forward with my newest research project: Hawaiian labor and environment in mid-nineteenth century guano mining in the Pacific equatorial islands. Sounds like a mouth-full, but in reality my new project on guano is a simple one. It is a logical extension from my previous work on Hawaiian sandalwood. One of the first outside/haole interventions in the labor and environment of common Hawaiians (makaʻāinana) was the sandalwood industry in Hawaiʻi, especially during the 1810s and 1820s. But sandalwood harvesting was only the first step of many in a new direction for the Hawaiian people. Namely, sandalwood was the first step towards the integration of Hawaiian peoples and biological resources into a global capitalist economic/political world order - something I see culminating in Hawaiʻi's sugar industry/plantation economy and the eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by Americans in 1893.

But the labor and environment of sandalwood harvesting was not that foreign to the makaʻāinana. Much stranger and more foreign to the makaʻāinana were their experiences in the American Northwest Coast harvesting furs, in Alta California (Mexico) skinning cattle hides, and all across the South and North Pacific hunting whales. And by the 1850s, yet another overseas labor opportunity became available for Hawaiian makaʻāīnana: mining guano on remote Pacific equatorial islands.

One such guano island was Baker Island, or Puakailima.

Puakailima, or "flower of the ʻilima," is the name Hawaiian laborers gave this small, uninhabited island along the equator, about one or two weeks by ship from Honolulu. The island was so named because, although very few plants could grow on Baker Island, ʻilima was one plant that did grow here, and its small but vibrant yellow flower was one of the few patches of color on an otherwise dreary landscape of grass and sand.

ʻIlima flowers [Source: Forest & Kim Starr via Wikipedia]

My job of attempting to re-create what life was like for Hawaiians on Baker Island (as well as on other guano mining sites such as Howland and Jarvis Islands) during the 1850s and 1860s is made quite difficult by the fact that very few historical documents remain to describe these islands at that time. At least that is what I thought before and after reading Jimmy Skagg's The Great Guano Rush, perhaps the most extensive monograph to date (published in 1994) on the history of guano mining on these equatorial islands. But very quickly I've realized that Skaggs missed a lot of English language sources on these islands - or, in some cases, he just overlooked some really interesting material in the sources he found. And beyond that, there are scores of Hawaiian language newspaper articles that I am now trying to translate that speak to the living conditions on these islands as experienced by Hawaiian laborers during the 1850s and 1860s. And yet Skaggs did not consult any Hawaiian language sources.

But even as I work through these textual sources, images tell a whole ʻnother story as well! And so the remainder of this post is devoted to analyzing two maps of Baker Island from 1859. Although drawn by the hand of the island's luna (supervisor), Charles Judd - known to his Hawaiian laborers as Kale (Charlie) - perhaps we can read between the lines of these maps and bring out the stories of the Hawaiian laborers who lived and worked there.

So, here is the first map again (see the image at the beginning of this post for more information):

Let's start at the center of the map where the eye is drawn. There, in the middle, is a big square. This is the new house that G.P. Judd was having built in 1859 to house the island "Governor." Dr. Judd is a famous character in Hawaiian history, a missionary man who made great inroads among the Hawaiian aliʻi (ruling chiefs). Heck, some might have even considered him to be an aliʻi himself! For example, we find that on Jarvis Island in 1858, when Charles Judd - the Doctor's oldest son - was still luna there, the Hawaiian laborers called him "Alii Charlie." That's some statement on the authority the makaʻāinana laborers granted to these haole (foreign/white) capitalists!

Anyway, Dr. Judd was the Honolulu agent of the American Guano Company, the owner of these islands. But he and his family apparently saw themselves more as rulers of the land. By the way, these islands - such as Baker, Jarvis, and Howland - had been annexed by the United States before commencement of guano mining, so when Judd said he was building a "Governor's mansion," he was very likely really believing that his family had the right or privilege to act as governors of this unincorporated U.S. territory!

That, then, is what is at the center of the map. The "mansion" is broken into four rooms. One reads "store room"; another reads "store." Apparently it was a two-story building. The outer ring denotes, I think, a wrap-around balcony on the second level. From a letter from Charlie Judd to Joseph O. Carter in December 1859, we hear that "the house [is] unfinished on one side." So the map - drawn by Charles' own hand - clearly represents a mansion as he hopes it will be, not as it yet was. Charlie is going to be moving in to this mansion. He has been reassigned - by his dad, I presume - from his luna post at Jarvis for this new one at Puakailima, Baker Island. He will be the island's new "Governor."

Let's step outside the mansion. Assuming that the path leads out the front door, to our left is a pretty sizable "cook house." Charlie's younger brother Albert (the Hawaiians called him Alapaki) tells us that on Jarvis Island the company cook was a Hawaiian named Nueku. But once in a while a Chinese steward named "AKay" also prepared foods, as did Albert himself at times. The haole enjoyed eating items made of flour like duff and pot pies. The kānaka - the Hawaiian laborers - apparently ate mostly poi and fish, as evidenced by the 17 barrels of poi unloaded onto Jarvis Island while Albert was there in 1858, and by the daily fishing that the Hawaiians engaged in when pau hana time came - when work was finished - each day.

Beyond the cook house is a small building labeled "RH," maybe "BH." I don't know what that is! Behind the "Governor's" house are at least four "chicken coops" and a "dog" house. Haole and kānaka invaders of these islands (the island ecology here had evolved for millions of years without human influence) brought along many animals. Five goats were released to graze on the grasses of Jarvis in 1858. Rats had made their way to Howland Island long before the first reports of them in 1854. Dogs and cats were prized domestic animals. Mules were utilized for pulling railcars full of guano (when mules were not available, kānaka were forced to labor in their place). All of this would be fine except that these islands were the preferred nesting sites of dozens of species of migratory seabirds. No animal terrorized the seabirds more than the rats. They attacked baby chicks and ate many eggs. Paleo-ornithologists have recently discovered that Polynesian peoples caused the extinctions of dozens of species of land birds and nesting seabirds over the first two millenia of the Common Era. But it wasn't that Polynesian people directly attacked and destroyed these birds, but in most cases it was that the Polynesians' accompanying animals - pigs, moa (chickens), and above all else, rats - terrorized and destroyed these endemic avian species. Anyway, this kind of devastation - which occurred in New Zealand, Rapa Nui, Hawaiʻi, and all across Polynesia upon first human settlement - thankfully was not repeated upon the birds of the guano islands. Did the seabirds on Baker Island suffer during the guano period. Yes, quite likely. Have they bounced back? Apparently quite well.

All this is to say that the chickens in the chicken coops were just one small minority of the birds that called Puakailima home. And let's hope that the dog was kept in the dog house more often than not so that he/she did not terrorize the birds too much.

The cursive note below the main house tells us what I had already divulged about the "mansion": "house two stories with an attic and cupola with glass doors." Sounds fancy!

Now let's follow the path away from the main house and towards the work area. First, to the right, are two separate cisterns. Were these sites for the collection of precious rain water? On Baker, as on the other guano islands, there existed absolutely no freshwater. Water had to be imported from Honolulu in large wooden casks aboard ships. So the collection of rain water would be quite helpful in reducing company costs. But as one writer noted, because rain only fell during violent storms with increased winds, often guano dust was lifted into the air and mixed in with the precipitation. In other words, the rain often tasted like bird feces...so, perhaps not the best source of drinking water after all!

And then we have more animal stables. On the left is a "stable" with what appears to be two "mule[s]" and one "horse" inside. On the right is housing for "pig," "pigs," and something illegible; it looks like "sheep." Of course, the chickens are cooped because the few luna want to eat either chicken meat or eggs - that's surprising, though, with all the eggs available from the seabirds! The pigs are there to be eaten, too. The mules and horses are there for their labor. The sheep will probably be eaten. I can't imagine they are being sheared for wool. Who here would do that labor? and why? All in all, we can see how the luna are attempting to recreate a dietary world that is familiar to them. This diet is a mix of Hawaiian and American tastes. But if anything, as compared to how Albert and Charlie Judd ate on Jarvis in 1858 - when they ate mostly seabirds and fish - it appears that Charlie's plan for Baker in 1859 includes a dream of a more "refined" diet here. More meat. More American.

Behind the horse/mule stable is the "old house." I imagine this is where the luna lived before the "mansion" was built. It is apparent that the luna (overseer) used to live much closer to the worksite than he will when the new house is finished. The siting of the new house thus confirms my suspicion that the Judds see their ruling over these islands as more of a "governorship" rather than a work duty. They should be working closely with the kānaka laborers and overseeing management of the guano mines. But perhaps the dust and smell and noise of the work site was just too much for this family from elite Honolulu society to bear, accustomed as they were to a more refined way of life.

The old house faces the "rail track...3/4 mile long." Partway down the track are the "scales" used for measuring the weight of the guano before it is loaded onto ships at the wharf. The end of the road from the "mansion" is where the wharf meets with the railroad track. We are lucky to have many descriptions of the wharfs and buoys at all of the guano islands, as this data was essential information for the visiting ship captains anchoring ships here for loading guano or unloading provisions. Many of the wharfs were hundreds of feet long. But boats had to be extremely careful. Islands like Baker are surrounded by coral reefs outlining the former perimeter of these once-high islands. As islands like Baker have eroded and subsided over time, much of the volcanic mountain has submerged underwater, but coral has continued to grow along the original perimeter, thus overtime creating a barrier reef. Baker, Jarvis, and Howland barely remain above sea level. In reality, they are ten thousand feet high (a really rough estimate); they are mountains rising from the sea floor, but only a few score feet of those mountains is now above sea level due to tens of millions of years of erosion and subsidence. So anyway, the point is that as boats approached Baker they are actually approaching the summit of a great mountain; the barrier reef and the underwater slope of the mountain work together to create incredibly volatile conditions for anchoring ships here.

The "rail track," as already mentioned, consisted of open cars that were pulled along by either mules or by kānaka laborers. Albert Judd writes in 1858 on Jarvis of placing his visiting sisters in the railcars and pushing them around on the track for fun. This struck me as quite insensitive to the fact that during the work day these same cars were the site of extremely difficult labor by the Hawaiian workers. I doubt these Hawaiians ever stepped a foot near the railcars during their pau hana time. That the rich Judd children could play in these cars was a performance of their status and authority; this performance also suggested that great divisions remained - or perhaps were even exacerbated here - between haole/Euro-Americans and kānaka/Native Hawaiians.

And then finally, at the opposite end of the island from the "Governor's house" is the "Natives house." This is not so much part of Judd's plan. This building is, rather, where the Hawaiian workers had likely already been living for the first few years of guano operations. It is an interesting house these "Natives" have got: with a decorative roof and a large flag flying [American flag I'm guessing]. It seems as if it was designed to attract the attention of visiting ships. Perhaps it is designed as something that the Judds can point to and say: "see how nice we treat our natives?"

But if we look through these walls, we are reminded that not one, but many kānaka lived in this one house. On Baker, Jarvis, and Howland Islands, the count of how many laborers were working there at any given time varies considerably. Sometimes as few as five to ten Hawaiians were stationed on an island, but the norm during the regular work season appears to have been 30-40 kānaka. When we consult the Hawaiian language newspaper articles reporting on life at these worksites, the Hawaiians tell us the number is even higher: 50 kānaka working on just one island in one instance. So, do you think Judd's one house for the "Natives" was sufficient? Or did some kānaka have to live in tents on the outside?

Just what was life like inside the workhouse? Albert Judd on Jarvis Island in 1858 tells us that he visited with the "natives" often: to teach them English, to hear them debate, to share newspapers with them. He gives us a nice sense of the camaraderie of the workers: how they sang songs together, skinned fish together, discussed current events, world affairs, and politics together. We see a community deeply engaged with their families and friends back in Hawaiʻi, probably feeling quite homesick, often dreaming of Oʻahu.

Next to the "Natives house" there is "water in boat-shed." On Jarvis, Albert Judd tells us that the Hawaiians rolled the imported casks of water up from the wharf to the boat shed where they were stored. And so it seems that Charlie plans to keep up the same system here at Baker, too, where the water casks will be stored in a boat shed. On the other side of "Natives house" is an unmarked building. Let's hope it is more housing for the workers, or perhaps a community center for them! :)

Finally, is it not somewhat strange that Judd has labeled the workers' house as "Natives house"? Of course, the labor force on these guano islands had always been 100% Hawaiian. The luna - the supervisors - were almost always white Euro-Americans. But the actual guano diggers and haulers were all kānaka. But by labeling the building as for the "Natives," Judd clearly imagines the work site's future as a continuation of this racial division. It is not "worker's" housing, but "Natives" housing. Judd does not imagine that any workers will do, but he can only see the guano industry as a function of white Euro-American exploitation of the better suited "copper"-skinned "native" Hawaiians' hard, physical male bodies. These haole saw Hawaiian male bodies as "naturally" suited for the task of guano labor, and they simultaneously disbelieved in the Hawaiians' abilities to serve as leaders, as luna. When you look at this map, therefore, keep Judd's racializations in mind. There are spaces here mapped for whites and others mapped for kānaka. Judd, as mapmaker and as "Governor," will decide what is best, and what is most appropriate, for each type of person.

And if you are wondering: the dotted line on the right is the shoreline. As you can see from the N.O.A.A. map below, the approach to Baker Island is from the west. The wharf and ruins are on the west side of the island. Therefore we need to flip Judd's map around because he has oriented his map with South on top and North on bottom...just FYI in case you plan to go to Baker Island someday to try and scout out some of these ruins!

Map of Baker Island and surrounding waters [Source: N.O.A.A. via nationmaster.com]

I leave you with this second map:

Sketch of the Governor's Residence, Baker Island
[Source: A.F. Judd II, ed. The Guano Islands (Honolulu: Family Records, House of Judd, c1935)]

First, note that this map is referred to as the "Governor's Residence." I wasn't making up that whole "Governor" thing, but do keep in mind that this island was an unincorporated U.S. territory that the federal government never determined needed a "Governor." That Charles Judd would be its "Governor" seems to have been a Judd-ian maneuver.

In cursive at the top it reads: "at...[ ] request: up stairs above is the attic + cupola like...[ ] have(?)...New Haven(?)" My understanding is that at someone's request - his/her name appears to begin with a "B"(?) - the attic and cupola have been designed just like the one he/she/or somebody has in New Haven, CT...perhaps?

The top square shows the mansion's upstairs level: as I said, there is a wrap-around balcony, or "verandah." The upstairs is divided into four equal rooms. Each has two doors leading out to the balcony. My, what a great ocean breeze they must have received in those upstairs rooms! How delightful! There is also a wide central "hall" with "stairs up" and "stairs down" and two doors on either end to allow more delightful ocean air to sweep through. The lower left room is to serve as the "parlor." It will contain a "desk," "table," two "lounge[s]" in opposite corners, and in the other two corners some illegible stacks of things, one of which looks like "books." A lovely room. A door connects the parlor to the room depicted above it, which I cannot make out the exact use of. This room has a "bed," "wash stand," "clothes," a "crib," and many other illegible items. It thus appears to be a bedroom...for whom I will guess shortly.

On the opposite side of the hallway is "Georges room" and "Mrs [ ] room." I don't know who George is, perhaps a luna. The mysterious "Mrs" sometimes looks like "Mrs Judds room" and sometimes looks like "Mrs Cutts room." It could be either. I'll explain who Mrs. Cutts is shortly! The Mrs.'s room has a bed, and that's it. Apparently Mr. Judd did not feel comfortable, or permitted, to decorate the lady's room; he would leave that up to her. George's room has a "bed," "table," "bureau," and some other illegible item.

Downstairs on the left is the "dining room" and "Hannahs room." Who is Hannah? I don't know. The Dining room includes a "cupboard," "clock," and something else. On the right is the "store room" and "store." The store has nothing but "shelf[s]," apparently holding many items of high consumer demand, no doubt! The store room includes a "safe" and "shelves" all around. I assume that the goods (and money/valuables) are kept privately in the store room, while the public customers have access to the actual store. Who were these customers? The occasional visiting ship captain and crew? Sure. But there is no doubt in my mind that Judd planned this storeroom for the "benefit" of the resident laboring kānaka. I wish he would tell us what was for sale in the store. One sure wonders what a store is needed for on a deserted island like this in the middle of the Pacific with only a few dozen laborers living on it. Did Judd pay the workers in scrip and "allow" them to use the scrip to purchase goods at the company store? That's what happened on the sugar plantations in Hawaiʻi. Workers were compensated in a way - scrips - that forced them to convert their compensation into further profits for the company. I wonder if this happened on Baker Island, too. If so, what did the kānaka buy? Did these workers not have endless quantities of fish and seabirds and eggs to harvest during pau hana time? And I'm pretty sure they were given meals as part of their compensation, too. That's what the barrels of poi were for, right? There is more to discover here. It could be that the "store" just means storage: a place to keep goods, like foodstuffs, that will later be prepared by the company cook for the workers free of charge. But I wonder...

Finally, there is a little square denoting a space for the "kitchen," "pantry," and as best as I can see, the "bed room cook": the bedroom for a live-in servant/cook. If this is anything like American houses of the same time period, this square denotes the basement where the live-in servant would live among the tools of his/her trade.

So what. Why does this map matter? Actually, while I find the first map more germane to my own study of Hawaiian labor and environment on these guano islands, this second map is, in my opinion, much more interesting! The Judds are designing a house that will speak for them; the house is meant to be a performance of who they are. It is a performance of their race, of their class, of their background, of their dreams. Whether or not the "Mrs" refers to Mrs. Judd or Mrs. Cutts, I assume that it is Charles Judd's wife's private room. In November 1859, Charlie Judd (age 24) married Mrs. Emily Catherine Cutts (age 19). I imagine they were married in Honolulu. But they wouldn't stay in Honolulu long. Judd's occupation was as "Governor" of Jarvis, and now of Baker. Mrs. Cutts had to know that becoming "Mrs. Judd" meant living on a remote guano island for most of the next few years of her life.

In late November, Charles Judd reported of the house under construction that "Our apartments were quite well along. We put up some furniture in two rooms and before night Emmie [Emily Cutts] had things looking nice." Here he is bringing a 19-year-old woman to one of the most remote islands on Earth, to live among scores of laboring male kānaka and hundreds of thousands of squawking, pooping seabirds. What a courageous woman! No wonder Judd worked so hard to make this residence a beautiful one. He did not want to disappoint Emmie! Charles Judd wrote his dreams in ink upon this map. He placed a "crib" in the upstairs bedroom, anticipating a child with Emily. Perhaps she was already pregnant - although I can't imagine giving birth to a child on Puakailima! Judd drew the map to express his dreams for himself, for Emmie, and for their family. The map might be exaggerative. It might have been something he drew for Emily's sake, to encourage her to take his hand and partake in this rather unusual adventure with him. Perhaps the "mansion" was actually much less thrilling in reality. These maps only tell us how Judd hoped things would be, not how they actually turned out to be.

Judd ends his letter from Puakailima in early December 1859 stating over and over again that Emmie is "happy" and "contended." It sounds like he is trying to reassure himself that he has not failed her as a husband (or as an interior decorator!). I'm sure she smiled courteously and tried her best to hide any disappointment when she actually saw the house and the living conditions she faced on Baker. As she moved in her trunks and life possessions and began unpacking her things, as the salty sea air blew in through the open doors from off the verandah, as the noise of squawking seabirds and of railcars shuffling guano across a lonely island reached her ears, did she not think of home? Did she not think, "What the hell am I doing here?!" Absolutely she did! But still she smiled, and Charlie smiled, and they hid their true anxieties behind the veneer of letters, maps, and the comforting clutter of their interior decorations.

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