Hawaii Before The Missionaries

July 2017

The easygoing Hawaiian way of life encountered by the American missionaries tan be glimpsed in the earliest pictures of the Islands by an outlander. He was Louis Choris, seen above in a self-portrait, a young Russian whose artistic talent earned him the job of draftsman on a Czarist round-the-world expedition which arrived in Hawaii in 1816, four years before the Thaddeus . Once ashore and established in (he quarters of King Kamehameha I, the twenty year-old Choris began filling his sketchbooks with views of the Islands, their inhabitants, and even some of the many hundreds of carved wooden idols (left and right) in the Polynesian pantheon. The original water colors he made from the sketches were discovered’ by collector Donald Angus and are now owned by the Honolulu Academy of Arts. With the Academy’s kind permission, some of them arc reproduced on the next six pages. For assistance in locating the water colors and for information about them, we are indebted to Professor A. Grove Day of the University of Hawaii.

After his return to Russia, Choris embarked on another round-the-world voyage, this time under the auspices of the French government. It was an ill-starred journey: in 1828, while traveling from Vcracru/ to Mexico City, he was murdered by bandits, who hid his body under leaves and mud in the forest along the road. But his Hawaiian water colors—of a lovely, languid land and its handsome, brown-skinned people—have survived as an enduring monument.