Nov 11, 2010

Article Repost: "Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Study of the Kawi Language: The Proof of the Existence of the Malayan-Polynesian Language Culture"

Article repost on Humboldt's Study of the Kawi language.

Ed. Note. The author believes that there exist a connection between Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) languages which was rejected by Humboldt and by most trained linguists, archaeologists, and anthropologists today. I am repost the article because of the context of Humboldt's original findings.

Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Study of the Kawi Language:
The Proof of the Existence of the Malayan-Polynesian Language Culture

by Muriel Mirak Weissbach

If Wilhelm von Humboldt were alive today, he would be delighted with the discovery of Maui’s inscriptions, and would throw himself into studying it, with every fibre of his being. In a certain sense, the deciphering of these inscriptions, which shows that the Maori language was a common language or part of a language group in Polynesia, itself confirms Humboldt’s own findings. For it was Wilhelm von Humboldt who was the first to rigorously examine the languages of this part of the world, and to establish scientifically that all the languages of the region, from Madagascar to east of Pitcairn Island, were part of one language culture.

The last and greatest work by Humboldt, entitled Über die Kawi-Sprache (On the Kawi Language), deals with this. The work, published posthumously in 1836-39, is prefaced by a lengthy introduction, entitled “Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues und ihren Einfluss auf die geistige Entwicklung des menschengeschlechts,” (in English, “On Language: The Diversity of Human Language-Structure and Its Influence on the Mental Development of Mankind”). This introduction, perhaps his greatest work on the general theory of language, is well-known, having gone through numerous editions, and translations into other languages. But, this is only the introduction! The three volumes of the work that actually apply his theory to the particular case of the Kawi language, have remained a matter for specialists, available only in the reading rooms of libraries. (In one English translation of “On Language,” it is even stated that the planned three volumes never appeared—an outright lie!)

Humboldt’s work opens with the following words:

If we consider their dwelling-place, their mode of government, their history, and above all their language, the peoples of Malayan stock stand in a stranger connection with peoples of different culture than perhaps any other people on earth. They inhabit merely islands and archipelagoes, which are spread so far and wide, however, as to furnish irrefutable testimony of their early skills as navigators. ... If we take together the members of these ethnic groups who deserve to be called Malayan in the narrower sense ... we find these people, to name only points where the linguist encounters adequately studied material, on the Philippines, and there in the most richly developed and individual state of language, on Java, Sumatra, Malacca, and Madagascar. But a large number of incontestable verbal affinities, and even the names of a significant number of islands, give evidence that the isles lying close to these points have the same population too, and that the more strictly Malayan speech-communityextends over that whole area of the South Asiatic Ocean which runs southwards from the Philippines down to the western coasts of New Guinea, and then west about the island chains adjoining the eastern tip of Java, into the waters of Java and Sumatra, up to the strait of Malacca.
Humboldt goes on, to assert that
East of the narrower Malayan community here delineated, from New Zealand to Easter Island, from there northwards to the Sandwich Islands, and again west to the Philippines, there dwells an island population betraying the most unmistakable marks of ancient blood-relationship with the Malayan races. The languages, of which we also have an exact grammatical knowledge of those spoken in New Zealand, Tahiti, the Sandwich Islands, and Tonga, prove the same thing, by a large number of similar words and essential agreements in organic structure.
He also writes that
In many places we find among them fragments of a sacred language now unintelligible to themselves, and the custom, on certain occasions, of ceremoniously reviving antiquated expressions, [which] is evidence, not only of the wealth, age, and depth of the language, but also of attention to the changing designation of objects over time.
Humboldt believed that the people of this region “seem never to have attained to the possession of writing, and thus forgo all the cultivation dependent on this, although they are not lacking in pregnant sagas, penetrating eloquence, and poetry in markedly different styles.” Such literary works must therefore have been recorded in writing at a later time. Humboldt saw these languages not as a degeneration, but as representing the original state of the Malayan group. What he accomplished was to subject the main languages known to comparative analysis, to establish their membership in one language family. As for the ethnic stock, Humboldt specifies that in both the broad areas identified, the people belong to the same stock. “If we enter more accurately into color differences,” he says, they constitute “the more or less light-brown among whites in general.” In addition to this stock, he mentions a group similar to Black Africans, particularly in New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, and New Hebrides. Given that the languages of these people had not been recorded, Humboldt could not include them in his study—except for the special case of Madagascar, which will be treated later.

The manner he chose to go about this enormous task, was not to take the vocabularies of all the languages involved, and compare them, as if running them through a computer. Rather, Humboldt seized upon what was an egregious characteristic within the languages, a singularity, which was the very strong Indian influence. A glance at the map [See Figure 1] explains why it would be obvious for people from India to travel to the islands and populate them.


Yet, as Humboldt saw, this is not uniform throughout the region. The overwhelming Indian influence, not only in language, but also in religion, literature, and customs, he found to have affected the Malayan circle “in the narrower sense,” that is, the Indian archipelago per se. It is here that an alphabetic script was found, and of the Indian type.

The questions posed by the extraordinary Indian influence, for Humboldt, were two: He asked himself “whether ... the whole civilization of the archipelago is entirely of Indian orgin? And whether, also, from a period preceding all literature and the latest and most refined development of speech, there have exitsed connections between Sanskrit and the Malayan languages in the widest sense, that can still be demonstrated in the common elements of speech?” Humboldt’s tendency was to answer the first question negatively, and to assume that there had been “a true and indigenous civilization among the brown race of the archipelago.” He saw no reason to think that “the Malayans should be denied a social civilization of their own creation.”

As to the second question, Humboldt tended to answer in the affirmative, that the Indian-Malayan contact had been ancient and continuing:

Without yet mentioning Tagalic, which incorporates a fair number of Sanskrit words for quite different classes of objects, we also find in the language of Madagascar and in that of the South Sea Islands, right down to the pronoun, sounds and words belonging directly to Sanskrit; and even the stages of sound-change, which can be viewed as a comparative index of the antiquity of mingling, are themselves different in such languages from the narrower Malayan circle, in which, as in Javanese, there is also visible an influence from Indian language and literature that was exerted at a much later date. Now how we are to explain this ... remains, of course, extremely doubtful. ... [H]ere it is enough for me to have drawn attention to an influence of Sanskrit upon the languages of the Malayan stock, which differs essentially from that of the mental cultivation and literature transplanted to them, and seems to belong to a much earlier period and to different relationships among the peoples concerned.
To conduct his research, therefore, Humboldt focussed on that area of greatest Indian influence, which was manifest in the “flowering of the Kawi language, as the most intimate intertwining of Indian and indigenous culture on the island that possessed the earliest and most numerous Indian settlements,” which was the island of Java. Humboldt went on:
Here I shall always be looking primarily to the indigenous element in this linguitsic union, but will take an extended view of it in its entire kinship, and will pursue its development up to the point where I believe I find its character most fully and purely evolved in the Tagalic tongue. In the third book [he concluded], I shall spread myself over the whole archipelago, return to the problems just indicated, and so try to see whether this way, together with that discussed hitherto, may lead to a more correct judgment of the relations among peoples and languages throughout the entire mass of islands.
His method, therefore, was to penetrate to the innermost the Kawi language, which represented the highest expression of the Indian-Sanskrit language cultural influence, but from the standpoint of the “indigenous element,” which Humboldt recognized must be the basis of the identity of the language group as a whole. What he asked himself was, essentially, what is the underlying, indigenous language beneath the Sanskrit influence? What relationship does it bear to the languages in the strictly Malayan group, and, then, what is their relationship to all the languages of the vast island world?

From its very name, the Kawi language betrays its deep debt to Sanskrit (Skr.). Derived from the root ku,which means “to sound,” or “resound,” in Sanskrit it means “poet,” and, in derived forms, a “wise, educated man.” The generic name given to the syllabic meter in Kawi poetry, is sekar kawi, which means “flowers of the language,” and is derived from the Skr. sekhara, “garland”. Sekar, “flower,” is the usual expression for poetry. And in the “Brata Yuddha,” the poem which Humboldt used as the basis for his study of the Kawi language, the related word kawindhra means “a good singer.” The “Brata Yuddha” itself, which means “war [from Skr. Yudha] of the ancestors of Bharata,” is inspired by the great Indian epic poem Mahabharata (which contains the “Bhagavad Gita”). The names of the main characters are the same, and it recounts the process of the war in seven battles. It is just one example of the way in which Kawi culture assimilated the Indian religious culture, which is also evident in its great architecture.

The Indian influence in the Kawi language and culture is also manifest in the characteristic method of counting years in dates, by using words for numbers, a method known as “Chandhra Sangkala.” (Chandra sangkala is from Sanskrit, with the second term meaning “collection, quantity, addition,” from the root kal,“to count,” and the first element meaning, “method”; thus, “counting according to the method.”) For example, to signify the date 1021, the Sanskrit expression would be sasipakshakhaike. The syllables are read left to right, but they refer to the date read from right to left. Thus, 1 is expressed by sasin, which means “moon.” There is only one moon, therefore the correspondance. Paksha means wings, and stands for 2, for obvious reasons. The other syllables, kha and eka, are number words for 0 and 1, respectively.

When this usage was taken over in the Kawi language, it was in a certain sense further developed, such that not only syllables strung together stood for the date, but the syllables constituted a phrase, which had to do with what the date recorded. For example, there is the story of a Muslim king who had travelled to Java, in hopes of converting the King of Majapahit, to whom he had promised his daughter, to Islam. The enterprise ran into difficulties, many of the entourage fell ill and died, and his daughter herself became very sick. The king prayed to the Almighty, that, if the venture were destined to succeed, his daughter should be saved, and if not, not. His daughter died in the year 1313, and the date was recorded as follows:


Kaya means “fire,” which, as in Sanskrit (agni) stands for 3. Wulan is the Javanese word for “moon,” again for 1. Putri is Sanskrit for “daughter of the prince,” and stands for 3, for reasons which even Humboldt could not fathom. Finally iku or hiku, is the Javanese pronoun for a distant person (“she, over there”), and corresponds to 1. Thus the phrase would be translated “Like unto the moon was that princess,” in Humboldt’s rendition. The numbers would be 3131, read from right to left, the date 1313.

Another, more obvious example, denotes the legendary date 1400, when the state of Majapahit was conquered by Muslims. This date is rendered as follows:


Sirna is the Sanskrit passive particle from the verb sri, sirna, meaning “destroyed,” and it therefore corresponds to nothing, 0. Ilang or hilang is Javanese for the same thing, “lost,” and also equals 0. Kirti-ning means “well-water” and in Sanskrit means also “fame.” The original root of the word is kri, which means “flow, bubble,” like water or fame. The Sanskrit and Javanese words for “work,” something that has been created, also apply, from the root kri (whence our verb “create”). In Java, the word karte, was used to denote a state with an orderly administration, that is, where a state of quiet and peace reigns. It is used to designate 4, from its meaning as “water,” since there are four oceans in the world. Finally, bumi,corresponding to Skr. bhumi, means “earth,” or “world” (in extended sense, “land”), of which there is only one. Thus the phrase would read, “Lost and gone is the work [pride] of the land,” certainly an appropriate way of characterizing the event.

The penetration of Sanskrit into “Javanese”—what must have been the language of the people of Java when the Indian settlers arrived—goes far deeper, however. As Humboldt shows through an incredibly thorough examination of vocabulary, word-formation, and grammar, the influence is determining. The following examples make the point.

In the process of the creation of Kawi, Sanskrit words entered the Javanese language, almost always in the form of a substantive, specifically in the nominative case singular, which were then transformed, according to the Javanese laws of word-formation, into verbs, adjectives, etc. Sanskrit verbs or roots never enter the langauge as such, but only in a nominative form. Thus, for example, Skr. bhukti (which refers to the act of eating) becomes b-in-ukti, or, with consonant shifts, ma-mukti; dwija (“bird”) becomes dwija, ordhwijangga, through duplication, a process often used for poetical reasons, to lengthen the syllables. Thus also rana (“battle”), which becomes rana, or ranangga, or rananggana, etc. The plural in Kawi is formed often by repetition, thus Skr. wira, for “warrior,” becomes wira wira, “warriors.”

As for the verb, it is formed from the Sanskrit nominative, in various ways. For instance, the syllable um is inserted right before the initial consonant, or after the initial vowel: thus, the noun tiba, meaning “fall,” becomes a verb, “to fall,” as tumiba; lampah, “trip,” becomes a verb, “to walk,” as lumampah. Or, the verb can be distinguished from the noun, through a different initial consonant: thus, neda is “to eat,” whereas teda is “food”; nulis, “to write,” and tulis, “writing”; nitik, “to prove,” and titik, “proof.”

As a result of the emphasis on the noun or substantive form, verbal expressions are often in the passive voice. For instance, one would say literally, “my seeing was the star,” to indicate, “I saw the star.” The passive is formed through the prefix ka-. Since, in Kawi, there is no inflexion to the verb, as opposed to Sanskrit’s highly developed inflectional system, the meaning of a sentence must be grasped through word order and context. However, Kawi does have tense distinction, with a past, present, and future, as well as some differentiation of moods, especially the imperative and subjunctive. The following gives an idea of how difficult it may be to figure out how a sentence should be read.

Thus prayer his to three-world be spoken victory in battle
This actually means:
Thus was his prayer spoken to the three worlds, for victory in the battle.
If there is difficulty in grasping the sense, owing to the row of words without grammatical indicators, there is, on the other hand, as Humboldt emphasizes, a “noble brevity and a stronger impact of the poetical images which follow one another immediately.”

Wilhelm von Humboldt concludes from his study of Kawi, that it was “an older form of the Javanese national language, which however, in the elaboration of scientific knowledge transplanted there from India, assimilated an indeterminable number of pure Sanskrit words, and thereby, as well as owing to the peculiarity of its exclusively poetical diction, became a closed form of speech, deviating from the usual form of speech.” It was, however, the language of the educated population, which gradually fell out of use, following the emigration of the last Brahmins out of Majapahit to Bali, in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth centuries.

As to the time frame, when the Indian influence was first introduced to Java, Humboldt had no clear records. The annals of Java begin with the era of Ari Saka, who was reputed to have brought the era from India, in the year A.C.E. 74 or 78. This coincides with the period of the Brahmin figure named Tritresta, who was said to have built the first state on Java, after it had been taken under the rule of Vishnu. The massive impact of Sanskrit on the language, greater than that on any other language in the Malayan group, led Humboldt to conclude that the Indian colonists who settled there must have used Sanskrit as their living, spoken language, which places the settlement far back in time.

The dating of the “Brata Yuddha” is also controversial; one version puts it at A.C.E. 706, another, at A.C.E. 1079. The alphabet in use for Kawi must have been introduced by the Indians, and taken up by other languages as well, like the Biscaya and Tagalic. This alphabet, Humboldt takes to be the same as modern Javanese, but written in different signs, with numerous sounds in common with Sanskrit. However, it is not simply the Sanskrit alphabet, becase it has many fewer consonants, lacking the entire array of aspirated consonants, for example. Whether or not a pre-Kawi alphabet for Javanese existed was not known to Humboldt, but he did not exclude it.

The question to be raised at this point is, what is Javanese? If one puts to one side all the Sanskrit elements of Kawi, and examines the remainder of the language, which Humboldt called the non-Sanskrit Kawi, would it be the same as modern Javanese? To answer this question, and the related one—what is the entire Malayan language group, and what are its relations to the other great language groups of the world?—Humboldt broadened his study, to cover all those languages which were known from the region.

He was the first to do this, and it was not only a monumental task philologically: it also constituted a direct challenge to the language studies that had been conducted up to that point. Significantly, prior to Humboldt’s efforts, the only studies that existed on the Kawi language, were those of British and Dutch colonial agents. The first, Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles (1721-1826), was an English East India administrator and Lieutenant governor of Java from 1811-1815. He is credited with having secured Singapore for the East India Company in 1819. John Crawfurd was resident at the court of the Sultan on Java, and the author of a History of the Indian Archipelago (1820). It was Raffles’s 1817 History of Java, and Crawfurd’s work, which provided Humboldt basic information on Java, as well as texts of the “Brata Yuddha” poem.

Needless to say, Raffles’s approach was not disinterested. His leading aim appears to have been to falsify the record, especially to deny the possible existence of an independent Javanese civilization and language. He considered the Kawi language to be an artificial idiom used by a priest caste, essentially a dead language used only ritually. The version of the “Brata Yuddha” which he made available, contained only 139 of the original 719 four-line stanzas. Humboldt, eager to have a better version, finally got one from Crawfurd, who had generously added 19 stanzas. Raffles, it appears, had decided to omit anything which he found objectionable, which was clearly a lot.

But, in addition to such obvious manipulations, both Raffles and Crawfurd, in Humboldt’s view, had committed ghastly errors of method. Most importantly, they had neglected to consider languages from the standpoint of the entire language area in question, and limited themselves to very small areas. Crawfurd, in his history, considered only the area from Sumatra to New Guinea, and from 11° to 19° latititude, as the area of Indian influence. Most important, Humboldt writes, is the fact that Crawfurd thus ignores the basic demographic facts of the region: that, in the small area he had carved out for study, there lived side by side black-skinned people with curly hair and whites with straight hair, whereas the blacks no longer lived in Java and Sumatra. Furthemore, on Madagascar, there lived at the time of these studies blacks of African extraction, as well as Malayans and Arabs together, and they all spoke the exact same language. As Humboldt stressed, this extraordinary fact meant that the common language they shared must go very far back in antiquity, since it had effectively replaced any other languages which would have been specific to the black African population. On these grounds alone, in Humboldt’s view, it is absolutely outrageous to leave Madagascar out of the area of study.

Furthermore, he complains, the “English scholars” utterly ignore the Tagalic language, which lies in the area. (Another Briton, William Marsden, had acknowledged the importance of Tagalic, but had, said Humboldt, nonetheless excluded it from his word analysis in the Archaeologia Britannica.) For Humboldt, on the other hand, the Tagalic language was of absolutely crucial importance, because (1) it shows a very broad agreement with Malaysian; (2) of all the languages in the group, it has the richest grammatical development, such that the grammars of the others can be understand only from this standpoint—just as Greek can be best understood from the standpoint of Sanskrit; (3) neither Arabic nor Indian religion or literature have altered Tagalic’s original color; and (4) there is no other language of the group which has so many research aids, like dictionaries and grammars, largely thanks to the work of Spanish missionaries.

Perhaps the English scholars did not want to discover the truth about the languages and the peoples of the great ocean civilization; Humboldt, however, did. In fact, he even rejected the name Polynesian to designate this category, on the grounds that it was geographical and limited, and preferred to it the term Malaysian, meaning not only the language culture, but the people.

The linguistic material that Humboldt considered was vast. He examined vocabulary, which showed “not only that these peoples designed many concepts with the same terms, but that they also took the same route to shaping the language, creating words with the same sounds according to the same laws, and that they possess therefore concrete grammatical forms, borrowed from one another.” But he went beyond vocabulary, since “[o]ne cannot consider languages as an aggregate of words. Each is a system, whereby sound is linked to thought. The business of the language researcher is to find the key to this system.”

In this spirit, Humboldt assembled a list of over one hundred words, from Malaysian (proper, i.e. as spoken in Malacca), Bugi, Madecassian (or Malagasy), Tagalic, and the Polynesian languages: Tonga, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaiian. The comparative tables, completed by his student Buschmann, show striking similarities, as the following few examples demonstrate. (The large number of examples for Madecassian derive from the fact that several sources were consulted, including dictionaries and the translation of the Holy Scriptures):

TABLE 1. Comparison of vocabulary words within the Malayan-Polynesian language family.


to die

























Kr. latu
K. hapuyi,







(Kr. designates the elevated language, and K. stands for Kawi.)

But, not only are the words similar. Grammatically, the pronoun for the first person singular, I, is also the same: New Zealand ahau, Mad. ahe, ahy; the /h/ sound is transformed in the other languages (except Tahiti) into its corresponding hard sound, in gua, co, aco, ku, aku, very much in the same way that Latinego is constructed from Skr. aham, or in the way that English “I,” differs from German “ich” or “ik.” Also, in the third person singular, there is an extraordinary similarity, especially in the possessive form, “his”: Mad. ny mpiana’ny, which means “his young ones”; Mal. kapala-nia, meaning “his head”; Tag. ang yna-niya, meaning “his mother”; Tah. to’na ahu, “his dress”; NZ. tônatoki, “his axe”; Tong. ana falle, “his house.”

The relationship among these languages is also transparent in number; and so on and so forth, for the process of word-formation, syntax, and other aspects of the language.

In the final part of his monumental study, Humboldt moved yet farther eastward, to examine the languages of the South Sea Islands [See Figure 2] And, here again, by comparing the basic vocabulary, the laws of grammar and syntax, he was able to demonstrate the nature and degree of relationship among them, as well as between the eastern and western branches of the Malayan group.

The method Humboldt applied is truly wonderful, because he focussed on identifying the crucial example to prove the general law. In the case of the verbal particles, Humboldt himself says that “this discovery is one of the most important discoveries that I have made in my striving to present the whole Malayan language group as a unity of system and sounds, and would by itself suffice to justify this work of mine and its tendency.” This discovery was to establish the link between the two branches.

The word Humboldt is referring to is an adverb of time; if this verbal particle functions as an adverb of time, he says, then it is certain that other verbal particles will also have that function. “The Mal. juga andjua, ... is an adverb of very varied and complicated meaning, often meaning ‘empty,’ this means one can hardly attribute a meaning to it.” However, he goes on, “in the meaning of ‘still,’ it functions as the sign of the present and imperfect tenses.” The single example he gives for this is a phrase which means: “a huge blustering rose up in the sea, such that the little ship was covered with waves.” The original is tetapi iya tidor juga. Another example given is tiada juga, meaning “not yet,” which had the function of placing the verb in the perfect tense (as in English, “it has not yet happened”). Another example shows it as the sign for the pluperfect, in the meaning of “already” (as in English, “it had already occurred”). Humboldt notes a curious fact, which is, that the verbal particle always appears after the word it modifies in the western branch of Malayan, and always comes before the word, in the eastern branch. Humboldt draws up a chart showing the overview of the word for the whole language family.

TABLE 1I. Overview of the verbal particle of time for the entire Malayan-Polynesian language family, as presented in “On the Kawi Language.”

AdverbVerbal ParticlePronoun



2. “only, along”
3. “so”
4. “however; moreover”
5. “still”
6. “already” (lama juga
already long since”)
2.“so” 3. “still”

sign of present
imperfect, perfect,

itu juga “the same” (m)
sama and sama juga
“the same” (m)




“also” 2. “only” 3. “so”
4. “yet, however”

hiyahika huga
“the same” (m)
(hiyahika “this one”)



“also” 2. “yet”
3. “more”
plusque cela)

isicoua “the same” (n)
[isi, “this one” (m.)]
zanicoua “the same”
(m. & n.)


gua loa

“before, long ago


sign of present
sometime of

N.Z.koasign of perfect



sign of present
preterite, future
of imperfect conj
taua, ana “this one” (m)



sign of present,
ua “this one” (m)

Having reached this point, Humboldt takes one further crucial step, and considers the entire group which he has established as the Malay family, in comparison with, first, the Chinese language, and then, with the native languages of America. With Chinese, the group has much in common: The South Sea Islands languages have the habit of forming different words by making very slight sound changes, almost imperceptible to the untrained ear. And, “these languages recall the Chinese, in that the words which indicate a grammatical relationship, follow or precede the expression of the concept separately from it, such that they, more than the other languages, could be written in a script similar to Chinese.”

In his detailed analysis of three languages in the South Sea Island group (Tonga, New Zealand, and Tahiti), Humboldt identified several characteristics which they shared with Chinese, such that they could be written in Chinese characters. These are: that each word which can be considered by itself, exists in the word order by itself, including words which indicate a grammatical relation; that none of these words undergoes any changes in the context of the phrase; and, that the grammatical words do not fuse with others.

(See box on Humboldt’s Discovery Today)

* In this connection, Humboldt also noted the findings in Kentucky and Tennessee, of ancient graves showing burial practices similar to those in the Sandwich, Caroline, and Fiji Islands, and the conclusion drawn by one Hr. Mitchell, that colonists had arrived there from the Malaysian-Pacific region.
By the same token, he identified several aspects which they shared with American languages, but specified that the overall grammatical construction of the two groups had very significant differences. One key feature of American languages is their use of the first person plural pronoun, “we,” in both the exclusive and the inclusive form: one says either “we” (and you) or “we” (without you). This characteristic, which had been thought unique to America, Humboldt showed to be shared by the languages in the Malayan group, those in Malaysia proper, as well as in the Philippines and Polynesia.*

Humboldt was very clear about how such phenomena came into being in the course of human history: On the one hand, he saw the ocean, not as a hindrance, but as a connecting factor among peoples. On the other, he recognized that when such contacts occurred, as between the Indian civilization and the island populations, “the predominance of a civilization so ancient and so cultivated in every branch of human activity as that of India was bound to attract to it nations of an alert and lively sensitivity. This was more a moral change,” he writes, “however, than a political one,” and he refers to the way Hinduism “struck roots among the Malaysian people,” showing “that as a spiritual force, it again excited the mind, set the imagination to work and became powerful through the impression wrought upon the admiration of peoples capable of development.”

Considering this, what would Wilhelm von Humboldt have said, had he seen the cave drawings from Santiago de Chile, and those of his beloved Java, and those of Pitcairn Island? Upon hearing that the name of the captain of the ship was Rata, he most certainly would have exclaimed, “Aha! You know, that is fascinating! Because the name Ratu, was used as the word for ‘king’ or ‘prince’ in Javanese.” As he noted, “It was so explicitly treated as a Javanese word that it developed forms with indigenous sound changes and form changes, like ngratu, meaning ‘to recognize or acknowledge someone as king,’ and ngratonni, which meant ‘to govern, to rule.’ ” The same word, Humboldt pointed out, is found in Malaysian proper, as ratu, in Sundanese on Madura and Bali, and also in Tagalic as dato. Not only, but there are legends in Polynesia, about the white god who created the place, named Maui.

Humboldt would have been intrigued by the idea, that Egyptians had travelled through the ocean islands and left their inscriptions everywhere. He, too, in his great work, had cited “obscure reports” about Egyptians who had been banished or otherwise left their homeland for the islands in the eastern oceans.

But, what would have thrilled him the most, is the idea that there was indeed one language, Maori, which was documented at least as early as the Third century B.C.E. from the northern coasts of Africa, to Java and eastwards as far as Pitcairn Island. Maori, still spoken today on New Zealand, is the modern form, indeed very different, but the same language genealogically, as the ancient Maori in which Rata and Maui wrote their inscriptions. Whether the roots of Maori were planted into the soil of the ocean islands at the time of the Egyptian expedition, or much earlier, the fact is, that Maori is one of the dialects of the vast language group of so-called Malayo-Polynesian, which Humboldt named the Malayan family.

From the archaeological and historical records which have emerged since Humboldt’s time, it is probable that the islands of Malaysia and Polynesia were populated by waves of settlers from India and Egypt, going back to as early as the Third millennium B.C.E. in the case of India, and the Second millennium B.C.E. in the case of Egypt. The records of gold mining conducted on the island of Sumatra in the Second millennium B.C.E. point to probable Egyptian explorers. Most probably, it was settlers of Dravidian stock from India, who may have been the dark-skinned people referred to in the early records of the islands; some affinities of the Dravidian languages with those of Papua New Guniea, have been researched. Following the Dravidians, who went to the islands, or stayed in southern India, came the Aryans of Sanskrit language culture, who had entered India from Central Asia, and thence, travelled on to the islands. Thus, the continuing waves of settlements from India, which Humboldt hypothesized, as well as from Egypt, would explain what Humboldt found: the existence of a deep layer of Sanskrit in the Malayan family, even beneath the Sanskrit assimilated in the Kawi language. Furthermore, such waves of migration from Egypt, would explain the similarities which become manifest in the inscriptions by Maui, comparable to those in Libya and other sites in northern Africa.

Most unfortunately, Wilhelm von Humboldt died in 1835. Just six years later, in 1841, one of his greatest students, Franz Bopp, published a work entitled Über die Verwandschaft der malayisch-polynesischen Sprachen mit den indisch-europäischen (On the Kinship of the Malayan-Polynesian Language to the Indo-European), a work for which he came under attack. Bopp was the genius who had virtually invented the science of comparative philology (See Box on Philology) with his ground-breaking work on the conjugations systems of Indo-European languages. (On the System of Conjugations of the Sanskrit Language in Comparison to those of the Greek, Latin, Persian, and German Languages).

Then, in his 1841 work, Bopp had dared to assert an affinity between those languages which Humboldt had reunited into one family, and the Indo-European group (of Sanskrit, Persian, Greek, Germanic, Italic, etc.). Bopp was thus undertaking the task which Humboldt did not live long enough to tackle, to examine the organic relationship between Sanskrit, as primary among Indo-European, and the Malayan family. And, in 1890, another follower of Humboldt’s, Carl Abel, went so far as to propose a relationship between ancient Egyptian and Indo-European, which, in light of Maui’s inscriptions, is rich with implications.

Abel recounts in a famous lecture he delivered presenting his findings, that, if the Nineteenth-century European classicists—those dedicated to the study of Greek and Latin, etc.—had been destabilized by the discovery of the relationship of the classical tongues to an ancient Indian language, Sanskrit, which was a far older, more developed and perhaps actually parent tongue to theirs—(a discovery universally accepted!)—it was partially out of a sense of cultural superiority. The “Hellenists and Latinists,” he said, “had always impatiently borne their dark-skinned cousinship,” and balked at the idea that everything had to be explained from the standpoint of Sanskrit grammar. Now, continued Abel, “After such precedents, it was not the least to be wondered at, that when the Egyptian began to ask for admission on its own behalf into the Indo-European circle, the same cold reception was repeated which Sanskrit originally experienced” (speech to the Ninth Congress of Orientalists, London, 1891).

Philological study, at least in the tradition of the great minds like Humboldt, Bopp, Grimm, Abel, and others, has never been an academic pursuit, to win recognition or power. It has been a passionate endeavor, to plumb the depths of the human mind, in its uniquely human capacity to create language, and to trace out the process through which human populations have moved about the earth, to populate and develop it, in fruitful communication with one another. Humboldt understood philology in this vein, as contributing to the process of the perfection of mankind, as he wrote in On the Kawi Language:

If there is one idea which is visible in all of history in ever more extended value, if ever one [idea] proves the frequently contested, but even more frequently misunderstood, perfection of the entire species, then is it the idea of humanity, the striving to lift the limits which prejudices and one-sided views of all types place hostilely between men, and to treat humanity as a whole, without regard to religion, nation and skin color, as one great, closely fraternal group, one existing whole, for the achievement of one aim, of the free development of internal strength. ...

Language enclasps more than anything else in men, the whole species. ...

Philology: The Science of Language and History

What manifestation of human activity best expresses the uniqueness of man, as distinct from all other species? What activity, at the same time, demonstrates the multiplicity of human society, diverse cultures developed by different human civilizations? How is it possible to reconcile the vast multiplicity in the world and throughout history, of such diverse cultures as the Chinese and the Greek, showing them to be two manifestations of the same human spirit?

These are questions which the science of philology, the study of languages in their historical development, answers. Wilhelm von Humboldt was the founder of the the Nineteenth century German school of philology, the greatest school of philology the world has ever known. Other great names associated with Humboldt and this school include Franz Bopp, Rasmus Rask, and Jacob Grimm.

Wilhelm von Humboldt, who was a close collaborator of Germany’s national poet, Friedrich Schiller, approached the study of language from the standpoint of the humanist spirit which pervaded all his work: seeing in man the highest product of creation, Humboldt identified in language the most universal expression of the capacities of the human mind. To understand how man conceptualizes the universe, and how man organizes social relations, one must, Humboldt realized, examine the way in which man develops language. Through his study of numerous languages—well over fifty, ranging from Basque, to the Native American languages, from Sanskrit to Chinese—Humboldt succeeded in demonstrating the universal principles of language in general.

While emphasizing the universal principles, whose existence is manifested in the fact that any language can be translated into any other, Humboldt focussed on the particular characteristics of a language, in order to identify its specifically national character. Since language is the most immediate form of activity which man invents to communicate with others, and to investigate the universe, then the form in which a people shapes its language most immediately expresses the national character of that people. Hence, in Humboldt’s work it becomes clear that language provides the key to the character of the nation.

In Humdoldt’s view, language was not a fixed system, as some modern linguists might think. Language is a living organism, a form of energy, which changes, develops, and also in some cases, degenerates, in the course of a people’s evolution. The achievements of a language, such as Greek in the Classical period, denote the more general progress of that people and culture; thus, for Humboldt, the teaching of Classical Greek and the study of Greek culture, must be the means through which to develop the mind. It was Humboldt’s extraordinary education program, which he elaborated and introduced in Prussia, based largely on the study of Classical languages, to shape the character of the student, which laid the basis for the flowering of science and culture in Germany, in Europe, and even in the U.S., in the Nineteenth century.

In looking at the multiplicity of language, Humboldt used a comparative approach, to see how different peoples succeeded in solving the same task, of expressing concepts. At the same time, the comparative approach made it possible to establish scientifically the relationship among different languages and therefore, historically, among different peoples. The groudbreaking work in this direction was done by a collaborator of Humboldt’s, Franz Bopp, who discovered the existence of the Indo-European language group. Bopp had compared the verbal systems of languages, including the Sanskrit of ancient India, Classical Greek and Latin, and various Germanic languages, among others. By showing that such apparently distant languages had verbal systems, conjugations, which obeyed the same laws—and hence, shared the same “geometrical” structure—Bopp showed that the languages must have been related also in their historical development.

Other philologists, among them Jacob Grimm, had studied the way in which, through time, certain sound differences in words of distant languages, which have the same meaning, can come about. By comparing groups of roots in different languages, which are used to designate the same actions or things, one can discover the laws of change in sound. For example, if in Sanskrit the word for “father” is “pitr,” and the word for “father” in Germanic, is “Vater” (modern English “father”), and if such examples can be shown to exist consistently, then it appears that the “p” sound in Sanskrit corresponds to the “f” sound (spelled v) in Germanic, and so forth.

The study of philology as conducted by Humboldt, was not an academic exercise, but a passionate search to discover the laws governing the creative processes of the human mind. For Humboldt, there was nothing more joyful than to discover and learn a new language. In 1803, he wrote, “The internal, mysterious, wonderful coherence of all languages, but above all the extreme pleasure of entering with each new language into a new mode of thinking and feeling, exerts an infinite attraction on me.”

—Muriel Mirak Weissbach

Humboldt’s Discovery Today

The following excerpt from a modern linguist shows the long-term impact of Humboldt’s groundbreaking “On the Kawi Language,” published in 1836-1839. The implications for the even earlier development of man’s maritime culture have not been pursued by this contemporary author, however.

The Austric language family [Malayan-Polynesian-Ed.] of Southeast Asia consists of four sub-families; Austoasiatic, Miao-Yao. Daic, and Austonesian, the last two of which appear to be closest to each other....Austonesian languages are found on Taiwan, which is probably the original homeland of the family, but also on islands throughout the Pacific Ocean, and even on Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean close to Africa...About 6,000 years ago [populations from China or Southeast Asia] crossed the Strait of Formosa (now the Taiwan Strait) and became the first inhabitants of Taiwan. And from Taiwan these shipbuilding agriculturalists spread first southward to the Philippines, and then eastward and westward throughout most of Oceania. The archeological record indicates that the northern Philippines were reached by 5,000 B.P. , and 500 hears later these migrants had spread as far south as Java and Timor, as far west as Malaysia, and eastward to the southern coast of New Guinea. By around 3,200 B.P. the expansion had reached Madagascar, far to the west, and had spread as far east as Samoa, in the central Pacific, and the Mariana Islands and Guam, in Micronesia. During the next millennium the expansion spread to encompass the remainder of Micronesia. The final step in this vast human dispersal was the occupation of the Polynesian islands; by A.C.E. 400 the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island—the most northern and eastern islands of Polynesia—had been occupied; while New Zealand—the most southern island group in Polynesia—was not reached until around A.C.E. 800.This bare-bones account is based on the archaeological record, as worked out by the English archaeologist Peter Bellwood (1991) and others, and of necessity presents little more than a relative chronology of one of the broadest dispersals in human prehistory. Unmentioned are the extraordinary navigational skills these peoples developed, and the remarkable boats they constructed to facilitate transoceanic voyages across hundreds, even thousands, of miles of open water.

from Merritt Ruhlen,
The Origin of Language:
Tracing the Evolution of the
Mother Tongue, 1994

Nov 6, 2010

The Role of Language in the Thought Process

For most people, the use of words and language itself is unquestioned. We do not realize how language and words itself can shape perceptions and the thought process and in turn shapes our culture. This is one of the factors that people do not consider in depth when discussing Austronesian linguistics. In general, people will say "oh that word sounds like our word" then dismiss it not seeing the relevance. Other times people try to link words together from far removed languages and claim there is a relationship.
First, when examining a relationship between languages, linguists do not simply compare words. They examine concepts, structures, grammar and pronunciation of languages and dialects. Understanding the concepts (both implied and inferred) is as important as understanding the word itself because words represent the verbal communication of ideas.

Nov 3, 2010

Iā ʻOe e ka Lā: Around the World with King Kalākaua Part 1

ʻOe e ka Lā: Around the World with King Kalākaua

[This is Part One of an essay I wrote and which was originally published in the O'iwi Native Hawaiian Literary Journal V. 2. I'm posting this part since this deals with a forgotten part of the history of the Pan-Malayan Movement and therefore is a precursor to this Austronesianist blog. "ʻOe e ka Lā" means "To You the Sun"]

Honolulu 1881. The smoky salons of the city are filled with rumors about King Kalākaua's next course of action. Over the past couple of months, the King had fought several political battles with the white business community, in particular over his right to appoint a cabinet of his choice. But now that he had survived these attacks, many were wondering what he would do next. It was always rather hard to tell what the King might do. Like his canoe-voyaging Polynesian ancestors before him, he had an adventurous spirit coupled with an idealistic, romantic, inquisitive, nationalistic, and flamboyant mind and soul. Kalākaua never ceased to surprise his political rivals. After months of suspense, the King announced to the legislature: "Now that my troubles are over, I mean to take a trip AROUND THE WORLD (Dougherty 1992:147)".

Indeed the King had had much to worry about. Since the day of his election in 1874, Honolulu had become a divided community. Divided among race. Divided among class. Divided among religion. But the one unifying symbol was the monarchy, though each section of Honolulu had a different idea of how much of a symbol the monarchy should be. King Kalākaua had gained a throne shaken by the passing of the Kamehameha dynasty, which the native Hawaiian people looked upon with nostalgia and adoration. Kalākaua also became the head of a monarchy that the small but wealthy American community in the islands viewed as headed by someone between the oppressive English King George III of the American Revolution and the savages who had killed Captain James Cook. Furthermore, King Kalākaua's prestige had been damaged by the outrage many native Hawaiians felt when the National Legislature elected him as sovereign over the popular Queen Emma.

To add to this tapa cloth of troubles, his people, the native Hawaiian people, already decimated by foreign diseases, were continuing to die out as foreigners increased in population and political force throughout the island kingdom. Having lived through the British takeover of the islands in 1843, the King did not want to see a foreign flag fly above his own Hawaiian flag ever again. Kalākaua needed to rehabilitate his people and ensure the independence of his country.

But how?

He decided that he would visit the exotic countries of the East, handpick people he felt were culturally compatible with his native Hawaiian people, and bring them to his realm. In this manner, the King felt that introducing more tolerant peoples to his kingdom would counterbalance the American Calvinist missionaries and their descendants, make Hawaiʻi a multi-ethnic nation, and thereby create a larger population loyal to Hawaiʻi and the Hawaiian people. In a speech to the legislature before departing the King said:

Around this table are gathered people

of many nations. In common with my

predecessors, I desire the best welfare of

all who gather under our flag in my

dominions, and I believe that you who

come from other lands, bringing with

you the wealth, enterprise and intelli-

gence of those lands, sympathize with

me in my desire to protect my native

Hawaiian people, and strengthen my


To do this we must work in harmony

under the Constitution and Laws, and

recognize cheerfully the fact that

Hawaii as one of the family of nations

must be governed in accordance with

the ideas which control Constitutional


We have many difficult questions to

settle out of our peculiar situation, they

demand the best statesmanship and

patient investigation. I am in hopes,

while absent, to gather some ideas

which shall aid in their solution.

If there have been mistakes in the past,

let us profit by the lessons of experience,

and with honesty of purpose let us press

on to a future which I trust may be

bright with prosperity and hopefulness.

(Kuykendall 1967:228)

"Home" for many of the peoples of the Asia-Pacific region had become colonies of some faraway Western nation or, as in Japan and China, were facing tremendous cultural revolutions. Even European countries were facing internal problems, where commoners had few civil rights. What if the King could make these peoples see Hawaiʻi as a refuge and, furthermore, the Hawaiian monarch as more benevolent and democratic than their own rulers? That could give the Crown more political leverage and popularity. Still one further advantage: If native Hawaiians married these Asiatic peoples, might not their offspring inherit an immunity to the diseases that were killing off their full-blood Hawaiian relatives? The intermixing could create a new Hawaiian race that would be strong enough to maintain Hawaiʻi's nationhood in the face of foreign invasion. The

King bluntly remarked to Colonel ʻIaukea, then acting Secretary of Foreign Affairs, that one ofthe goals of his trip was, in ʻIaukea's words, " introduce British subjects and other nationalities to balance the predominant influence of the Americans, who by reason of the preponderance of United States interests in business were secretly working for the overthrow of the Monarchy (Iaukea 1988:43)", though this was not known beyond court circles.

The largely European and American plantation owners, on the other hand, saw an advantage to themselves: since native Hawaiians were dying off, more workers were needed to tend the canefields. More labor meant more capital, more capital meant more production, which in turn meant that they could afford their homes in Mānoa and Nuʻuanu Valleys and their children's tuition to Punahou School and Oʻahu College, and to universities in the United States. After all, the King was already noted for his regal ease with dignitaries. Why not send him to dazzle them, thereby hopefully securing a favorable treaty that would bring in more laborers? This would also give the plantation owners a chance to get rid of the King for a couple of months and to try to favorably influence the next in line for the throne, Kalākaua's sister Princess Liliʻuokalani. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

Some of the more stingy Calvinist government officials (descendants of the first American missionaries to Hawaiʻi) saw the trip as expensive and extravagant, two words that would be used critically against Kalākaua throughout his reign. To appease these factions, the King selected two men closely tied to the missionary community to accompany him on his trip, Attorney General William Nevins Armstrong (who would proclaim himself "Minister of State" for this occasion) and Chamberlain Charles H. Judd.

The famed prophet and high chiefess Nāhinu of Kauaʻ,iwho was the cousin of Kalākaua's Queen, Kapiʻolani, wrote a new chant to wish Kalākaua success and happiness in his journey and performed it for him. It was called Iā ʻOe E Ka Lā E ʻAlohi Nei:

ʻoe e ka lā e ʻalohi nei

Ma nā welelau o ka honua.

ʻike aʻe ʻoe i kou nani,

I ka mālamalama ʻoi kelakela.

Nāu i noiʻi nowelo aku

Pau nā pali paʻa i ka ʻike ʻia.

ʻIke ʻoe i ka nani o Himela

Ka hene waiʻolu lawe mālie

Mauna i lohia me ke onaona,

Kaulana ē ka nani me ke kiʻekiʻe.

Kiʻekiʻe ʻo Kalani noho mai i luna.

Nāu i ʻaʻe nā kapu o Kahiki.

Hehihehi kū ana i ka huku ʻale

I ke kai hālaʻi lana mālie.

Kiʻina ʻia aku nā pae moku,

I hoa kuilima nou e Kalani.

Ma ia mau alanui malihini

Āu i ʻōlali hoʻokahi ai.

ʻO ka lama o ke ao kou kōkua,

Hōkūloa nō kou alakaʻi.

Lilo i mea ʻole nā ʻenemi,

Lehelehe ʻeuʻeu hana loko ʻino.

He ola ʻo Kalani a mau aku,

A kau i ke ao mālamalama.

Haʻina ʻia mai ana ka puana

No Kalākaua nō he inoa.

To you, O sun shining down

Throughout the ends of the world.

Show forth your beauty,

The greatest of all lights.

It is you who delve and seek

Till the solid cliffs yield their secrets.

You'll see the beauty of the Himalayas,

The gentle slopes as you pass by,

A mountain rich with fragrance,

Famed for its beauty and height.

High above sits my royal chief,

You who tread the sacred places of


Treading on the rising billows

And over the calm, tranquil sea.

Reach out to the other lands,

For companions to go hand in hand

with you,

Over those unfamiliar trails

That you undertake to walk alone.

The light of the day shall be your help,

The morning star your guide,

That your enemies be turned to naught,

The heartless ones with jabbering


Long may you live, O heavenly one,

Till you reach the world of light.

This is the end of my chant

In honor of Kalākaua.

(Pukui 1995:128ā“131)

On the 20th of January 1881, Kalākaua embarked on his journey, beginning with a ten-day state visit to the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco in California. In Sacramento, he met most of the country's prominent political leaders. General Upton, a Civil War soldier, remarked that the King's knowledge of military matters no doubt exceeded that of most American militia officers (Armstrong 1977:15). Not to be outdone, several senators in the California State Assembly predicted a Pacific united under the rule of King Kalākaua, the Colossus of the Pacific (15). In San Francisco, a banquet was given at the Hang Fen Lou restaurant by the Consul-General of the Empire of China. The event was the costliest dinner ever given in the 19th century by Chinese in the United States (16). The Consul-General praised Kalākaua for the fair treatment of Chinese subjects in Hawaiʻi, compared to the attitude in California, where the State Legislature had just passed the first Chinese Exclusion Act. Minister Armstrong then turned to Kalākaua and whispered, "You may be a pagan king, and I the Minister of a pagan king; but our first important experience in a foreign land is the gratitude, expressed in this grand banquet, to your government for its justice; and it is done on the soil of a nation that deliberately does injustice to the Chinese (17)". After many honors and dinners, the King and his suite embarked for Japan.

It was at first decided that he would travel incognito, simply as Aliʻi [Chief] Kalākaua, but the Japanese were informed by diplomatic agents in California of the King's intended visit (Kuykendall 1967:228). Much to the King's surprise, as his steamer, the Oceanic, entered Yedo (Tokyo) harbor, it received a 21-gun salute from all vessels at dock, the Hawaiian flag was hoisted next to the red-and-white Japanese standard, and "Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī " [the Hawaiian National Anthem] was enthusiastically played onshore. This was a king and he would be received as such. Kalākaua was the first foreign sovereign of any country to visit Japanese soil.

While in Yedo, the King met with Emperor Meiji and suggested several matters: marriage between the King's niece (Princess Kaʻiulani) and Prince Higashifushimi no Miya Yorihito (Komatsu); an Asian Federation of States which the Emperor would head; elimination of the unequal treaty provision granting extraterritoriality to foreigners in Japan; and emigration of Japanese to Hawaiʻi.

To the marriage proposal, the King would later receive a letter written by the Prince himself stating:

Through the Reception Committee, I

was informed of your generous kind-

ness, in asking me, if it would be my

happiness to be united to your Royal

niece in marriage, I am at a loss to

express fully my appreciation of this

honour as I am still under age [Princess

Kaʻiulani was five-and-a-half and the

Prince 15], I have consulted my father,

and I am very reluctantly compelled to

decline your distinguished proposal for

the reason that I am already betrothed

to my future companion in life; so I

sincerely trust that your Majesty will not

be disappointed at what duty compels

me to do. (230)

A follow-up letter was then given by the Japanese Foreign Minister to King Kalākaua on behalf of Emperor Meiji that the emperor "has been led to say that your sincere desire to bring the relations of the Imperial and Royal Courts to one of a close friendship has deeply moved his heart. In thus being compelled to decline your proposition my Sovereign has experienced a very great pain (230)".

To the second matter of an Asian Federation, the Emperor personally wrote:

I highly agree with Your Majesty's

profound and far-seeing views. Your

Majesty was also good enough to state

that I might be the promoter and chief

of this Federation. I cannot but be

grateful for such expression of your love

and confidence in me.

The Oriental nations including my

country have long been in a state of

decline and decay; and we cannot hope

to be strong and powerful unless by

gathering inches and treasuring foots

gradually restore to us all attributes of a

nation. To do this our Eastern Nations

ought to fortify themselves within the

walls of such Union and Federation, and

by uniting their power to endeavor to

maintain their footing against those

powerful nations of Europe and

America, and to establish their indepen-

dence and integrity in future. To do this

is a pressing necessity for the Eastern

Nations, and in so doing depend their


But this is a mighty work and not easily

to be accomplished, and I am unable to

foretell the date when we shall have

seen it realized.

In the face of the internal administra-

tion of my government being of such a

pressing nature I have not a heart to

turn my face from it, and leaving my

country, to devote myself mainly to the

work which more directly concerns

other nations. In this is found the

difficulty of my initiating at present

the work of the Federation of Asian


In each laying out the course of the

future policy to the other by interchang-

ing our views, if it happily at a future

time happen to help us, it cannot only

be the fortune of Japan and Hawaii but

also of whole Asia. (Kuykendall 229 to 230)

While Emperor Meiji wholeheartedly agreed with the idea of an Asian Federation, he realized the realities of the world around him. There was much work that needed to be done within the empire. He himself was Japan's first constitutional monarch, and his constitution was barely 14 years old. At the same time, his country was busy Westernizing and militarizing in the hopes of avoiding colonization like her Asian neighbors, who were slowly being plucked by European hands. Japan needed foreign investment and materials. Japan was not prepared for an embargo or war with the U.S. if they allied with Hawaiʻi, who was under the U.S. sphere of influence.

Although the majority of Kalākaua's proposals were declined, one important proposal was ratified--immigration. The Emperor had been wary that his subjects not toil in the same kind of conditions that the Chinese coolies in the United States were enduring. The King convinced the Emperor that should he ratify a treaty of emigration, Japanese subjects would be treated as if they were Hawaiian subjects, and they would be allowed to naturalize if they so desired. The Emperor consented and the treaty was ratified.

After meeting the Emperor and other important dignitaries, the King also toured Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nagasaki. Throughout his visit to Japan, he was fêted as if he were the ruler of the greatest kingdom on earth (Kuykendall 228). Standing alongside the Emperor, he witnessed a 10,000-troop military review.

The Emperor conferred upon Kalākaua the Imperial Order of the Chrysanthemum along with several hundreds of dollars' worth of gifts such as vases, kimonos, and other Japanese items much coveted in the West.

The front pages of the Japanese newspapers were covered with articles about Hawaiʻi and its monarchy throughout the duration of Kalākaua's visit. Nightly fireworks displays were given in his honor. A steamer provided by the well-known Mishi-Bishi Company (Mitsubishi in modern spelling) took him from Tokyo to Nagasaki and Kobe (Armstrong 1977:79).

Kalākaua met most of the prominent political and religious leaders of the empire. He visited the Shinto temples of Shiba and learned how the Emperor was a descendent of the Gods (the Sun Goddess to be specific), much like Hawaiian rulers (Armstrong 85). He visited Buddhist temples and inquired about bringing priests to introduce Buddhism to Hawaiʻi (Armstrong 84). Didn't the Japanese themselves merge their old religion with Buddhism without conflict? In fact, it helped preserve their culture and provided a balance of ideas. The King also visited the Protestant Church of Yokohama, one of the first legalized Christian churches in Japan, received a copy of the New Testament in Japanese, and was reminded that the church was partially built by Hawaiian Christians (Armstrong 63).

After a month in Japan, Kalākaua was ready to depart. As he stepped onto his ship, a huge decoration with the word ALOHA spelled out in flowers was unveiled onshore and Hawaiʻi Ponoʻī was played.

From Japan the King went to China (where he met with Viceroy Li Hung Chang and learned about Confucianism), British Hong Kong, then Siam (arriving in late March 1881). As the King's ship approached Bangkok, his retinue shouted, "This is Hawaii! (Armstrong 119)". Of all of the places the King was to see, Siam would be the most familiar to him, with its expansive coconut tree groves, lush green mountains, and sandy beaches.

King Chulalongkorn Rama V of Siam (Thailand)

Kalākaua's remarked to the Siamese King that "Polynesians had Malay blood", King Chulalongkorn replied, "The Siamese are partly Malay; we are related (Armstrong 126)". While there a young Thai foreign affairs officer asked Armstrong, "Is it true that the civilisation of Europe is due to Christianity?" To the reply that such was the belief of church leaders, the Siamese officer said, "Then if Christianity is the cause of European progress, is it also the cause of the fleets and armies with which they are ready to destroy one another? (134-135)". Another embarrassing question which had been posed while the royal suite was in Japan resurfaced when a Siamese Prince asked Minister Armstrong, "Is your King in the hands of foreigners? Why does he not bring his own people with him instead of white men [referring to Armstrong and Judd]? Does he do what you tell him to do? (132)". As in Japan, the King and his suite avoided the question.

From Siam, the King continued to Singapore, Johore, Malaya, and the British Indian Empire (including Pakistan and Burma). The Maharajah of Johore [Sultan Abu Bakar] and the King compared common legends and common words (such as api in Malaysian and ahi in Hawaiian for fire; alima in Malaysian and lima in Hawaiian for five), concluding that Malays and Polynesians were long-lost Malay brothers (Armstrong 144). This expression would later be part of the Pan-Malaysian movement led by such imminent scholars as Dr. José Rizal, Philippine Representative Wenceslao Vinzons, and President Diosdado Macapagal (father of the current president of the Philippines). The idea of "long lost brothers" of a great Pan-Pacific Malay maritime civilization stretching from Malaysia to Hawaiʻi would become a major theme in the national liberation struggles of Southeast Asia until today.

The King was also introduced to Islam from the Maharajah of Johor who also gave him a green and gold copy of the Qu'ran (Armstrong 145). In letters from Malaysia, the King remarked to his sister how Malays looked very similar to native Hawaiians and that the Maharaja looked exactly like Prince Leiohoku, the late husband of Princess Ruth Ke`elikolani. The King described the Maharajah as:

...The Maharaja is a splendid man. He is liked and beloved by all nationalities here in Singapore espeically the ladies. He is a fine looking man and resembnles the first Leleiokhoku very much. If he could have spoken our language I would take him to be one of our people the resemblance being so strong.... (letter of King Kalakaua to Princess Lili'uokalani, May 12th, 1881)

The Maharaja/Sultan of Johor, Abu Bakar

Prince William Pitt Kina`u, son of Prince Leleiohoku I

Prince David La`amea Kawananakoa (nephew of the King) and Sultan Ibrahim (son of Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor)

In British India and Burma, Kalākaua met many members of the British administration of those two colonies. In Calcutta, Minister Armstrong asked a colonial secretary of Bengal Province how 50,000 British soldiers kept 250 million Indians under British rule. The secretary replied, "They cannot agree among themselves; if they did, our rule would end instantly (Armstrong 159)". Kalākaua was also given the rare honor of being brought into the caste system and made a Brahmin [through a temporary adoption supposedly through the help of a lawyer who may have been Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal Nehru] so that he might view more thoroughly the sacred Hindu shrines. Before leaving, the King, expressing a desire to secure a souvenir of India, selected a picture of Buddha and told his suite that this would remind him and his people that other great civilizations also worshipped "idols" like Hawaiians once did (Armstrong 169).

As the King made his way to Egypt, he passed though the Holy Land of Palestine and viewed Mt. Sinai. Kalākaua asked, if the mountain was sacred to Christianity, why was it in the hands of the Muslim Ottoman Turks (who controlled much of the Middle East)? A British officer replied that Ottoman rule was not challenged because trade with Turkey was more important than religious sentiment. The King then remarked that it seemed Christians did not show respect for sacred places as he had been told (Armstrong 175). As a guest of the Ottoman Empire, Kalākaua was entertained by the Khedive (Viceroy), who showed the King the Pyramids, along with other ancient sites, including places that Egyptian Pharaohs, as well as Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Mark Anthony, and Julius Caesar, had once lived in or visited. At several lodges in Cairo, Kalākaua gave impressive speeches reciting the history of Masonic fraternities. In a discussion with the King, the Khedive remarked:

Europe will make drunkards of the Mussulmans [Muslims] within a century. There is much good in Christianity, but if it prevailed in Asia, it would free the people from direct responsibility to God. Do the Christians of Europe obey the teachings of Christ? I have lived in England and I have not seen obedience. There is more wickedness in London than in all of Asia Minor or Arabia and Egypt. Christianity suits them, but Islamism is best for our people. If Christianity is better for us, God will send it here; he knows best what we need, and he gives us what is best for us. (179-80)

While on the Khedive's steamer riding up the Suez, a funny incident occurred. As they approached the Canal station, the Khedive ordered a telegraph to be sent stating, Prepare lunch for the King of the Sandwich Islands [the European name for the islands of Hawaiʻi]. The station's kitchen received the telegraph as Prepare Lunch for the King. Sandwiches (177). Needless to say, when they arrived the Khedive was very upset. Nonetheless, he continued to show Kalākaua the wonders of Egypt, including a tranquil ride up the Nile on a barge perhaps very similar to one used by Cleopatra herself.

From Egypt the King went to Rome, another city of antiquity. He was entertained in Italy and the Vatican, and was toasted by King Humberto, who pledged Italy's friendship and assistance to Hawaiʻi should it ever be required (Iaukea 1988:100). Queen Margherita of Italy had then turned to the King and asked how Italians and Catholics were treated in Hawaiʻi. The King responded that Italians were treated fairly and that a good many Hawaiians were devout Catholics, which pleased the Queen (Armstrong 1977:202).

Throughout his Italian tour, Kalākaua witnessed military reviews and was courted by many Italians wanting a souvenir from the King. He also called upon the Vatican for an interview with Pope Leo XIII in the richly painted chambers of the Holy See. The Pope asked the King about the presence of Judd and Armstrong, to which the King replied that they were white Protestant Hawaiian subjects. One of the Cardinals in the room chuckled and replied, "Then they are in the opposition". Leaning towards the King, the Pope then asked, "Do my [Catholic] people in your kingdom behave well?" Kalākaua replied, "Yes, they are good subjects." The Pope then inquired, "If they do not behave, I must look after them. Why do you have a white Minister in your government?" The King, surprised at the question from the Pope, deferred it to Minister Armstrong, who replied that Hawaiian kings appointed men based on merit rather than race. The Cardinal then asked, "Are there any Catholics in your government?" Armstrong simply answered, "No, the American Protestants entered the country before the Catholics did, and have kept control of public affairs; but no efficient Catholic is excluded from high office by reason of his faith (208-209)". After 20 minutes, the King kissed the Pope's ring [of St. Peter] and the audience was over. The King continued making diplomatic calls.


Armstrong, William N. 1977 [1903]. Around the World with a King. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle.

Dougherty, Michael. 1992. To Steal a Kingdom. Waimanalo, HI: Island Style Press.

Iaukea, Curtis Piʻehu and Lorna Kahilipuaokalani Iaukea Watson. 1988. By Royal Command. Ed. Niklaus R. Schweizer. Honolulu: Hui Hanai.

Kalakaua [King]. 1881. Letter to his sister Liliuokalani. 12 May. Hawaiʻi State Archives. honolulu

Kalakaua [King]. 1881. Letter to his sister Liliuokalani. 10 Aug. Hawaiʻi State Archives. Honolulu.

Kuykendall, Ralph S. 1967. The Hawaiian Kingdom, Volume III, 1874ā“1893: The Kalakaua Dynasty. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.

Pukui, Mary Kawena, trans. 1995. Nā Mele Welo: Songs of Our Heritage. Ed. Pat Namaka Bacon and Nathan Napoka. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press.

Pukui, Mary K. and Alfons L. Korn, trans. and eds. 1973. The Echo of Our Song: Chants & Poems of the Hawaiians. Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press.

Seiden, Allan. 1992. Hawaiʻi: The Royal Legacy. Honolulu: Mutual Publishing.