- - -

Journal of Croatian Studies, XXVIII-XXIX, 1987-88 - Annual Review of the Croatian Academy of America, Inc. New York, N.Y., Electronic edition by Studia Croatica, by permission. All rights reserved by the Croatian Academy of America.

- - -


For many centuries Croatian intellectuals have been citizens of a country dominated by foreign powers; often they have been employed by those governments and have travelled abroad in that capacity.


Some of them left written impressions of Central and Eastern Europe; these reports are valuable not only to geographers, but also to students of the Austro-Hungarian and ottoman empires, of the constant religious controversies between Catholic and Orthodox church, and of fascinating Slavic folklore.


Among these travelogues two excel, the first one written by Antun Vrančić (1504-73) and the second by Ruđer Bošković (1711-87). These two clergymen wrote their travelogues in foreign languages (in Latin and Italian), because Vrančić was reporting to the Austrian emperor who had entrusted him with a delicate mission to the Sultan (Iter Buda Hadrianopolim, 1553), while Bošković from his teen-age years moved in the circle of West-European scientists and communicated his observations to them (Giornale di un Viaggio da Constantinopoli in Polonia, 1784).


The situation changed radically during the Croatian national and cultural revival (1832-48), when travelling became somewhat easier even for the laymen, who wrote only in the vernacular, for they were addressing themselves to their countrymen. They were deeply influenced by new currents of political rebellion, national independence and to a degree by adventurous longings. When they embarked even on short distance trips (as e.g. Stanko Vraz who travelled from Zagreb to Novo Mesto in Slovenia), they gave detailed accounts of what they saw, whom they encountered and which maidens charmed their heart.


If they travelled to neighbouring dominions, they felt as if they were in another world, because of the different rulers and customs, and often a language barrier.


Bosnia was then a part of the Turkish empire. When Matija Mažuranić (1817-81) went to this province in 1839-40, he was so puzzled by differences which existed between the two geographically close regions that, upon his return to Zagreb, he wrote a fascinating account, which excels in its accurate portrayal of Bosnian customs (A View of Bosnia - Pogled u Bosnu, 1842).


When Antun Nemčić (1813-49) sailed to Venice (1843), he was enchanted by Italian culture, but at the same time he felt so lost that, on the boat between Trieste and Venice, he wrote down verses which we learned as youngsters (Sketches from a Trip - Putositnice, 1845):


I am thinking about you,

o my beloved homeland .. .

In vain the sun shines elsewhere,

it cannot warm my heart.


The life story of Tomo Skalica (born at Slavonski Brod, 1825) is unusual not only because he left Croatia (in 1851) in protest against the oppressive rule of Austria, but also because he ventured to the four corners of the world. He described his wanderings in his journey (Putovanje), which was published serially in the periodical Neven from 1854 to 1856.[1]


I am not saying that Skalica was the first Croat to visit distant lands. We are informed, especially by professor George Prpich (in his books The Croatian Immigrants in America, New York 1971; South Slavic Immigration in America, Boston 1978) that there had been several Croatian missionaries (e.g. Ivan Ratkaj, Ferdinand Konšćak and Josip Kundek) who worked in Mexico, California and Indiana; their main concern was to bring the peoples there closer to God and to take care of their material needs.


When Skalica tried his fortune in San Francisco, in this rapidly growing city, there were many of his countrymen, most of them owners of bars and stores. We find the records of their activities in the city archives or on their tombstones. With this segment of Croatian immigrants is concerned Adam S. Eterovich, in whose publications is given precious information about numerous Croats who were attracted to California, particularly to the Bay area, during the feverish years of the "gold rush". "Tadich grill", a restaurant of that period, is still operating and remains very popular.


Skalica was not the first Croat who sailed to the Havaiian islands. Professor T. Gasinski has written an interesting article about John Dominis and his son Owen, who settled in Honolulu.[2] John was probably born on the island of Rab, went as a sailor to Boston, eventually became a sea captain, and moved first to San Francisco and then to Honolulu (1837), where he constructed a mansion, at the Washington Place, which even today serves as the Governor's residence. His son Owen married Liliuokalani, the last ruler of the Hawaiian kingdom. He was considered a handsome man, a good governor and beloved husband.


I will present Skalica's life and writing as follows: first I will touch upon his promising but turbulent young years; then I will narrate his travels, paying particular attention to those pages in which he tells us what he saw in Honolulu.


Tomo Skalica was born at Brod, on the river Sava (in 1825), into a rather well-to-do family. Like his father, he became involved in glassworks. Though Brod was located in a province, even there a new wind of the national revival was blowing. One of the leading figures there was A. Torkvat Brlić (1826-68),[3] who devoted his talent and energy to fight first the Hungarians (1848) and then the Austrians. Young people accepted him as their leader; among them was Skalica. When the so-called Bach's absolutism was installed in the Austrian empire (1851), Brlić abandoned politics and became a lawyer, while the uncompromising Skalica chose to emigrate. He sold his share in the glassworks and travelled via Budapest, Vienna and Hamburg to Bremen, where he bought a ticket on a Finnish boat in the direction of fabled California. They sailed toward England, down to Africa, Brazil, Argentina, around the cape of Horn, up to Chile, Mexico and finally reached "San Francesco" (in April 1852).


In the harbour of San Francisco they saw at least 1200 ships. When the sailors and travellers disembarked, they were astonished to find on its streets such noise, gaiety and commotion. The people were dancing, singing, playing cards and other games of chance; they seemed uninterested whether they would see the next day. They carried weapons freely, Skalica writes, as if they were living in Montenegro.


During three ensuing days Skalica observed living conditions in San Francisco. He found that the working class was well paid, but that food and everything else was very expensive. There were few women: to fifty men there was only one woman. They were mostly Mexican and Chinese; sometimes an English girl could be spotted.


Skalica met individuals of various nationalities (English, Spaniards, Portuguese, French and Chinese). He talked to two Germans, who complained that they had spent all their money and thus were unable to go to the gold fields; they did not know English and said that without a knowledge of that language it was dangerous to move among such a questionable crowd.


The closest road to the gold mines was via Sacramento (altogether 107 miles). From San Francisco one could travel to Sacramento also by boat.


The captain of the ship, on which he had sailed from Bremen as a tourist, convinced Skalica to remain with him as a purser; they were going to Kamchatka for the whale hunting. He told Skalica that, being without money and a knowledge of English, he could not succeed if he remained in California. Once he had mastered English and saved some money from the whale hunting, he might return to San Francisco with much better chances for success.


On April 21 (1852) they sailed in the direction of the Sandwich islands, which (Skalica writes) are located in the middle of the ocean between California and China. They reached first the island called Hawaii; on its high peaks they saw the spectacular volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. When they approached Honolulu, they noticed that this capital was built on gentle foothills and was so beautiful that few cities in this world could be compared with it.[4] Since Honolulu was the main station for ships sailing in various directions, the harbour was filled with them.


In Honolulu was the residence of the King Kamehameha III. It had been built seven years before (1845) according to the new Italian style. On its top there was a cupola surrounded by a corridor covered with gorgeous flowers. This palace stood in the middle of a garden, in which were planted many American oak-trees, and European poplars and linden. The author states that "these trees are rare and extremely costly in this region". The palace and the garden were encircled by a six foot high wall. This abode was outside the city, toward the east, near the sea shore, and was guarded by 24 soldiers.


When he proceeded inland, he found a fort Mamuri Makamoii.[5] On the southern side it consisted only of rocks, while on the northern it extended into a plain. There were no walls made by human hand. On top of this fort were placed cannons directed toward the sea and the city. This natural bastion was guarded by eight young men, who lived in a hut, for there were no other buildings.


Not far from this fort could be seen a circle made of stones, arranged as an edge in the field. Skalica suspects that there was previously a volcano. He states that on the other side of the mountainous range there was a much taller hill, from which sometimes erupted smoke and fire.[6] The "Kanaks" (natives) avoided it; no one dared to approach it.


In the city itself, above the sea, there was another fort, but it was so neglected that in its midst the old English cannons were overgrown by grass. It was guarded by soldiers who were married; they lived with their wives and children in the huts situated on the top of a defensive wall.


Skalica writes that the lack of discipline of this army reminded him of his Turkish neighbours (in Bosnia). During the hot noon hours, he saw a guard who went to the shade to doze; another was bored standing alone on the wall, went to his hut, took his child from the hands of his wife, strolled with it, and when it cried, tried to console it. When it was raining, the soldiers received an umbrella from their officer. There were about 85 soldiers; they communicated in their "Kanak" language.


They had about forty military galleys and forty five smaller boats, which they used for transportation between the islands.


The dwellers in these islands, Skalica writes, were of Malay origin; this race had spread to the islands of the Pacific and the South oceans, Australia and South Asia. These peoples are described as having a rather dark skin, short but broad nose, round, large black eyes, thick lips and slender stature.


The males usually walked around nude; however, there were among them artisans and merchants who, when in contact with more civilized persons, dressed themselves; as soon as they finished their business and returned to their huts, they took off their clothes, feeling more comfortable without them.


The women, at least in the city, went around dressed, usually in silky costumes, made in the Spanish fashion. But, when surprised by a sudden rain, so that their dress would not get spoiled, they took it off, put it under their armpit and walked nude to their homes. Skalica thinks that a dress for them was only an ornament, like "the feathers in their hats to our women".[7] They did not feel that it was shameful to walk around nude; but they were learning shame from the foreigners.


The "Kanaks" did not cultivate their lands; they avoided any work in the fields. They lived eating mostly fish, fruits and roots. Their bread they called taro; it grew in the ground. When baked, they ate it with their fingers. When specially prepared (they called it then poi), they ate it with one finger; it was very nutritious. This food was served every day even on a table of their king.


Skalica remarks that women did not work.[8] Men were washing their clothes, took care of the children, made various utensils from wood, wove and were able to create different instruments. They played music on bamboo; placing the end of a horse-hair in their mouth, they touched it with their tongue. In this way they communicated their feelings.


Drinks, such as wine, beer or spirits, were strictly forbidden; one was not allowed to sell to a "Kanak" even a glass of such a drink; if he did, he was severely penalized. The "Kanaks" drank some kind of a beer, which was made from sugar; they did not become drunk by it. Only twice a year, on the name-day of their king Kamehameha and his son, they could drink whatever they wanted.


I was present, Skalica writes, on the name-day of their king, 18th of March, 1853, when the people were allowed to drink. On that day there were many murders, for some strangled their children, others beat their wives (wahine), and some committed suicide. Thus, even a bit of a strong drink, the author remarks, corrupts and makes brutal these peoples who are perhaps the mildest in this world. On such a special day no criminal was condemned.


As regards culture, the most advanced were the islands of Oahu and Hawaii. On them were settled Germans, English and French, who had planted corn, wheat, cabbage, potatoes and all kinds of vegetables; they kept many animals and were the owners of sugarcane plantations. The German H. Hackfeld, a brother of a Russian consul, had the largest sugar plantations and his own refineries.[9][9] All their produce they were able to sell for good money in Honolulu, for there were in its harbour about 1,500 galleys, waiting for the whale hunting and in the meantime buying whatever was deemed necessary for long trips. The ships were anchored Honolulu during the winter months, so that they were not far away during the summer months, when the propitious time came for the whale hunting. When they unloaded the whale-oil in this harbour other ships carried it to the places where its price was highest at that moment.


Skalica says that Honolulu then (1852) had twenty thousand inhabitants.


Its most important buildings were Liberty-Hall, Marchand Hotel, Hotel de Globe and Hotel de France.


The king had his own musical band, which consisted of twelve members. Its conductor was a German by name Merseburg, and all others were "Kanaks", who without reading notes, following the beat, played the most famous operas. The citizens were thankful to Merseburg, who had so successfully trained the illiterate natives. Merseburg dressed as an English officer and was well paid.


The "Kanaks" on the island of Oahu, especially those who lived in the city, had accepted the teaching of Jesus; Catholic and Protestant were two most important denominations.


Skalica writes that "new objective observers," who had visited the Sandwich islands, agreed that the cold rationalism and formalism of English protestantism did not appeal to the lively nature of the natives;[10] they considered that catholic ceremonies better suited their poetic temperament.


He says that the English and American missionaries acted more as "comfortable" employees of commercial organizations than as people motivated by their own religious beliefs. They were particularly interested in being praised by their principals for bringing in new members. He complains that the protestant faithful were forbidden on Sundays any kind of enjoyment; therefore upon them on holidays lay the quietness of the tomb.


Some travellers reported that they saw one Sunday two English ladies in a carriage, which was not driven by horses but hauled by four "Kanaks", who were not permitted to talk, because this was considered not proper to the Sunday spirit.


Skalica however recognizes that one cannot deny to those English and American missionaries a great influence on the material and social progress of the natives. While the protestant missionaries sought to attract the islanders by economic benefits, the Catholic ones spoke more to their heart, conscience and convictions.[11]


The spread of the Christian faith was first "allowed" by Kamehameha I, who reigned from 1795 to 1819.[12] He was a great reformer, as was Peter the Great in Russia. He succeeded in subduing and uniting all the islands; instead of paganism he introduced more humane laws and schools, established the army, began to construct fortresses and build ships. His son and successor (who died when visiting England in 1824) accepted Christianity and brought it even into his court. During the reign of those two rulers there was initiated a bitter competition between the English and French representatives; the English were installed as the main advisers and assistants at the court. However, Skalica remarks, recently the American influence had prevailed. The American missionaries, together with the American agent who was the prime minister,[13] ruled over those islands in the name of the king.


There were many "Kanaks", especially those who lived in the interior, who did not yet embrace Christianity.


In Honolulu there were two Protestant churches and one Catholic, which was also called French. There was one school in which were taught both the native and English languages, and the other in which instruction was only in the vernacular.


Their alphabet had fifteen letters,[14] which did not correspond exactly to the sound of the "Kanak" language. They did not pronounce the consonants as we do; the author thinks that they could be omitted from their alphabet.


While they were stationed in the harbour of Honolulu, Skalica writes, they took on board fresh water and meat; they bought also the necessary amount of vegetables. They selected eight sailors, who were called "bootsteepers and harpooners"; they needed them while hunting the whales; five of them were Americans, two were "Kanaks" and one was German.


Having spent the Easter holidays of 1852 in "joyful" Honolulu, they said farewell to that city, where the people were lovely and lived as children in a terrestrial paradise, not worried about anything and usually not working.[15]


Skalica concludes his remarks about his first stay in Honolulu by saying that the only thing by which traditional European was shocked on these islands was the extreme sensuality to which their dwellers indulged. He hopes that by accepting Christianity the old customs would disappear and the inhabitants would accept more civilized behaviour. Then they "will be ready to become the members of the free North American states (such as Oregon and California) to which they are geographically close and whose political influence is felt very strongly".[16]


They reached the harbor of Petropavlovsk on the Russian Kamchatka in July of 1852. Having spent several months in its vicinity hunting whales, they decided that it was time to return to a milder climate. They sailed via the Bering Strait and the city of Sitka in Alaska; they were attacked by pirates in search of food and water. They reached Honolulu again in January of 1853.


Since Skalica had decided to remain in Honolulu, he was paid by the captain of the ship for his services.


In a letter which he sent to the periodical Neven from the Sandwich islands, in Polynesia, on April 3, 1853, Skalica repeated many of his observations made already during the previous stay in Honolulu.


He writes that in that city one can live as well as in Europe, since there were many good restaurants, but this European comfort was expensive. There were houses built in the same style as those in Europe; the dwellings of the natives were usually wooden and surrounded by a garden.


He tells that at first he had a room and board in an inn, but then he was working in the store of a Frenchman; they were selling beer, food and clothing to the sailors.


He claims that he felt well and very satisfied in Hawaii; he thinks that nowhere in the world could one live so easily as there, if only he were able to accustom himself to the unspoiled existence of the islanders.[17] Being of European origin, however, he decided on not staying there. As soon as he would accumulate enough money, he would return with a Portuguese fellow to California and in San Francisco open a bakery and a brewery; the Portuguese was a professional baker, and he had learned in Honolulu how to brew beer. He says that they had enough money for their trip to California, which was "very expensive" (eighty dollars); they must be patient, earn more dollars and then start in San Francisco their joint effort on a solid basis.


He notices that the temperature in Honolulu is hot, because this city lies exactly under the equator. Otherwise the climate is very healthy, because the island of Oahu is surrounded by the sea, from which a refreshing wind always blows.


He observes again that the natives were primitive, good-hearted and happy.


At the end of his travelogue from Honolulu he writes that there had been a great earthquake in San Francisco (between 10 to 17 of February), which had killed many people and made life there very expensive.


Having gained a certain amount of money both as a purser on the ship and then as a tavern co-owner in San Francisco, Skalica tried his fortune in the gold mines, but he was not lucky. Believing in his star, he sailed via the Polynesian islands to Australia, almost perished in a shipwreck, sought even there to become rich in the gold mines, but finally returned penniless in to Brod (in 1855).


He was not treated as a "prodigal son". In those parts when someone returns "broken", coming from fabulous California and its gold mines, he is not accepted; on the contrary, the majority laugh at his great ambitions and petty capacities.


One feels deeply moved by Skalica's destiny, because he proved with his journey (Putovanje) to be a gentle and hardworking man, an acute observer and talented narrator.


I suspect that he kept either a regular Diary or read many guidebooks. I have compared his information with the writings of renowned scholars and found that it was generally accurate.


Skalica's reports are interesting, for he described the Hawaiian islands just at the moment when they were rapidly changing owners: the natives were losing their lands and were being systematically pushed aside from powerful positions, while the foreigners, particularly the Americans, were becoming steadily dominant.[18]



* This paper was presented at the 20th National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies held in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 18-21, 1988.

[1] The only information that I have about Skalica is from the book of Slavko Ježić, Hrvatski putopisci, Zagreb 1955, p. 673.

[2] "Hawaii's Croatian Connections", Journal of Croatian Studies, XVII (1976), 14-46.

[3] A. Barac, Hrvatska književnost, II, Zagreb 1960, p. 151-53; J. Šidak, in Enciklopedija Jugoslavije, Zagreb 1982, 488-89.

[4] "I ima položaj divne krasote kakovih po riedko imade na svietu."

[5] I have in vain tried to locate it by using M.K. Pukui and S. Elbert Place names of Hawaii. Honolulu 1974; probably on its side was constructed a new building.

[6] I found in various encyclopaedias that Oahu now has no active volcanoes, but there are many extinct craters, among them Diamond Head and Koko Head

[7] "Već im je samo nakit kao što su na pr. našim gospojam pera na šeširih."

[8] "Ženski spol ondje nije za nikakav posao".

[9] About this German captain and his Company see R. Kuykendall and A Grove, Hawaii: A History, 1967; G. Daws, Shoal of Time, Honolulu 1974.

[10] "Skorom svi noviji nepristrani putopisci slažu se u tome da hladni racionalizam i suhe forme engleskog protestantizma nimalo ne odgovaraju živahnoj ćudi onoga ostrovlja ..."

[11] "Dočim protestanti nastoje da dobiju čim više sljedbenika materialnim probitkom, katolici djeluju više na srce, svijest i osvjedočenje". - It is obvious that Skalica is presenting the catholic point of view! Mark Twain, who visited Hawaii in 1866, wrote in his novel Roughing it (1872) that "the benefit conferred upon this people by the missionaries is so prominent, so palpable and so unquestionable, that the frankest compliment I can pay them, and the best, is simply to point to the condition of the Sandwich Islanders of captain Cook's time, and their condition today. Their work speaks for itself" (Mark Twain, Roughing it, New York 1981, p. 462). The nasty war of these protestant missionaries toward the catholic priests, whom they managed temporarily to expel from the Hawaiian kingdom, is well documented by many historians. See Kuykendall and Day, Hawaii: A History, p. 56-62; G. Daws, Shoal of Time, p. 87-91, 429-30. La Rue W. Piercy in his booklet Truth Stranger than Fiction, Honolulu 1985, critical of James Michener for his portrayal of Abner Hale in his novel Hawaii (1959), has a revealing chapter "Keep out those Idolatrous Catholics", in which he recognizes that the priests were forcefully removed and the native catholic worshipers were sent to jail and subjected to forced labour.

[12] It seems that Skalica is wrong on this point, because Kamehameha I insisted on the preservation of he ancient customs and religious believes of Hawaii.

[13] His name was G.P. Judd (1803-73). He arrived in Hawaii as a medical missionary but had played a leading role in the government of Kamehameha III.

[14] All others, whom I had consulted, say that it consists of twelve letters, five vowels and seven consonants.

[15] "Ljudi blage ćudi još živu kao djeca u raju bez brige i skorom bez svakog posla."

[16] "I tako se malo po malo pripravljaju da stupe kao novi član u dru?tvo slobodnih država sjevero-američkih, kojima su (naime Oregonu i Kaliforniji) najbliži i kojih je politički upliv najpretežniji."

[17] "Dobro mi je ovdje, kao što može biti nigdje na zemlji za čovjeka, koji mote priviknuti neiskvarenu životu insulanca".

[18] On another occasion I will compare Skalica's fascinating story about the dangers of whale-hunting with that of H. Melville's in his novel Moby Dick (1851); and then describe how his illusion of becoming rich was dissipated in the gold mines of California and Australia. Though Skalica was not a writer of the stature of e.g. Bret Harte and Jack London, those interested in history of the gold-rush may nevertheless learn from him about that feverish atmosphere and the desperate look: of the many unlucky ones.