Island life lessons from London

  • “On the Makaloa Mat” is a collection of seven short stories by Jack London, all being set in Hawaii up until around the 1910s.

“On the Makaloa Mat” is a collection of seven short stories by Jack London, all being set in Hawaii up until around the 1910s. The book was published posthumously in 1919, and contains some of the last stories London wrote before his death. They are all tales of love, family, or friendship, told against the background of Hawaiian history, customs, and lore. Often they focus on the interaction between the old, authentic ways of Hawaiian life and the new, modern Hawaii under the “civilizing” influence of Western influence. London compares and contrasts these two sides of island life without judgment. The stories in this collection exemplify London’s mature writing style as well as his innate insight into human psychology.

Here are some of the stories contained within its pages:

“Shin-Bones,” is about an Oxford-educated Hawaiian prince recalling life-changing adventure to satisfy his superstitious mother’s obsession with bone collecting; he accompanies an aged servant on a perilous quest to recover the hidden remains of his ancestors.

“The Bones of Kahekili,” a wealthy, white rancher persuades his elderly servant to reveal the whereabouts of the remains of an old Hawaiian chieftain and the mysterious events surrounding his burial.

“The Tears of Ah Kim” tells the story of a Chinese grocer in Honolulu who incurs the wrath of his aged mother, who feels the bride-to-be is too modern, too liberal, and too westernized for her son.

In “The Water Baby,” an educated young Hawaiian man is treated to a folk tale while he accompanies a poor, elderly fisherman on a squid hunt.

“On the Makaloa Mat” is a great collection of Hawaiian stories and is an excellent companion to his earlier collection: “The House of Pride and Other Stories,” making it a must for any fans of London’s works, or old Hawaii tales.

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Cynthia Lynn and Ed Justus are owners of The Bookstore in Hanapepe.

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