Origami n' Stuff 4 Kids

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Behind the Scenes: Illustrating "A True Princess of Hawaii"

A True Princess of Hawai'i

Written by Beth Greenway, illustrated by Tammy Yee
Arbordale Publishing, 2017

Years ago, I lived in Kaumana, six miles above Hilo town on the island of Hawai'i. Many of the homes were built on the remnants of the 1881 Mauna Loa eruption featured in the book, "A True Princess of Hawai'i." Evidence of the eruption was everywhere. Lava rock walls bordered tiny gardens, and black pahoehoe lava peaked through the grass, ferns and 'ōhiʻa trees. Nearby was Kaumana Cave, part of a miles-long lava tube that was formed during the eruption. It was the perfect place to raise two young sons!

Since then, I have been fascinated with the story of Princess Ruth's intervention to save Hilo from Pele's destruction. So I was thrilled to work with Arbordale Publishing on A True Princess of Hawai'i. Their team is devoted to creating books that encourage kids to explore, and their website features lesson plans and activities to supplement learning.

Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani
I poured through the Bishop Museum and Hawai'i State Archives for photos of Hilo in the 1880s. What did people wear? Where did they live? What kind of ships the bay? And most importantly, what did the lava flow look like?

Hilo Bay from Waiakea with Mauna Loa erupting in the distance. You can see the lava heading toward Hilo on the right. By Joseph Nawahi, February 1881.
Hilo shoreline.
Hilo wharf, 1880s.
The Lava Flow From Mauna Loa, Sandwich Islands, Harper's Weekly, September 1881.

Rough Sketches

I studied photos of the eruption and maps of Hilo town and began sketching.

Character studies and sketch of Hilo town.
Rough drafts for cover.

Exploring Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) Trail at Volcanoes National Park

Kaumana Cave and Princess Ruth

Mauna Loa erupted spectacularly in 1880, illuminating the skies above the town of Hilo. Fiery jets of gas and lava launched thousands of feet skyward. Rivers of pahoehoe, or ropy lava, flowed down the mountainside.

For nine months, the eruption continued. The people of Hilo watched as the forests of Waiakea Uka were consumed, then grew desperate as the lava continued its relentless approach to within one-and-a-half miles of Hilo Bay. 

A day of public prayer was observed. A stone wall was erected to protect the sugar mill. And a moat was dug around the prison to divert the flow.

Only Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani could placate Pele's fury. Arriving in Hilo on August 9, 1881, she approached the lava at Halai Hill with offerings of brandy, 30 red silk scarves and a lock of her hair. That night, she slept at the edge of the lava flow. By the next morning the flow had stopped. Hilo had been spared.

Kaumana Cave, located 5 miles above Hilo, was created during the 1880 eruption. It was formed as the surface of the pahoehoe cooled and hardened, insulating the molten lava within. A portion of the thin crust later collapsed, creating a skylight through which streams of lava could be seen pouring through subterranean passages. As the eruption abated, the channel emptied, leaving behind an extensive lava tube.

Deep in the cave, roots from 'ohia trees dangle from the ceiling. These roots support an extremely delicate ecosystem of cave-dwelling arthropods. 

According to Bishop Museum entomologist Gordon Nishida, cave crickets, millipedes, and wolf spiders are among the creatures specially adapted to Hawaiian lava tubes. Many of these animals are pale, with reduced eyes, and live off the plant and animal matter that fall into the cave. The cave system is very fragile, and these unique creatures are endangered. People trampling through caves and littering the surrounding area can have a severe impact on their survival.

Eyewitnesses to the 1880-1881 Eruption: an Artist's View

I was inspired, too, by the work of Joseph Nawahi, and also the Volcano School paintings of late 19th century artists Charles Furneaux, D. Howard Hitchcock and Jules Tavernier.

Hilo Bay. Joseph Nawahi, 1888.

Natives Viewing the Hilo Flow, May 18, 1881. Oil on canvas paintings by Charles Furneaux, 1881.
Eruption, D.H. Hitchcock.
Volcano at Night, Jules Tavernier, 1880.

Final Illustrations: Bringing it to life

Left: view of Waianuenue Street from the Hilo Wharf, 1890s. Right: Keoki and Nani race to the town pier to greet Princess Luka.
Left: Hilo Wharf, 1880s. Right: the arrival of Princess Luka.

To learn more about True Princess of Hawai'i and to view more of the finished art, visit  https://www.arbordalepublishing.com/bookpage.php?id=TruePrincess.

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed illustrating it!

Printable coloring page:

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