Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gathered About a Costly Rosewood Casket, Sixty Dark-Skinned Hawaiians, 1906

Juan F. Edwards, a native Hawaiian, died suddenly while on tour in Memphis, Tennessee.  He was the leading tenor in the Royal Hawaiian Band. According to several newspaper reports he was going to be interred at Elmwood Cemetery and that a "fresh grave" awaited him there with more than 100 mourners.  But at the last minute his band mates remembered an old Hawaiian belief that "the salvation of the soul was culminated in the peaceful repose of the body when laid under the soil of the birthplace" and it became imperative that Edwards be returned to Hawaii for burial rather than be interred in foreign soil.  His fellow band members literally banded together and promised to help pay the cost of shipping Edwards body back to Hawaii "where his wife and daughter can select his burying ground in the little home cemetery." Source: Hawaiian Gazette Aug. 24 1906

Funeral of J. Edwards

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Memphis, August 10 --  Gathered about a costly rosewood casket, sixty dark-skinned Hawaiians, Friday morning, weepingly paid a last tribute to Juan F. Edwards, the sweet voice tenor, who died suddenly Tuesday afternoon at the Windsor Hotel.  With bowed heads and streaming eyes they listened to the last services over the dead, where the body was placed on a train, and soon began its long journey to his native home in Honolulu.

It was a strange funeral service to Americans, and many were gathered at the undertaking apartments of Taylor & Norris, while hundreds stood on the sidewalk and watched the procession as it slowly wended its way to the station. 

The services were entirely in the Hawaiian language, and were conducted by the Rev. B.R. Baker, D.D., a native preacher, who is accompanying the Hawaiian Band on its tour of this country.

"Rock of Ages" In Hawaiian

Dr. Baker opened the services with a short talk, in which he briefly referred to the occasion for the melancholy gathering.  An octet, lead by Miss Lei Lhua, the prima donna of the company, then sang "Rock of Ages,"  That well known song, in the strange language of the singers, sounded weirdly beautiful, and made a deep impression upon the Memphians present.

Dr. Baker then offered a prayer in the native language, in which he asked for Diving support to the widow and little daughter in Honolulu, and a blessing upon the member of the company.

Following this the minister read from the Hawaiian Bible, Matthew 25, the first to the thirteenth verses.

Dirge Produces Tears

A quartet, composed of B. Jones, W.S. Ellis, S. Hiram and Z. Kapole sang the Hawaiian dirge.  While not understood by many of those present, the sad story was easily understood in the music.  The dirge had a marked effect upon the former associates of Edwards.  As it began, many leaned forward, with their heads on their hands.  Then, as the music rose and fell the tears began to fall, and before it was half over nearly everyone was weeping.  The singers themselves were visibly affected, and sustained themselves with much difficulty.

Dr. Baker followed with a short address.  he took as his text Matthew XXV, 13: "watch, therefore, for he know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh."

In his exceedingly rapid native tongue he reviewed the life of Edwards, and spoke of his many good qualities.  He then drew his lesson from his death that was carried out by the text, urging his countrymen to live in such a manner that they would be ready at any time to meet their maker.

Friends Caress Casket.

After another brief prayer by the minister, the octet sang in their own tongue.  "Nearer, my God to Thee."  The words of this hymn, written in every tongue, seemed to bring out the culmination of grief.  Many who had been weeping silently then sobbed aloud.  The ladies of the company being particularly affected.  Following the benediction, by twos and threes they gathered about the bier.  According to custom the casket was closed, but they seemed to find satisfaction in caressing the receptacle wherein their dead comrade lay, and muttering brief prayers over his head.

There was considerable delay before the hearse arrived, owing to a misunderstanding as to the time of the funeral, but the procession finally startd at 9:30 o'clock.  The pallbearers; A.R. Conha, J.L. Ellis, B. Jones, J. Harrison, W. Prestidge, W. Schwartz, K. Kamakau and S. Cohen, bore the casket to the hearse, followed by the entire company.  Then the Royal Hawaiian Band gathered in a semi-circle about the hearse, and under the direction of the regular leader, Captain Berger, the band rendered the Hawaiian dirge.

Band Follows Hearse

The procession proceeded up Madison street to Main, and thence south to the union station.  The entire company following the hearse on foot.

To the many thousands who listened the music on the march was strangely American.  The musicians began with "Nearer my God to Thee" then, as they marched along in rapid succession followed "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." "The Sweet By and By," Lead, kindly light," and "God be with You Ill We Meet Again."  As they approached the union station, the band impressively rendered "The Dead march in Saul."

At the station the body was placed on board a Frisco train, which will convey it to El Paso.  There it will be turned over to the Southern Pacific, which will carry it to San Francisco.  At the latter point it will be placed on a ship and conveyed to the waiting wife and daughter at Honolulu.  The entire trip will consume about three weeks.

Originally posted in the Maui News, September 1, 1906


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