The word “Sewer” is derived from the term “seaward” in Old English, as in ditches and ravines slightly sloped to run waste water from land to sea.
From an 1857 story in the Commercial Pacific Advertiser it appears that the first sewer facility to be constructed on Oʻahu was a storm drain located at Queen Street at the foot of Kaʻahumanu Street opposite Pier 11. (ASCE)
What about before that?
“The kapus which were established by the priests for the disposal of body wastes had a double concern: the protection of the mana, the spiritual power, of the person from whom the wastes were derived; and respect for the mana of all of the gods …”
“Out of respect for the gods, the Hawaiian refrained from polluting their abodes. Out of fear for himself, he was most careful to keep his body’s parts, or its wastes, and his personal possessions from falling into the hands of the dreaded sorcerer, the kahuna ana‘ana, or into the keeping of an enemy who would give them to the sorcerer to use in his fell ritual.”
“When a man needed to relieve himself he went off into the bush or into the wasteland, apart from the others of his household or village; and there, as a Jew was enjoined to do by the Mosaic Laws …”
“… he dug a hole and buried in it the portions of himself that were so indubitably his, together with the leaves or small stones or wisps of grass with which he cleaned himself when he was done.”
“(H)e carefully covered the cat-hole he had dug and all traces of his visit, in order to hide its secrets from the searching eyes of the kahuna ana‘ana.”
“Others of his personal wastes were not casually thrown away; they were buried, as carefully as was his excrement, or they were burned. Nor were they cast into the sea, or into streams, pools, swamps, taro-patches, or other accumulations of fresh water.” (Bushnell)
Following Western contact, “Having no inside lavatories, our ancestors had to contrive acceptable indoor facilities. Bedrooms were equipped with a corner washstand holding soap and water.”
“The toilet problem was solved by the use of a large covered chamber pot that was usually kept under the bed. Most well-to-do homes in the eighteenth century had servants who emptied the chamber pot daily …”
“The formal washstands of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries took several shapes. Some were rectangular but the corner stand was the most popular because it was a space saver”
“A hole was cut in the top of the stand so that a basin could fit into the top, thereby lessening the danger of spilling …” (Kovel; Mission Houses)
“As we know them today, there were no bathrooms in the homes of our forefathers … Some distance beyond the houses (for obvious reasons) were the ‘Necessary Houses’ (or ‘outhouses’), usually secreted behind or enclosed within pleasing plant screening …”
“In the homes of long ago, there were the ‘chamber pots’, so called perhaps because they were located generally in the bedchamber where there was little concern to hide them …” (Wise; Mission Houses) A chamber pot was sometimes referred to as a potty. (Tung)
“’The language of the toilet is indeed an etymologlsts’s nightmare: chamber comes by way of chamber pot to mean the pot itself; the adjective privy (private) comes by way of privy chamber, to mean the chamber or room itself.”
“Closet (small room) comes by way of water closet to mean the apparatus, not the room. Lavatory (washing place) comes to mean the water-closet …” (Wright; Mission Houses)
“Toilet paper was unbleached pearl-colored pure manila hemp paper made in 1857 by Joseph C. Gayetty of New York City, whose name was watermarked on each sheet.”
“It sold at five-hundred sheets for fifty cents and was known as ‘Gayetty’s Medicated Paper – a perfectly pure article for the toilet and for the prevention of piles’.” (Kane; Mission Houses)
In 1879, Walter Murray Gibson, Chair of the Legislature’s Sanitary Committee, wrote Sanitary Instructions for Hawaiians. It is a collation of “a series of sanitary instructions, deemed suitable to the conditions of Hawaiians, and have the compilation translated into the Hawaiian language.” (Gibson)
In part, the Instructions note, “Every Hawaiian, who desires to be regarded as civilized must construct a privy near his dwelling, with a pit underneath it, at least six feet deep.”
They further note, “Every head of a family, and owner, or renter of a lot in Honolulu, or other town, can observe these rules …”
“Rule 1. Fill up at once, without waiting to be commanded by health officers, any privy pit, that has been open and used for a number of years.”
“Rule 2. Dig a new pit adjoining the outer wall of your yard, not less than seven feet deep; and do not wall up its sides with stone, or brick, or plank, or any other material. Let the surrounding soil of the walls of the pit help to absorb and defecate the impurities cast in.”
“Do not dig your pit within 30 feet of any well in use. And do not dig your pit adjoining your neighbor’s house. Be sure and have an air opening at least two feet square in the little house you build over your pit, as well as a door.”
“Rule 3. Provide a barrel, or a box, to stand inside of, or near the little house that covers your pit; and have this barrel or box filled with fresh, dry soil, especially the red, dry, iron tinctured soil from the kula plains …”
“… and have a paddle, or scoop of any kind, – a shingle would answer – to cast, after you use the place, a small quantity of dry earth into the pit. This earth must always be kept dry. All this will require some little labor, and perhaps expense on your part, but a blessing will come with the care and outlay, O, Hawaiian father of a family.”
“Rule 4. Dig a fresh pit at least every year. If your yard is small, you can return to the old places covered up, after a few years, and dig a pit in the same place a second time, without annoyance or injury.”
“Rule 5. Never permit any ordure to be deposited, or exposed in your yard, or on any pathway by your house, no more than you would permit your own person, or the person of any member of your family to be openly defiled by such impurities …”
“And thus, as you would keep your persons and your premises clean, your lives would be clean, and God, that giveth health, will abide with you, and not turn away.” (Gibson)
In 1897, Rudolph Hering, a New York Sanitary Engineer, designed Honolulu’s sewer system; it was a “separate system” whereby separate networks of conduits would carry sewage and storm waters, a system still used today in Honolulu.
Work on the system began in 1899 and sewer lines were laid out in a gravity flow pattern in a rectangular fashion and ran along Alapaʻi, River and South Streets, past Thomas Square, and ended in the Punahou area.
The sewer outfall to the ocean was built in 1899. The outfall ran some 3,800-feet out to sea at a depth of 40-feet of water, rather than farther out to a 100-foot depth (due to funding constraints.) (Darnell)
In 1900, the Kakaʻako Pumping Station was constructed; with features such as large arched windows, exterior walls of local lava rock, roofs of green tile and a smokestack 76-feet tall.
The use of the Kakaʻako Pumping Station was abandoned by the City and County of Honolulu when it built a new pumping station on the southwest portion of the block, adjacent to the Historic Ala Moana Pumping Station in 1955.
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