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Captain James Cook
Discovers Ancient Hawaii

A View of Ancient Hawaiian Tribal Society Before European Contact.

Captain James Cook discovered, or rather rediscovered the Hawaiian Islands (Which he named the Sandwich Islands) basically through luck. The Pacific Ocean is vast, extremely vast, in fact is the earths largest geological feature. An island group can easily be lost in these great expanses, and in fact they were lost for decades at a time to navigators. Imagine trying to spot an airplane at high altitudes in the sky and you might get a slight idea of the enormity of the Pacific. On Magellan's voyage across the Pacific from the southern tip of South America he missed every island group until reaching the Philippines months later. That set the trend for the next 250 years of Pacific exploration.


Captain James Cook
'Discoverer' of Hawaii


In 1778, 257 years after the death of Ferdinand Magellan, Captain James Cook landed on the shores of Hawaii. Capt. Cook was an exceptional navigator, cartographer and captian from a nation of explorers. This was his second voyage into the Pacific and his country men already regarded him as a national hero. On this voyage he was leading two ships North to find the elusive North West Passage and to map the Pacific Northwest, he Captained the HMS Resolve while Captain Charles Clerke captained the HMS Discovery.

When he sighted the Hawaiian Islands, which he eventually named the Sandwich Islands after the First Lord of the Admiralty, it was a lucky break, as supplies were needed for the long voyage. Three islands appeared initially, each with high wooded peaks and strange glimmering white towers peering up through the forest canopy. The HMS Resolve and the HMS Discovery anchored off of Kauai Island and the Hawaiian natives ventured out in their canoes to see this strange site. At first they were nervous but they had not come out with weapons accept a few rocks. These rocks however were tossed into the water once Captain Cook showed no signs of aggression. Capt. Cook then lowered gifts of brass down to them on ropes and in exchange they sent up baskets of fish. Two branches of great sailors from the human race had come together again after tens of thousands of years of separation. The Hawaiians and the English took a moment to absorb this strange, and unexpected meeting then Captain Cook sailed on looking for a suitable harbor.

Besides being one of the world's foremost explorers and captains, Cook was one of its authorities on relations with Polynesian natives. He had extensive contact with them throughout the South Pacific, staying with them for months at a time and having several stay aboard his ship as guides. Cook was interested in many of the same questions that Polynesian/Hawaiian science is interested in today. Where did the native islanders come from? How long ago? And how did they travel such great distances. Cook was the first to correctly assume the islanders of the Polynesian triangle where all related, or at least the first to take credit for this speculation.

Captain Cook believed the tribal natives of the Polynesia where generally an intelligent, resourceful and healthy stock (although Cook did say they were less intelligent than other Polynesian native groups he had met). Hawaiians could be cunning, manipulative and out right treacherous as well as kind and generous, and when they were deceitful it was usually disguised behind the more typical warm Hawaiian hospitality. The ancient Hawaiians shared another trait with tribal Polynesians of the Pacific, they were thieves, and this would prove to be a trait of fate to Captian James Cook.

After Captain Cooks initial contact he sailed along the shoreline until an appropriate anchorage was located. From there he could see many huts along the beach and another couple scores in the hills above the village, possibly one hundred total. Once again canoes came out to greet the Resolve and the Discovery. The Hawaiian natives came aboard this time and were quite timid. Some bowed down, an action Cook felt to be appropriate. They also inquired where they should sit and if it was appropriate to spit and did not appear to have been aboard a ship before. Soon however the awe inspired by the new encounter faded and they became curious, particularly about metal objects. The Hawaiians seemed to feel they could take whatever they wanted and Cooks crew had to stay on constant guard against theft. This turned into a game of sorts for the Hawaiians and eventually a daring Hawaiian jumped overboard with a meat cleaver to a waiting canoe. An Irishman, Lieutenant Williamson, then gave chase in the Resolves dinghy and fired shots over the thief's head frightening other nearby villagers enough so they jumped into the water. However, the thief made it to the shoreline and escaped. Lieutenant Williamson realized chasing him inland would be futile and set about landing in order to secure a supply of fresh water.

Lieutenant Williamson and a team made landfall soon after the theft of the cleaver. However a large, rambunctious crowd soon surrounded their vessel and although not hostile they almost capsized the boat. The Hawaiian villagers grabbed at everything, including the muskets of the Englishmen. Most were satisfied with a nail or two, but others were more persistent. One Hawaiian grabbed a hold of a pole with a hook on the end and refused to let go. After attempts to get him to let go for nails and attempting to tug the hook out of his hands, Lieutenant Williamson decided he had no choice but to use firearms. He then shot the man, who was then dragged by crowd onto the beach as he bled profusely. However, this did not fully disperse the crowd and Williamson decided it would be best to return to the Resolution.

Later that day Captain Cook himself decided he would go a shore with an armed contingent of marines. When he stepped ashore the Hawaiian villagers obviously recognized him as important and they began prostrating themselves. Only after encouragement did the natives stand up and Cook got down to business. After making sure that fresh water was being collected Cook decided to take a tour. He walked through the village, noting their use of irrigation for cultivation of a variety of products. They cultivated taro, large yams, coconuts and stands of Kapa Trees. Tribal Hawaiians used Kapa Trees to make their clothing and cloths. It also occurred to him that the population seemed to be below the supportable level an island with such abundant natural resources. His explanation for this was warfare; on his tour he had seen several caches of weapons.

About a half mile into to his trek Captain Cook came to one of the mysterious white towers that he had first sited from the ship. It stood on a raised stone platform and although it was 50 feet tall he could see even larger ones ahead. The tower itself was constructed of wood and covered with white Kapa cloth. At the base of it stood a long hut where nobles wear buried. Carved wooden tiki statues of Hawaiian gods stood vigil over the graves with food offerings at their feet. The kahunas present pointed out another gravesite where four sculls lay, these graves marked wear the kapu (taboo) sacrificial victims lay. Human sacrifice was not new to Cook; he had seen it before amongst Polynesian natives in Tahiti and the Society Islands. Human sacrifice was obviously common in Hawaii as well. After viewing the tower, graves and tiki god idols Cook returned to the village on the beach.

Once the Hawaiians realized that theft would be ineffective they began bringing out trade goods like vegetables, fish, kapa cloth and pigs, in return pieces of iron wear traded. Metal was highly prized by the Hawaiians despite the fact that they didn't have any mining or metal working skills. However, the native Hawaiian villagers new what metal was and Capt. Cook later found that the village had a few small pieces. It is possible that the tight-lipped Spaniards had landed in the Hawaiian Islands introducing metal to the ancient Hawaiians sometime in the previous 250 years they had sailed the Pacific, but Cook found evidence to the contrary in that the Hawaiians had not been exposed to venereal diseases. No claims have emerged concerning Spaniards landing in Hawaii since. The metal most likely came from wrecked Spanish ships or flotsam washing up on the Hawaiian shores. The Hawaiians themselves reported that the two small pieces came from the sea.

The Hawaiian women were fascinated with the European sailors and attempted to seduce them whenever an opportunity arose. Captain Cook felt a certain responsibility in preventing their success in this endeavor due to the fact that the Hawaiians had not been exposed to venereal disease and he did not want to be responsible for it's introduction. After several days of trading both parties had begun to run low on trade goods and Captain Cook decided to weigh anchor he headed out to sea.

Captain Clerke waited behind and was visited while he waited a double hauled canoe approached his vessel. The arrival of the English ships had attracted people from around the island and the news had reached their Chief (Alii in Hawaiian). Upon his approach the commoners either jumped off the side of the boat or prostrated themselves on the deck. The chief although friendly, was accompanied by a stern group of bodyguards who would not allow him out of their site or to go below deck. These warriors were put on edge when Captain Clerke greeted their chief by grabbing his sholdier, but the chief was calm and presented Clerke with a gift of a carved wooden bowl with tiki god faces carved into the handles. This tiki bowl would be used in ceremonies to drink a mild hallucinogenic drink called awa. After gifts were exchanged Clerke was invited back to shore but he had to decline since he was scheduled to rendezvous with Captian Cook and the H.M.S. Resolve at sea. The stern warriors then carefully led the disappointed but respectful chief back on to his double hauled canoe. This was done most carefully, �as if a drop of water would kill him�, wrote Clerke.

The Resolve and Discovery met at sea then continued their exploration. This time landing on the island of Niihau. The surf was to ruff for the English sailors to head in to shore, the Hawaiians however risked it with their canoes and pushed on to the ship. The next day a team from the boat was able to make it to shore. Once again the English established relations with the local population and trade for food and supplies began in the same pattern as at Kauai. A problem occurred however, the away team (I'm aware this is a Star Trek term, I feel it is appropriate due to the fact that they are visiting another culture from a ship) could not make it back to the Resolve and was forced to spend the night. Cook had wanted to avoid this, as he new the temptations of the Hawaiians would prove too much and the Hawaiians would be exposed to venereal disease. This proved to be beyond his control, the rough surf forced them to stay ashore out of Cooks watchful eye until the weather calmed and they could return.

Captain Cook had a mission, he was sent to explore and map the West coast of North America. His ships were now fully supplied and so the sails were hoisted. The open ocean would provide Cook a chance to ponder the many things he did and did not understand about the native Hawaiians. As Cook sailed off to the East he left behind a Hawaii that would be forever changed, his visit would be the end beganing of the end for their ancient society. It could also be said that Cooks discovery of Hawaii was the beganing of the end for him as well.

The story of Cooks return to Hawaii and his death at the hands of their weapons will be posted soon in The End of Cook. Mahalo!


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