Captain Cook killed in Hawaii

Captain Cook killed in Hawaii

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On February 14, 1779, Captain James Cook, the great English explorer and navigator, is killed by natives of Hawaii during his third visit to the Pacific island group.

In 1768, Cook, a surveyor in the Royal Navy, was commissioned a lieutenant in command of the HMS Endeavour and led an expedition that took scientists to Tahiti to chart the course of the planet Venus. In 1771, he returned to England, having explored the coast of New Zealand and Australia and circumnavigated the globe.

Beginning in 1772, he commanded a major mission to the South Pacific and during the next three years explored the Antarctic region, charted the New Hebrides, and discovered New Caledonia. In 1776, Cook sailed from England again as commander of the HMS Resolution and Discovery, and in January 1778 he made his first visit to the Hawaiian Islands. He may have been the first European to ever visit the island group, which he named the Sandwich Islands in honor of one of his patrons, John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

Cook and his crew were welcomed by the Hawaiians, who were fascinated by the Europeans’ ships and their use of iron. Cook provisioned his ships by trading the metal, and his sailors traded iron nails for sex. The ships then made a brief stop at Ni’ihau and headed north to look for the western end of a northwest passage from the North Atlantic to the Pacific. Almost one year later, Cook’s two ships returned to the Hawaiian Islands and found a safe harbor in Hawaii’s Kealakekua Bay.

It is suspected that the Hawaiians attached religious significance to the first stay of the Europeans on their islands. In Cook’s second visit, there was no question of this phenomenon. Kealakekua Bay was considered the sacred harbor of Lono, the fertility god of the Hawaiians, and at the time of Cook’s arrival the locals were engaged in a festival dedicated to Lono. Cook and his compatriots were welcomed as gods and for the next month exploited the Hawaiians’ good will. After one of the crewmen died, exposing the Europeans as mere mortals, relations became strained. On February 4, 1779, the British ships sailed from Kealakekua Bay, but rough seas damaged the foremast of the Resolution, and after only a week at sea the expedition was forced to return to Hawaii.

The Hawaiians greeted Cook and his men by hurling rocks; they then stole a small cutter vessel from the Discovery. Negotiations with King Kalaniopuu for the return of the cutter collapsed after a lesser Hawaiian chief was shot to death and a mob of Hawaiians descended on Cook’s party.

The captain and his men fired on the Hawaiians, but they were soon overwhelmed, and only a few managed to escape to the safety of the Resolution. Captain Cook himself was killed by the mob. A few days later, the Englishmen retaliated by firing their cannons and muskets at the shore, killing some 30 Hawaiians. The Resolution and Discovery eventually returned to England.

February 14, 1779- Captain Cook is Killed in Hawaii

Talking about Valentine’s Day on Valentine’s Day would be too easy, so let’s instead turn to everyone’s favorite subject: death and dismemberment!

Today’s victim: Captain James Cook, British explorer responsible for beginning the cultural erosion of the Hawaiian islands by setting into motion a complex series of social, cultural, and biological exchanges and calling it “discovery!”

In all fairness, Cook was a product of the times and his environment. A Royal Navy master whose experiences in the Seven Years War provided a taste of the thrill of exploration. He spent the next several years exploring the Pacific in places like New Zealand and Tahiti before making his way to Hawaii in January of 1778. Christening them the Sandwich Islands, he left for a bit to check things out off the North American coast, and then made his reappearance the following November.

This time, he happened to arrive during a religious harvest holiday and, even more remarkably, his ship seemed to resemble religious artifacts that the native Hawaiians were familiar with. This may or may not have caused Cook and his crew to be seen as brought by, or embodied by, some religious being once they made contact. The historical jury is still out on that one.

After a few weeks, things started to get tense and there were small skirmishes and accusations of theft on both sides. Cook tried to take off again, but had trouble with the mast on one of his ships caused him to return after a few days. This time, it seems that the native Hawaiians were both unconvinced of his deification and tired of him coming and going as he pleased while taking resources without regard to their traditions or customs. In response to a missing cutter, Cook and a small crew moved inland in an attempt to kidnap a powerful chief, Kalani`opu`u.

Imagine that kind of self-aggrandism and machismo – to think that you were within your rights to exploit an entire nation of people and then kidnap their leader when they start to become suspicious of your intentions. Some historians have postured that Cook may have been ill – physically and mentally – leading to some of his irrational behaviors.

Unfortunately for Cook, this decision cost him his life. The villagers fought back to keep their chief on dry land, and the Captain was bludgeoned and stabbed to death.

“Cook was last seen alive standing on the rocks and waving to the boats to cease fire and to come in closer. A man slunk up behind him, hesitated once or twice as he approached, and struck Cook on the back of the head with a club. Cook staggered to his knees. Another man then sprang up behind him and drove an iron dagger into the back of his head. A marine immediately dropped him with a musket shot. Cook crumpled into the water in a heap. The mob fell upon him and held him under water. He struggled up with a final gesture and was beaten with rocks about the head and repeatedly stabbed with iron daggers that were snatched from one hand by another to share in the killing.” (source)

Dozens of Hawaiians were killed in retaliation before a truce was called. Hawaii, of course, would soon be visited by even more Europeans and, in their wake, missionaries who converted them to Christianity and discouraged their traditions and customs. Their last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, was overthrown by an American business faction just a little over 100 years after Cook’s voyages.

Warrior Publications

The death of Captain Cook.

Captain Cook was an officer in the Royal Navy who carried out reconnaissance and surveying missions for the British government. His expeditions contributed to the colonization of Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Coast of BC, and Hawaii. It was in Hawaii that Cook was killed, on Feb 14, 1779.

BBC Biography of Captain Cook

James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in a small village near Middlesbrough in Yorkshire. His father was a farm worker. At the age of 17, Cook moved to the coast, settling in Whitby and finding work with a coal merchant. In 1755, Cook enlisted in the Royal Navy, serving in North America where he learnt to survey and chart coastal waters.

A portrait of Captain Cook, planning his next recon mission for British imperialism.

In 1769, the planet Venus was due to pass in front of the Sun, a rare event visible only in the southern hemisphere. The British government decided to send an expedition to observe the phenomenon. A more secret motive was to search for the fabled southern continent. Cook was chosen as commander of the Whitby-built HMS Endeavour. Those on board included astronomer Charles Green and botanist Joseph Banks.

Endeavour arrived in Tahiti in April 1769 where Green was able to observe the transit of Venus. Endeavour continued on to New Zealand, and then sailed along the length of Australia’s eastern coast, which had never before been seen by Europeans. Cook claimed it for Britain and named it New South Wales. Cook and his crew then returned home, arriving in July 1771.

In 1772, not satisfied by his previous exploits, Cook set out on a second voyage to look for the southern continent. His two ships sailed close to the Antarctic coast but were forced to turn back by the cold. They then visited New Zealand and Tahiti, returning to England in 1775.

Cook’s third voyage was to find the North-West Passage that was believed to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Unable to find the fabled route, Cook took his two ships south and explored the island of Hawaii. Relations with the islanders were soured after the theft of a ship’s boat. On 14 February, 1779, Cook tried to take the local leader hostage. There was a scuffle and Cook was stabbed and killed.

Captain Cook was a ‘genuine working class hero’ and his statues should STAY, says his hometown’s mayor

THE mayor of Captain James Cook's hometown has defended the explorer as a "working class hero" and said his statues should not be removed.

A campaign called "Topple the Racists" has argued that memorials for Captain Cook should be taken down as he was a "colonialist who murdered Maori people" while discovering New Zealand in the 18th century.

The calls come as Black Lives Matter protesters target statues across the UK.

Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston said the Teesside area was proud of Captain Cook and that his monuments in the town as well as in Great Ayton, Whitby and London should stay standing.

"Cook was probably the greatest ever and certainly the most successful Teessider in history and the vast majority of us are rightly proud of his achievements on his great voyages of discovery," he told the Northern Echo.

"Cook was a genuine, working-class hero who rose from being a labourer's son to the most celebrated man in Europe.

"Of course. they were very different times and I'm sure that a modern day Captain Cook would not act in the way that he did back then, when values, standards and beliefs were very different to modern thinking."

Captain James Cook: Why is he controversial?

CAPTAIN James Cook was a British explorer who led the first expedition to Australia.

He was responsible for the first European contact with the east coast of Australia and Hawaii, and he also was the first to sail all the way around New Zealand.

Cook's legacy as a great seafarer and explorer has been questioned due to claims of violence and brutality.

In Australia, Aboriginal people claim Cook's arrival at Botany Bay in Sydney in 1770 was not peaceful and that he shot and killed indigenous people before reaching land. Activists believe Cook's arrival was an "invasion".

Similarly in New Zealand, those against Cook claim he and his crew were responsible for killing the native Maori people and spreading disease after they arrived in 1769.

Cook was killed in Hawaii in 1779.

Mr Preston called on other politicians to publicly support retaining Captain Cook's statues.

A primary school, road and hospital are named after Cook in Middlesbrough.

Whitby MP Robert Goodwill also advocated for keeping Captain Cook's statues, saying the monument of a young Cook in his town would be only removed "over my dead body".

The gruesome final Pacific voyage of James Cook

Exactly 251 years ago, explorer James Cook set off on a Pacific voyage that changed the world — but a critical error led to his undignified end.

Captain James Cook’s HMS Endeavour is believed to have been found in the US.

Captain James Cook’s HMS Endeavour is believed to have been found in the US.

Explorer James Cook was killed in Hawaii on February 14, 1779. Picture: Francesco Bartolozzi, 1785 Source:Supplied

Exactly 251 years ago this week, the world as it was known was about to change forever.

On August 26, 1768, explorer James Cook set off from England on the HMS Endeavour for a voyage of discovery to the great Pacific Ocean and the fabled lands therein.

By the time he returned to England three years later, the navy lieutenant had achieved a lot — he𠆝 mapped New Zealand with alarming accuracy, bunny-hopped through the Polynesian islands and led the first European arrival on Australia’s east coast, putting Botany Bay on the world map.

Cook’s first Pacific voyage was a roaring success and solidified his reputation as one of the world’s greatest explorers. He was promoted to commander, celebrated for his contribution to science and navigation and earned another Pacific mission.

James Cook reached the senior rank of post-captain during his career, but despite being known as Captain Cook, he was never actually ranked as captain. Source:Supplied

Cook’s landing place at Kurnell in Sydney, NSW. Picture: Darren Leigh Roberts Source:News Corp Australia

The second expedition, this time on the HMS Resolution, was also successful: While he narrowly missed discovering Antarctica, Cook landed at Easter Island, Norfolk Island, New Caledonia and Vanuatu, dropping anchor back in England a hero once again.

But Cook’s third and final Pacific expedition did not end as gloriously as the first two did. An unfortunate decision set off a series of events that ended with his particularly awful demise, and a weary crew returning home without their fearless leader.

Cook left England for the third Pacific expedition on July 12, 1776.

The ship, once again, was the HMS Resolution. The mission: find a northwest passage around North America, to make trade easier between Britain and the Pacific.

It’s been noted Cook didn’t oversee repairs to the ship to the same extent he had done on his previous expeditions. The Resolution had been patched up with rotten wood and inadequate watertight sealing. No one realised what a poor state the ship was in until after it had left England.

Volume 1 of Captain Cook’s record of his third voyage of discovery. Source:Supplied

With Cook at the helm of the Resolution, and with the HMS Discovery also in tow, the expedition made various stops in the early months of the voyage: New Zealand, Tasmania, Tonga, Tahiti. Then it continued north.

A history-making moment happened in January 1778, when the expedition spotted a group of islands unknown to Europe. Cook named them the Sandwich Islands after Lord Sandwich, who also had a namesake in a very popular snack. They were later renamed the Hawaiian Islands.

After a quick stop on the island of Kauai, the ships continued north to seek a northwest passage. By late August, as the expedition was off the coast of Russia, winter began setting in and Cook put a pause on the mission.

Cook took the HMS Resolution on two Pacific expeditions. Picture: Supplied Source:Supplied

“The season was now so very far advanced and the time when the frost is expected to set in so near at hand, that I did not think it consistent with prudence to make any farther attempts to find a passage this year,” Cook wrote in his diary. Like millions of travellers would do after him, he decided to ditch the winter chill and escape to Hawaii.

The expedition spotted Maui on November 26 as the ships sailed to the Hawaiian Islands. Days later, Kalani‘opu‘u, the high chief of Hawaii, came on board the Resolution. “He made me a present of two or three small pigs and we got by barter from the other people a little fruit,” Cook wrote. “In the evening we discovered another island to the windward which the natives call O’wy’he.”

Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to discover the Hawaiian Islands, where he’d meet death months later. Picture: Supplied Source:Supplied

The Resolution and the Discovery spent eight weeks circling the Hawaiian Islands looking for a suitable place to drop anchor, before making landfall at Kealakekua Bay on the main island of Hawaii on January 17, 1779.

The timing of their arrival was significant. By chance, it happened just as locals were beginning to celebrate the Makahiki, a harvest festival of worship for Lono, the Polynesian god of peace and prosperity.

The Resolution, for all its shoddy repairs, apparently resembled artefacts of cultural significance to the locals. The expedition’s clockwise circling of Hawaii was also considered culturally significant.

A feather cape, or ahu'ula, presented to James Cook by the high chief, Kalani'opu'u, in 1778. Picture: Marc McCormack Source:News Corp Australia

Historians say coincidences surrounding the Europeans’ arrival led to Cook and members of his crew being welcomed by the Hawaiian people as deities. Some accounts claimed Cook was seen as an incarnation of Lono. In any case, Cook and his men were treated with great reverence.

The crews were able to communicate with the Hawaiian people using language they𠆝 picked up in Tahiti. They stayed in Hawaii for about a month, and then Cook made the call to resume the northwest passage mission.


The ships set sail for the north once again. But a storm struck soon into the voyage, and the foremast of the Resolution broke.

The decision was made to return to Kealakekua Bay for repairs, but the expedition’s return to the Hawaiian Islands would not be as auspicious as its first.

The Captain Cook Monument on Kealakekua Bay. Picture: Alamy Source:Supplied

James Burney, lieutenant on the Discovery, wrote that the high chief, Kalani‘opu‘u, and other chiefs were curious about the reason for their return 𠇊nd appeared much dissatisfied with it”.

Quarrels broke out between the Europeans and the Hawaiians. Tension really set in when a large boat from the Discovery went missing and the marines took a local man hostage to demand its return.

Cook reportedly discussed the matter with Kalani‘opu‘u, who boarded his ship with him. It is generally accepted among historians Cook attempted to kidnap the high chief.

Thousands of Hawaiians gathered on the beach, many armed with weapons, and turned on the Europeans, chasing them off the bay. The armed marines fought back.

‘Death of Cook’ by English painter George Carter, 1783. Picture: Supplied Source:News Limited

During the violent exchange, Cook was struck on the head and stabbed to death in shallow waters off the shore. He died along with four other marines and 16 Hawaiians, although hundreds more may have been killed in ongoing skirmishes, some involving the ship’s canons.

The gory details of what happened to Cook’s body next has been subject to speculation.

A young William Bligh — the future commander of the HMS Bounty and governor of NSW — claimed to have been watching from the Resolution as his commander’s body was dragged up a hill and to a village where it was torn to pieces.

This dagger, made from the bill of a swordfish, is believed to have killed Cook in Kealakekula Bay. Picture: Supplied Source:News Corp Australia

There were also rumours Cook’s body was taken and eaten by local cannibals,despite the fact the Hawaiians weren’t cannibals.

But history has generally settled on the fact Cook’s body was treated according to traditional funeral rites usually reserved for chiefs and high elders.

The body was disembowelled and baked to helped remove the flesh and the bones were cleaned with extreme care. Bones were considered sacred in ancient Hawaiian culture, and were believed to contain the mana, or divine power, of the dead. Cook’s bones were distributed among the villages.

Some of his remains were returned to the crew of the Resolution during an uneasy truce and he was given a traditional naval burial at sea.

The expedition crews then headed back to England. They arrived there on October 4, 1780, this time without the hero commander who had so ceremoniously returned them home twice before.

In 1776, James Cook was renowned in Britain for his seamanship, surveying and exploring. He had commanded two voyages of discovery around the world and become the first European to visit many parts of the Pacific. During his first voyage (1768-1771), he was the first European to chart the eastern coastline of Australia and the coastline of New Zealand, leading to the British colonisation of these regions some years later. Now promoted to captain, he set out on his third and final voyage of exploration (1776-1780), with two ships, the Resolution and Discovery.

After so many years spent exploring, Cook was a confident commander. Yet there is evidence in some of his officers’ journals of Cook showing violent behaviour and poor judgement during this third voyage, both towards his own men and towards the people they met. He burned towns and sank canoes in reprisal for minor thefts by the islanders during his visit to Tahiti in 1777. Was Cook tired or ill after all his years of voyaging? Did this affect his judgement? We don’t know for sure.

In January 1778, Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit the Hawaiian islands. They went on to explore the west coast of North America, where Cook tried and failed to pass the Bering Strait in his search for a northern passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The crew returned to Hawaii, landing at Kealakekua Bay on 17 January 1779.

After leaving Hawaii for the second time, they unexpectedly returned just four days later, having suffered damage to the Resolution. Tensions had risen during their previous visit, and only grew worse upon their return. On 14 February 1779, Cook was killed in a confrontation with the Hawaiians. But why did tensions rise? And why was Cook killed?


1. Look at Source 1. This drawing shows the two ships Resolution and Discovery at anchor with the cutter (a ship’s boat for carrying stores or passengers) alongside and a village in the background.

  • Find the ship’s cutter (small supply ship), the Resolution, and Discovery in the picture.
  • What other boats and people can you see?
  • What settlement can you see on the mainland?
  • What impression of the scene does this drawing give?
  • This is an artist’s drawing. What are the disadvantages/advantages for using this as evidence?

2. Read Source 2, an account by John Rickman, Lieutenant on the Resolution, of the murder of Captain Cook.

  • Who has written this document?
  • What does the writer suggest by using the words ‘our return to our old station’?
  • Now look at Source 1. Can you work out which is the Resolution?
  • How were attitudes from the islanders towards Captain Cook and his men different?
  • Can you explain why this might have happened?
  • How did Captain Cook set about repairing the Resolution?
  • How did his attitude and behaviour threaten and anger the islanders?
  • Who was responsible for happened to Captain Cook in the end?
  • Who do you think is the audience for this source?
  • What other sources would be useful to compare to this account?


James Cook was born in Marton, Yorkshire on 27 October 1728. In 1746 he moved to Whitby, went to sea on a collier (a ship for carrying coal), and, in time, qualified as a master’s mate. He joined the Royal Navy as an ordinary seaman in 1756 and his abilities meant that he rapidly rose in rank. He came to the notice of his superior officers in 1759 when he surveyed the St Lawrence River in Canada (during the Seven Years War).

Cook’s first voyage around the world in the ship Endeavour lasted from 1768-71. After observing the transit of Venus from Tahiti, he went on to explore and map the Society Islands, New Zealand, the east coast of Australia and part of New Guinea. During 1772-75 Cook made a second voyage round the world in the ships Resolution and Adventure, visiting many Pacific islands and sailing around the southern oceans to disprove the existence of a huge southern continent. These expeditions found out lots of information about Pacific islands and peoples, and the artists on the voyages recorded the places and animals they saw.

In January 1778 Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit Hawaii (which they called the Sandwich Islands). After failing to pass through the Bering Strait, they returned to Hawaii the following November and spent the next weeks sailing around the islands, making scientific observations and getting supplies, finally anchoring in Kealakekua Bay on 17 January 1779. Cook’s arrival coincided with a big festival and many historians have theorised that he, without realising, was acting out a Hawaiian legend – the return from the sea of the ‘god’ Lono. Maybe this was a reason why the islanders welcomed him with great friendliness. This idea has been contested by other historians, such as anthropologist Gananath Obeyesekere.

However, friction soon developed between the crew and the islanders. It was hard on the locals to feed the crew of two ships. Cook’s crew took wooden images and fences from a sacred burial area for firewood, after their attempts to barter for it had been rejected. The festival was ending, quarrels became frequent and Cook decided to leave. Unfortunately, the poor condition of his two ships had caused problems throughout the voyage. Within a week the foremast of the Resolution was sprung and Cook was forced to return to Kealakekua Bay to repair it.

While it was anchored in Kealakekua Bay, a longboat was stolen from the Resolution by the Hawaiians. To demand it back, Cook attempted to kidnap the aliʻi nui (ruling chief) of the island of Hawaii, Kalaniʻōpuʻu. This method – of taking a chief hostage to demand the return of stolen goods – was one that Cook had used earlier in Tahiti and Raiatea. Together with his crew, he woke Kalaniʻōpuʻu on the morning of 14 February 1779 and urged him to come to the ships. As they were making their way there, members of the local community noticed what was happening and tried to stop Kalaniʻōpuʻu. The situation soon escalated into a confrontation, during which Cook was stabbed and killed. After Cook’s death, parts of his body were returned by the islanders and buried at sea, and his crew completed their journey back to England.

James Cook’s death was met with grief in Britain, where he left a legacy of knowledge about foreign lands, solved the question of the southern continent and provided a map of much of the Pacific for those that followed him. His exploration of places that were formerly unknown in Britain, and his territorial claims, contributed directly to the growth of the British Empire.

Teachers' notes

This lesson uses a drawing of Kealakekua Bay from 1779 and an extract from an original account by John Rickman, Lieutenant on Resolution, of the murder of Captain Cook on 14 February 1779. Through the questions provided it is hoped that pupils can interrogate this evidence and work out the perspective of each source. For example, what might be the problems associated with using an artist’s impression as evidence? Why is it important to try and look at different accounts of the same event if possible? Why is ‘how’ something is said as important as ‘what’ is being said?

It is important to explore also what is missing from both these sources. What is the language and tone of their content? What others sources should be consulted? For example, these sources do not take into account the perspective of the indigenous people that Cook encountered. Here is a source that can help unpack the events from the perspective of the Hawaiians themselves.

It’s also important to keep the intended audiences of the crew’s journals, logs, and artworks in mind: the British public back home, who were eager for details about the voyage.

It may be useful to learn about Cook’s earlier encounters with indigenous people, for example his initial confrontation with Indigenous Australians during his first voyage. Here is a resource that can help unpack this encounter from an Aboriginal Australian perspective.

As a starting point, the lesson could be used as a discussion point for the concept of significant individuals in history. How and why are certain figures considered significant and why is it important to re-evaluate their contributions in the light of historical research?


Source 1: Drawing of Kealakekua Bay, 1779 (ref: MFQ 1/566)

Source 2: An account by John Rickman, Lieutenant on Resolution, of the murder of Captain Cook on 14 February 1779 (ref: ADM 51/4529)

External links

The Captain Cook Memorial Museum
The Museum is in the 17th century house on Whitby’s harbour where the young James Cook lodged as apprentice. It was here Captain Cook trained as a seaman, leading to his voyages of exploration.

Encountering history: ‘Discovery’ and ‘Resolution’ revisited
From the British Library. Hawaiian Historian Noelani Arista looks at another side of the story of Cook’s landing in Hawaii, discussing how Hawaiians might have interpreted his arrival and how his death has since been depicted.

Discovery repaints Cook’s passive death
An article reporting on the 2004 discovery of a painting of Cook’s death painted by John Cleveley. Looking at the difference in how Cook is depicted in this painting versus the more famous version, Death of Cook by John Webber, can open up a discussion on the reliability of sources and how artworks can uphold or challenge historical narratives.

1779: Why was the Famous James Cook Killed on a Hawaiian Beach?

On this day the famous English explorer James Cook was killed. His sailing across the Pacific Ocean made him world-famous. He reached the rank of captain in the British Navy and, if he lived longer, he would have certainly become an admiral. Interestingly, the younger officers who served on Cook’s ship also became well-known later. Thus William Bligh later became commander of the ship Bounty and was ousted in the famous mutiny.

Cook’s second-in-command, George Vancouver, became a researcher and the Canadian city of Vancouver, which is now called after him. It is less known that James Cook was the first westerner who discovered Hawaii. He named them the Sandwich Islands, after Earl of Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time (inventor of the famous sandwich).

On this day Hawaiian natives killed James Cook. It happened after the incident in which the Englishman’s boat was stolen. Cook had the custom, on such occasions, to take a native as a hostage until what was stolen is returned. When he attempted to take the King of Hawaii hostage, conflict broke out. He was hit in the head and then stabbed to death on a Hawaiian beach.

Politics and Government

Native Hawaiians have expressed a mix of determination and apprehension as they face the beleaguered state of their centuries-old culture. The Hawaiian language, considered a crucial aspect of cultural identity, has been the object of renewed attention. In 1978, Hawaiian won recognition as an official state language. For many, cultural survival is inextricably linked to having a political voice. More than a century after the overthrow of the last Hawaiian monarch, the issue of sovereignty has resurfaced. The organization Ka Lahui Hawai'i (The Nation of Hawaii), founded in 1987, is dedicated to mobilizing support for this objective, thus galvanizing anti- haole sentiment that dates back to the age of Captain Cook. Chief among their complaints is that native Hawaiians are the only indigenous people living within the borders of the United States not recognized as a separate nation by the federal government. Rather, they are regarded as "wards" of the State of Hawaii. Informed by the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and encouraged by sovereignty movements around the globe, Ka Lahui Hawai'i asks that native Hawaiians be treated as other Native Americans and be given their own lands (in addition to homestead lands), as well as rights of self-governance.

The sovereignty movement maintains that the independent and internationally recognized government of the Hawaiian islands was illegally overthrown by the government of the United States. It is further argued that acculturation—produced by intermarriage and lack of attention to native traditions, customs, and language—is a form of racial genocide. Because native Hawaiian religion, traditions, and values are closely associated with 'aina (the land) and respect for the environment, many native Hawaiians feel that American desecration of the environment, resulting from military and commercial exploitation, constitutes a grievous crime. The island of Kahoolawe, which was rendered uninhabitable after its use as target practice by the U.S. military, is cited as a prime example of these destructive policies—as are the crowds of tourists.

In 1993, sovereignty activists picketed President Clinton while he attended fund-raising activities on Waikiki Beach. Four months later, Clinton issued a formal apology for the United States' overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and for "the deprivation of the rights of native Hawaiians to self-determination." In 1994, activists delivered a Proclamation of Restoration of the Independence of the Sovereign Nation State of Hawaii, and began work on a new Constitution, which was signed and ratified on January 16, 1995. This document called for the restoration of the inherent sovereignty of the Native Hawaiian people and guaranteed equal rights to all citizens regardless of race. In 1999, a Native Hawaiian Convention convened in Honolulu to begin the process of forming a Native Hawaiian government.

The sovereignty movement, however, is far from unified. Ka Lahui Hawaii is but the largest of some 100 organizations working for native Hawaiian issues, and members disagree on what form sovereignty should take. For some, secession from the United States is the goal others envision a status similar to that of American Indian reservations, or one that designates certain areas in Hawaii as zones for traditional lifestyles.


The circumstances surrounding the alleged rape of Thalia Massie in 1931 represent for many native Hawaiians the racial injustice of the present as well as the past. Massie testified that two Japanese, two Hawaiians, and a Chinese Hawaiian had attacked her near Waikiki, but the trial resulted in a hung jury. Massie's husband took matters into his own hands and killed one of the Hawaiians—a crime that brought him a sentence of only one hour. In a separate instance, a convicted murderer named Keanu was purposely infected with leprosy.

For a long time after annexation, Hawaii's politics were dominated by conservative men of European descent who served the interests of the plantations. In the wake of World War II and statehood, the labor unions, especially the International Long-shoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, exerted a strong political influence, creating a tradition of support for the Democratic party and a politically liberal climate. The presence of Hawaiians of Japanese descent in the political arena has created the impression of progressive attitudes regarding race. Nevertheless, native Hawaiians have not always benefited from liberal politics. "On the issue of the original Hawaiians," wrote Francine Du Plessix Gray in her book, Hawaii: The Sugar-Coated Fortress, "the most far-sighted men would tend to maintain their paternalism."

Captain Cook killed in Hawaii - HISTORY

The establishment of a strong relationship between Great Britain and Hawaii began with the visits of Captain George Vancouver in 1792. Vancouver had been a crew member with Cook. Vancouver was a friendly, peaceable man who made deep a impression on the Hawaiian people through his wisdom and warmth. He tried to intervene in the interminable inter-island wars between the Hawaiians. He notably refused to seell them arms for fear of escalating the civil war. He recognised one of the chief's as the primary chief who asked for British protection in return. In 1794, the Union Jack was hoisted up a flag pole. This claim was never ratified, but friendly relations were continued regardlessly. The Hawaiians even developed their own flag with the Union Jack in the corner partly to persuade any other visitors that they were protected by Britain.

For the next half century, Hawaii would become a frequent resupply point for whalers and traders crossing the vast Pacific. The Hawaiians made a reasonable income from taxing these visitors and used the funds to build up their treasury.

Religious missionaries would accidentally influence the course of Hawaiian affairs. The American and British Protestant Missionary societies had agreed to divide the Pacific between them. The Americans would take the North of the equator, the British the South. The Hawaiians were distrustful of this arrangement and of the intentions of the Americans. Consequently the King travelled to Britain personally to try and gain a concrete agreement for permanent protection. Unfortunately he died of Measles on arrival. However the survivors of the expedition did get the promise they were looking for.

A war scare with France in 1843 lead to the Hawaiians temporarily coming under formal control of the British. At the request of the Hawaiian king, the British flag was raised over each island, and all Hawaiian flags were destroyed. A queen's regiment of Hawaiian soldiers was formed and pledged allegiance to Victoria, and three Hawaiian schooners were renamed the Albert, the Adelaide, and the Victoria. When it became apparent that no threat was imminent, the British restored full control to the Hawaiians in July of the same year.

These are the people who killed Captain Cook – and they’re not all that sorry

The thing you have to realise, said my friend who'd lived in Honolulu, is that the Native Hawaiians are kinda proud of being the people who killed Captain Cook.

Funny – the press release from Te Papa had made no mention of the terrible events of February 11, 1779: the longboat stolen from James Cook's fleet when he came back to Kealakekua Bay for repairs Cook's attempt to take the chief Kalani'ōpu'u hostage in response the skirmish between the Hawaiians and the marines the musket shots and flailing clubs and knives and the captain bleeding to death face-down in the surf.

Te Papa had focused more on the positives, especially the events of a few days earlier when Kalani'ōpu'u and Cook were so friendly the chief gave the explorer a precious mahiole (feathered helmet), and the 'ahu'ula (feather cloak) off his own back.

The email explained how the cloak and helmet had, unexpectedly, been given by a British collector to Wellington's Dominion Museum in 1912 and that now, after 230 years, they were being returned to Hawaii, on long-term loan to the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, on the island of O'ahu. The other big positive was this: the Hawaiians were offering to fly two New Zealand journalists over for three days to report on the ceremonial handover. Would I like to be one of them?

The taxi dropped me and the Te Karere reporter at a beachfront hotel in Waikiki, Honolulu's tourist strip. The beach was packed and so were the warm, cloudy shallows, where a milk-white father and son were trying to figure out how a boogie board worked.

Lunch was on Alex and Tara from Hawaiian Airlines. They were lovely. Tara, who like many Hawaiians has a Japanese surname, said she didn't have the words to express how she felt about Donald Trump. Alex, originally from Brazil, shrugged off any responsibility. "Hawaii," he said, "isn't really part of America," even though we both knew it's been a state since 1959.

I knew this because I'd spent a few hours googling a place that had previously meant little more to me than Magnum PI, Pearl Harbor, and John Key's holidays. I'd learnt there are just 12 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet and that some Hawaiian plants are so endangered by the extinction of the birds they symbiotically depended upon that teams of biologists rappel down 900-metre cliffs to hand-pollinate the surviving specimens. I'd learnt that the Hawaii state flag, weirdly, has a Union Jack in it.

I'd learnt that the Polynesian languages of Hawaii and Aotearoa are ridiculously similar. 'Wahine' and 'mana' are exactly the same. Tapu is kapu, tohunga is kahuna, aroha is aloha. The chiefly class are ariki in Maori, ali'i in Hawaiian. When Cook first arrived in Hawaii the locals were celebrating their new year – Makihiki.

I'd learnt that Hawaii has 1.4 million locals and six million tourists a year, and Asians and Whites are demographically dominant, in that order. Depending on how you count, Native Hawaiians – Kanaka Maoli – are between five and 20 percent of the population, and like most colonised people, they're sicker, poorer and more homeless than the average. The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown in 1892 by local American citizens with the help of US troops. In 1921, laws were passed setting aside a tiny proportion of land for native use, but to take advantage of that you have to prove your 'quantum' of native blood exceeds 50 percent.

Addled by my overnight flight and lunchtime beer, I slept the afternoon away. When I woke it was almost dark. I was on the ninth floor of the Waikiki Outrigger Beach Resort. Next door was the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where one day in 1969 the brilliant, highly-strung American memoirist Joan Didion had waited for a tidal wave due after a quake in the Aleutians. Her trip was a bundle of laughs. She wrote that she was "here on this island in the middle of the Pacific in lieu of filing for divorce", and seemed disappointed when the tsunami petered out before reaching Midway Atoll.

Like Didion, I watched my hotel curtains billow in the trade winds for a bit, but was otherwise unable to match her state of elegant enervation, and I was also peckish.

The lift down had a little screen promoting the hotel's services. If I wanted, I could renew my wedding vows in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony on the beach, at 7.45am on Mondays and Thursdays. Perhaps that's what Joan had needed.

The hotel restaurant was named after Duke Kahanamoku, a champion swimmer and occasional Hollywood actor who helped turned the ancient Polynesian sport of surfing into a mid-century American craze. Hollywood loves Hawaii: Clara Bow in a sexy grass skirt in Hula Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr snogging in the surf in From Here to Eternity Cameron Crowe's dire 2015 rom-com Aloha, famous mostly for Crowe's casting of blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian Emma Stone as the part-Chinese part-Native Hawaiian love interest.

My cheeseburger was fantastic. The waitress said "aloha" when I arrived and "mahalo" (thank you) when I paid. At the next table a group of twenty-somethings, I was guessing spring break college students from the US, mainland, were sharing recent memories.

Young woman: "I was in the moment, then I was out of the moment, then I was in the moment."

Young man: "I was saying the weirdest s***."

Other young woman: "And she said, 'I can't feel it. Let's have more.'"

I walked along the sand. The sunchairs, umbrellas, outrigger canoes and huge evening-cruise catamarans were gone. A few hotels along, on a large stage beneath a banyan tree, three beautiful women with leis round their neck danced the hula to a three-piece backing band.

Further along a man dressed like a ninja assassin and with a torch on his forehead was shin-deep in the water, facing the horizon and doing tai chi. I moved closer and realised it was a head-to-toe wetsuit, and he was sweeping a metal detector through the water, scanning dark shallows for lost treasure.

The next morning I met Imaikalani Kalahele. Poet, artist and activist, in the 1980s he founded an umbrella group for the Native Hawaiian sovereignty and land-rights groups springing up. He's a fan of Maori activist Titewhai Harawira and her son Hone.

I asked if it was fair to say Hawaiians were proud of being the ones who killed Cook.

"Oh yeah! That's the biggest joke between us and the Maoris. Maoris start getting all big about stuff, and we'll say 'Yeah, but we killed Cook.'"

We drove in his battered people-mover to his studio in the hills behind Honolulu. He showed me his sculptures – curious woven things like mutant wicker baskets – and a semi-abstract painting of downtown Honolulu where skyscrapers crowded the land, but under the ground you could see leaking sewers and broken pieces of bone and fish-hook and feathers.

Kalahele was glad Te Papa was returning the 'ahu'ula and mahiole of chief Kalani'ōpu'u. His people's treasures were scattered – in the British Museum, in the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.

"Anything like that we can get our hands on is important to get home, because if you look at our museum, there isn't much there."

If he bore a grudge against anyone though it was Kalani'ōpu'u himself. The old chief took off his cloak – with its four million feathers that would have taken skilled artisans years to make – and handed it to Cook like it was no big thing.

Kalahele said his own ancestors would have been of the artisan class that made the cloaks, not the royals who wore them, and he's no monarchist.

"I don't care what century, what millennium – whenever you've got leaders like that, 99.9 percent of those guys are going to be assholes."

"How come," said Kalahele, "we don't know the generations of that family who made the fibre and gathered the birds and made the cape? There's no history about those people."

He has a deep, deep voice and a big laugh, and a long white wispy moustache. As we walked back down the hill he told me about the time he met the Maori poet Hone Tuwhare. He said Hawaii keeps an eye on the sovereignty and land-rights battles of Maori in Aotearoa.

"I think we're a bit behind. Maori started before we did."

Also, "the American colonial is a different kind of beast from the European colonial. As I see it the Europeans said we just want your s*** and as long as it works for us that's fine. The American colonial says we want all of it. You can't have any part of this.

"But we have a movement that's getting stronger."

I met his wife Eunice, who'd just made a stew from a deer someone had shot, so I stayed for lunch.

That evening in Waikiki I drank mai tais at a bar on the beach. I was reading Patricia Grace's latest novel Chappy and had just got to the bit where the Wellington-born sailor Aki arrives in Honolulu, where the Kanaka Maoli remind him of his family, and the language is so similar he feels instantly at home.

The ceremony at the Bishop the next morning was strange and familiar. I watched from the mezzanine as 400 people in Pacific and western finery processed past the cloak and helmet. The 'ahu'ula was on a big plinth at the front, spread out like a giant red-and-yellow scallop.

There was drumming and hula. There were songs and chants that didn't quite sound Maori. One extraordinary 'mele kuluwaimaka' or 'song of tears' by four female elders was a mix of tormented ululating and sobs that could almost have come from a New Zealand tangi. Near the end of the two-hour extravaganza the Te Papa delegation did waiata and karakia in response, reminding me of the differences in the Hawaiian rituals: a different kind of vibrato, voices woven together to a different pattern.

Later, the small press pack got a few minutes to admire the artefacts up close. The cloak's feathers were tiny and vividly coloured, and packed so densely it looked like a deep squishy carpet.

I was introduced to Mehanaokalā Hind, a 13th- generation descendant of chief Kalani'ōpu'u. I asked her if Hawaiians thought killing Cook had been a bad thing.

"We wish the Maoris had done it actually, because then our people wouldn't have died from diseases."

Remember, said Hind, that when Cook arrived the population here was between 200,000 and a million, and a century later it was 40,000. Towns were decimated, entire genealogies extinguished. Venereal diseases hit first, then the common cold, cholera, smallpox.

"It's a story told time and again around the world."

That's part of the reason it's such a big deal to get the cloak and helmet back. Those objects are a "before" snapshot. They carry the memory of that time just before western contact – a time of health and abundance, of self-determination and sovereignty.

The timing feels significant, said Hind. Native Hawaiians are in a better place now than they've been in a long time. Their numbers are back in the hundreds of thousands. Sovereignty activists talk about Hawaii detaching itself from the US. They talk about the International Court of Justice, or the United Nations Decolonisation Committee.

They were watching Maori closely, she said. "Even though they're the furthest away from us in Polynesia, they're most akin."

The museum's CEO Blair Collis had excellent soundbites about fruitful collaboration with Te Papa, and his dreams of prising more stuff from the grip of the hoarders at places like the British Museum, but what I wanted to know was how he felt about the chintzy, dumbed-down, hollowed-out, retro-1950s, Aloha-ified, Hollywoodised ukulele-and-surfboards version of Hawaiian culture doled out on Waikiki's main drag. Does it matter that this is what tourists see when the real deal is sitting in his museum?

Yeah, said Collis, the visitor to Hawaii is absolutely missing out. Consider the 'luau' – which were grand feasts traditionally hosted by ali'i to celebrate important moments in history for their people.

"Now, we have a situation where people think coconut bras and the first mai tai represent a luau. It's become a dinner and a show."

Each year five million people visit O'ahu, said Blair, and 1 percent of them make the six-mile trip to the Bishop Museum to see the actual material culture of the place they're visiting. Still, "if you were in Waikiki 10 years ago you'd really be disheartened, and 10 years before that you'd be extremely disheartened."

Tourists expect corny Hawaiiana so that's what they're given, but even those beachfront hula shows are "on their evolutionary arc. They're increasingly accurate and backed up by people who are practitioners, and not simply an entertainer.

"As much as you'd love to instil in every human being a deep desire to understand the intricacies of a native people's culture, some people just aren't going to get there." But every visitor could be nudged a little further away from ignorance, he said. "You just have to move them along the chain."

I got my cab back to Waikiki, ate a pretty good seafood pasta for dinner and drank a couple more mai tais on the beach. It seemed so much easier than moving along a chain.

The next morning I had a few hours before my flight so I ran to the top of Waikiki's extinct volcano Diamond Head, backdrop for a Charlton Heston film of the same name in which the Native Hawaiian lead is played by the Greek-American actor George Chakiris.

I ran past the statue of Duke Kahanamoku on a surfboard, past hairy old banyan trees, an Aloha- brand service station and a US flag flying in a front yard. I dodged up the lookout stairs, past German schoolkids and lumbering American tourists and to the top, where I looked east to Waikiki's shoreline skyscrapers and to downtown Honolulu and Pearl Harbor beyond, and north to the suburbs that are creeping up the slopes of O'ahu's mountain spine, and out to sea in the probable direction of New Zealand, the other Pacific nation with a Union Jack on its flag, 7000km to the south.

On my way back I went into a souvenir shop and bought two 10cm carved wooden figures. One, according to the sticky label on the bottom, would bring the owner luck and the other would bring the owner money. Which was odd, because I was pretty sure, based on the two-metre-high version I'd seen at the museum, that these were actually statuettes of the Hawaiian god Kūka'ilimoku, "seizer of land", god of war, someone whose rituals were said to have included human sacrifice. I handed over a handful of green bills and the smiling shopkeeper wrapped them in butcher's paper and said "Mahalo".

*Adam Dudding travelled to Hawaii courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines and the Hawaiian Tourism Authority

Watch the video: Captain James Cook returns to Hawaii for Ship Repairs (August 2022).

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