In Captain Cook's own words

Hawaii Discovered

By Captain James Cook

In Captain Cook’s own words, this is the West’s first contact with Hawaii, January 18, 1778.

In the morning of the 18th (January, 1778) an island made its appearance, bearing northeast by east; and soon after we saw more land bearing north and entirely detached from the former. Both had the appearance of being high land. At noon the first bore northeast by east, half east, by estimation about eight or nine leagues distant. Our latitude at this time was 210 12′ N. and longitude 2000 41′ E. We had now light airs and calms, by turns; so that at sunset we were not less than nine or ten leagues from the nearest land.

On the 19th, at sunrise, the island first seen bore east several leagues distant. This being directly to windward, which prevented our getting near it, I stood for the other, which we could reach; and not long after discovered a third island in the direction of west-northwest, as far distant as land could be seen. We had now a fine breeze at east by north; and I steered for the east end of the second island, the nearest part being about two leagues distant.

At this time, we were in some doubt whether or no the land before us was inhabited; but this doubt was soon cleared up by seeing some canoes coming off from the shore toward the ships. I immediately brought to, to give them time to join us. They had from three or six men each; and on their approach we were agreeably surprised to find that they spoke in the language of Otaheite and of the other islands we had lately visited. It required but very little address to get them to come alongside, but no entreaties could prevail upon any of them to come on board. I tied some brass medals to a rope and gave them to those in one of the canoes, who in return tied some small mackerel to the rope as an equivalent. This was repeated; and some small nails or bits of iron, which they valued more than any other article, were given them. For these they exchanged more fish, and a sweet potato – a sure sign that they had some notion of bartering, or at least of returning one present for another. They had nothing else in their canoes except some large gourd shells and a kind of fishing net; but one of them offered for sale the piece of stuff that he wore round his waist, after the manner of the other islands.

These people were of a brown color, and though of the common size were stoutly made. There was little difference in the cast of their color, but a considerable variation in their features, some of their visages not being very unlike those of Europeans. The hair of most of them was cropped pretty short; others had it flowing loose; and with a few, it was tied in a bunch on the crown of the head. In all, it seemed to be naturally black; but most of them had stained it, as is the practice of the Friendly Islanders, with some stuff which gave it a brown or burnt color. In general they wore beards. They had no ornaments about their persons, nor did we observe that their ears were perforated; but some were punctured on the hands or near the groin, though in a small degree; and the bits of cloth which they wore were curiously stained with red, black, and white colors. They seemed very mild and had no arms of any kind, if we except some small stones which they had evidently brought for their own defense; and these they threw overboard when they found that they were not wanted….

The next morning we stood in for the land, and were met with several canoes filled with people, some of whom took courage and ventured on board. In the course of my several voyages, I never before met with the natives of any place so much astonished as these people were upon entering a ship. Their eyes were continually flying from object to object; the wildness of their looks and gestures fully expressing their entire ignorance about everything they saw, and strongly marking to us that till now they had never been visited by Europeans nor been acquainted with any of our commodities except iron, which, however, it was plain they had only heard of, or had known it in some small quantity brought to them at some distant period. They seemed only to understand that it was a substance much better adapted to the purposes of cutting or of boring of holes than anything their own country produced. They asked for it by the name of hamaite, probably referring to some instrument in the making of which iron could be usefully employed; for they applied that name to the blade of a knife, though we could be certain that they had no idea of that particular instrument; nor could they at all handle it properly. For the same reason they frequently called iron by the name of toe, which in their language signifies a hatchet, or rather a kind of adz. On asking them what iron was, they immediately answered, "We do not know. You know what it is, and we only understand it as toe or hamaite. When we showed them some beads, they asked first what they were; and then whether they should eat them. But on their being told that they were to be hung in their ears, they returned them as useless. They were equally indifferent as to a looking glass which was offered them, and returned it for the same reason; but sufficiently expressed their desire for hamaite and toe, which they wished might be very large. Plates of earthernware, china cups, and other such things were so new to them that they asked if they were made of wood; but wished to have some, that they might carry them to be looked at on shore. They were in some respects naturally well bred, or at least fearful of giving offense, asking where they should sit down, whether they might spit upon the deck, and the like. Some of them repeated a long prayer before they came on board; and others afterward sung and made motions with their hands, such as we had been accustomed to see in the dances of the islands we had lately visited. There was another circumstance in which they also perfectly resembled those other islanders. At first, on their entering the ship, they endeavored to steal everything they came near; or rather to take it openly, as what we either should not resent or not hinder. We soon convinced them of their mistake; and if they after some time became less active in appropriating to themselves whatever they took a fancy to, it was because they found that we kept a watchful eye over them.

At nine o’clock, being pretty near the shore, I sent three armed boats under the command of Lieutenant Williamson to look for a landing place and for fresh water. I ordered him that if he should find it necessary to land in search of the latter, not to suffer more than one man to go with him out of the boats. Just as they were putting off from the ship, one of the natives having stolen the butcher’s cleaver leaped overboard, got into his canoe, and hastened to the shore, the boats pursuing him in vain.

The order not to permit the crews of the boats to go on shore was issued that I might do everything in my power to prevent the importation of a fatal disease into this island, which I knew some of our men labored under, and which, unfortunately, had been already communicated by us to other islands in these seas. With the same view, I ordered all female visitors to be excluded from the ships. Many of them had come off in the canoes. Their size, color, and features did not differ much from those of the men; and though their countenances were remarkably open and agreeable, there were few traces of delicacy to be seen, either in their faces or other proportions. The only difference in their dress was their having a piece of cloth about the body, reaching from near the middle to halfway down the thighs, instead of the maro worn by the other sex. They would as readily have favored us with their company on board as the men; but I wished to prevent all connection which might, too probably, convey an irreparable injury to themselves, and through their means to the whole nation. Another necessary precaution was taken by strictly enjoining that no person known to be capable of propagating the infection should be sent upon duty out of the ships. Whether these regulations, dictated by humanity, had the desired effect or not, time only can discover….

While the boats were occupied in examining the coast, we stood on and off with the ships, waiting for their return. About noon Mr. Williamson came back and reported that he had seen a large pond behind a beach near one of the villages, which the natives told him contained fresh water; and that there was an anchoring ground before it. He also reported that he had attempted to land in another place, but was prevented by the natives, who, coming down to the boats in great numbers, attempted to take away the oars, muskets, and, in short, everything that they could lay hold of; and pressed so thick upon him that he was obliged to fire, by which one man was killed. But this unhappy circumstance I did not know till after we had left the island, so that all my measures were directed as if nothing of the kind had happened. Mr. Williamson told me that after the man fell his countrymen took him up, carried him off, and then retired from the boat; but still they made signals for our people to land, which he declined. It did not appear to Mr. Williamson that the natives had any design to kill, or even to hurt, any of his party; but they seemed excited by mere curiosity to get from them what they had, being at the same time ready to give in return anything of their own….

Between three and four o’clock I went ashore with three armed boats, and twelve marines, to examine the water and to try the disposition of the inhabitants, several hundred of whom were assembled on a sandy beach before the village. The very instant I leaped on shore, the collected body of the natives fell flat upon their faces and remained in that very humble posture till by expressive signs I prevailed upon them to rise. They then brought a great many small pigs, which they presented to me, with plantain trees, using much the same ceremonies that we had seen practiced on such occasions at the Society and other islands; and a long prayer being spoken by a single person, in which others of the assembly sometimes joined, I expressed my acceptance of their proffered friendship by giving them in return such presents as I had brought with me from the ship for that purpose. When this introductory business was finished, I stationed a guard upon the beach and got some of the natives to conduct me to the water, which proved to be very good and in a proper situation for our purpose. It was so considerable that it may be called a lake, and it extended farther up the country than we could see. Having satisfied myself about this very essential point and about the peaceable disposition of the natives, I returned on board; and then gave orders that everything should be in readiness for landing and filling our water casks in the morning, when I went ashore with the people employed in that service, having a party of marines with us for a guard, who were stationed on the beach.

As soon as we landed, a trade was set on foot for hogs and potatoes, which the people of the island gave us in exchange for nails and pieces of iron formed into something like chisels. We met with no obstruction in watering; on the contrary, the natives assisted our men in rolling the casks to and from the pool and readily performed whatever we required. Everything thus going on to my satisfaction and considering my presence on the spot as unnecessary, I left the command to Mr. Williamson, who had landed with me, and made an excursion into the country, up the valley, accompanied by Mr. Anderson and Mr. Webber; the former of whom was as well qualified to describe with the pen as the latter was to represent with his pencil, everything we might meet with worthy of observation. A numerous train of natives followed us; and one of them, whom I had distinguished for his activity in keeping the rest in order, I made choice of as our guide. This man from time to time proclaimed our approach; and everyone whom we met fell prostrate upon the ground, and remained in that position till we had passed. This, as I afterward understood, is the mode of paying their respect to their own great chiefs.

At sunset I brought everybody on board, having procured in the course of the day nine tons of water; and, by changes chiefly for nails and pieces of iron, about seventy or eighty pigs, a few fowls, a quantity of potatoes, and a few plantains and taro roots. These people merited our best commendations in this commercial intercourse, never once attempting to cheat us, either ashore or alongside the ships….

Amongst the articles which they brought to barter this day, we could not help taking notice of a particular sort of cloak and cap, which, even in countries where dress is more particularly attended to, might be reckoned elegant. The first are near of the size and shape of the short cloaks worn by the women of England and by the men in Spain, reaching to the middle of the back and tied loosely before. The ground of them is a network upon which the most beautiful red and yellow feathers are so closely fixed that the surface might be compared to the thickest and richest velvet, which they resemble, both as to the feel and the glossy appearance. The manner of varying the mixture is very different; some having triangular spaces of red and yellow alternately; others, a kind of crescent; and some that were entirely red had a broad yellow border which made them appear, at some distance, exactly like a scarlet cloak edged with gold lace. The brilliant colors of the feathers, in those that happened to be new, added not a little to their fine appearance; and we found that they were in high estimation with their owners; for they would not at first part with one of them for anything that we offered, asking no less a price than a musket. However, some were afterward purchased for very large nails. Such of them as were of the best sort were scarce; and it should seem that they are only used on the occasion of some particular ceremony or diversion. The cap is made almost exactly like a helmet, with the middle part, or crest, sometimes of a hand’s breadth; and it sits very close upon the head, having notches to admit the ears. It is a frame of twigs and osiers, covered with a network into which are wrought feathers, in the same manner as upon the cloaks, though rather closer and less diversified, the greater part being red, with some black, yellow, or green stripes on the sides, following the curve direction of the crest. These, probably, complete the dress with the cloaks, for the natives sometimes appeared in both together.

These people are vigorous, active, and most expert swimmers; leaving their canoes upon the most trifling occasion, diving under them, and swimming to others though at a great distance. It was very common to see women, with infants at the breast, when the surf was so high that they could not land in the canoes, leap overboard, and without endangering their little ones, swim to the shore through a sea that looked dreadful. They seem to be blessed with a frank, cheerful disposition; and were I to draw any comparisons, I should say that they are equally free from the fickle levity which distinguishes the natives of Otaheite and the sedate cast observable amongst many of those of Tongatabu. They seem to live very sociably in their intercourse with one another; and, except the propensity to thieving, which seems innate in most of the people we have visited in this ocean, they were exceedingly friendly to us….

Though I did not see a chief of any note, there were, however, several, as the natives informed us, who reside upon Atooi, and to whom they prostrate themselves as a mark of submission, which seems equivalent to the moe paid to the chiefs of the Friendly Islands, and is here called haomea or moe. Whether they were at first afraid to show themselves or happened to be absent I cannot say; but after I had left the island, one of these great men made his appearance and paid a visit to Captain Clerke on board the Discovery. He came off in a double canoe and, like the king of the Friendly Islands, paid no regard to the small canoes that happened to lie in his way, but ran against or over them, without endeavoring in the least to avoid them. And it was not possible for these poor people to avoid him, for they could not manage their canoes, it being a necessary mark of their submission that they should lie down till he had passed. His attendants helped him into the ship, and placed him on the gangway. Their care for him did not cease then, for they stood round him holding each other by the hands; nor would they suffer anyone to come near him but Captain Clerke himself. He was a young man, clothed from head to foot, and accompanied by a young woman supposed to be his wife. His name was said to be Tamahano. Captain Clerke made him some suitable presents and received from him in return a large bowl supported by two figures of men, the carving of which, both as to the design and execution, showed some degree of skill. This bowl, as our people were told, used to be filled with the kava, or ava (as it is called in Otaheite), which liquor they prepare and drink here, as the other islands in this ocean. Captain Clerke could not prevail upon this great man to go below, nor to move from the place where his attendants had first fixed him. After staying some time in the ship, he was carried again into his canoe and returned to the island, receiving the same honors from all the natives as when he came on board. The next day several messages were sent to Captain Clerke inviting him to return the visit ashore and acquainting him that the chief had prepared a large present on that occasion. But being anxious to get to sea and join the Resolution, the captain did not think it advisable to accept of the invitation.