Captain Cook in Hawaii

Captain Cook

By James King

James King was a lieutenant on Captain Cook’s HMS Discovery. This is taken from “A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean…1776-80”, which he co-wrote with Cook.

KEALAKEKUA BAY is situated on the west side of the island of Hawaii, in a district called Kona. It is about a mile in depth, and bounded by two low points of land at the distance of half a league and bearing south-southeast and north-northwest from each other.

On the north point, which is flat and barren, stands the village of Kaawaloa, and in the bottom of the bay, near a grove of tall coconut trees, there is another village of a more considerable size called Kakooa: between them runs a high rocky cliff, inaccessible from the seashore. On the south side the coast, for about a mile inland, has a rugged appearance, beyond which the country rises with a gradual ascent, and is overspread with cultivated enclosures and groves of coconut trees, where the habitations of the natives are scattered in great numbers.

The shore, all around the bay, is covered with a black coral rock, which makes the landing very dangerous in rough weather, except at the village of Kakooa, where there is a fine sandy beach, with a morai, or burying place, at one extremity, and a small well of fresh water at the other.

This bay appearing to Captain Cook a proper place to refit the ships and lay in an additional supply of water and provisions, we moored on the north side, about a quarter of a mile from the shore, Kaawaloa bearing northwest. As soon as the inhabitants perceived our intention of anchoring in the bay, they came off from the shore in astonishing numbers, and expressed their joy by singing and shouting, and exhibiting a variety of wild and extravagant gestures.

The sides, the decks, and rigging of both ships were soon completely covered with them; and a multitude of women and boys who had not been able to get canoes came swimming round us in shoals; many of whom, not finding room on board, remained the whole day playing in the water.

Among the chiefs who came on board the Resolution was a young man called Palea, whom we soon perceived to be a person of great authority. On presenting himself to Captain Cook he told him that he was Jakanee to the king of the island, who was at that time engaged on a military expedition at Maui, and was expected to return within three or four days.

A few presents from Captain Cook attached him entirely to our interests, and he became exceedingly useful to us in the management of his countrymen, as we had soon occasion to experience. For we had not been long at anchor when it was observed that the Discovery had such a number of people hanging on one side as occasioned her to heel considerably, and that the men were unable to keep off the crowds which continued pressing into her. Captain Cook, being apprehensive that she might suffer some injury, pointed out the danger to Palea, who immediately went to their assistance, cleared the ship of its incumbrances, and drove away the canoes that surrounded her.

The authority of the chiefs over the inferior people appeared, from this incident, to be of the most despotic kind. A similar instance of it happened the same day on board the Resolution, where, the crowd being so great as to impede the necessary business of the ship, we were obliged to have recourse to the assistance of Kanaina, another of their chiefs, who had likewise attached himself to Captain Cook.

The inconvenience we labored under being made known, he immediately ordered his countrymen to quit the vessel, and we were not a little surprised to see them jump overboard, without a moment’s hesitation-all except one man, who, loitering behind and showing some unwillingness to obey, Kanaina took him up in his arms and threw him into the sea.

Both these chiefs were men of strong and well-proportioned bodies, and of countenances remarkably pleasing. Kanaina especially, whose portrait was drawn by Mr. Webber, was one of the finest men I ever saw. He was about six feet high, had regular and expressive features, with lively, dark eyes; his carriage was easy, firm, and graceful.

It has been already mentioned that during our long cruise off this island, the inhabitants had always behaved with great fairness and honesty in their dealings, and had not shown the slightest propensity to theft; which appeared to us the more extraordinary because those with whom we had hitherto held any intercourse were of the lowest rank, either servants or fishermen.

We now found the case exceedingly altered. The immense crowd of islanders, which blocked up every part of the ships, not only afforded frequent opportunity of pilfering without risk of discovery, but our inferiority in number held forth a prospect of escaping with impunity in case of detection. Another circumstance to which we attributed this alteration in their behavior was the presence and encouragement of their chiefs; for generally tracing the booty into the possession of some men of consequence, we had the strongest reason to suspect that these depredations were committed at their instigation.

Soon after the Resolution had got into her station, our two friends Palea and Kanaina brought on board a third chief named Koa, who, we were told, was a priest, and had been in his youth a distinguished warrior.

He was a little old man of emaciated figure, his eyes exceedingly sore and red and his body covered with a white leprous scurf, the effects of an immoderate use of awa. Being led into the cabin, he approached Captain Cook with great veneration, and threw over his shoulders a piece of red cloth, which he had brought along with him. Then, stepping a few paces back, he made an offering of a small pig, which he held in his hand while he pronounced a discourse that lasted for a considerable time.

This ceremony was frequently repeated during our stay at Hawaii, and appeared to us from many circumstances to be a sort of religious adoration. Their idols we found always arrayed with red cloth, in the same manner as was done to Captain Cook, and a small pig was their usual offering to the akuas. Their speeches, or prayers, were uttered too with a readiness and volubility that indicated them to be according to some formulary.

When this ceremony was over, Koa dined with Captain Cook, eating plentifully of what was set before him, but, like the rest of the inhabitants of the islands in these seas, could scarcely be prevailed on to taste a second time our wine or spirits.

In the evening, Captain Cook, attended by Mr. Bayly and myself, accompanied him on shore. We landed at the beach and were received by four men, who carried wands tipped with dogs’ hair and marched before us, pronouncing with a loud voice a short sentence, in which we could only distinguish the word “Lono.” The crowd which had been collected on the shore retired at our approach, and not a person was to be seen except a few lying prostrate on the ground, near the huts of the adjoining village.

Before I proceed to relate the adoration that was paid to Captain Cook and the peculiar ceremonies with which he was received on this fatal island, it will be necessary to describe the morai, situated, as I have already mentioned, at the south side of the beach at Kakooa.

It was a square, solid pile of stones, about forty yards long, twenty broad, and fourteen in height. The top was flat and well paved, and surrounded by a wooden rail, on which were fixed the skulls of the captives, sacrificed on the death of their chiefs. In the center of the area stood a ruinous old building of wood, connected with the rail on each side by a stone wall, which divided the whole space into two parts.

On the side next the country were five poles, upward of twenty feet high, supporting an irregular kind of scaffold; on the opposite side, toward the sea, stood two small houses, with a covered communication.

We were conducted by Koa to the top of this pile by an easy ascent, leading from the beach to the northwest corner of the area. At the entrance we saw two large wooden images, with features violently distorted, and a long piece of carved wood, of a conical form inverted, rising from the top of their heads; the rest was without form, and wrapped around with red cloth.

We were here met by a tall young man with a long beard, who presented Captain Cook to the images; and after chanting a kind of hymn, in which he was joined by Koa, they led us to that end of the morai where the five poles were fixed.

At the foot of them were twelve images ranged in a semicircular form, and before the middle figure stood a high stand or table exactly resembling the whatta of Tahiti, on which lay a putrid hog, and under it pieces of sugar cane, coconuts, breadfruits, plantains, and sweet potatoes.

Koa, having placed the captain under this stand, took down the hog and held it toward him, and after having a second time addressed him in a long speech, pronounced with much vehemence and rapidity, he let it fall on the ground, and led him to the scaffolding, which they began to climb together, not without great risk of falling.

At this time we saw, coming in solemn procession, at the entrance of the top of the morai, ten men carrying a live hog and a large piece of red cloth. Being advanced a few paces, they stopped and prostrated themselves, and Kaireekeea, the young man above mentioned, went to them, and receiving the cloth, carried it to Koa, who wrapped it round the captain, and afterward offered him the hog, which was brought by Kaireekeea with the same ceremony.

Whilst Captain Cook was aloft, in this awkward situation, swathed round with red cloth and with difficulty keeping his hold amongst the pieces of rotten scaffolding, Kaireekeea and Koa began their office, chanting sometimes in concert, and sometimes alternately.

This lasted a considerable time; at length Koa let the hog drop, when he and the captain descended together. He then led him to the images before mentioned, and having said something to each in a sneering tone, snapping his fingers at them as he passed, he brought him to that in the center, which, from its being covered with red cloth, appeared to be in greater estimation than the rest.

Before this figure he prostrated himself and kissed it, desiring Captain Cook to do the same-who suffered himself to be directed by Koa throughout the whole of this ceremony.

We were now led back into the other division of the morai, where there was a space, ten or twelve feet square, sunk about three feet below the level of the area. Into this we descended, and Captain Cook was seated between two wooden idols, Koa supporting one of his arms, whilst I was desired to support the other.

At this time arrived a second procession of natives, carrying a baked hog and a pudding, some breadfruit, coconuts, and other vegetables. When they approached us, Kaireekeea put himself at their head, and presenting the pig to Captain Cook in the usual manner, began the same kind of chant as before, his companions making regular responses.

We observed that after every response their parts became gradually shorter, till, toward the close, Kaireekeea’s consisted of only two or three words, which the rest answered by the word “Lono.”

When this offering was concluded, which lasted a quarter of an hour, the natives sat down, fronting us, and began to cut up the baked hog, to peel the vegetables, and break the coconuts, whilst others employed themselves in brewing the awa, which is done by chewing it lathe same manner as at the Friendly Islands.

Kaireekeea then took part of the kernel of a coconut, which he chewed, and wrapping it in a piece of cloth, rubbed with it the captain’s face, head, hands. arms, and shoulders.

The awa was then handed round, and after we had tasted it, Koa and Palea began to pull the flesh of the hog in pieces and to put it into our mouths. I had no great objection to being fed by Palea, who was very cleanly in his person; but Captain Cook, who was served by Koa, recollecting the putrid hog, could not swallow a morsel; and his reluctance, as may be supposed, was not diminished when the old man, according to his own mode of civility, had chewed it for him.

When this last ceremony was finished, which Captain Cook put an end to as soon as he decently could, we quitted the morai, after distributing amongst the people some pieces of iron and other trifles, with which they seemed highly gratified.

The men with wands conducted us to the boats, repeating the same words as before. The people again retired and the few that remained prostrated themselves as we passed along the shore.

We immediately went on board, our minds full of what we had seen and extremely well satisfied with the good dispositions of our new friends. The meaning of the various ceremonies with which we had been received and which, on account of their novelty and singularity, have been related at length, can only be the subject of conjectures, and those uncertain and partial; they were, however, without doubt expressive of high respect on the part of the natives and, as far as related to the person of Captain Cook, they seemed approaching to adoration.

The next morning I went on shore with a guard of eight marines, including the corporal and lieutenant, having orders to erect the observatory in such a situation as might best enable me to superintend and protect the waterers and the other working parties that were to be on shore.

As we were viewing a spot conveniently situated for this purpose in the middle of the village, Palea, who was always ready to show both his power and his good will, offered to pull down some houses that would have obstructed our observations. However, we thought it proper to decline this offer and fixed on a field of sweet potatoes adjoining to the morai, which was readily granted us; and the priests, to prevent the intrusion of the natives, immediately consecrated the place by fixing their wands round the wall by which it was enclosed.

This sort of religious interdiction they call tabu, a word we heard often repeated during our stay amongst these islanders, and found to be of very powerful and extensive operation. No canoes ever presumed to land near us; the natives sat on the wall, but none offered to come within the tabu’d space till he had obtained our permission.

But though the men at our request would come across the field with provisions, yet not all our endeavors could prevail on the women to approach us. Presents were tried, but without effect; Palea and Koa were tempted to bring them, but in vain; we were invariably answered that the akua and Kalaniopuu (which was the name of their king) would kill them.

This circumstance afforded no small matter of amusement to our friends on board, where the crowds of people, and particularly of women, that continued to flock thither obliged them almost every hour to clear the vessel, in order to have room to do the necessary duties of the ship.

On these occasions two or three hundred women were frequently made to jump into the water at once, where they continued swimming and playing about till they could again procure admittance.

I shall now return to our transactions on shore at the observatory, where we had not been long settled before we discovered in our neighborhood the habitations of a society of priests, whose regular attendance at the morai had excited our curiosity.

Their huts stood round a pond of water and were surrounded by a grove of coconut trees which separated them from the beach and the rest of the village, and gave the place an air of religious retirement.

On my acquainting Captain Cook with these circumstances, he resolved to pay them a visit; and as he expected to be received in the same manner as before, he brought Mr. Webber with him to make a drawing of the ceremony.

On his arrival at the beach, he was conducted to a sacred building called Hale no Lono, or the House of Lono, and seated before the entrance, at the foot of a wooden idol of the same kind as those on the morai.

I was here again made to support one of his arms, and after wrapping him in red cloth, Kaireekeea, accompanied by twelve priests, made an offering of a pig with the usual solemnities. The pig was then strangled, and a fire being kindled, it was thrown into the embers, and after the hair was singed off it was again presented, with a repetition of the chanting, in the manner before described.

The dead pig was then held for a short time under the captain’s nose; after which it was laid, with a coconut, at his feet, and the performers sat down. The awa was then brewed and handed round; a fat hog, ready dressed, was brought in; and we were fed as before.

During the rest of the time we remained in the bay, whenever Captain Cook came on shore, he was attended by one of these priests, who went before him, giving notice that the Lono had landed, and ordering the people to prostrate themselves. The same person also constantly accompanied him on the water, standing in the bow of the boat, with a wand in his hand, and giving notice of his approach to the natives who were in canoes, on which they immediately left off paddling and lay down on their faces till he had passed.

Whenever he stopped at the observatory, Kaireekeea and his brethren immediately made their appearance with hogs, coconuts, breadfruit, etc., and presented them with the usual solemnities. It was on these occasions that some of the inferior chiefs frequently requested to be permitted to make an offering to the Lcno. When this was granted, they presented the hog themselves, generally with evident marks of fear in their countenances, whilst Kaireekeea and the priests chanted their accustomed hymns.

The civilities of this society were not, however, confined to mere ceremony and parade. Our party on shore received from them every day a constant supply of hogs and vegetables, more than sufficient for our subsistence; and several canoes loaded with provisions were sent to the ships with the same punctuality. No return was ever demanded or even hinted at in the most distant manner. Their presents were made with a regularity more like the discharge of a religious duty than the effect of mere liberality, and when we inquired at whose charge all this munificence was displayed, we were told it was at the expense of a great man called Kaoo, the chief of all the priests, and grandfather to Kaireekeea, who was at that time absent attending the king of the island.

In the afternoon [January 24] Kalaniopuu arrived and visited the ships in a private manner, attended only by one canoe in which were his wife and children. He stayed on board till near ten o’clock, when he returned to the village of Kowrowa.

The next day, about noon, the king, in a large canoe attended by two others, set out from the village and paddled toward the ships in great state. Their appearance was grand and magnificent. In the first canoe were Kalaniopuu and his chiefs, dressed in their rich feathered cloaks and helmets, and armed with long spears and daggers; in the second came the venerable Kaoo, the chief of the priests, and his brethren, with their idols displayed on red cloth.

These idols were busts of a gigantic size, made of wickerwork, and curiously covered with small feathers of various colors, wqrought in the same manner with their cloaks. Their eyes were made of large pearl oysters, with a black nut fixed in the center; their mouths were set with a double row of the fangs of dogs, and, together with the rest of their features, were strangely distorted.

The third canoe was filled with hogs and various sorts of vegetables. As they went along, the priests in the center canoe sung their hymns with great solemnity; and after paddling round the ships, instead of going on board as was expected, they made toward the shore at the beach where we were stationed.

As soon as I saw them approaching, I ordered out our little guard to receive the king; and Captain Cook, perceiving that he was going on shore, followed him and arrived nearly at the same time. We conducted them into the tent, where they had scarcely been seated when the king rose up and in a very graceful manner threw over the captain’s shoulders the cloak he himself wore, put a feathered helmet on his head, and a curious fan into his hand.

He also spread at his feet five or six other cloaks, all exceedingly beautiful, and of the greatest value. His attendants then brought four very large hogs, with sugar canes, coconuts, and breadfruit; and this part of the ceremony was concluded by the king’s exchanging names with Captain Cook, which amongst all the islanders of the Pacific Ocean is esteemed the strongest pledge of friendship.

A procession of priests, with a venerable old personage at their head, now appeared, followed by a long train of men leading large hogs, and others carrying plantains, sweet potatoes, etc. By the looks and gestures of Kaireekeea, I immediately knew the old man to be the chief of the priests before mentioned, on whose bounty we had so long subsisted.

He had a piece of red cloth in his hands, which he wrapped around Captain Cook’s shoulders, and afterward presented him with a small pig in the usual form. A seat was then made for him, next to the king; after which Kaireekeea and his followers began their ceremonies, Kaoo and the chiefs joining in the responses. I was surprised to see in the person of this king the same infirm and emaciated old man that came on board the Resolution when we were off the northeast side of the island of Maui; and we soon discovered amongst his attendants most of the persons who at that time had remained with us all night.

Of this number were the two younger sons of the king, the eldest of whom was sixteen years of age, and his nephew Kamehameha [future king of the united islands], whom at first we had some difficulty recollecting, his hair being plastered over with a dirty brown paste and powder, which was no mean heightening to the most savage face I ever beheld. As soon as the formalities of the meeting were over, Captain Cook carried Kalaniopuu, and as many chiefs as the pinnace could hold, on board the Resolution.

They were received with every mark of respect that could be shown them; and Captain Cook, in return for the feathered cloak, put a linen shirt on the king and girt his own hanger round him. The ancient Kaoo, and about half a dozen more old chiefs, remained on shore and took up their abode at the priests’ houses.

During all this time, not a canoe was seen in the bay, and the natives either kept within their huts or lay prostrate on the ground. Before the king left the Resolution, Captain Cook obtained leave for the natives to come and trade with the ships as usual; but the women, for what reason we could not learn, still continued under the effects of the tabu-that is, were forbidden to stir from home, or to have any communication with us.

The quiet and inoffensive behavior of the natives having taken away every apprehension of danger, we did not hesitate to trust ourselves amongst them at all times, and in all situations. The officers of both ships went daily up the country in small parties, or even singly, and frequently remained out the whole night. It would be endless to recount all the instances of kindness and civility which we received upon those occasions.

Wherever we went, the people flocked about us, eager to offer every assistance in their power, and highly gratified if their services were accepted. Various little arts were practiced to attract our notice or to delay our departure. The boys and girls ran before, as we walked through their villages, and stopped us at every opening where there was room to form a group for dancing.

At one time, we were invited to accept a draft of coconut milk, or some other refreshment, under the shade of their huts; at another, we were seated within a circle of young women, who exerted all their skill and agility to amuse us with songs and dances.

The satisfaction we derived from their gentleness and hospitality was, however, frequently interrupted by that propensity to stealing which they have in common with all the other islanders of these seas. This circumstance was the more distressing as it sometimes obliged us to have recourse to acts of severity which we should willingly have avoided if the necessity of the case had not absolutely called for them.

Some of their most expert swimmers were one day discovered under the ships, drawing out the filling nails of the sheathing, which they performed very dexterously by means of a short stick with a flint stone fixed in the end of it. To put a stop to this practice, which endangered the very existence of the vessels, we at first fired small-shot at the offenders; but they easily got out of our reach by diving under the ship’s bottom.

It was therefore found necessary to make an example, by flogging one of them on board the Discovery.

This day [February 1] died William Watman, a seaman of the gunner’s crew – an event which I mention the more particularly as death had hitherto been very rare amongst us. He was an old man, and much respected on account of his attachment to Captain Cook.

At the request of the king of the island he was buried on the moral, and the ceremony was performed with as much solemnity as our situation permitted. Old Kaoo and his brethren were spectators, and preserved the most profound silence and attention whilst the service was reading.

When we began to fill up the grave, they approached it with great reverence, threw in a dead pig, some coconuts, and plantains, and for three nights afterward they surrounded it, sacrificing hogs and performing their usual ceremonies of hymns and prayers, which continued till daybreak. At the head of the grave we erected a post and nailed upon it a square piece of board, on which was inscribed the name of the deceased, his age, and the day of his death. This they promised not to remove, and we have no doubt but that it will be suffered to remain as long as the frail materials of which it is made will permit.

The ships being in great want of fuel, the captain desired me, on February 2, to treat with the priests for the purchase of the rail that surrounded the top of the moral. I must confess I had, at first, some doubt about the decency of this proposal and was apprehensive that even the bare mention of it might be considered by them as a piece of shocking impiety. In this, however, I found myself mistaken.

Not the smallest surprise was expressed at the application, and the wood was readily given, even without stipulating for anything in return.

Whilst the sailors were taking it away, I observed one of them carrying off a carved image and, on further inquiry, I found that they had conveyed to the boats the whole semicircle. Though this was done in the presence of the natives, who had not shown any mark of resentment at it, but had even assisted them in the removal, I thought it proper to speak to Kaoo on the subject; who appeared very indifferent about the matter and only desired that we would restore the center image I have mentioned before, which be carried into one of the priest’s houses.

Kalaniopuu and his chiefs had for some days past been very inquisitive about the time of our departure. This circumstance had excited in me a great curiosity to know what opinion this people had formed of us and what were their ideas respecting the cause and objects of our voyage. I took some pains to satisfy myself on these points, but could never learn anything further than that they imagined we came from some country where provisions had failed, and that our visit to them was merely for the purpose of filling our bellies.

Indeed, the meager appearance of some of our crew, the hearty appetites with which we sat down to their fresh provisions, and our great anxiety to purchase and carry off as much as we were able led them, naturally enough, to such a conclusion. To these may be added a circumstance which puzzled them exceedingly, our having no women with us, together with our quiet conduct and unwarlike appearance.

It was ridiculous enough to see them stroking the sides and patting the bellies of the sailors (who were certainly much improved in the sleekness of their looks during our short stay in the island) and telling them, partly by signs and partly by words, that it was time for them to go, but if they would come again the next breadfruit season, they should be better able to supply their wants.

We had now been sixteen days in the bay, and if our enormous consumption of hogs and vegetables be considered, it need not be wondered that they should wish to see us take our leave. It is very probable, however, that Kalaniopuu had no other view in his inquiries at present than a desire of making sufficient preparation for dismissing us with presents suitable to the respect and kindness with which he had received us. For, on our telling him we should leave the island on the next day but one, we observed that a sort of proclamation was immediately made through the villages to require the people to bring in their hogs and vegetables for the king to present to the Lono on his departure.

As I happened to remain the last on shore, and waited for the return of the boat, several came crowding about me and, having made me sit down by them, began to lament our separation. It was, indeed, not without difficulty I was able to quit them.

And here I hope I may be permitted to relate a trifling occurrence, in which I was principally concerned. Having had the command of the party on shore, during the whole time we were in the bay, I had an opportunity of becoming better acquainted with the natives, and of being better known to them, than those whose duty required them to be generally on board. As I had every reason to be satisfied with their kindness in general, so I cannot too often, nor too particularly, mention the unbounded and constant friendship of their priests.

On my part, I spared no endeavors to conciliate their affection and gain their esteem; and I had the good fortune to succeed so far that, when the time of our departure was made known, I was strongly solicited to remain behind, not without offers of the most flattering kind.

When I excused myself by saying that Captain Cook would not give his consent, they proposed that I should retire into the mountains, where, they said, they would conceal me till the departure of the ships. And, on my further assuring them that the captain would not leave the bay without me, Kalaniopuu and Kano waited upon Captain Cook, whose son they supposed I was, with a formal request that I might be left behind.

The captain, to avoid giving a positive refusal to an offer so kindly intended, told them that he could not part with me at that time, but that he should return to the island next year and would then endeavor to settle the matter to their satisfaction