Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii

Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii

by James L. Haley


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The most recent state to join the union, Hawaii is the only one to have once been a royal kingdom. After its “discovery” by Captain Cook in the late 18th Century, Hawaii was fought over by European powers determined to take advantage of its position as the crossroads of the Pacific.  The arrival of the first missionaries marked the beginning of the struggle between a native culture with its ancient gods, sexual libertinism and rites of human sacrifice, and the rigid values of the Calvinists.   While Hawaii’s royal rulers adopted Christianity, they also fought to preserve their ancient ways.   But the success of the ruthless American sugar barons sealed their fate and in 1893, the American Marines overthrew Lili’uokalani, the last queen of Hawaii.

Captive Paradise is the story of King Kamehameha I, The Conqueror, who unified the islands through terror and bloodshed, but whose dynasty succumbed to inbreeding; of Gilded Age tycoons like Claus Spreckels who brilliantly outmaneuvered his competitors; of firebrand Lorrin Thurston, who was determined that Hawaii be ruled by whites; of President McKinley, who presided over the eventual annexation of the islands. Not since James Michener’s classic novel Hawaii has there been such a vibrant and compelling portrait of an extraordinary place and its people.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312600655
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

JAMES HALEY is a critically acclaimed historian and biographer.  His books have been praised by Publishers Weekly who called Passionate Nation:  An Epic History of Texas “Outstanding.” USA Today called his book Wolf:  The Lives of Jack London “fascinating,” and The Wall Street Journal said that Haley “surpasses Irving Stone.”  

Read an Excerpt

Captive Paradise

A History of Hawai'i

By James L. Haley

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2014 James L. Haley
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-5550-2


The Loneliness of a God

After rounding the southern tip of the island, Cook's ships headed north up the western side. About thirty miles on, a small bay opened up on their right, about a mile across that bit half a mile into the coast. On the south shore lay a beach; the east side vaulted steeply up to a beetling precipice several hundred feet high that sheltered the bay from the trade winds. Its face was so inaccessible that its caves held the bones of generations of kings, and the natives called it Pali Kapu o Keoua, the Sacred Cliff of Keoua, after the dynastic founder. Then it descended on the north shore to a lava shelf just above the water, as low and flat as a wharf. Resolution and Discovery entered Kealakekua Bay and dropped anchor in seven fathoms of turquoise water.

Within moments a throng of thousands teemed on the shore, and the people raced out in their canoes to discover what manner of gods had come to visit them, and what gifts they had brought. "Cook," wrote Ledyard, "ordered two officers into each top to number them with as much exactness as they could." Both counts exceeded three thousand canoes in the water, with as many as six natives in each, with more thousands of people on the shore, rejoicing. Overall, Cook made a rough guess that between 350,000 and 400,000 natives inhabited the entire archipelago—a number that, interestingly, has stood as a sensible midrange figure in a scholarly debate over the size of the precontact population, figures that have ranged from 200,000 to more than 1 million.

But of the three thousand canoes knifing toward him, Cook was not alarmed, for he knew the Polynesians to be fulsome, festive people. Women swarmed on board to give themselves to these godlike creatures; they chanted their intentions, reinforced with stunningly suggestive hula, as recorded by twenty-eight-year-old ship's surgeon David Samwell, of the Discovery:

Where, oh where
Is the hollow-stemmed stick, where is it,
To make an arrow for the hawk?
Come and shoot. ...
A penis, a penis to be enjoyed:
Don't stand still, come gently,
That way, all will be well here,
Shoot off your arrow.

Leaving behind the mass mating on his ships, Cook was rowed ashore in his pinnace; chiefs who accompanied him motioned the crowding canoes aside with long white poles—necessary because three thousand canoes in less than one-half square mile of water, and then crowding about Cook, created an unmanageable confusion. Ashore, "as they passed through the throng, the chief cried out in their language that the great Orono [Lono] was coming, at which they all bowed and covered their faces with their hands until he was passed [sic]." To Ledyard's consternation, Cook made a joke of the natives' groveling: Having prostrated themselves, they rose once he went by and stared after him; then Cook would spin around and face them again, forcing them to fall to the ground once more. Cook was feted with the best that the islanders had to offer, although as a god, he could not be troubled by having to chew his own food. He was attended by chiefs, who reverently chewed the food for him and placed the masticated wads in Cook's mouth, which he managed to swallow. Contrary to the Captain Cook cult fostered by his officers, Corporal Ledyard was mortified by what he saw, and in later years American missionaries who heard the story from old natives blamed Cook darkly for his hubris in accepting their homage as a deity, which, they declared, made him responsible for his own looming disaster.

After preliminary contact was made, and with suitable advance preparations, Cook returned the courtesy and welcomed aboard Kalaniopu'u, the king of Hawai'i Island, an old man, noticeably not as huge as other chiefs of his class, wizened and palsied from years of consuming 'awa, a native hallucinogen. Among the king's gifts to the god was an 'ahu'ula, a feather cloak that featured vivid geometry in red, black, and yellow; such cloaks were the epitome of the islands' handicrafts. The king removed the cape from his own shoulders and placed it on Cook's, then removed also his matching feathered helmet, his mahiole, and gave it as well; perhaps a half dozen more cloaks were laid at Cook's feet, gifts of stunning value. The rarest feathers were the yellow; the bird from which they came, the 'o'o, was jet black, with a single yellow feather beneath each wing. Professional birdcatchers harvested the yellow feathers and released the birds to regrow them. It would have been difficult for Cook to realize the wealth that was offered at his feet.

Accompanying Kalaniopu'u onto the Resolution was his son and heir, Kiwala'o, and a representative sample of the young ali'i. The most striking of them, to British sensibilities, was the king's nephew. A massive young man, he was variously described as from six feet four inches to seven feet in height. Heavyset and to Western eyes ugly, he was intense, brooding, with the thick, downturning mouth of the Polynesian, a low, prominently ridged brow, and heavy-lidded eyes. He was aloof, observant, his every glance seeming to be an appraisal. His name was Kamehameha, which in its full iteration meant "the Loneliness of a God."

* * *

Because of a variety of factors—his destiny to forge the modern Hawaiian kingdom, the fact that his own early history took place before the advent of written records, and the modern scholarly contest over control of the narrative—Kamehameha's early years are impossible to piece together with certainty. Sources equally probative differ beyond reconciliation, but within wide latitude general features are known:

King's nephew he may have been, but it was a miracle that Kamehameha had lived to see this day. He was born on the Kohala Coast at the northern point of the island, and shortly thereafter the kahunas laid the noble infant on the Naha Stone, a three-and-a-half-ton block of lava, to divine his royal worth: If he cried, he would be tossed out to the common people to share their miseries; if he was silent, then truly he was an ali'i, born to rule. The baby did not cry, and he was given the name Pai'ea, meaning "hard-shelled crab"; an important kahuna prophesied that he would one day overturn the chiefs of Hawai'i and rule the entire island. This, the priests saw with consternation, the baby had the lineage to do, and in Hawaiian culture, bloodline was everything. His mother, Kekuiapoiwa II, was an important chiefess of the Kohala district, and he had two fathers—a condition known as po'olua (two heads). In this polyamorous culture, paternity could be shared among a woman's husband and lovers, and of these two Kahekili was king of Maui, and Keoua (who had placed his ancestors' bones in the caves above the bay) was the grandson of the last chief to nearly unite the island of Hawai'i. Kamehameha himself preferred to claim Keoua as his father, and after his rise to power he made it treason—and death—to question it, perhaps reason enough to suspect Kahekili. Keoua's father and uncle were defeated in battle by an insurgent chief named Alapa'i, who took the surviving orphans into his own clan. Pai'ea, therefore, was born into the extended family of the king, but because of his lineage and the dangerous prophecy, Alapa'i placed the baby under a death sentence.

The danger was real, for infanticide was accepted, though not common among the chiefs. Most often it was imposed on babies produced by a chiefess but gotten of a father too low in rank for the elders to accept as her mate. This was a different case, as it concerned not just social disapproval but a prophesied overthrow of the king. Kekuiapoiwa could not openly defy Alapa'i, but the women of Hawai'i were renowned for their shrewdness. She determined to save her baby by resorting to the custom of hanai adoption. Hawaiian ali'i almost never raised their own children; families of high rank strengthened their ties by each handing over newborns to be raised by relatives, and accepting others' babies in return. The practice may have been a holdover from still more warlike days, when hostages were traded to ensure a peace; certainly it provided security for the children of a war-riven country to have two sets of parents, and in this instance it saved the infant Pai'ea's life. His mother sent him out for hanai to another noble family beyond the reach of Alapa'i's assassins. Five years later the king withdrew the condemnation and sent for the child to be raised in the royal court. Already a suspicious loner, the boy was renamed Kamehameha, and as such he spent his youth, training as a warrior in traditional weapons and tactics.

In the arts of war he had a tutor, Kekuhaupi'o, under whom he mastered the traditional weapons of the islands: the bloodcurdling twelve-foot spears, and the ability to dodge one, snatch it from midair, and launch it back toward the enemy; the war clubs studded with sharks' teeth, and the pahoa, the double-bladed dagger that could stab both left and right. His agility he honed by rolling through the town balanced on a rounded lava boulder (still preserved in a local museum), an astonishing feat for a man of his height.

When old Alapa'i died about 1754, the island of Hawai'i was thrown into civil war. In this culture all land belonged to the king. The high chiefs held their domains as his vassals, and under them the chiefs (and chiefesses, for in this society genealogy trumped gender and women could be very powerful) held their parcels of land, called an ahupua'a. This was usually a wedge of an island from highest peak to shore. Whether by accident or design, this form of landholding allowed most of the chiefs to be largely self-sufficient, for the average ahupua'a contained all the productive topographies of an island, from tidal fishponds and irrigated taro fields to upland crops and forest. Commoners were not tied to the land like European serfs, but that was virtually the only distinction between their status and that of the peasants of medieval Europe. Whichever chief's ahupua'a they lived on, they were allowed to keep only perhaps a third of all that they produced—fish, taro, fruit, tapa cloth. The other two-thirds they handed up the hierarchy, to the chief, the high chief, the king, and the kahunas who placated the gods. In addition, kanakas had to hold themselves in readiness to serve as the chief's warriors when he called for them. It was all very feudal, a system that Norman barons would have recognized, except in one important respect: There was no expectation that a chief's land tenure would survive the king. Once a king died, his successor held the right to redistribute all the land as he pleased. When there were rivals for the throne, as there almost always were, chiefs and high chiefs curried favor and struck alliances with contenders who would bestow the most favorable lands on them. Thus, more often than not a king's death occasioned a bloodletting free-for-all.

Kalaniopu'u whom Cook greeted was Alapa'i's great-nephew, and had not been in the line of succession but became king by conquest. Kamehameha was too young to have taken part in this war, but as he matured into the fearsome warrior he was acknowledged to be by the time of Cook's arrival, he would have been indispensable in quelling later rebellions against Kalaniopu'u's rule. Nor were the circumstances of Kamehameha's fortuitous birth forgotten, and he was installed third in importance after the king and his son Kiwala'o. But second in line was not as good as inheriting the kingdom. Kalaniopu'u was old, Kamehameha was ambitious, and once the kingship was vacant he would have to fight his cousin to establish his own rule.

* * *

Now aboard Cook's ship, as the others traded and visited, Kamehameha could not conceal his wonder at the ship's weapons. Their superiority over native spears and war clubs was stupefying. Iron to the Hawaiians was almost a legendary substance. They knew that it existed, for they had acquired small pieces of it—strong, malleable, extremely useful—from the drift of shipwrecks and, it seems likely a few times over the centuries, storm-driven Japanese fishing vessels whose survivors became assimilated into the population. But before Cook's arrival they had no dependable source of it. And here on this white men's ship were huge weapons—cannons—made of iron, which seemingly weighed as much as the Naha Stone. The chief who could gain possession of such weapons, and master them, could conquer the entire island. The British did not need to know of Kamehameha's birth prophecy, because his covetous rapture over their big guns shouted his ambition all too loudly.

The islanders' avidity for iron, and their desire to know how to work it, was such that Cook had the Resolution 's forge brought on deck, and the blacksmith fashioned implements before the astonished natives' eyes. Cook also observed a telling aspect of the culture: The chiefs wanted the iron for themselves: "If a common man received anything, the chief would take it. If it was concealed and discovered the man was killed." When Cook requested a place on land to establish a camp to note down astronomical data, the chiefs, believing him to be Lono, were quick to offer him the Hikiau heiau on the south shore, since the temple was dedicated to him anyway. Cook established the scientific station there with a guard of marines; the chiefs laid a kapu against women approaching the sacred ground, but the sailors and the marine guard had no disposition to turn away the women eager to offer pleasure to these exotic men. The chiefs withdrew the kapu to save face, but were displeased that Lono's retainers would defile their own temple. "It was the beginning," wrote Ledyard, "of our subsequent misfortunes, and acknowledged to be so afterwards when it was too late to revert the consequences."

Another disquieting incident occurred when William Watman, one of the Resolution's gunners, suffered a stroke, requested to be buried ashore, and died. The natives had not suspected that one of the god's attendants could die, albeit he was not the god himself. They accorded him a mighty funeral within the limits of the Hikiau heiau, heaping the grave with flowers and sacrificed pigs. But their awe of the English began to disintegrate. Soon after, William Bligh instructed about fifty Hawaiians to haul Resolution 's rudder, which had been taken on land for repair, back to the shore. Their response to being ordered about was typically Hawaiian. As Ledyard noted, they took up the rope, "and pretended to pull and labor very hard, though at the same time they were in fact doing all they could to retard the business, to ridicule and make their pastime." Bligh, as he later became famous for doing, responded by beginning to beat them, but was stopped by a chief; Bligh demanded that the chief make his people help. The chief then joined his people, who "laughed at him, hooted him, and hove stones." Ledyard sought permission to arm his detail and ran to assist Bligh, but it was the English sailors who eventually hauled the rudder back to the Resolution; the kanakas had had enough of them.

After a stay of eighteen days, Cook sailed the ships away to find a better anchorage on Maui; happy to be rid of him but still thinking that he might be a god, the Hawaiians sent him off with ceremonies fit for the divine. But then on February 4 gale-force winds cracked the Resolution 's foremast. In deciding where to put in to repair, Cook made a fatal error. Had he visited the new island he could have enjoyed the ecstatic welcome all over; but despite his misgivings he chose to return to Kealakekua Bay, where he knew the terrain and believed he had a friendship with the people. He arrived there on February 10 after a hard sail in adverse conditions.

Makahiki had ended, however. The food stores were exhausted and working life had resumed. Not only was Cook's reappearance unexpected, in the native mind no god would return with a broken mast. The kahunas of Lono's Hikiau heiau continued to treat the British with deference, laying kapu against disturbing the white men who were repairing the mast. But the chiefs' and their people's respect crumbled with continued familiarity. Thefts of iron implements from the ships became more common; watering parties sent ashore began to be stoned and driven away.


Excerpted from Captive Paradise by James L. Haley. Copyright © 2014 James L. Haley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
The Kings and Queens of Hawai'i,
Missionaries to the Sandwich Islands (Owhyhee),
Antecedent: Captain Cook,
1. The Loneliness of a God,
2. "Disobey, and Die",
3. The Suicide of Kapu,
4. Abhorring a Vacuum,
5. The New Morality,
6. Becoming Little Americans,
7. A Sweet Taste,
8. Captains and Cannons,
9. A Nation Among Nations,
10. The Great Mahele,
11. The Anglican Attraction,
12. Useful Marriages,
13. Mountains of Sugar,
14. Taffy Triumphant,
15. A Voice Like Distant Thunder,
16. Queen at Last,
17. The Coup,
18. The Inscrutable Mr. Blount,
19. Countercoup and Annexation,
20. Angry Lu'aus,
Also by James L. Haley,
About the Author,

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Captive Paradise: A History of Hawaii 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing and detailed account of the land of my childhood. I actually read this before returning to Hawaii for our 25th wedding anniversary, during which we visited some of the outer islands, and it made the historical significance of every place we went more vivid and in focus. Made me love Hawaii and the people all the more.