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.
James L. Haley's 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 for decades has there been such a vibrant and compelling portrait of an extraordinary place and its people.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
JAMES L. 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
1. 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;1 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.”2 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.3
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.4
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].”5 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.6 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.7 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.8 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.9
The danger was real, for infanticide was accepted, though not common among the chiefs.10 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.11 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.”12 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.”13 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.
Events climaxed on February 14 with the theft of Discovery’s cutter. The incident may have begun with a chief named Polea, aikane (young male lover) of the king, whom English sailors had knocked to the ground when he tried to prevent their taking his canoe. “He was angry,” according to native folklore, “and thought he would secretly take one of the ship’s boats, break it all to pieces for the iron in it, and also because he wanted revenge for the blow which knocked him down.”14 Cook was more tolerant of native behavior than most British or indeed other European officers, but stealing one of his ship’s tenders was an act that he must not allow. Going ashore with a lieutenant and nine marines, he intended to handle the situation the same way he had in Tahiti; he invited Kalaniopu‘u out to the Resolution, intending to hold the king hostage until the cutter was returned and the thieves punished. At first Kalaniopu‘u agreed and walked toward the shore, but Cook’s purpose was guessed, and in a growing cacophony the crowd prevailed on the king to listen to his retainers and not get into the waiting boat. Threats were made, weapons appeared. Cook was compelled to fire one of his double musket barrels, but the gun partially misfired and the ball struck a warrior’s body mat harmlessly. The crowd surged forward, but a musket volley from the marines drove them back, leaving several dead. As they were reloading and Cook’s three small boats stood in to rescue them, Cook killed another native with his second barrel.
One of the warriors lunged at Cook with a large stone dagger, but he evaded the thrust. He had noticed this type of weapon before, as he wrote in his diary: “They have a sort of weapon we had never seen before, and not mentioned by any navigator, as used by natives of the South Sea. It was somewhat like a dagger; in general, about a foot and a half long, sharpened at … both ends, and secured to the hand by a string. It is used for stabbing in a close fight; and it seems well adapted to the purpose.”
Cook was stabbed in the neck and was then overwhelmed, clubbed, and repeatedly stabbed facedown in the surf. Four of the marines also died before the rest of the party was plucked from the shore. The Hawaiians immediately thought better of the violent outburst, and they treated Captain Cook’s corpse with the same reverence as they did that of the highest ali‘i. They baked his body in an imu, or underground oven, but only to make the flesh easier to remove from the bones. They did not eat him, as some British sailors came erroneously to believe—although three children did come across Cook’s heart, which had been placed in a tree fork to dry, and believing it to be a pig’s heart helped themselves. Cook’s bones were washed and wrapped, for to the Hawaiians, the bones of a powerful man held enormous mana.
Kalaniopu‘u went into hiding in a cliff cave but sent out word that Cook’s remains would be returned. His nephew, the suspicious Kamehameha, too wary to return to the ships, showed his peaceful intentions by sending out an enormous pig as a gift, and the British returned word that his gesture was accepted. These attempts to salvage the situation were not followed by the people, who gesticulated, mooned, and threw stones at the English at every opportunity. Captain Clerke, now in command, adopted a policy of restraint, but when he first asked for the return of Cook’s body, he received a parcel that, when opened, contained to everyone’s horror only “a piece of human flesh from the hind parts.”
Seeing a man among the crowd on the shore waving Cook’s hat, Clerke opened up with his four-pounders, scattering the people with some casualties including, it was learned, an injury to Kamehameha, who learned firsthand the power of the weapons he had been coveting. But only after a village was sacked and burned were more of Cook’s remains handed over—skull, scalp, feet, long bones, and his hands (recognizable from the distinctive scars of old wounds)—which were given burial at sea. With Resolution’s foremast repaired, Clerke sailed out of Kealakekua Bay on the evening of February 22, 1779.15
* * *
Three years after the English departed, old Kalaniopu‘u died, and the Big Island was thrown into chaos once more. He had sought to avoid the traditional war over the succession—and its spoils—by naming his son Kiwala‘o as his heir. This he was bound to do, for Kiwala‘o bore the ni‘aupi‘o rank, the highest possible kapu, which he inherited from his mother.16 Kamehameha was the better fighter, and hoping to placate him the king entrusted him with custody of the war god, Kuka‘ilimoku, a responsibility almost as great as being king. He also made him high chief of Waipi‘o on the northeast coast, perhaps the most beautiful, historic, wealthy, and productive valley on the island. Far from placated, Kamehameha knew his time was approaching. He was the son of the king of Maui and grandson (through his other father) of the most powerful king of Hawai‘i before Kalaniopu‘u. With that lineage, and with his reputation as the island’s mightiest warrior, he would have no difficulty enlisting allies to unseat Kiwala‘o. Indeed, five powerful chiefs of the Kona district came to him first, including his father-in-law, three of his uncles, and Kekuhaupi‘o his mentor in warfare, to announce that if Kiwala‘o did not reapportion the lands to their advantage, they would align with Kamehameha in a war to overthrow him.17
The split began over a sacrifice before the old man was even dead. In the thousand years since this isolated archipelago was first settled by voyagers from the Marquesas Islands, and in the perhaps four hundred years since the Tahitian conquerors arrived and subjugated the original settlers, the religious system developed around two concepts: kapu and mana. The common people were kept under control by the regimen of kapu, a complex list of foods, lands, and practices that were forbidden to defined classes of people. Mana was the source of spiritual power for the chiefs, and mana was gained somewhat by descent but more by killing one’s enemies in battle, sacrificing them to the gods, and/or having possession of their mortal remains—hence their reluctance to hand over more than a token of the bones of such a powerful man as Captain Cook.
Even though Kamehameha had become keeper of the war god, it was the king’s prerogative to make sacrifices to him, so that the mana of the victims would flow to him. When Kamehameha himself sacrificed a rebellious ali‘i to Kuka‘ilimoku and took that mana for himself, it was a serious challenge to the power of Kiwala‘o. Six months after the death of Kalaniopu‘u a sharp, brief war erupted; the death of Kiwala‘o at the Battle of Moku‘ohai in July 1782 left Kamehameha supreme ruler of three of the Big Islands’ six districts: Kona along the west coast, Kohala at the northern end, and Hamakua, southeast of there. Emboldened to seize his dream to conquer the entire island, Kamehameha opened a campaign against the Hilo district in the east, but suffered a blistering defeat and was forced to withdraw.
Then followed a series of conflicts with Keoua Kuahu‘ula, the younger half brother of the deceased Kiwala‘o, who had escaped that fatal battle to his own district of Kau on the southern point of the island. The two fought repeatedly, depleting land and people, with no decisive victory. In 1785 Kamehameha returned to his own stronghold at Kailua, midway up the Kona coast, regrouped, and married a new wife, Ka‘ahumanu, the teenage daughter of a Maui ally. With her he shared both an intense devotion and bitter combat for the rest of his life. By now Kamehameha had also gained control of two districts on Maui, but those chiefs rebelled in 1786 and maintained their freedom against an army that he sent under one of his brothers. The destructive stalemates continued for some four years before fate—and America—handed him a breakthrough.
* * *
Even as it was an American—marine corporal John Ledyard—who viewed Captain Cook as having a different impact on Hawai‘i than the one memorialized by his officers, so it was an American who, albeit unwittingly, gave Kamehameha the means to transform himself from only a partially successful war chief, who was defeated as often as he was victorious, into the Conqueror.
Capt. Simon Metcalfe was a Yorkshireman by birth but American by long residence and disposition—deputy surveyor of New York and a supporter of the colonial Americans’ revolution. Imprisoned by the British for a time in Montreal, and his Vermont property lost during the war, he settled his wife and younger children in Albany, and went to sea as a trader. At fifty-two, in 1787, he acquired a brig called the Eleanora and entered the Pacific fur trade, installing his son Thomas Humphrey Metcalfe as captain of the small schooner Fair American to sail and trade in concert with him. Two years later the two ships were ensnared in the trading dispute between Britain and Spain known as the “Nootka Crisis,” and became separated; the Eleanora managed to escape Spanish capture but the Fair American was taken briefly to Mexico.
Father and son had, it is believed, agreed in case they were separated to rendezvous on the west coast of Hawai‘i. January of 1790 found Simon Metcalfe’s Eleonora off the Kohala coast on the northwest of the Big Island, where Metcalfe received a local chief aboard his vessel. The nature of the incident is lost, but the chief did something to offend the captain. Brittle, severe, authoritarian, and ignorant of the station of the ali‘i, Metcalfe had the chief flogged with a rope’s end. It was Metcalfe’s bad luck that the headman he abused was Kame‘eiamoku, a high chief and cousin of Kamehameha’s mother, and one of the first chiefs to rally to the Conqueror in his campaign to rule the entirety of the Big Island. He remained one of Kamehameha’s most trusted advisers. Mortally insulted, he vowed to avenge himself on the next foreign vessel he encountered.
Oblivious, Metcalfe then sailed the Eleanora across the strait to Maui to trade. There one of his crewmen disappeared, along with a small boat, and he made sufficient inquiry to learn that it was not a desertion, that islanders had stolen the boat and killed the man. As an American on a far frontier, Metcalfe behaved just like later Americans on the Western frontier, arrogating to himself the roles of judge, jury, and executioner, and he determined upon massive retaliation to teach the natives a lesson. Learning that those who stole his boat were from Olowalu, about four miles south of Maui’s main settlement of Lahaina, Metcalfe sailed there and indicated his eagerness to trade. No canoe, however, might approach his port side; all the transacting would be done to starboard. The Eleanora carried seven guns below the main deck, all of which were moved to the starboard side and loaded with small shrapnel. As the swarm of canoes gathered, the gunports were opened and a broadside fired into the canoes only a few feet away. At least one hundred Hawaiians were killed and countless more wounded.
The place where he massacred the natives, Olowalu, was a pu‘u honua, a “city of refuge.” In Hawaiian culture, common persons be they born ever so low, if they violated a kapu and if they reached a city of refuge before they could be apprehended and killed, could be ritually cleansed and returned to their lives without fear of further molestation. For Metcalfe to kill people there, aside from mass murder, was an unspeakable sacrilege.
Ignorant of the Olowalu massacre and unaware of the near presence of his father, whom he was searching for, Thomas Metcalfe in the Fair American called on the Kohala coast—the domain of Kame‘eiamoku. That chief and several men came aboard under the guise of trading; one account had the high chief himself presenting Metcalfe with a feather helmet. Metcalfe was in the act of setting it upon his head when Kame‘eiamoku seized him and pitched him overboard, his men doing the same with the remainder of the crew. As they floundered in the water, more warriors in canoes beat them to death with paddles. The lone survivor, a Welshman named Isaac Davis, was taken half dead into a canoe, and Kame‘eiamoku might have completed his vengeance on him, but for the intercession of another chief who cited Davis’s brave fighting and asked that he be spared. Davis, the Fair American, and its cannons were all presented to Kamehameha.
Sometime later Simon Metcalfe, unaware of the near presence of his schooner or death of his son, entered Kealakekua Bay to see what trading he might generate there. Aware that there were other foreigners residing in the west coast’s principal settlement, Metcalfe sent ashore his English boatswain, forty-eight-year-old John Young, to make contact. Kamehameha, fearful lest the new ship learn the fate of the recently captured schooner but not knowing of the relationship of the captains, detained Young ashore, and laid a kapu against any canoes going out to the Eleanora. He also, according to a native historian, leapt at the chance to dragoon these immensely capable foreigners into his service.18
Metcalfe waited, and then wrote a threatening letter to the foreign community ashore: “Sirs, As my Boatswain landed by your invitation if he is not returned to the Vessel consequences of an unpleasant nature must follow.… If your Word be the Law of Owhyhe as you have repeatedly told me there can be no difficulty in doing me justice in this Business, otherwise I am possessed of sufficient powers to take ample revenge which it is your duty to make the head Chief acquainted with.”19
The standoff continued for a few days before Metcalfe weighed anchor and sailed for China, leaving John Young behind. So far as is known, Metcalfe never learned of his son’s death or its circumstances, and he never returned to New York. (He was killed, ironically, four years later when Haida Indians in the Pacific Northwest boarded the Eleanora ostensibly to trade, suddenly realized their superior numbers, and massacred all the crew save one.) But it was Metcalfe’s visit to Hawai‘i that altered the course of those islands forever; it was his self-righteous bloodlust that handed John Young and Isaac Davis over to Kamehameha. That chief now had not only the cannons and muskets from the captured Fair American, he had two white sailors to teach his warriors how to use them. To Young and Davis he gave a choice: Serve him and be richly rewarded, or be put to death. The two Britons became close friends; they attempted an escape, once, and were thwarted, before accepting their fate. Both served Kamehameha ably and faithfully for many years, and were showered with land, power, and highborn wives.
* * *
In the eight years since Kalaniopu‘u died, word spread in the West of the existence of the islands, and other foreign ships began to arrive: the first traders in 1785, two British warships, King George and Queen Charlotte in 1786. In that same year the French explorer the Comte de Lapérouse, an admirer of Captain Cook, arrived with an expedition in the Boussole and the Astrolabe, before continuing on to disaster. The next year one of Kamehameha’s high chiefs, Ka‘iana, left for China aboard the Nootka and returned the next year from Oregon on the Iphigenia, the first Hawaiian to travel beyond his native shores.20 The Imperial Eagle brought the first (willing) white resident, John Mackay, in 1787. The next year the trading ships Prince of Wales and Princess Royal tarried for three months. In 1789 the first American trader, Capt. Robert Gray in the Columbia (the first American vessel to circumnavigate the earth), arrived to do business, the same year that a visiting Spanish captain recommended the islands’ seizure as a strategic outpost for that empire. Most of the American ships that called were in the fur trade, such as the brigantine Hope and the brig Hancock, which came in 1791. There were other fiercely independent chiefs in Hawai‘i, but Kamehameha, because his domain was the largest, and because of his fame and history with Captain Cook, was the most sought after. Always and ever he required one currency for his trade: weapons—cannons, muskets, powder, even ships. This condition was quickly seized upon by other traders, such as the American captain John Kendrick in the Lady Washington, with a whole cargo of guns and ammunition.
Kamehameha was quick to grasp the concept of money, and soon his storehouse contained a chest of coins, which was equally effective in trading for more armaments. And now he had Davis and Young to train his army, and they also had cannons mounted and lashed to large double-hulled canoes. Gaining in ambition, Kamehameha diverted his attention from the Big Island to trade invasions with Kahekili of Maui, who had watched his possible son grow in power. While Kamehameha failed to establish a permanent conquest of Maui at this time, he came away with a valuable possession. Thinking their cause lost and with Kahekili on the Big Island, the surviving royal family fled in canoes to Moloka‘i. There Kamehameha overtook them, strengthening his claims by marrying the highest-ranking girl in the islands, one whose kapu was almost equal to that of the gods themselves. Her name was Keopuolani, daughter of Kiwala‘o whom Kamehameha had sacrificed. The girl’s grandmother Kalola, exercising the Hawaiian woman’s wonted shrewdness, realized that the Conqueror after winning his battles would want to cement his rule by having children with the highest-ranking females he could acquire. Keopuolani was born so far above him that even he had to strip to the waist in her presence. But no one now could doubt his right to rule, or that of his children by her, who would also outrank him. She was still a girl of perhaps only twelve, and Kamehameha did not have sex with her for some years more, but she was a signal possession that ended any dispute over his lordship.
The year that Kalaniopu‘u died, Kahekili conquered O‘ahu and added that to his domain, building the House of Bones with the skeletons of O‘ahu ali‘i who had opposed him. Looking to his own defense, he also took to actively trading for Western weapons. He and Kamehameha fought to a stalemate: In a sea battle fought in the Maui Channel both the rival kings had cannons, but Kamehameha had Davis and Young to aim and fire his, and Kahekili’s fleet was decimated. But the king of Maui was more than a match on his own island, and the two withdrew to their own kingdoms to regroup and round up more warriors to pour into the fight.
If any natives doubted the new king’s mana, they were convinced in 1790, when Kamehameha attacked the district of Puna in the east to add it to his domain. While his back was turned the troublesome Keoua Kuahu‘ula invaded again. After conquering Puna, Kamehameha returned to suppress Keoua’s uprising. Aided with cannons and muskets from the Fair American (Keoua had also once captured firearms but was virtually helpless in how to use them) Kamehameha slowly gained the upper hand, and when Keoua retreated past Kilauea, that volcano erupted and about a third of his army perished in a cloud of poisonous gas.
This unexpected “miracle” was a sobering portent to victors as much as victims, and Kamehameha consulted with priests how to safeguard his power. He had always been devout in his observance of kapu, and always quick to testify that his success in war was attained by the gods’ favor. At the small heiau near his family compound in Halawa, “many people were burned on the adjoining hill for breaking the kapus.”21
Now the kahunas directed that he build a grand luakini heiau for sacrifices to the war god and dedicate all his victories to him. This Kamehameha did, at Kawaihae, on the coast some thirty-five miles north of Kona, at a place called Pu‘ukohola, the Hill of the Whale. He delegated the work to his popular brother, Keli‘imaika‘i, who organized a human chain of thousands to pass red lava rocks from the Pololu Valley, fourteen miles east of there. The gargantuan platform was completed in less than a year. Kawaihae had been old Alapa‘i’s capital; Kalaniopu‘u had located himself further north in Kohala, and now Kamehameha determined to anchor his own kingdom here. In mid-1791 he sent emissaries down to the disaffected Keoua Kuahu‘ula to come north, meet, and discuss their differences.
He was suspicious of Kamehameha’s motives, but with his own army sapped by years of battle and then the eruption of Kilauea, he accepted. Keoua arrived at Kawaihae in state befitting a high chief, with retainers in a great double-hulled canoe. From the harbor he could not miss seeing the colossal new heiau surmounting the Hill of the Whale, which was perhaps his first inkling that his end was at hand. Keoua gashed himself, thinking to make himself unacceptable as a sacrifice, but it did him no good, for mana resided in the bones that survived decomposition. Nor was it necessary that the victim be taken alive to the temple; the offering of a dead body was equally efficacious. At the last he hesitated, but was coaxed ashore. “Rise and come here,” Kamehameha greeted him, “that we may know each other.”22 Cut down as soon as he landed, Keoua was the first ali‘i whose body was laid on the altar of Kuka‘ilimoku, followed by those of his slaughtered retainers.
In good part American-armed, Kamehameha was now undisputed king of Hawai‘i Island, and he could stand in his birthplace of Kohala and gaze with confidence across the thirty-mile-wide channel at Maui.
Copyright © 2014 by James L. Haley
Table of Contents
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,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.