H is for Hawaii… Some friends are beginning a vacation there. Have a swell time Tristan, Lauren, and Stevie! Remember: “Be kind or be lunch”
This is a column from 2002, slightly edited.
Heard on a radio interview: "He'd been under a lot of pressure. He might have been suffering mental strain and maybe even mental disease. The ships kept breaking. It seems likely he was harsh and exploitative of the native people.
"The locals were fed up with his arrogant ways. When he kidnapped their king as a ransom to get back a small boat they'd taken from him, they clubbed and stabbed him to death. Then they cut off his hand to send to the other English seamen as proof they'd killed him. After that they hauled his body up a mountain to the edge of a live volcano, dug a pit, buried his corpse, let him steam-cook three days. After that they unburied him and, well, they ate him."
The man? Captain James Cook.
Captain Cook, one of the most illustrious seafaring explorers in history, lived from 1728 to 1779. He charted much of the coast of Newfoundland. He mapped the St. Lawrence River so well that large British warships could navigate it safely, thus allowing them to "take" Quebec from the French in 1759. This, of course, profoundly influenced the boundaries and cultures of the entire northeast section of the North American continent. It's why I can't speak French, and statistically speaking, chances are you can't either.
Cook was born poor in rural England. It was almost unheard of at that time for a person who owned no land and had no social standing or education to rise to the position of captain of any ship, let alone commander of three of the largest expeditions of his era. Imagine a child born into utter poverty that somehow ends up as both astronaut and director of NASA. What Cook did was harder than that.
He started at 18 as a menial worker on colliers, which were coal-carrying ships off the British coast. By the time he was in his early 30's he had joined the Royal Navy and was charting Canadian waters. Some of his maps were still in use in the 1920's.
About 1765 Britain was looking for someone to captain an expedition to the South Pacific to observe the planet Venus crossing the sun; this would help scientists calculate how far the sun is from earth. The politics of this plum assignment were so juicy it was decided to pick an unknown seaman, so they picked the competent and unknown Captain James Cook.
Cook would lead this three-year sailing adventure (1768-1771) plus two more. He kept legendary diaries that detail the world opening up to Europeans.
He invented a method to calculate longitude. Sailors had long known how to plot how far north or south they were, i.e. “latitude”, by plotting their position against the North Star. Cook figured out Longitude; how to use the sun and a chronometer, which was a clock with precisely counterbalanced gears, to determine how far east or west they were. This revolutionized sailing the wide uncharted oceans, allowing global exploration and travel.
It was common in that era for many sailors to die; often more than half the crew would perish from scurvy. Cook was ruthless in his demand that sailors wash daily, air out their hammocks, and eat foods containing the vitamin C that would prevent scurvy. The two transportable foods he ordered men to eat were either "portable soup," (I think it was an unrefrigerated vegetable broth) or sauerkraut. He would flog his men to force them to eat sauerkraut. That's the only way I'd eat it, too.
One of his protégés was William Bligh of "Mutiny on the Bounty" fame. Cook was a bully at sea who was rarely liked. He did gain renown and respect for bringing his men back home.
Cook captained two more expeditions to discover the "Southern Continent" and the "Northwest Passage." While searching for these regions that didn't exist, he DID bump into much of Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Go ahead; look at a map of the world. Be impressed by how many places have "Cook" in them. Remember that these places were first sighted from a 100' X 35' wooden ship jam-packed with 100 men, crates of scientific instruments and specimens, and sauerkraut. Cook sailed his ships for months at a time through the ice packs around Antarctica, yet never sustained serious damage to his vessels. What an amazing seafaring man.
When he arrived in Hawaii, December 1779, the locals welcomed and provisioned Cook and his men. After a few weeks the ships left to resume searching for the Northwest Passage. Six days later they encountered a typhoon at sea that seriously damaged their ships so they returned to Hawaii.
What Cook didn't realize or take into account was how deeply he had disrespected Hawaiian society, religion, and culture. The local people were fed up with his imperious exploitation of their welcome. So ... they assassinated and cooked him, February of 1779.
His infamy lives on in Peter Pan as Captain Cook was the inspiration for Captain Hook. Now you know why Captain Hook’s hand is missing. The Hawaiians had sent it to the English.
Be humane -- or be lunch.