Thursday, October 07, 2010

Cooking the history books

We all know that Captain Cook discovered Australia, after all if he didn't how would the Aborigines have know that's where they lived? One little detail that they neglected to teach me at school though were some of the facts around his death.

I remember very clearly my teacher saying that this learned explorer was attacked and killed by vicious savages armed with spears. Nasty. Didn't they know he was famous and civilised? What I hadn't realised until this week is that Cook had basically brought his demise upon himself.

The Hawaiians had initially greeted Cook and his men as welcome guests, possibly even gods depending on who you listen to. However when one of Cook's small boats was taken for a joy paddle by locals he became so angry he decided the best course of action was to kidnap the King, as you do. This was a cheery chap named Kalanimanokahoowaha, who should not be confused with any of the other notable Kalanimanokahoowaha's littering our history books.

During the attempted kidnapping Cook took a spear in the back and expired. There's a great deal of literature about how he may have come at the wrong season or got mixed up in the local religion which meant the natives were unduly restless but it seems to me that there is a far more logical explanation.

The Hawaiians had a very different understanding of ownership resulting in the theft, but had a very European reaction to the idea that strangers can rock up out of nowhere and start kidnapping royalty. I'm not sure the seasons or their innate savagery had much to do with it.

Try kidnapping Obama because some unknown American has pinched your wallet and see what happens.

Far from being the savage and cruel buggers my school history teacher had made them out to be it seems to me it was Cook who behaved like a murderous, thieving law unto himself and he was on the receiving end of a perfectly understandable use of lethal force for his troubles.

The whole story speaks far more to the violence and obsession with material goods of European society than it does to any particularly barbarous character of the Hawaiian peoples. No wonder they had to rewrite history.


Salman said...

Does that mean you believe in the death penalty for kidnapping, Jim?

Jim Jepps said...

It means if you try and kidnap someone at gun point their friends have the right to use force to stop you doing that - even up to the point of killing you.

The law in UK says you can use reasonable force against intruders and sometimes that will include lethal force - I'm down with that.

I'm not alright with the state, at a time when the heat of the moment has long passed, dishing out death as a cold blooded punishment to set an example. That's wrong.

Strategist said...

Cook was the greatest mariner this country has ever produced, and his treatment of the native peoples he came across was pretty good by the standards of the age.

But by the time of the third voyage he had gone nuts, or to say the least, gone very grouchy, and he was making a lot of mistakes - even Bligh (the later Captain Bligh) thought he had lost it.

"Murderous thieving law unto himself" is too harsh. Kidnapping the King would have been a simple diplomatic tactic to get the boat back, and murder wouldn't have been on the agenda.

Jim Jepps said...

I was quite shocked by this comment strategist. Cook was of a piece with the other robbers and pirates of the age. I genuinely don't think his treatment of natives was pretty good seeing as he seemed to make a habit of shooting them and kidnapping their leaders if they offended him.

Describing kidnapping as a 'simple diplomatic tactic' is, I think, to drastically downplay the violence and racism inherent in such behaviour.

Cook certainly did end up having people killed, but regardless of his intentions on the day the Hawaiians were perfectly within their rights to kill Cook to defend themselves against this outrageous attack.

Anonymous said...

been to Hawaii lately?

thought not

the crime rate is 27% higher than the national average (itself pretty high)

don't you just love those peaceful, honest Hawaiians...?

Jim Jepps said...

Anon. we should kidnap their king then. That will sort out the crime rate.

Of course it might be true that Hawaii is a little different today than it was two hundred years ago and rather more influenced by European culture than the indigenous ones, in which case the crime rate ma well be something Europe is responsible for... perhaps we should bomb it.