Kanekapolei was not the highest ranking wife of Hawaii’s Ali’i Nui (ruling King) Kalaniʻōpuʻu-a-Kaiamamao. King Kalaniopu’u’s other wife Kalola Pupuka bore him his heir-son Kiwala’o who would later become the king. Even sister Queen Kalola, with her stronger bloodline (Kalola was the daughter of King Kekaulike, and the full blood sister of King Kamehamehanui) in the family, it was fully understood by the island and it’s inhabitants that Kanekapolei and not Kalola was King Kalaniopu’u’s favorite wife. Had Kanekapolei known and celebrated Valentine’s day like people celebrate it today, in 1779 she might have risen that morning to present Kalaniopu’u with a food offering or an Ahu’ula as a present but this was just February 14th not “Valentine’s Day” on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Kanekapolei rose that morning as a Queen of royal family and set out to the beach with the rest of the Hawaiian’s nearby.
The island had been thrown into chaos with the arrival days earlier of the ha’ole men and their giant boat anchored off in Kealakekua Bay. The haole Ali’i (King) Kapena Kuke (Captain Cook) was revered by some Hawaiians as a demi-god and held with a suspicious regard by others. He had already landed and met Hawaiians a year earlier on the island of Kaua’i. The stories that resulted from that visit ranged from Kapena Kuka being a god to the haole’s simply being mysterious and having near magical possessions like guns and mirrors. This morning had a weird feeling to Kanekapolei and as she made her way to Kalaniopu’u’s hale she immediately identified the source of her unease.
The ha’ole Ali’i “Kapena Kuke” was leading a procession of men from Kalaniopu’u’s hale towards the beach. Kanekapolei could sense that something was amiss and asked repeatedly “ma hea ‘oe e hele mai nei?” (where are you going?) to the group of men in general, but to her King most of all, as she walked up on them. Kalaniopu’u did not answer but he did not seem at ease as an Ali’i would be. It was known to the King that his Hawaiian people coveted nails and had observed that Kuke’s cutter boat was constructed with these precious nails. Nails made fantastic fish hooks. A small group of Hawaiians had stolen the cutter. Some believe that this theft was in response to Kuke having his men steal the wood that bordered the sacred Morai burial grounds. Kuke offered two hatchets for the sacred wood but the Hawaiians refused. Kuke then took the wood by force. Regardless of the reason, at this point a cutter had been stolen and the haoles intended to hold King Kalaniopu’u on the HMS Resolution in the bay until it is returned.
Certain that something was wrong now Kanekapolei demanded “Mea e hanaia’anei’i?!” (What is happening?) and still no answer from her Ali’i and gruff unintelligible answers from the ha’oles who began picking up speed. Unsure at this point but certain that the King was in danger and should not be leaving the village Kanekapolei began shouting to the village that something was wrong. Spotting two of the village’s lesser chiefs, Nua’a and Kana’ina she yelled to them and others on the beach for support. “Ka mea i kou alii’ahue!!” (They are kidnapping your King!”.
Mele chants from an elderly Kahuna adds to the rising decibel level on the beach. Hundreds of Hawaiians are now on the beach and the energy is tangible. King Kalaniopu’u’s two sons had joined the walk towards the water believing that they were being invited to go on board the haole’s longboat again. Kanekapolei’s words have now convinced them otherwise. They listen and stop getting in the boats at the shoreline. The King now realizes that he is not being asked to attend a meeting or to go on board for some formality, he is being forced on to the boat. Kalaniopu immediately sits down in the sand. Kuka and the haoles demand he rise and continue to board the rowboats to take him to the HMS Resolution anchored offshore in Kealakekua Bay.
With the progress towards the water finally stopped Kapena Kuke and his entourage look up the beach to see nearly a thousand Hawaiians now coming to understand the event. Kanekapolei has done her job at this point and the abduction of Ali’i Kalaniopu’u is stopped.
Chaos ensues as Kuke tries in vain to calm the situation. (from wikipedia) “When Cook and his men looked away from the old kahuna, they saw that the beach was now filled with thousands of Native Hawaiians. Cook yelled at Kalaniʻōpuʻu to get up but the ruler refused. As the townspeople began to gather around them, Cook and his men began to back away from the crowd and raise their guns. The two chiefs and Kānekapōlei shielded the aliʻi nui as Cook tried to force him to his feet. Kanaʻina approached Cook, who reacted by striking the chief with the broad side of his sword. Kanaʻina instantly grabbed Cook and lifted the man. Some accounts state that Kanaʻina did not intend to hit Cook while other descriptions say the chief struck the navigator across the head with his leiomano.
Either way, Kanaʻina released Cook, who fell to the sand. As Cook tried to get up, the attendant, Nuaa fatally stabbed him with a metal dagger, ironically traded from Cook’s ship during the same visit. According to John Ledyard, Cook fired the first shot in the skirmish and therefore was responsible for the circumstances that led to his death. Ledyard describes the escalation in his journal: “Cook attended to what this man said, and desired him to show him the Hawaiian that had dared to attempt combat with him, and as soon as he was pointed out, Cook fired at him with a blank. The Hawaiian perceiving he received no damage from the fire rushed from without the crowd a second time, and threatened anyone who should oppose him. Cook perceiving this fired a ball, which entering the Hawaiian’s groin he fell and was drawn off by the rest. Cook perceiving the people determined to oppose his designs, and that he should not succeed without further bloodshed ordered the lieutenant of marines (Mr. Phillips) to withdraw his men and get them into the boats… …the instant they began to retreat, Cook was hit with a stone and perceiving the man who hove, shot him dead: the officers in the boats perceiving the guard retreating and hearing this third discharge ordered the boats to fire… …Cook having at length reached the margin of the water between the fire of the boats waved with his hat to cease firing and come in, and while he was doing this a chief from behind stabbed him with one of our iron daggers just under the shoulder blade, and passed quite through the body. Cook fell with his face in the water and immediately expired.” – end wiki quote
January 18th marks the 239th anniversary of Captain Cook making contact with native Hawaiians on the island of Kaua’i. February 14th will also mark a 239th anniversary but it will be the anniversary of Captain Cook’s death.
Captain Cook brought many things with him. Syphilis and venereal disease decimated the Hawaiian population. Over the years, many other infectious diseases and illnesses such as measles, chicken pox, polio and tuberculosis killed hundreds of thousands of Hawaiians. There were between 600 and 700 THOUSAND native Hawaiians when Cook set foot on Kaua’i. The above illnesses nearly left the Hawaiians extinct as the population dipped to less than 25,000 at it’s lowest point.
Cook also brought innovation, technology and maybe the biggest impactor of all for our Pacific Islanders, religion. Christianity rode ashore with Cook that fateful afternoon and eventually led the spiritual shaping of well over a million Pacific Islanders.
There was a thriving well adjusted spiritually sound culture in the Pacific. It was created, maintained and held dear pre-Captain Cook. There is a thriving, well adjusted spiritually sound culture in the Pacific today. It has been created, maintained and held dear post-Captain Cook. January 18th 1778 is a date in Pacific Islander history. The Pacific Islander history is long, storied and steeped in tradition. Nothing changed when Cook found the town that is now Waimea in Kaua’i. The Pacific Island people, culture and way of life has changed but we are no less proud, resourceful or spiritual than we were before he rowed ashore to that Hawaiian beach in Kaua’i 239 years ago.