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EMPIRE and OCEANIA (2 of 6)

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Hawaii, War and Unity, to 1795

In January 1778, Captain Cook and his two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, were sailing from Tahiti toward the American northwest, and they came upon the Hawaiian Islands during an islander religious festival. The islanders associated Cook with the festival deity. Cook and his men traded with the islanders for fresh meat and filled their water casks. Cook named the islands after the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. Two weeks after arriving, Cook departed with gifts of food, firewood and sacred objects. Cook sailed toward what today is called Vancouver Island.

Cook was looking for a passage to the Atlantic Ocean. In the Arctic Ocean he was blocked by ice, and he began his journey back to England by crossing the Pacific and then the Indian Ocean. He stopped again at the Hawaiian Islands, hoping to do repairs there. This was in November, 1778. He stayed into February, and at the biggest of the islands, Hawaii, one of his small boats was stolen. A crewman eager with his gun shot one of the islanders, inflaming islander passions. Cook went ashore with some men to get the boat back. They failed to defend themselves adequately, and islanders killed Cook and four marines and dragged their bodies away – perhaps for a ritual meal.

King Kamehameha

King Kamehameha the First

Cook's ships returned to England, and word went out that the people of the Sandwich Islands were cruel and fierce savages. No ships appeared in the Hawaiian islands for seven years, while some Hawaiians were dying from disease that had come with contact with the British. Then, in 1786, ships began stopping off in the Hawaiian Islands at a rate of about one per year to trade for provisions and to take on fresh water.

Wars and Unification

Bloody wars existed in the islands in the early 1700s, to be described as one of the bloodiest periods of Hawaii's history. One of the warring kings was Alapa'i on the "Big Island" – Hawaii. He had usurped rule and was considered responsible for the death of High Chief Keoua Nui. Alapa'i had died in 1754 and was succeeded by his son, who was overthrown by a usurper, Kalani'opu'u (king on Hawaii while Cook was there). Kamehameha was his cousin and aide, and Kamehameha gained control over the entire island of Hawaii in 1791.

Meanwhile, European beachcombers had begun to appear on various islands in the Pacific including the Hawaiian Islands. Some were the victims of shipwrecks, or they were men who had escaped from a ship's captain or for some reason wished to change ships. Two Englishmen who had washed up on shore in the Hawaiian Islands, Isaac Davis and John Young, learned the Hawaiian language well enough to serve as translators for Kamehameha. Kamehameha won control over Lanai and Molokai. With Davis and Young and weapons acquired from the Europeans, and European battle tactics, Kamehameha's winning ways continued. And he had a reputation for having the favor of the god of war, Ku.

With a huge fleet of Hawaiian boats, in 1795 he invaded Oahu, coming ashore on the beach at Waikiki. He fought his way across the plain that is today Honolulu. He drove the opposing army up the Nu'uana valley. Both armies were using guns as well as traditional weapons, and both sides had a few Europeans in their ranks. Kamehameha's army had tight formations and troops with long lances, and it drove the opposing army over the thousand-foot cliff of Pali. Kamehameha had unified the greater part of the Hawaiian islands, with the island of Kauai remaining hostile and independent.

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