The killing of a god


James Cook was the most famous sea captain of the 18th century. In 1776 he set off for the Pacific Ocean to find a way round Canada into the Atlantic. On his way north from Tahiti, Cook discovered the Hawaiian islands. First he made maps of the islands, then he found a good bay and stayed for five weeks. Now, on February 4th 1779, his ships were leaving the island again ...


The old sailor blew smoke into the warm air. "Funny thing about the natives and the Captain," he said. "They really think he's a god." "Yes," said his young friend, "he's lucky. Everything is so beautiful here - the birds, the trees, the flowers, the girls, ... and a whole pig costs just one nail - it's paradise!" The old man thought for a moment. Today the natives were especially friendly. But they had often stolen things; they had even taken some nails from the bottom of the boats, under water. And the Captain didn't want to be a god. "Paradise?" said the old man. "I'm not so sure."


On the beach the Hawaiian King shook his head. He respected Cook, but he was happier now that the ships were sailing away. Twice he had given them food, pigs, fruits and vegetables, and presents. The sailors had given them knives, nails and mirrors - useful, but not things you could eat. They had hardly a pig left, it was good that the white gods - or men - were going.


The priests said that these strange white men were the gods of an old legend. The great boats had arrived at the time of Orono's feast, sailed round the island, then stopped at Orono's temple - just as in the legend. When "Orono" came onto the beach they went down on their knees in front of him. Sometimes smoke came out of the mouths of other white gods - they must be the gods of the volcanoes. But after a time the people said, "These gods can cut themselves. Their blood is red like ours. We have given them all our food, but what do they give us? - a few nails. Why don't they go back to their own land and leave us alone?" The gods had stayed too long.


A few days later a bad storm broke off Cook's masts. He decided to sail back to the island to repair them.


Suddenly the Hawaiians did not treat Cook like a god any more. A second visit wasn't in the legend. One pig now cost five knives.


Early the next morning the sailors saw that the natives had taken their largest boat. Cook was very angry, so he decided to go and see the King. He wanted to take the King and his sons back to his ship and keep them there until the natives gave the boat back. Cook and his men needed the boat to get food, perhaps even as a lifeboat.


Cook walked through a crowd on the beach to the King's house with nine soldiers. They heard a gun in the bay. The King was friendly and came out of his house with Cook. Just at that moment a man brought the news that sailors had killed some natives. The news spread through the crowd like wildfire. Why could these white men kill their people with their iron sticks? The women pulled the King back, they shouted that he mustn't go onto the ship. Cook walked slowly through the crowd to the beach. It was only forty steps to the boats. The natives started to throw stones, so the soldiers on the beach all fired their guns, but the natives didn't stop. The soldiers turned and ran for their lives now, but not all of them got away. Natives killed four of them with knives and stones. The beach was red with blood.


Then the sailors in the boats also shot at the crowd. Cook turned to them - but at that moment a native hit him from behind. Another native pushed a knife into Cook's back. Then a whole crowd jumped on him, angry with this man who wasn't a god. They pulled his body up the beach, cut it into pieces and gave the pieces to the most important families. The sailors quickly rowed back to the ships. Suddenly, everything was very quiet.


Later, Cook's men used the ships' big guns, burned the village and killed about 200 more natives. The King then collected Cook's bones and brought them back. The sailors buried them at sea, then sailed away as quickly as they could.