History Lesson

This is was posted via the Cyberpope [gapope@vcn.bc.ca] and via the groaners listserv.

I remember well the spring of 1778. I had just received my degree from Oxford and was ready to take my place as a partner in my father’s shipping and trading company. Father had made his fortune trading along the St. Lawrence Seaway and the new colony of Newfoundland.

I had joined Father for less than a week, when he had a visit from his old friend, James Cook. Cook, who had been instrumental in starting our family business, had just returned from a voyage to the South Pacific where he had discovered a new group of islands that he claimed for England and named after the first lord of the British Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich, in honor of the Earl’s contribution to sea faring in discovering a new way to feed the sailors without their having to leave their posts by serving their meals between two slices of bread.

Cook told us the he had landed at the southernmost and largest of the Sandwich Islands where a peaceful tribe of natives who called themselves Hawaiians had treated him like royalty. In fact, his sailors stated that the natives thought James Cook was God. In spite of their reverence for Cook, he could not interest them in trade as they were set in their primitive ways and interested in the gifts Cook had brought.

However, they spoke of the tribe of Waikikians on an island to the north who had mastered sailing and traded frequently with remote islands to the west. Cook was certain that we could duplicate our success in Newfoundland by expanding to Waikiki.

Father agreed to accompany Cook on his next trip to the Sandwich Islands provided I could accompany them so that I could learn first hand how to develop business in virgin territories. Thus, it came about that my first ocean voyage was around the Cape of Good Horn and to the tropical splendors of the Sandwiches.

The voyage was very rough having to go through a severe cyclone around the Cape, and the seamen were very restless when we landed on the beach at Waikiki. Several left the ship shortly after landing and unfortunately drank too much and ended up ravishing several of the native women. A riot ensued and several natives and crew members were killed in the battle.

Now the Waikikians had a strong judicial tradition and held the leader responsible for the actions of his crew. So the ship was boarded by a group of Waikikian soldiers, James Cook was arrested and tried for rape and murder. He was convicted and was sentenced to die by boiling with his remains to be served to the families of the departed.

We were all required to be present while this inhumane punishment took place. I turned to my father and asked him how something like this could ever happen. I’ll never forget his answer. He turned to me and said, “Let this be a lesson to you, . . . one man’s meat is another man’s poi, son.

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