At four o’clock in the afternoon we were winding down a mountain of
dreary and desolate lava to the sea, and closing our pleasant land
journey. This lava is the accumulation of ages; one torrent of fire
after another has rolled down here in old times, and built up the island
structure higher and higher. Underneath, it is honey-combed with caves;
it would be of no use to dig wells in such a place; they would not hold
water–you would not find any for them to hold, for that matter.
Consequently, the planters depend upon cisterns.
The last lava flow occurred here so long ago that there are none now
living who witnessed it. In one place it enclosed and burned down a
grove of cocoa-nut trees, and the holes in the lava where the trunks
stood are still visible; their sides retain the impression of the bark;
the trees fell upon the burning river, and becoming partly submerged,
left in it the perfect counterpart of every knot and branch and leaf,
and even nut, for curiosity seekers of a long distant day to gaze upon
and wonder at.
There were doubtless plenty of Kanaka sentinels on guard hereabouts at
that time, but they did not leave casts of their figures in the lava as
the Roman sentinels at Herculaneum and Pompeii did. It is a pity it is
so, because such things are so interesting; but so it is. They probably
went away. They went away early, perhaps. However, they had their
merits; the Romans exhibited the higher pluck, but the Kanakas showed the
Shortly we came in sight of that spot whose history is so familiar to
every school-boy in the wide world–Kealakekua Bay–the place where
Captain Cook, the great circumnavigator, was killed by the natives,
nearly a hundred years ago. The setting sun was flaming upon it, a
Summer shower was falling, and it was spanned by two magnificent
rainbows. Two men who were in advance of us rode through one of these
and for a moment their garments shone with a more than regal splendor.
Why did not Captain Cook have taste enough to call his great discovery
the Rainbow Islands? These charming spectacles are present to you at
every turn; they are common in all the islands; they are visible every
day, and frequently at night also–not the silvery bow we see once in an
age in the States, by moonlight, but barred with all bright and beautiful
colors, like the children of the sun and rain. I saw one of them a few
nights ago. What the sailors call “raindogs”–little patches of rainbow
–are often seen drifting about the heavens in these latitudes, like
stained cathedral windows.
Kealakekua Bay is a little curve like the last kink of a snail-shell,
winding deep into the land, seemingly not more than a mile wide from
shore to shore. It is bounded on one side–where the murder was done–by
a little flat plain, on which stands a cocoanut grove and some ruined
houses; a steep wall of lava, a thousand feet high at the upper end and
three or four hundred at the lower, comes down from the mountain and
bounds the inner extremity of it. From this wall the place takes its
name, Kealakekua, which in the native tongue signifies “The Pathway of
the Gods.” They say, (and still believe, in spite of their liberal
education in Christianity), that the great god Lono, who used to live
upon the hillside, always traveled that causeway when urgent business
connected with heavenly affairs called him down to the seashore in a
As the red sun looked across the placid ocean through the tall, clean
stems of the cocoanut trees, like a blooming whiskey bloat through the
bars of a city prison, I went and stood in the edge of the water on the
flat rock pressed by Captain Cook’s feet when the blow was dealt which
took away his life, and tried to picture in my mind the doomed man
struggling in the midst of the multitude of exasperated savages–the men
in the ship crowding to the vessel’s side and gazing in anxious dismay
toward the shore–the–but I discovered that I could not do it.
It was growing dark, the rain began to fall, we could see that the
distant Boomerang was helplessly becalmed at sea, and so I adjourned to
the cheerless little box of a warehouse and sat down to smoke and think,
and wish the ship would make the land–for we had not eaten much for ten
hours and were viciously hungry.
Plain unvarnished history takes the romance out of Captain Cook’s
assassination, and renders a deliberate verdict of justifiable homicide.
Wherever he went among the islands, he was cordially received and
welcomed by the inhabitants, and his ships lavishly supplied with all
manner of food. He returned these kindnesses with insult and
ill-treatment. Perceiving that the people took him for the long vanished
and lamented god Lono, he encouraged them in the delusion for the sake of
the limitless power it gave him; but during the famous disturbance at
this spot, and while he and his comrades were surrounded by fifteen
thousand maddened savages, he received a hurt and betrayed his earthly
origin with a groan. It was his death-warrant. Instantly a shout went
up: “He groans!–he is not a god!” So they closed in upon him and
His flesh was stripped from the bones and burned (except nine pounds of
it which were sent on board the ships). The heart was hung up in a
native hut, where it was found and eaten by three children, who mistook
it for the heart of a dog. One of these children grew to be a very old
man, and died in Honolulu a few years ago. Some of Cook’s bones were
recovered and consigned to the deep by the officers of the ships.
Small blame should attach to the natives for the killing of Cook.
They treated him well. In return, he abused them. He and his men
inflicted bodily injury upon many of them at different times, and killed
at least three of them before they offered any proportionate retaliation.
Near the shore we found “Cook’s Monument”–only a cocoanut stump, four
feet high and about a foot in diameter at the butt. It had lava boulders
piled around its base to hold it up and keep it in its place, and it was
entirely sheathed over, from top to bottom, with rough, discolored sheets
of copper, such as ships’ bottoms are coppered with. Each sheet had a
rude inscription scratched upon it–with a nail, apparently–and in every
case the execution was wretched. Most of these merely recorded the
visits of British naval commanders to the spot, but one of them bore this
“Near this spot fell
CAPTAIN JAMES COOK,
The Distinguished Circumnavigator,
Who Discovered these Islands
A. D. 1778.”
After Cook’s murder, his second in command, on board the ship, opened
fire upon the swarms of natives on the beach, and one of his cannon balls
cut this cocoanut tree short off and left this monumental stump standing.
It looked sad and lonely enough to us, out there in the rainy twilight.
But there is no other monument to Captain Cook. True, up on the mountain
side we had passed by a large inclosure like an ample hog-pen, built of
lava blocks, which marks the spot where Cook’s flesh was stripped from
his bones and burned; but this is not properly a monument since it was
erected by the natives themselves, and less to do honor to the
circumnavigator than for the sake of convenience in roasting him.
A thing like a guide-board was elevated above this pen on a tall pole,
and formerly there was an inscription upon it describing the memorable
occurrence that had there taken place; but the sun and the wind have long
ago so defaced it as to render it illegible.
Toward midnight a fine breeze sprang up and the schooner soon worked
herself into the bay and cast anchor. The boat came ashore for us, and
in a little while the clouds and the rain were all gone. The moon was
beaming tranquilly down on land and sea, and we two were stretched upon
the deck sleeping the refreshing sleep and dreaming the happy dreams that
are only vouchsafed to the weary and the innocent.