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America's History in the Making

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Ruling Chiefs of Hawai'i

Ruling Chiefs of Hawai'i
The chief sent some men on board to see what the wonderful thing was. Those who went were Kane-a-ka-ho'owaha, the kahuna Ku-'ohu, wearing a whaletooth ornament to show his rank, the chief Ki'ikiki', and some paddlers. When they drew near and saw how much iron there was along the side of the ship and on the rails they said excitedly to each other, "Oh, how much pahoa (dagger material) there is here!" for they called iron "pahoa" because that was what they used in the old days for their fighting daggers. One of them went on board and saw many men on the ship with white foreheads, sparkling eyes, wrinkled skins, and angular heads, who spoke a strange language and breathed fire from their mouths. The chief Ki'ikiki' and the kahuna Ku-'ohu, each clothed in a fine girdle of tapa cloth about the loins and a red tapa garment caught about the neck stepped forward with the left fist clenched and, advancing before Captain Cook, stepped back a pace and bowed as they murmured a prayerl then, seizing his hands, they knelt down and the tabu was freed. Captain Cook gave Ku-'ohu a knife, and it was after this incident that Ku-ohu named his daughter Changed-into-a-dagger (Ku-a-pahoa) and The-feather-that-went-about-the-ship (Ka-hulu-ka'a-moku). This was the first gift given by Captain Cook to any native of Hawai'i.

Samuel Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs of Hawai'i. (Translated by Mary Kawena Pukui, Thomas G. Thrum, Lahilahi Webb, Emma Davidson Taylor, and John Wise. (Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 1961), 91-93.

Creator Samuel Kamakau
Context Kamakau was an early Hawai'ian historian who recorded traditional oral accounts of the arrival of Captain Cook.
Audience Hawai'ians
Purpose To record the Hawai'ian perspective of the encounter with Cook

Historical Significance

Samuel Kamakau was born in 1815 and studied with and assisted Reverend Sheldon Dibble, a Protestant missionary who gathered oral histories of people who remembered Cook's 1778 visit. A Christian, principal, and civil servant, Kamakau began his long career of historical research and writing around 1840. Kamakau therefore had a complex cultural identity. He was both Hawai'ian and an educated Christian.


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