Monday, February 23, 2009

Captain Cook, R.I.P.

My Fun Fact last Thursday related to how I spent the previous week, in the footsteps of David Douglas, as part of a documentary film crew headed by my friend, Lois Leonard. I'll write more about our interview with Nanette Napoleon, Hawaiian cemetery historian, at the Kawaiahao Church in Honolulu, and our pilgrimage to Kaluakauka, "the Doctor's Pit," on the slopes of Mauna Kea, with Douglas enthusiast Jeff de Ponte.

After several days of filming sites relevant to the life of David Douglas, we had the luxury of a bit of down time before we had to pack up and leave Hawaii. Lois was determined to visit another historic site near and dear to her heart, Kealakekua Bay. On the Kona Coast, about 1000 feet down a sheer cliff from the tiny town of Captain Cook, it's where Captain James Cook, a Yorkshireman blessed with a keen sense of adventure and discovery, met his ignominious end.

Lois bravely wrestled with carsickness as our SUV danced down the winding road from the top of the cliff to the bay. Once there, and in the sight of the white marble obelisk that marks the site of Cook's death, Lois had robust color return to her cheeks. She is pictured here conferring with cinematographer Steve Patapoff. In the far distance the white obelisk is barely visible. It can be reached only by water, since the sheer cliff allows no room for hiking trails.

We saw many people launching kayaks into the bay, where spinner dolphins sometimes treat kayakers to a close-up show. Alas, we had no time to join the kayakers, though the prospect of negotiating the blue bay was tempting. We had to get our sound man to the Hilo Airport, and then Steve needed to film the hot lava dropping into the sea at Kalapana. So we had miles to go before we rested. No kayaking to Cook's death site for us.

After seeing where David Douglas died and then seeing where James Cook died, I concluded that those Brits did a darn good job of choosing beautiful places to be killed.

But in terms of Hawaiian history, Captain Cook's murder is more signficant. In fact, Captain Cook and the term "contact" are practically synonymous. Pre-contact Hawaii is considered any time before Captain Cook sailed in. He came to Hawaii twice, actually. The first visit was in January 1778, in Kaua'i. A year later, after searching in vain for the Northwest Passage in Alaskan waters, Cook sailed back to what he dubbed the Sandwich Islands, for the Earl of Sandwich, who sponsored Cook's voyages of discovery.

It was a complete accident of fate that Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay during the Makahiki festival in honor of the god Lono. A temple dedicated to Lono was also situated at the bay. And suddenly, there he was: Lono. Or so the Hawaiians thought. They prostrated themselves before him, bestowed gifts upon him, and were generally amazed that Lono would manifest himself before them. Never mind the British naval uniform. They bought it, brass buttons and all.

Cook would have lived to tell about his short stint as a god if it hadn't been for a rotten mast, which forced him back into the bay for repairs a couple of days after leaving his adoring fans. Second time around, the natives weren't so adoring, especially when Cook took a local chief ransom for the nails that the Hawaiians kept pulling out of the ship.

Nails . . . Chief. Okay, so maybe he over-reacted. And it cost him his life during the ensuing brouhaha.

I didn't realize until I started preparing my Fun Fact for hula class that we visited the site exactly 230 years after Cook's death. We stood on the beach enjoying the sunny beauty of the bay on February 14, 2009. Captain Cook departed this world on February 14, 1779. Wow.
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Sunday, February 8, 2009

I'm a bit late getting on board, but I'm doing my part to give the Oregon Food Bank a hand during these hard times. They've enlisted bloggers to encourage their readers to make donations to this worthy organization.

The shelves are too bare these days, especially considering the escalating need for support for hungry families.

This promotion will run through February. It's easy to help. Just click on the logo and you'll be directed to Oregon Food Bank's donation page. And if you don't mind, in the Tribute section, In Honor Of: could you please write "Blog for Food"? Just to keep track. Thanks.

I just looked at the logo closely and now I see that's a huge fountain pen. I thought it was a rocket. Thought that was an oddly warlike logo for a food bank. But now I get it. We bloggers, we wordsmiths, are pitching in to help. Won't you?


The Hämäkua Coast

My Fun Fact at last Thursday's hula class took the form of a geography lesson. A dance we learned recently accompanies the mele ma'i entitled "Ka Ua I Hämäkua," or The Rain at Hämäkua." The first line is about the rain at Hämäkua and the sea at Opae'ula. So I was curious myself and figured my hula sisters as well would like to know where these places are.

What we did know was that the place names figured in the life of Kamehameha the Great. I figured they would be in the same vicinity, but as it turns out, Hämäkua and Opae'ula are hundreds of miles apart on the Big Island of Hawai'i.

Hämäkua is the name given to the north coastline that runs west from Hilo to North Kohala, which is thought to be the king's birthplace. The coast is characterized by lush vegetation, thanks to the rain mentioned in the song's title. The rainfall along the Hämäkua Coast, in fact, averages 84 inches, but in some places is as high as 140 inches a year. There are pali, or high cliffs and many waterfalls. Akaka Falls, which is 400 feet high, is the best known of these.

As I told in an earlier Fun Fact, one of the several parallels between the life of Kamehameha and the life of Jesus was that the ruler in Hawai'i at the time of Kamehameha's birth somehow knew of the baby's great destiny and ordered baby boys in the region to be slaughtered. Kamehameha was taken into hiding into the Waipio Valley along the coastline.

The ancient forests were once cleared to grow sugar cane, but the last sugar cane plantation shut down in 1994. Now the land is cultivated by small farmers growing traditional crops, such as taro.

The other place name, Opae'ula, is on the west coast of Hawai'i, just south of Kona. Kona was the seat of Kamehameha's power once he became a king. Opae'ula is actually a 12-acre pond that was an ancient fish pond. The word opae'ula means red shrimp. There are still plenty of the little buggers living in the water there. Now Opae'ula is a bird sanctuary. The birds find the little shrimp quite tasty. I found several YouTube videos showing the shrimp swimming in tanks. There's even a web site about them that's called Who knows? Maybe Hawaiian red shrimp are catching on and someday will be a greater sensation than sea monkeys.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

One Hänau; One Hänai

Last Thursday night I returned to my habitual weekly activity of presenting a Fun Fact about Hawaii to my hula class. I based the latest Fun Fact on a writing project I'm currently involved in, as well as on a lesson from my distance learning Hawaiian language class through Kamehameha Schools.

My writing project is to write the script for a documentary film being made by an old friend, Lois Leonard. Lois and I met at Camp Wind Mountain as Girl Scouts, then we became classmates at Grant High School in Portland. Lois's past jobs at the Oregon Historical Society and at Fort Vancouver have turned her into quite the Oregon history enthusiast. She chose David Douglas as the subject of her latest documentary film. Most Oregonians know Douglas as the man for whom the Douglas fir was named.

There is a Hawaii connection because Douglas, born in Scone, Scotland, in 1799, traveled to Hawaii after several years of botanical field work in the Pacific Northwest. He died on the Big Island July 12, 1834. According to the man who found his body, he fell in a wild cattle trap and was mangled by a trapped bull. But the large amount of money Douglas had with him was gone and, shortly thereafter, so was the guy who "found" the body.

A memorial was erected in 1934 in Douglas's memory by the Burns Club of Hilo to honor a fellow Scot. A grove of Douglas firs was planted there, at a spot now known as Käluakauka (the doctor's pit). It's pictured above. I will be visiting that place next week with Lois and the film crew.

Now here's where my Hawaiian class comes in. A recent lesson was about the expression one hänau, which means the sands of birth. It's the Hawaiian way of saying birthplace. One's adopted home is called one hänai, adopted sands.

Our homework was to write about our own one hänau or one hänai. So I wrote about my love for Douglas firs as a native of Oregon, my one hänau. But I said that when I am in Hawaii standing in the shade of probably the only Douglas fir grove in the islands, I will feel like it's my one hänai.