Friday 27 February 2015

An island paradise or a place of danger, warfare, and cannibalism?

For this blog I’ve invited  Eva  A. Ulett, one of my fellow authors published by the Old Salt Press to tell us something about what’s a closed book to the vast majority of who are interested in nautical fiction.

Over then to Eva, who writes:

Royal Navy Captain James Blackwell’s experiences in the Hawaiian Islands in my Blackwell’s Adventures books are an amalgamation from various nineteenth century Pacific island cultures and societies. In this post I’d like to share a few details concerning the actual Hawaiian Islands of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: an island paradise or a place of danger, warfare, and cannibalism?

Kamehameha (c. 1758 - 1819) had conquered all of the Hawaiian islands except Kauai by 1795, and is recognized as the most noteworthy of the Hawaiian monarchs. He is reputed to have been a giant of a man, nearly seven feet tall, full of martial ability. Kamehameha came to manhood during a time of constant warfare between tribes of the Hawaiian Islands.
Kamehameha (1758-1819), by artist by Louis Choris, 1816

HMS Resolution
Watercolour by Midshipman Henry Roberts
By 1778 when Cook arrived with the ships Resolution and Discovery, Kamehameha was a seasoned warrior, said to have exuded power and violence. He observed and appreciated guns, iron tools, and weapons when European and American ships began to frequent the islands as a place of refreshment in the Canton and Northwest trade routes. Later, when supreme ruler of the Hawaiian Islands, Kamehameha would insist on receiving arms and ammunition, tools, and naval stores and expertise in trade with other nations.

Pacific island tribes of Kamehameha’s era practiced a fierce and brutal hand to hand warfare. In the last battle before dominating the entire island chain, Kamehameha put down a rebellion on his home island of Hawaii, afterwards sacrificing the rebel chief at a heiau in Piiho-nua, Hilo. Human sacrifice formed part of ancient tradition, demanded by Hawaiian gods and their priests. The victims were captured enemies, slaves, or violators of kapu. The kapu system kept the Hawaiian gods constantly before the country people, the kama‘āina, and by extension as the descendants of the gods, the ruling class of ali‘i. This was a system of governance that touched every aspect of Hawaiian life, including agriculture and fishing, land management and husbandry, trade and social interactions.

The King of  "Owyee" - Hawaii - bringing presents to Captain Cook
Drawn by John Webber (1751-1793), who accompanied Cook on HMS Resolution
Cannibalism appears to have been a ceremonial practice for the Hawaiians, associated with veneration for the dead, and the traditional preserving of the bones of chiefs. Portions of Captain Cook’s body were delivered to Lieutenant James King after his death at Kealakekua in 1779. This gesture was likely honorably meant, other portions having been allotted to important chiefs and priests. Kamehameha was rumored to have claimed Cook’s hair, the possession of which would have increased his own mana, or power and prestige.

The Death of Captain Cook, 14th February, 1779, by Johann Zoffany
A somewhat fanciful image by an artist who never visited the islands!
Following the conquest period, Kamehameha was held to be a good and great chief, who restored order and prosperity to the land. He encouraged agriculture, putting a great seven mile swath of land in his home district of Kona under cultivation himself, which was to be to his advantage in trade and the provisioning of foreign ships. The kapu system, that helped Kamehameha maintain order and the continuance of chiefly rights and privileges, was abandoned after the great king’s death in 1819.

King Kamehameha in later life
In 1804, when Captain Blackwell’s Pacific island adventures begin, Kamehameha was at the height of his power — the ali‘i nui ai moku, the high chief who eats the islands (land districts). The king of Hawaii, Maui, and Oahu, Kamehameha at that period was amassing a force of invasion in Honolulu against Kauai. Kauai was a tough island to invade, a 75 mile channel of rough sea separating it from neighboring Oahu. Kamehameha’s favorite wife, Ka‘ahumanu (c. 1768 - 1832), is nevertheless said to have successfully fled Kamehameha’s ill-treatment, alone in a canoe across this difficult channel, and reached Kauai.

Queen Ka'ahumanu - painted by Louis Choris on 1816
Captain Blackwell negotiates that same treacherous channel in Blackwell’s Paradise, and the disparate civilizations and cultures of Europe and Oceania in Blackwell’s Homecoming. He discovers similarities between the two maritime nations; England as embodied in the Royal Navy and the Hawaiian nation in the hierarchy of the ali‘i and the kapu system; each with strict prohibitions, violent retaliations, and a strong sense of honor and duty. Captain Blackwell and his great love, Mercedes, venture into a fictional version of Kamehameha’s magnificent and complex Hawaiian kingdom in the Blackwell’s Adventures series.

Readers may be interested in winning a paperback copy of Eva A. Ulett's Blackwell’s Homecoming. 

Click on the URL here, or on the cover image, for more details.

The giveaway is open to readers in AU, CA, GB, USA, through March 10.


  1. I love the history of Hawaii. The fourth in my series (#1 not yet published) is set in Hawaii. My visits and research are done, though.... I may have to go back for more research. ;)

    1. Debra, I am serious about a real writers retreat in Hawaii (not just a virtual one like we did last year). I know a secluded house on the Big Island...

    2. If you want a full, honest, and accurate account of Hawaii's history during the early 19th century, told with the piety and conviction of a missionary, then I have the perfect book for you. It was written by a woman who married a doctor and ran off to a strange new land to bring civility, writing, education, and a love of God to Hawaii. It was written by my great great great grandmother about her and her husband making the very first mission trip to Hawaii, and building Hawaiia's very first church which still stands today. The book is "The Life and Times of Mrs. Lucy G. Thurston." It's also very good primary source work for refuting many false claims within academia, especially the notion of historical materialism and the idea that missionary work was always imperialistic in nature.

  2. Congratulations on your new series, Debra. Yes, it isn't painful to research in Hawaii

  3. Debra - looking forward to #1, and #2 and #3 and #4!