To What Extent Was James Cook Figure Used As A Mythological Tool To Account For The Imposition Of Western Ideas In Hawaii?

3757 words - 15 pages


Captain James Cook was the first European to visit the Hawaiian Islands. Upon stepping on the island of Oahu and upon being received by natives as their god Lono, he brought with him Western ideology and practices that would forever change the Hawaiian culture and way of living. The world now knew about Hawaii and established trading ties; Christianity was soon manifested upon the native people and old traditions to be done away with. Modernization in the form of enterprise and schooling was implemented. And these changes would bring diseases to the vulnerable Hawaiian people, dilute old traditions, and destroy indigenous plants and animals. After Hawaii's acceptance into the union as the 50th State of America in 1959, commercialization, together with tourism, made the Hawaiian Islands recognized as a vacation spot. Today, Hawaii is culturally diverse and ideologically accepting, its culture a unique blend of East and West. Today's people of Hawaii take pride in diversity and celebrate old Hawaiian tradition. With growing awareness of the importance of retaining Hawaiian culture in past decades, many have come to view Western influence as negative, Cook as the injector of disease into the primitive, sheltered islands.

There is no doubt that European involvement has impacted the culture and shaped the Hawaii we know today. Yet these changes were not solely the influence of Captain Cook. Much has occurred in the span of over two hundred years from Cook's death to the present day. Perhaps Cook's influence has continuously been viewed as negative because Hawaiians need a scapegoat to account for the deterioration of culture and practices that has been increasing over the years. To what extent, then, is the James Cook figure used as a mythological tool to account for the imposition of Western ideas in Hawaii? This question will be investigated with the aid of both online and written source material and personal interview.

a. Introduction to Hawaii

The Hawaiian Islands in the center of the Pacific Ocean remained relatively uncharted and secluded before the arrival of European explorers in the 18th century. The eight main islands - Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, Maui, Kauai, Niihau, and Hawaii - were separately governed by the native Hawaiian people until King Kamehameha the Great, through conquest, became ruler of the islands in 1810. The Hawaiian people led simple lives and passed down traditions through stories rather than scrolls. Their system of government was a hierarchical one, called the Kapu (or Tapu) System: at the top of the pyramid was the King, followed by the ali'i (chiefs), kahuna (spiritual priests), makaainana (commoners), and finally the kauwa (pariahs). Isolation made them a peaceful and simple people.

b. Cook's arrival

The Polynesians and the Marquesas were the first to migrate to Hawaii, but not much is known about them, for Hawaiian culture was without writing. In 1778 Captain James Cook was...

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