Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

Celebrating Capt. James Cook

“Well there goes another February 14th. Evenings of whimsical sighs, chinking champagne glasses, and adoring compliments across the Pacific as indigenous folks send their thanks out to the Hawaiian cousins that took care of business, and finally put an end to the diseased, kidnapping, murderous, thieving invader called Captain James Cook.”

So wrote Tina Ngata (Ngati Porou), a Māori educator, from the indigenous university Te Wananga o Aotearoa in New Zealand1The Daily Blog. 2017. ‘GUEST BLOG: Tina Ngata – a Crook by Any Other Name: Celebrating Cook | the Daily Blog’, Thedailyblog.co.nz <https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/02/20/guest-blog-tina-ngata-a-crook-by-any-other-name-celebrating-cook/> [accessed 14 February 2024].

For some, Cook is remembered as an extraordinary navigator, a scientific astronomer resolute on tracking the Transit of Venus, a man of noble intentions, respect for the indigenous peoples, and an ability to keep his men in line — sticking to some 18th-century prime directive to ‘only do good’ and to steer clear of any romantic entanglements with the natives.

In Great Ayton, there’s immense local pride in him as a man of humble beginnings who grew up in the village, a hero, the discoverer of Australia. In the photo above, Aireyholme Farm, where Cook spent his boyhood, is to the right of the centre, nestled in the lee of Cliff Rigg. It was taken yesterday under spectacular clouds — I did venture up to Capt. Cook’s Monument today but it was a bit dreich.

And yet, for the indigenous peoples across the Pacific, Cook is also a plunderer, an invader, and a murderer. They’d rather commemorate his death on 14th February than indulge in the consumeristic St. Valentine’s Day.

Indeed, this day marks when Captain Cook met his untimely end in Kealakekua Bay, Hawai’i, at the hands of the islanders, who, to this day, hold no regrets and, in fact, take pride in it. They seize every opportunity to remind anyone that it was they who put an end to the man wandering from island to island, snatching people, killing those who resisted, taking whatever he fancied, and knowingly spreading devastating sexually transmitted diseases.

In their version of history, on his first journey alone, Cook murdered indigenous peoples in Tahiti, Society Islands, New Zealand, Australia, and Java. His campaign of murder, abduction, and theft persisted throughout his subsequent voyages. Not only did Cook kill two local Maori on the shore shortly after landing in New Zealand, but upon leaving the bay, he tried to commandeer a fishing boat. When the islanders tried to defend themselves by hurling rocks, he ordered them shot and killed, as well as abducting three young boys.

At the time of his death, Captain Cook was undoubtedly succumbing to syphilis. Crew members report that liaisons with local women (even girls as young as 9) were widespread after prolonged stretches at sea, and indigenous accounts highlight that Cook himself didn’t abstain, bedding a Hawaiian chiefess, well aware of his own ailment2Brown, Anatole. [n.d.]. Colonization of the Hawaiian Islands, 1778-1840 Sexual Colonization of the Hawaiian Islands. Page 34. <https://digitalcommons.usm.maine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1065&context=etd>.

On the day he met his unfortunate end, Captain Cook decided to go ashore, fuelled by a determination to seize the island leader and with an apparent intention to use force. In his own words, “they must not be left to imagine that they have gained an advantage over us.3‘The Voyages of Captain James Cook. Illustrated … With an Appendix, Giving an Account of the Present Condition of the South Sea Islands,&C’. 2024. Google Books <https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=LVPsgB2I_0gC&lpg=PA385&ots=qxNoq7Brao&dq=%22they%20must%20not%20be%20left%20to%20imagine%20that%20they%20have%20gained%20an%20advantage%20over%20us.%22&pg=PA385#v=onepage&q=%22they%20must%20not%20be%20left%20to%20imagine%20that%20they%20have%20gained%20an%20advantage%20over%20us.%22&f=false> [accessed 14 February 2024]

For these reasons and more, indigenous communities across the Pacific aren’t rushing to hail Cook or his exploits. Now, one might contend that these are merely oral myths or brushed off as hyperbole, but I perceive a certain arrogance and offensiveness in enforcing a precise rendition of history, all the while neglecting the voices of the indigenous people. As the saying goes, history is written by the victors.



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One response to “Celebrating Capt. James Cook”

  1. SuSan Armstrong avatar
    SuSan Armstrong

    Similar can be said of Christopher Columbus & his pack of gangsters.

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