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1779: Future Hawaiian king meets British explorer

Kamehameha, the 25-year-old future monarch of Hawai‘i and nephew of King Kalani‘opu‘u of the Big Island of Hawai‘i and part of Maui, is present when the British navigator and cartographer Captain James Cook sails into Kealakekua Bay on the island’s west coast. His visit is not auspicious: Cook’s voyages introduce gonorrhea and syphilis, among other diseases, into the islands.

The Hawaiians at first take Cook to be the fertility and hero-god Lono, because he sails into a bay that is dedicated to Lono, during a festival for Lono. But when he returns later in the year, relations with the islanders have shifted. Cook and four of his men are killed.


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Depiction of Native peoples of Hawai'i

Courtesy Hawai‘i State Archives

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Raised and trained as a warrior-chief under the feudal political system of the time, Kamehameha unified the Hawaiian Islands into a single kingdom in 1795. On November 24, 1816, Louis Choris, an artist on a Russian expedition to Hawai‘i under the direction of Otto von Kotzebue, painted this portrait of Kamehameha clad in a red vest.

Courtesy Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum

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Kealakekua Bay, 1779

Courtesy Hawai‘i State Archives