How Makahiki Games – Hawaiian Olympics – fooled the Englishman into believing Hawaiians are friendly all the time

Feb 14 – also our anniversary

On February 14, 1779, Captain James Cook, the great English explorer and navigator, is killed by natives of Hawaii during his third visit to the Pacific island group.

In 1768, Cook, a surveyor in the Royal Navy, was commissioned a lieutenant in command of the HMS Endeavor and led an expedition that took scientists to Tahiti to chart the course of the planet Venus. In 1771, he returned to England, having explored the coast of New Zealand and Australia and circumnavigated the globe. Beginning in 1772, he commanded a major mission to the South Pacific and during the next three years explored the Antarctic region, charted the New Hebrides, and discovered New Caledonia.

In 1776, Cook sailed from England again as commander of the HMS Resolution and Discovery, and in January 1778 he made his first visit to the Hawaiian Islands. He may have been the first European to ever visit the island group, which he named the Sandwich Islands in honor of one of his patrons, John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

Cook and his crew were welcomed by the Hawaiians, who were fascinated by the Europeans’ ships and their use of iron. Cook provisioned his ships by trading the metal, and his sailors traded iron nails for sex.

ALTZAR: What the channel, the source of this story, doesn’t seem to know is that Captain Cook’s ships arrived during the Makahiki Games. Which is the Hawaiian version of the Greek Olympics when all wars and battles cease. That’s why the Hawaiians were so friendly the first time they arrived.  For more on that, and how Elizabeth participated in the Makahiki Games 2014, see another story below.

The ships then made a brief stop at Ni’ihau and headed north to look for the western end of a northwest passage from the North Atlantic to the Pacific. Almost one year later, Cook’s two ships returned to the Hawaiian Islands and found a safe harbor in Hawaii’s Kealakekua Bay.

It is suspected that the Hawaiians attached religious significance to the first stay of the Europeans on their islands. In Cook’s second visit, there was no question of this phenomenon. Kealakekua Bay was considered the sacred harbor of Lono, the fertility god of the Hawaiians, and at the time of Cook’s arrival the locals were engaged in a festival dedicated to Lono. Cook and his compatriots were welcomed as gods and for the next month exploited the Hawaiians’ good will. After one of the crewmen died, exposing the Europeans as mere mortals, relations became strained. On February 4, 1779, the British ships sailed from Kealakekua Bay, but rough seas damaged the foremast of the Resolution, and after only a week at sea the expedition was forced to return to Hawaii.

The Hawaiians greeted Cook and his men by hurling rocks; they then stole a small cutter vessel from the Discovery. Negotiations with King Kalaniopuu for the return of the cutter collapsed after a lesser Hawaiian chief was shot to death and a mob of Hawaiians descended on Cook’s party. The captain and his men fired on the angry Hawaiians, but they were soon overwhelmed, and only a few managed to escape to the safety of the Resolution. Captain Cook himself was killed by the mob. A few days later, the Englishmen retaliated by firing their cannons and muskets at the shore, killing some 30 Hawaiians.

The Resolution and Discovery eventually returned to England.

Makahiki Games: The Hawaiian Olympics

For Native Hawaiians, it wasn’t the lighting of a torch but the sighting of a cluster of ​star​s​ that signified the opening of the games. The appearance of the Makalii, also known as the Pleiades, in the eastern sky would mark the Hawaiian New Year and the start of the Makahiki (pronounced mah-kah-hee-kee) season. Makahiki was a time for the Hawaiians to honor Lono, the god of rain, agriculture, harvest, peace and fertility.
For four months warfare and unnecessary work were forbidden and instead the Hawaiian people enjoyed rituals, feasts, festivals and games.

​In Jan 2014, Elizabeth took part in the Makahiki Games on the island of Oa
hu riding a Hawaiian bobsled – He’eholua (see  OAHU 2014: HAWAIIAN OLYMPICS, BEACHES, ANNIVERSARY & MORE, Jan 2014).

You can also see a video I made about the Makahiki Games which includes the footage of Elizabeth’s historic ride. Or should I say – glide? 🙂

Elizabeth and I have also been to Kealakekua Bay​ and saw Captain Cook’s monument there a number of times during our life in Hawaii. The place has become a modern snorkeling destination in modern time. Here’s a story about our first trip there in 2011 –​.

On this day in our personal history…


For what it’s worth, Feb 14 is also our anniversary. While we lived in Hawaii, we would traditionally go to the HY’s restaurant in Honolulu to celebrate it. Except in 2014, when we celebrated it in Maui as well. And in 2015, when we celebrated it in Western Australia,

Now that we are back in Arizona, we will return to the Capital Grille this evening where we had dinner on our first date.

The restaurant spread out for us rose petals and hearts on the table cloth, and treated us to a scrumptious Happy Anniversary dessert. Just as they did two years ago…

​For the full story, see…


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