If I was writing this 216 years ago, I may have gotten the chance to see a rare sight: 400 warriors falling more than 1,000 feet to their deaths.
See, I am writing this in May 2011, and it was around this date in 1795 that King Kamehameha I and his army of 12,000 completed an invasion of the island of Oahu—the next step in the king’s plan to unify all the Hawaiian islands.
The idea of Kamehameha becoming the sole ruler of Hawaii didn’t sit well with Oahu’s own leader, King Kalanikūpule, and there was some resistance. But facing an army that was both larger and armed with muskets provided by British sailor John Young, Kalanikūpule’s ranks were cut down, with the remaining men being forced to retreat north to the cliffs of the Nuʻuanu Valley.
Kalanikūpule’s warriors were quickly surrounded by Kamehameha’s, and they were driven off the cliffs to their deaths.
Earlier this day, myself and six other members of my International Reporting class — along with an elderly couple from San Francisco and a young couple from Tahiti — stood in the rainforest surrounding these mountains, looking up at them as our guide, Stan, casually gave us the Cliff’s Notes version of the battle. Stan, a third generation Hawaiian who also manages to qualify as a haole (basically, he’s a white guy), was marching us, generally in a single-file line, through the forest. He would stop every few yards to teach us about birds like the white-rumped shama and flowers like the Indianhead ginger.
“That’s the politically incorrect name, though,” he told us, pointing out the flower’s red color and white stalk that does quite resemble the stereotype of a single Native American headdress feather. “I prefer to call it red cane ginger, or by its scientific name, costus woodsonii.” Then he told us we could eat the flower, so many of us did. It was both sour and sweet, tasting a little like a strawberry.
Using a large folding knife to saw through branches that were in his way (and, at 6 feet, 7 inches, this man encountered many branches in his way), Stan took us to a beautiful waterfall and showed us giant mango trees that would make their tiny cousins in the mainland cry. Though, in their defense, they do have the upper hand over the big guys, as the area gets so much rain that the mangos themselves are rotten and useless. Imprinted in the wet ground around the trees were both dog and wild pig tracks—signs that a hunt had probably recently taken place there.
On Oahu, Stan told us, the wild pig population is too high, so hunters are encouraged to kill as many as they can. They are not allowed to use guns, though. Instead, they use dogs, usually pitbulls rescued from animal shelters, and knives. The dogs surround the pig, biting it, until it is cornered against a tree.
Then, the hunter attacks.
He plunges the knife into the pig’s heart, killing it. Then he splits open the belly, removes the entrails and sews it back up. After that he wears the thing like a backpack and hikes down the mountain, his back covered in blood and the pig’s head flopped over his own. Take away the blood and guts and death, and the image is kind of cute. It’s like the hunter is just giving the hog a literal piggy back ride.
Of course, that’s not the case, though, so it does all seem very brutal and disturbingly violent. I would imagine the pig feels the same kind of futility felt by Kalanikūpule’s men as they were cornered against the cliff’s edge two centuries ago.
The history of paradise does often seem to be a violent one.
A similar version of this post was originally published here: http://journalism.indiana.edu/programs/hawaii/