“There she blows!” cried the lookout, sighting Moby Dick. Captain Ahab, driven by revenge, sailed the seas to capture this great white whale who had bitten off his leg in a previous encounter.
The crew of the ship Pequod included:
- Quaker Chief Mate Starbuck
- Second Mate Stubb
- Captain Boomer
- tattooed Polynesian harpooner Queequeg
- Ishmael, the teller of the tale
Ahab finally caught up with Moby Dick in the Pacific Ocean. As fate would have it, when the harpoon struck Moby Dick, the rope flew out so fast it snagged Ahab, pulling him out of the boat to his death, entangled on the side of the great whale.
This classic was written by Herman Melville, born Aug. 1, 1819. The grandson of a Boston Tea Party “Indian,” Herman Melville was 12 years old when his father died. His mother raised him, inspiring his imagination with biblical stories.
Whales were the main source of oil and were being hunted to the verge of extinction. This suddenly changed when “Colonel” Edwin Drake drilled “the Drake Well” on his Pennsylvania farm in 1859. Soon the petroleum industry developed which extracted oil from the earth, thus “saving the whale.”
In 1840, young Herman Melville joined the crew of the Acushnet on his first whaling voyage. After a year and a half at sea, the Acushnet visited the Marquesas Islands in the Southern Pacific. The Marquesas Islands are considered by some as the remotest place in the world. They were first visited by American Maritime Fur Trader Joseph Ingraham in 1791, who named them Washington Islands. In 1813, Commodore David Porter claimed the islands for the United States, but since Congress never ratified it, France began claiming the islands in 1842.
At the Marquesas Islands, Herman Melville and his friend jumped ship and deserted. They climbed up high into the island mountains to avoid being arrested and carried back to the ship. His friend injured his leg in a fall. They unfortunately fell among cannibals, where Melville and his friend were given sumptuous food and were befriended by a beautiful tribal maiden. Tribesman forbade them from trying to leave the village.
Just before a big native feast, Melville’s friend suspiciously disappeared. Afterwards, when Melville inquired about his friend’s whereabouts, the tribesmen would change the subject. Herman Melville barely escaped and was rescued.
He wrote of the experience in his first book, “Typee” (1846), concluding: “These disclosures will … lead to … ultimate benefit to the cause of Christianity in the Sandwich Islands.”
In 1853, native Hawaiian Christian missionary Samuel Kauwealoha sailed to the Marquesas Islands and planted churches and schools.
Titus Coan, the son-in-law of missionary to Hawaii Hiram Bingham, wrote in his 1882 account “Life in Hawaii,” (ch. 13, The Marquesas Islands … Hawaiians Send a Mission to Them): “The missionary at this station was the Rev. Samuel Kauwealoha, a native of Hilo. … Pupils recited the Lord’s prayer and the Ten Commandments, with some other lessons, in tones and inflections of voice which were soft and melodious.”
Another missionary from Hawaii to the Marquesas Islands was James Kekela. In 1864, James Kekela rescued an American seaman from death at the hands of angry cannibals in the Marquesas Islands. In gratitude, Abraham Lincoln sent James Kekela an inscribed gold watch.
Robert Louis Stevenson related the story in his book “In The South Seas” when he visited the Marquesas Islands in 1888-89: “During my stay at Tai-o-hae … a whole fleet of whale-boats came from Ua-pu. … On board of these was Samuel Kauwealoha, one of the pastors, a fine, rugged old gentleman, of that leonine type so common in Hawaii. He … entertained me with a tale of one of his colleagues, James Kekela, a missionary in the great cannibal isle of Hiva-oa. It appears that shortly after a kidnapping visit from a Peruvian slaver, the boats of an American whaler put into a bay upon that island, were attacked, and made their escape with difficulty, leaving their mate, a Mr. Jonathan Whalon, in the hands of the natives. The captive, with his arms bound behind his back, was cast into a house; and the chief announced the capture to James Kekela. …”
Robert Louis Stevenson continued relating the story of Mr. Whalon’s rescue from the cannibals: “In return for his act of gallant charity, James Kekela was presented by the American Government with a sum of money, and by President Lincoln personally with a gold watch. From his letter of thanks, written in his own tongue, I give the following extract. I do not envy the man who can read it without emotion. ‘When I saw one of your countrymen, a citizen of your great nation, ill-treated, and about to be baked and eaten, as a pig is eaten, I ran to save him, full of pity and grief at the evil deed of these benighted people. I gave my boat for the stranger’s life. … It became the ransom of this countryman of yours, that he might not be eaten by the savages who knew not Jehovah. …”
The New York Times published the article “Lincoln and the ‘Cannibals'” by Jeffrey Allen Smith, Feb. 25, 2014: “The American whaling ship Congress from New Bedford, Mass … dropped anchor. … Sailors lowered two longboats loaded with trade goods, and a small detachment of men led by the first officer, Jonathan Whalon, rowed toward the beach in Puamau Bay. … Foolishly, Whalon went ashore alone with the Marquesans. … Once well inside the tree line, the Paumau men seized Whalon, stripped him of his clothes and bound him. … Tribal members reportedly pinched him, tweaked his nose, bent his fingers back over his hands, menacingly swung hatchets at him and eventually began building a fire with which to cook him. A Hawaiian missionary improbably named Alexander Kaukau (Kaukau is Hawaiian pidgin for “food” or “to eat”) and Bartholomen Negal, a local German carpenter, tried and failed to dissuade Mato, the Paumau chief, from killing Whalon. … Fate interceded with the arrival of another Hawaiian missionary, James Kekela, the first Hawaiian ordained as a Christian missionary and Kaukau’s senior. He had fortuitously just returned from a neighboring island to reports of a ‘white man is about to be roasted. …'”
The New York Times article continued: “… Kekela donned his black preacher’s jacket and, with only his bible in hand, set off for Mato’s village. The negotiations were tense, and at one point Kekela declared he would trade ‘anything and everything he possessed’ for the sailor’s release. … Ultimately Kekela purchased Whalon’s freedom with much less: his black preacher’s jacket and prized whaleboat. … Kekela returned Whalon to the waiting Congress, which sailed to Honolulu, where tales of ‘cannibals’ capturing an American sailor and Kekela’s heroics prompted the American minister to Hawaii, James McBride, to write a note to Secretary of State William H. Seward. McBride’s letter, dated Feb. 26, 1864, detailed the harrowing events in the Marquesas and requested that Seward ‘show to the world … we have tender regard for each one of our number, and that we highly, very highly, appreciate such favors.’ Taking almost a month to make its way across the Pacific, the letter arrived on Seward’s desk by April 18, 1864. Three days later Seward replied that he had submitted McBride’s account of the rescue to Lincoln and that the president had ‘instructions’ for the diplomat.
“McBride was directed to ‘draw on this department for five hundred dollars in gold’ to purchase presents for Whalon’s rescuers. … On Feb. 14, 1865, McBride … sent gifts to the Hawaiian missionary Kaukau, the German carpenter Negal and even the young Marquesan girl who warned the sailors in the two long boats. … He gave Kekela two new suits and a gold Cartier pocket watch with the inscription, ‘From the President of the United States to Rev. J. Kekela For His Noble Conduct in Rescuing An American Citizen from Death on the Island of Hiva Oa, January 14, 1864.’ … Kekela wrote a seven-page letter of thanks in Hawaiian … retelling of how he saved ‘a citizen of your great nation, ill-treated, and about to be baked and eaten, as a pig is eaten. …’ The heartfelt prose in Kekela’s letter to Lincoln moved many, including Robert Louis Stevenson, who wrote in his book In the South Seas, ‘I do not envy the man who can read it without emotion.'”
Robert Louis Stevenson recorded the words of James Kekela: “(The Gospel) was planted in Hawaii, and I brought it to plant in this land and in these dark regions, that they might receive the root of all that is good and true, which is love. …”
James Kekela concluded: “Great is my debt to Americans, who have taught me all things pertaining to this life and to that which is to come. How shall I repay your great kindness to me? Thus David asked of Jehovah, and thus I ask of you, the President of the United States. This is my only payment-that which I have received of the Lord, love – (aloha).'”
Herman Melville opened his classic novel, “Moby Dick” (1851), with a reference to the Bible story: “With this sin of disobedience … Jonah flouts at God. … He thinks that a ship made by men will carry him into countries where God does not reign.”
In 1983, The U.S. District Court stated in Crockett v. Sorenson: “Better known works which rely on allusions from the Bible include Milton’s Paradise Lost … Shakespeare … and Melville’s Moby Dick. … Secular education … demands that the student have a good knowledge of the Bible.”
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