James Cook: Celebrated North Country Explorer

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Usually the first contact made with the native people of a land was when they paddled or sailed out in their small boats or canoes to meet the ships.

At Sandwich Sound, Alaska, Indians in canoes appeared to greet the men in Cook’s ships. Cook wrote:
When these people first came to the Ships, they displayed a white dress and unfolded their arms to the utmost extent, this we understood to be a sign of friendship and answered them in the same manner.”
(Cook, Journals III, i, 344)

While we were in the Passage between the two Isles we had little wind, which gave time for a large sailing Canoe which had been chasing us all day to get up with us as well as several others with Padles which had been thrown a Stern when the breeze was fresh, several of these people came on board the Ship, these as also the others along side continued to exchange articles as usual... Mr H. (Hodges) has made several drawings of these Vessels which will not only illustrate but in a manner make the descriptions I have given of them unnecessary
(Cook, Journals II, p.447-8, 1st July 1774)

When Cook’s ships arrived at a friendly island, especially those at which they were already known, the native peoples sailed out to meet them and to start trading with the crews. Off Raiatea, one of the Society Islands, Cook recorded:
A great number of the Natives came off to us both last night and this morning and brought with them Hoggs fouls Plantains &ca. which they parted with at a very easy rate.
(Cook, Journals I, p.148, 2nd August 1769)

Cook described the different types of canoes in the Society Islands:
We likewise saw a great number of large double Canoes hauld up upon the Shore, they were of different built from those we had seen and much larger and their awnings supported on ca(r)ved pillors, there Sterns very high and ornamented with carving.”
(Cook, Journals I, p.108, 27th June 1769)
“Two Canoes are placed in parallel direction to each other about three or four feet asunder securing them together by small logs of wood laid across and lashed to each of their gunnels, thus the one boat supports the other and are not in the least danger of over seting…

(Cook, Journals I, p.130, July 1769)

Cook wrote about the Raiatean people of the Society Islands:
This people are very ingenious in building their Proes or Canoes and seem to take as much Care of them having large Sheds or houses to put them in built for the Purpose.”and“there is a great number of boathouses all round the bays built with a Catanarian arch, thatched all over; and the boats kept in them are very long, bellying out on the sides, with a very high peaked stern, and are used only at particular seasons.”

Cook observed a huge gathering of war canoes in Tahiti:
When we had got into our boat we took our time to view this fleet, the Vessels of War consisted of 160 large double Canoes, very well equip’d, Man’d and Arm’d…The Cheifs ie all those on the Fighting Stages were drist in their War habits, that is in a vast quantity of Cloth turbands, breast Plates and Helmmets…their Vessels were decorated with Flags, Streamers & ca. so that the whole made a grand and Noble appearance such as was never seen before in this Sea, their implements of war were Clubs, pikes and Stones. These Canoes were rainged close along side each other with their heas a Skhore and Sterns to the Sea, the Admirals Vesel was, as near as I could guess, in the centre.
(Cook, Journal II, p.385, 26th April 1774)

When Cook first visited New Zealand he found that the native people were very hostile warlike. They sailed out in their war canoes to challenge and threaten the crew of the ships. An encounter with a hostile Maori canoe was described by Joseph Banks:
During this time they brandish their spears, hack the air with their patoo patoos and shake their darts as if they meant every moment to begin the attack, singing all the time in a wild but not disagreeable manner and ending every strain with a loud and deep fetchd sigh in which they all join in concert. The whole is accompanied by strokes struck against the sides of the Boats & with their feet, Paddles and arms, the whole in such excellent time that tho the crews of several Canoes join in concert you rarely or never hear a single stroke wrongly placd.
(Banks Journal II, 29 March 1770)

One of the women in this Maori canoe holds a preserved head. Parkinson described these heads:
These skuls had their brains taken out, and some of them their eyes, but the scalp and hair was left upon them. They looked as if they had been dried by the fire, or by the heat of the sun.
(Parkinson, Journal 116)

Warfare between Maori groups sometimes resulted in the victors cannibalising their defeated enemies:
We have every where been told of their eating their enemies kill’d in battle… the people of Queen Charlottes Sound who told us but a few days before we arrived that they had kill’d and eat a whole boats crew…The heads of these unfortunate people they preserved as trophies: four or five of them they brought off to shew to us, one of which Mr Banks bought.
(Cook Journals I, 31st March 1770)

This Maori canoe was described as:
Built after the model of those at Otaheite, but carved and decorated according to their own peculiar manner…she carried a sail of an odd construction, which was made from a kind of matting, and of a triangular figure; the hypotheneuse, or broadest part, being placed at the top of the mast, and ending in a point at the bottom. One of its angles was marled to the mast, and another to a spar with which they altered its position according to the direction of the wind, by changing it from side to side.
(Cook, Journals I, 190)

The decorative head of a Maori vessel was described by Cook:
I shal give the dimensions of one which I measured that lay ashore at Tolaga. Length 681/2 feet, breadth 5 feet and depth 31/2 feet…The head orament projected 5 or 6 feet without the body of the Boat and was 41/2 feet high…The oraments of both head and stern and the two side boards were of carved work and in my opinion neither ill designd nor executed.
(Cook, Journals I, 283)

I had an opportunity this Morng. At Matavai to see the people in Ten War Canoes go through their exercise in Padling, they were at the same time properly equip’d for war…I was present at their landg. And observed that the moment the Canoe touched the Shore all the padlers jump’d out and with the assistance of a few people on the shore dragged her on the Strand…
(Cook, Journals II, p.390, 30th April 1774)

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