Tama. War Chief

Tama: The War Chief of Teinae

The translator who translated for William Crook was probably a Hawaiian named Tama who lived in Tahuata at this time. This is Tama’s story.

Like many Polynesians it appears that Tama liked to travel. He traveled from Hawaii to the city of Boston. He was one of the first Hawaiians to do this. When Tama was in Boston he obtained a musket. Then he returned to the South Pacific to the Marquesas Islands to the valley of Vaitahu on the island of Tahuata. Since he had the first musket in the Marquesas Islands he had an advantage in war against people who only carried clubs.

Besides this, he was a Hawaiian, and Hawaiians were good at war. Marquesans were good at it also, but apparently Tama was better. Because of this the chief of Vaitahu, Teinae, made Tama be his toa or war chief. Up until this time Teinae had been his own toa. This was unusual but Teinae liked to fight wars.

Tama led the warriors of Vaitahu in two battle on the neighboring island of Hiva Oa. Because of his leadership and his musket Tama was able to win these battles. However, in the second battle Teinae was injured. But apparently he recovered.

At this same time the missionary, William Crook, was living in Vaitahu, but he was less of a success. The people couldn’t understand why they should believe in a god who died and who came from a country with no breadfruit. It was crazy for them. But they did like William Crook’s clothes and tools. They bought those things from Crook for food. After he had traded his tools, Crook had to search for his own food by himself. He fished by swimming across Vaitahu bay with a fishing line around his net.

When Crook read his scriptures the people felt sorry for him. They thought that he was mourning his friends who had sailed away. Crook’s scriptures were less valuable to the people than Tama’s musket. Of all the people in Vaitahu, Tahuata, Tama was kind to Crook. Because of this kindness I am telling Tama’s story here.

With his musket, Tama, was a great success in Vaitahu, Tahuata. That musket was a symbol of his success, his strength and his power. But it was also a symbol of his mortality, of his death and his helplessness. You see, when Tama was in Boston he obtained that musket, but he also obtained something else that was eventually called ‘pakoko’. We call it tuberculosis.

Think about it, ships didn’t come very often to Tahuata and Tama, a Hawaiian, was far from family and friends. And he had tuberculosis. In those days tuberculosis was called consumption, because it looked like you were being eaten from the inside out. Think about how Tama the muscular tatooed warrior felt as he got thin and weak and sick. He tried to kill himself three times, he couldn’t stand to be dying so far from home.

I am not telling this story because Tama had big muscles and a gun. I am telling this story because there was some goodness in Tama, because he helped William Crook who was also far from his home in England.

In 200 years people won’t remember how tough you are, or how big your muscles are. They will remember you if you do good and if you live an honorable life.

‘Islands and Beaches: Discourse On A Silent Land’ by Greg Denning.

Revised: June 13, 1996

Copyright © 1996 Daniel (Taniera) Longstaff