The Captain and "the Cannibal": An Epic Story of Exploration, Kidnapping, and the Broadway Stage (New Directions in Narrative History)

The Captain and "the Cannibal": An Epic Story of Exploration, Kidnapping, and the Broadway Stage (New Directions in Narrative History)

James Fairhead

Language: English

Pages: 392


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Sailing in uncharted waters of the Pacific in 1830, Captain Benjamin Morrell of Connecticut became the first outsider to encounter the inhabitants of a small island off New Guinea. The contact quickly turned violent, fatal cannons were fired, and Morrell abducted young Dako, a hostage so shocked by the white complexions of his kidnappers that he believed he had been captured by the dead. This gripping book unveils for the first time the strange odyssey the two men shared in ensuing years. The account is uniquely told, as much from the captive’s perspective as from the American’s.
Upon returning to New York, Morrell exhibited Dako as a “cannibal” in wildly popular shows performed on Broadway and along the east coast. The proceeds helped fund a return voyage to the South Pacific—the captain hoping to establish trade with Dako’s assistance, and Dako seizing his chance to return home with the only person who knew where his island was. Supported by rich, newly found archives, this wide-ranging volume traces the voyage to its extraordinary ends and en route decrypts Morrell’s ambiguous character, the mythic qualities of Dako’s life, and the two men’s infusion into American literature—as Melville’s Queequeg, for example, and in Poe’s Pym. The encounters confound indigenous peoples and Americans alike as both puzzle over what it is to be truly human and alive.

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Hubbell now wanted to take on sea cucumbers, so the arrival of Morrell and the Antarctic was wonderful luck. In broaching the sea cucumber plan to Morrell, however, he also encountered the beautiful Abby, and soon appeared to be planning to take on her as well. Though lucrative, the sea cucumber trade was particularly dangerous, as it brought trading ships into direct contact with the islanders whose reefs they sought to harvest—who did not take kindly to intruders plundering their shores. The

hostility of the inhabitants, to “conciliate” their feelings toward all Americans, and to “induce a future commercial intercourse with its inhabitants,” he had brought with him “two natives of one of those Islands, which he intended to return to their homes the ensuing summer”; he therefore requested that he “be reimbursed such expenses as he has, and may incur, in consequence thereof.” Whether the House of Representatives considered Morrell to be the aggrieved party or Dako and Monday remains

Jacobs’s description: “My friend and myself turned into it, making the most of our room, and sleeping as soundly as if the stirring adventures which filled our imaginations were never to exist save in our dreams.” When Morrell and Dako came on board the next day, Morrell was furious. His financiers had suddenly foisted two commercial agents—or “supercargoes”—on him to control the business side of the voyage. Nathaniel Jarvis and Charles Oakley had together appointed a relative of Jarvis’s as

commodities. None of this happened. What took place was much simpler. Woodworth’s journal entries for the Margaret Oakley’s arrival at the islands are lost, but when his journal picks up the story again, it is clear that, once ashore, Dako simply vanished. For Dako, the homecoming was not all that he had hoped. His desire to return to his wife, Vakale, and his son, Tupi, had sustained him during his protracted exile in New York. Vakale, however, had not waited for him. Those on the islands still

Morrell would have preferred, but he knew there was a future in them. Dako also took Morrell on a tour into the interior of the island to prospect for timber. And one evening the crew were treated to some of the lewd dances of the region in which men and women “amused us by dancing round a blazing fire, performing grotesque and curious antics” to the rhythms of castanets and drums. The lyrics of the songs that accompanied the dancing were, Jacobs thought, “part of an historical love-tale

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