The Voyage of Kealoha

Section 1

Section 1

Enduring Understandings

The narrative and its dramatization are a good example of cross-cultural accommodations. The big ideas for this Learning Center are:

  1. Humans are mobile and curious.
  2. People from vastly different cultures and places can find ways to communicate with each other and understand each other.
  3. Hospitality is universal: people often greet and help visitors.

The Story

In the nineteenth century, many Native Hawaiian seamen joined whaling crews and traveled to the Arctic. We know about their presence on these trips because of business documents, logs, bills, and other records left behind.

Charles Edward Kealoha, an 18-year-old seaman aboard a whaler bound for Alaska in 1876, wrote a personal narrative describing his experiences on what became a tragic journey. Records show that this year was one of the most disastrous for whaling crews in the Arctic; as a result of bad weather, 11 ships were lost and nearly 60 men died.

Kealoha and another Native Hawaiian seaman were stranded for six months in an Iñupiaq village near present-day Barrow, Alaska, along the Beaufort Sea. Like many stories of voyages — going back at least as far as The Odyssey — Kealoha's narrative shows what happens when cultures meet. It is also a story of survival in a locale that must have been particularly harsh for a Native Hawaiian.

Kealoha's story is an example of one of the most powerful aspects of storytelling: it exposes readers to worlds they didn't know existed and couldn't otherwise imagine. Kealoha originally wrote his story for the Hawaiian newspaper Ka Lähui Hawaii. For those who read the story in the newspaper, this tale of adventure brought to life the experience of one of their own people. For readers today, Kealoha's story remains vivid and exciting purely as an adventure story. However, because later generations continue to read Kealoha's story, it has taken on new contexts and offered new insights.

For scholar Susan A. Lebo, of the University of Hawaii, narratives like Charles Kealoha's story provide the basis for comparing and contrasting information about related events, perspectives, and cultures, and finally putting it altogether into a single history. Professor Lebo has also studied a first-hand account by J. Polapola, another Hawaiian seaman who sailed that season and who witnessed a bloody struggle and mutiny aboard the William H. Allen. By reading critically and comparing accounts, Professor Lebo has gained insights into this little-known world of cultural contact.

To read another account of an Arctic whaling voyage, check out The Wreck of the Corinthian.

This video, adapted from material provided by the ECHO partners, is a dramatization based on the account of an actual voyage by Charles Edward Kealoha, a Native Hawaiian who traveled to Alaska in 1876-77 to participate in the Arctic whale hunt. He and another Native Hawaiian seaman were stranded there and lived among the Iñupiat in a northern Alaskan village for six months. The narrative closes with Kealoha's rescue and safe return to Hawai‘i.

Questions for Discussion

  • This is a story of a young man's journey to a remote area with a great deal of risk. Why do people make such journeys? How do you think the people he met on the journey might tell the story? What would their perspective be?
  • Many young people are excited to go on adventures through the stories they hear. What inspired Kealoha to seek this adventure? What did he learn on his journey?
  • The Iñupiaq people who lived in the Arctic befriended the whalers and helped them to survive. If you came upon people in your area who were different from you, people you had never seen before, what would you do?