On 17 January 1779 two ships of Captain James Cook anchored in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii. The natives believed that in ancient times Lono, god of fertility and cultivated foods, came down from the sky. Lono was honoured in the Makahiki festivities that lasted from October to February. When Cook landed, the people greeted him as Lono. Priests brought offerings, and the inhabitants prostrated themselves. The king, Kalaniopu, took off the feather cloak (opposite page) he was wearing and put it around Cook’s shoulders – a sign of awe and reverence. Finally, the season of plenty drew to a close, and Cook set sail. A few days later he put back to repair a damaged ship, but by now the islanders had changed their ideas about the divinity of the Englishman. A dispute arose about a ship’s boat which had been stolen. On 14 February a skirmish took place, and the British sailors retreated to their boats. Cook, the last to withdraw, was struck down from behind and killed.
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Buddha Poornima, which falls on the full moon night in the month of Vaisakha (either …