The battle over Hawaii's history
Amateur historian Rick Rogers just knows Europeans visited the islands two centuries before Captain Cook landed in 1778. Trying to prove it and convince professionals, that's another story.
Finding evidence of a shipwreck beneath the ocean would finally prove a theory that Rogers, an amateur historian, has been promoting for decades. He thinks a handful of Spanish and Dutch ships visited Hawaii in the centuries before Captain Cook landed there in 1778. Some Europeans came ashore after shipwrecks, like the characters in "The Swiss Family Robinson," he claims, and eventually integrated into the local society. That early European influence in the 16th and 17th centuries forever changed Hawaiian culture, Rogers says.
Rogers is following in the footsteps of others with no formal training who have tried to convince scholars that they've stumbled across great historical discoveries, correct or not. They include German businessman Heinrich Schliemann, who boasted he'd found archaeological proof that Troy actually existed, and adventurer Gene Savoy, who said he'd found dozens of Inca settlements in Peru while on the hunt for El Dorado, the fabled city of gold.
To prove his theory, Rogers has spent countless hours poring over ancient maps, tracking down artifacts in the dusty storage rooms of disorganized museums and combing Hawaii's jagged coastline. The onetime Army salvage diver has done much of his work off the Pilialoha, a baby-blue Navy launch he bought in 1986 and loaded with equipment and maps, as well as an assortment of sleeping bags and cushions.
The work is not for fame or money, Rogers said, but rather for the satisfaction of knowing that after all these years, he was right.
He's battled historians and archaeologists -- most with many more degrees on their walls than he has -- who say he has no proof to back up his theory. They, like the history books, stick to the idea that Cook was the first European to step onto Hawaii, two centuries after Rogers thinks other Europeans landed here. Some politely concede his version of history could have happened, but that there's no proof. Others are more blunt.
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