Chapter 12 Biographical

        In which Ishmael hears from Queequeg about the South Sea Islander's native Kokovoko. Melville reaches for deathless, once-upon-a-time prose, writing of Kokovoko that "It is not down in any map; TRUE PLACES NEVER ARE."

        Queequeg's father was a High Chief, making him a prince with "excellent blood in his veins". The young cannibal, however, yearned "to see something more of Christendom than a specimen whaler or two. For -- at bottom -- so he told me -- he was actuated by a profound desire to learn among the Christians, the arts whereby to make his people still happier than they were; and, more than that, still better than they were."

        To accomplish this high-minded mission, Queequeg boarded a Yankee whaleship and refused to leave, even when threatened with death. The captain, impressed with his courage, allowed him to stay, "but this sea Prince of Wales never saw the captain's cabin. They put him down among the sailors, and made a whaleman of him."

        "But, alas! the practices of whalemen soon convinced him that even Christians could be both miserable and wicked; infinitely more so, than all his father's heathens." Going to Sag Harbor and then Nantucket, and seeing what the sailors did and how they spent their wages ashore, poor Queequeg decided that it was "a wicked world in all meridians", and that he would die a pagan. Yet he was living among these Christians, wearing their clothes, and "trying to talk their gibberish. Hence the queer ways about him."

        Of course, Ishmael asked Queequeg why he didn't just go back to Kokovoko and be crowned king. "He answered no, not yet; and added that he was fearful that Christianity, or rather Christians, had unfitted him for ascending the pure and undefiled throne of thirty pagan Kings before him." When asked, Queequeg gave Ishmael to understand that he wanted to go to sea again. "They had made a harpooneer of him and that barbed iron was in lieu of a sceptre now."

        Ishmael tells the cannibal prince of his intention "to sail out of Nantucket, as being the most promising port for an adventurous whaleman to embark from."

        Queequeg at once resolved to accompany Ishmael to Nantucket, ship aboard the same Nantucket whaleship, get into the same watch, the same boat, and the same mess with him -- "in short to share my every hap".

        Since Queequeg was an experienced harpooneer, whereas Ishmael (one may read Herman Melville) had experience only as a merchant seaman, Ishmael allows that "Queequeg could not fail to be of great usefulness to one, who like me, was wholly ignorant of the mysteries of whaling."

        And so, the two disillusioned outcasts resolve to be whaling buddies. "Queequeg pressed his forehead against mine" -- and very soon they were sleeping.