Queequeg tells Ishmael, using his broken English, that he was born on a Pacific isle called Kokovoko—Ishmael says that the island “cannot be found on any map.” Queequeg’s father was the king of Kokovoko, and indeed much of his family possessed royal blood. But Queequeg, despite his high birth, wished to see the world, and when a ship visited Kokovoko from Sag Harbor, NY (a town on the eastern tip of Long Island), Queequeg “vowed a vow” to board the ship and partake in the adventures of a Christian sailor.
Interestingly, Melville spells this island name various ways in the course of the novel—probably simply as a mistake or oversight, although one wonders if Melville is imputing to Ishmael, the narrator, an inability to name exactly the island of Queequeg’s birth. Queequeg’s love of the sea is outstripped only by his desire to participate in the North American whaling trade.
But the ship from Sag Harbor would not let Queequeg aboard, and he paddled his canoe out to a strait, one the ship would have to cross. There he threw himself out of the canoe and climbed the side-rigging of the ship. Once aboard, the captain allowed him to stay and sail back to America, but Queequeg, despite his royal blood, was kept below-decks, with the other sailors. Though Queequeg was horrified by the dissipation and drunkenness of the sailors when they reached Sag Harbor and Nantucket, he continued life as a harpooneer on whaling vessels. Queequeg finishes his story, and when Ishmael informs Queequeg that he wishes also to join a whaling vessel from Nantucket, Queequeg pledges that he will “follow Ishmael wherever he goes,” and get onto the same whaling boat in Nantucket.
Queequeg does not fall into the stereotypes of the hard-drinking, hard-living whaler. He has no wife and no children; he does not drink and only smokes his ceremonial pipe; and indeed he does not seem given to having fun of any kind, although he is a warm and caring friend. Ishmael, who is far less stoic than Queequeg, and far less outwardly courageous, holds his friend’s moral virtue in high esteem. And Queequeg seems to sense that Ishmael will be a loyal friend to him, even as conditions aboard the Pequod deteriorate, and Ahab’s madness threatens to derail the entire voyage.