When Revival Swept Hawaii

Ulukukui Grove Pilaa Kauai 1830s
Image: Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution Library
The Rev. William P. Alexander of the Waioli Mission Station, Hanalei, Kauai preaching to a native Hawaiian congregation in 1840 during the Great Revival

My article on the Great Revival in Hawai‘i led by the Rev. Titus Coan in the late 1830s has been published by Christianity Today magazine on their website, in the Christian History section. I am honored to have been given this opportunity. Mahalo to my friend Leon Siu for opening the door to this assignment. The famous Ulukukui grove at Pila‘a on Kaua‘i is pictured in the article. This site served as an open air church during the Great Revival with ministers from the Wai‘oli mission station traveling to Pila‘a to hold services amidst the largest kukui tree grove in the all the Hawaiian Islands.

Commemoration of the Life of Henry ‘Opukaha‘ia

Go to MissionHouses.org for more information.

I am scheduled to speak at the Hawaiian Mission Houses 200th commemorative anniversary of the death of Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia on February 17, 2018. Here is information from Mission Houses website:

On February 17, 2018, Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives will celebrate the life of Henry ‘Opukaha‘ia marking the day he died two hundred years ago. This important celebration honors the man who inspired the Sandwich Island Mission and is the first event in the bicentennial of the arrival of the American Protestant mission to Hawai‘i in 2020.

From 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 17, 2018, the houses and grounds of Hawaiian Mission Houses will be open to the public free of charge. As with our 2 other open houses, historic house tours will be conducted every half-hour, with the first tour at 11 a.m. and the last tour at 3 p.m. The printing press will be continuously operated and interpreted with either the “Ho‘onani,” (Doxology) or the Hawaiian Primer, the first print struck in Hawai‘i, being printed all day for participants to take home. Activities on site will include some of those used in the HMH school program. For example one will emphasize the distance between Hawai‘i and the Eastern U.S. Another will offer the opportunity to create one’s own work on an individual mini printing press, and another will allow users to experience writing with a quill pen while copying a letter from one of the ali‘i from the HMH archives.

At 10 a.m. historic Kawaiaha‘o Church will conduct a special commemorative service and be joined by Royal Societies, Hawaiian Civic Clubs, and other organizations. Concurrent church services in Hilo and on the East Coast will also celebrate the life of ‘Opukaha‘ia and those who attend will learn about his role in inspiring the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to send missionaries to Hawai‘i to bring Christianity. Audience may or may not choose to attend this service.

The Phenomenal Rise to Literacy in Hawai‘i 1820-1832

An abandoned rock walled Hawaiian language school site just mauka of the coast in Nīnole in Kā‘u, Hawai‘i Island is where speaker Kalei Laimana’s ancestors studied prior to the school being closed down and students moved to an English standard school about 10 miles away in Pāhala. The removal of the native Hawaiian language in such schools helped inspire Kalei in his study of the remarkable rise in literacy in Hawai‘i that began with the arrival of the Sandwich Islands Mission in late March-early April 1820.

John Kalei Laimana, Hawaiian Studies Instructor at Leeward Community College, told of his remarkable findings on the rapid spread of literacy in Hawai‘i from 1820 into 1832 at a talk held at Kaua‘i Community College’s Hawaiian Studies classroom on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. The talk was sponsored by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Kaua‘i Historical Society and Kaua‘i Community College.

Kalei in 2011 submitted his “The Phenomenal Rise to Literacy in Hawai‘i – Hawaiian Society in the Early Nineteenth Century” as his thesis for his Master of Arts degree at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

In his thesis introduction he writes: “…according to my research of missionary accounts, (Hawaiians as a society) appears to have achieved a minimum of ninty-one percent literacy rate in just thirteen years—an achievement that is unparalled in the world.”

Kalei went beyond the historic statistics to primary sources, most notably the journals and letters of American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission missionaries stationed in Hawai‘i. He combed for years such materials in the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society library located in Honolulu near Kawaiaha‘o Church.

The speaker said he found the lives of Calvinist-leaning Sandwich Islands Mission leader Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil Bingham to grow in aloha towards Hawaiians over their 21 years stationed in Honolulu. He said New England editors of Hiram Bingham’s classic Sandwich Islands Mission account A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Island chose to focus on the stern and controlling character of Hiram, overshadowing the genuine love of Hiram for Hawaiians.


Sybil Bingham, an experienced New England-upstate New York school teacher, used her teaching talent in Honolulu at the outset of the mission’s education work just weeks following her arrival in spring 1820 in Honolulu. An extract from “Mrs. Bingham’s Journal” published in the American Board’s Missionary Herald monthly revival-missions periodical shows she and John Honoli‘i employed the Memoirs of Obookiah in spreading literacy in Hawaii.

July 31, 1820 – In the afternoon about 20 (scholars) were collected, when I read to them in the memoir of Obookiah, having it interpreted by J. Honoree and Sally J. I endeavored also to convey to their dark minds a few simple truths, which the Bible contains. Two hours passed in a most interesting manner. It seemed like being on missionary grounds. There was fixed attention on the part of most. I thought of a remark in a letter from our friend S. Taylor, soon after the death of Obookiah, to this effect, after speaking of the darkness of the providence, which snatched him away :– “but how much good may be done by his memoirs, should they be written, in the hands of missionaries among his countrymen.” Little did I then think that I should be the first to read a page of these memoirs to them. But so, in the mysterious providence of God, it was ordered.