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.

 

 

 

Yale Indigenous student performers coming to Hawai‘i Island

Ōpūkaha‘ia ohana representative Deborah Lee (second from left) with Emeritus State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, PhD at Yale University in late January 2017. Bellantoni led the removal of Ōpūkaha’ia’s remains in 1993 from his gravesite in the Cornwall, Connecticut graveyard. (YIPAP photo)

The Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program (YIPAP) is sending students to Hawai‘i Island in March 2017 to view sites related to the life of Ōpūkaha‘ia.

The performing group met in late January with Ōpūkaha‘ia ohana representatives Deborah Lee of Hilo and her niece Kauanoe Ho‘omanawanui of Anahola, Kaua‘i. Deborah led in the returning of Henry’s iwi (remains) in 1993 to Hawai‘i from his 1818 grave site in Cornwall, Connecticut. Deborah and Kauanoe traveled to Yale University in New Haven and to Cornwall. At Cornwall, they visited the Steward’s House in Cornwall where Henry once socialized and ate meals.

A post at the YIPAP blog hosted by Yale University details the visit to Cornwall in words and photos.

Upcoming Tours – 200th Anniversary Plans

Plans are underway to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of Ōpūkaha‘ia-Henry Obookiah in Cornwall, Connecticut on February 17, 1818.

• Dave Buehring in mid-February held his second annual Hana Hou History Tour on Hawai‘i Island. Dave is taking reservations for the 2018 version of the tour (February 16-19, 2018), which will be tied into local events tied into the 200th anniversary of Henry’s death.

• In advance of the 200th anniversary, Deborah Lee of Ahahui O Ōpūkaha‘ia in Hilo, Hawai‘i, is organizing a tour to Cornwall, Connecticut to mark the founding of the Foreign Mission School where Henry was the star pupil at its opening in 1817, and of the designation of the FMS’s Steward’s House as a National Historical Monument. At the Steward’s House Henry took meals and socialized. The Foreign Mission School academy building burnt down in the 19th century, but the clapboard-faced Steward’s House at 14 Bolton Hill Road in South Cornwall still stands, as do other buildings in Cornwall tied in Henry’s life. The Foreign Mission School steward took care of practical matters at the landmark school. A press release from the National Park Service states: “The Steward’s House was part of a three-building complex that provided an evangelical education for over 100 students from approximately 30 different nations, primarily Asia, the Pacific Islands and North America.”

A report from Brown University, reporting on Brown’s team who wrote the National Historic Site description of the house, mentions that Yale professor and author John Demos played an important role in securing the historic designation. Demos is the author of The Heathen School, a detailed book on the Foreign Mission School that includes an account of Ōpūkaha‘ia.

For those traveling to Cornwall, the National Park Service press release describes the location of buildings connected to Henry’s story, and the story of the Foreign Mission School:

“In the village center is a late nineteenth-century Town Hall and a white carriage house that is now the Cornwall Historical Society. Not far from the Town Hall, off of Bolton Hill Road (historic West Road) and near the intersection with School Road, stands a plaque that marks the FMS’s location. About fifty yards from this marker, lies another plaque that marks Kellogg’s General Store where FMS students (referred to at the time as “scholars”) and school officials purchased supplies and mingled with the community. The Steward’s House also stands in this portion of the present-day village. Together with a few other houses (the Principal’s House; the original residence of the prominent Gold family; and Reverend Timothy Stone’s house), these buildings serve as the school’s physical memory.”

Yale University’s Yale Indian Papers Project blog posted a current photo and brief story on the designation of the building as a National Historic Site.

• Peter Taylor of the popular Images of Old Hawai‘i blog is posting informative updates on the upcoming series of bicentennial events tied into Ōpūkaha‘ia and the Sandwich Islands Mission pioneer company.

• February 17, 2018 is Ōpūkaha‘ia’s bicentennial of his passing. October 23, 2019, the First Company of Missionaries leave Boston. March 30, 2020, the mission first sights Hawai‘i Island, April 4, 2020, the arrival of the missionaries at the Plymouth Rock of Hawai‘i in Kailua-Kona.

The Story of Mokuaikaua Congregational Church

The Story of Mokuaikaua Church booklet cover

The Story of Mokuaikaua Congreational Church is 32-page booklet I helped create over summer 2016. Mokuaikaua Church (www.mokuaikaua.org) is located along the waterfront in Kailua-Kona on central west shore of the Island of Hawai‘i. Here the first missionary party sent to Hawai‘i formally landed in early April 1820. Mokuaikaua is the “first-gathered” church in Hawaiʻi, and the “oldest-stand” church building in Hawaiʻi. Construction funded by Hawaiʻi Island Governor Kuakini (John Adams) in 1836 built the stone-and-mortar walled church that still stands today. The church is pictured in the cover illustration above, you can’t miss the church as it then towered over all the thatched hale and wood-frame western buildings of old Kailua town.

Mokuaikaua Church Historian Yolanda Olson wrote the main text of the booklet. I did the background research, editing, graphic design, photography. I contributed a section I call “A New England Church with a Hawaiian Heart.” This contribution details the dual, hybrid New England-Native Hawaiian architectural features found in the Mokuaikaua Church building.

Proceeds from sale of The Story of Mokuaikaua Church are helping to raise funds for a $3 million restoration needed to make the historic church earthquake proof, to replace hardwood ʻōhiʻa beams that date back to the 1820s, and other repairs needed to preserve Mokuaikaua. Go www.mokuaikaua.org for more details.

Copies of the booklet are available at the Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona. Check on their website for contact information.