KEALIIKUKAHAOOA the Faithful

from The Friend June 1903

Christianity spread across the Hawaiian archipelago beginning in 1820. While literacy, the printed word, harmonious hymn singing, church gatherings, and western medical care inspired the people of Hawai‘i to become a Christian nation within a generation, the faithfulness towards – and a belief in – Christ lay at the heart of this transformation of the Hawaiian people and formation of their unique style of Christian worship. Following is the story of a Native Hawaiian man from Moloka‘i named Kealiikukahaooa whose life embodies this transformation. He likely lived out in Hawai‘i every year of the nineteenth century, seeing first-hand the transformation of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Kealiikukahaooa lived to be over a hundred years old, he grew up worshipping a pantheon of Polynesian gods; as a man in Kamehameha-era Hawai‘i he lived under the fear of breaking one of the stringent laws of the ‘Ai Kapū system, with facing a penalty of being sacrificed at the altar of a heiau. He saw Kamehameha in person, and observed the missionaries arriving beginning in 1820 about six months following the death of the legendary king. In mid-life he left behind his troubled past and learned how to read. His text was the scriptures of the Bible as translated into the Hawaiian language. In the early twentieth century he dwelt in Waianae, O‘ahu with his son, the Rev. Joseph Kaiakea Kekahuna pastor of the Protestant ekalesia [church] in Wai‘anae. Rev. Kekahuna studied under missionary William P. Alexander at Wailuku and ordained in 1869. Kealiikukahaooa as an elderly venerated kupuna could look back on decades of life as a devoted Christian while maintaining his cultural heritage as a Native Hawaiian who knew both the old and the new ways of Hawai‘i.


In the household of the Waianae pastor, there lives an aged man, who is probably over one hundred years old. The household includes further Rev. S. P. Kaaia, his wife, his cousin, Rev. J. Kekahuna, the judge of the district. While visiting there not long since, I noticed the careful attention given to the wants of this old man, and on inquiry, I learned the following interesting facts:

Kealiikukahaooa, father of Rev, J. Kekahuna and uncle of Rev. S. P. Kaaia, was the son of Kapaiulani, konohiki (chief man) of the land of Ohia and Manowai, Island of Molokai. He was a grown man when the missionaries came in 1820, and had seen Kamehameha the First. He joined the church in 1842, under the pastorate of Father Hitchcock, and has been a constant church attendant ever since. He never drank liquor, neither awa, uala, nor imported liquor of any kind. He never smoked, nor was he ever troubled with any hoomanamana (fetish worship) tendency. He looks with disapproval on all kinds of bottled drinks, is suspicious of soda water and everything that has a “pop.” Once when ill it was with difficulty that he could be persuaded to take any medicine. This centenarian can still read without glasses; indeed he has never used them. He has a retentive memory and can repeat chapter after chapter of the Bible. He learned to read in his maturity and has ever since made constant use of Scripture; before he joined the church he was a probationer for several years. He was the father of nine children. When Kekahuna had learned what he could at the district schools and expressed a desire to continue his studies at Lahainaluna, his father took him one Saturday in his canoe over to Lahaina and thence to the school at Lahainaluna, where young Kekahuna was installed as a pupil, a classmate of other men who have also made their mark in Hawaiian history.

“During those days,” said the judge, “there was very little money in currency, and I went through the course of study with practically none. Every Saturday my father would take his canoe across the boisterous Molokai channel and trudge up the hill with packages of paiai and dried fish as my food for the week. When I needed clothing he would bring an extra supply and barter it for a little money. He thus helped me through my three years of school life without leaving me at any time in want of necessary supplies. Through the stormy days of winter, when the winds and the waves of the channel were high, or in the sultry season, when they died away, and he had to use the paddle, that canoe would be beached every week somewhere along the shore and the weekly supply of provisions would come to hand. Do you think I could ever forget those days of strenuous effort and patient, loving service?” 0. P. E…

Preparing the Way added to American Antiquarian Society collection

American Antiquarian Society exterior
A key collection of published Hawaiian language materials can be found in the archives of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The American Antiquarian Society has accepted for inclusion of its collection a copy of my new book Preparing the Way – A Pictorial History for the Hawai‘i Mission Bicentennial 1820-2020. This pictorial history provides an illustrated narrative of the formation and sending of the pioneer Protestant missionary company sent to Hawai‘i from Boston by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1819.

The American Antiquarian Society library located in Worcester, Massachusetts dates back to the Early Republic days of the United States. The Society describes itself as: “Founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the American Antiquarian Society is both a learned society and a major independent research library. The AAS library today houses the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century.”

During a research visit in 2018 I discovered a book with perhaps the first mention of plans for an American Protestant mission to evangelize the Hawaiian Islands. In searching for unknown, obscure details about the Christian History of Hawai‘i, I will often begin with a general term like the key word “Obookiah” and see what publications show up. Through a search for “Samuel Mills” in the digital card catalog available within the AAS library an 1810 book titled A Collection of Letters on Missions turned up. A note within the card catalog notation showed the book was self-published at the Andover Theological Seminary by American Foreign Missions founder Samuel Mills Jr. and Adoniram Judson, who sailed from Salem, Massachusetts in 1812 as the leader of the first foreign Protestant mission sent from the shores of the young United States. In the rear section of the book the Sandwich Islands is mentioned. Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia was in Andover with Samuel Mills at the time of the distribution of the book. One wonders if Henry helped his friend with the packing and shipping of the books, which were sold in advance by subscription to church congregations in New England to promote foreign missions. The book also gave one of the first notices of the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, inspired in spring 1810 by a request from Mills, Judson and two other Andover students. That took place at Bradford, Massachusetts, about eight miles north of Andover.

The American Antiquarian Society collection houses rare and newspapers with a Hawai‘i tie. The family of James Hunnewell, an officer aboard the brig the Thaddeus upon which the pioneer company sailed to Hawai‘i, in recent years has donated their collection of Hawaiian language mission press publications. This includes a copy of the first Hawaiian alphabet, struck off the Mission Press in January 1822.

The Rev. Samuel Damon (February 15, 1815 – February 7, 1885) of Hawai‘i joined the American Antiquarian Society in 1869. His ancestor Samuel Damon of Holden, Massachusetts in 1836 donated a corner of the property where the AAS is today located. The Rev. Damon served as the pastor of the American Seaman’s Friend Society chapel in Honolulu from 1841 to 1869 during the height of the American whaling ship era. He founded and published The Friend, a monthly newspaper He was the editor and publisher of The Friend, a monthly newspaper printed in Honolulu. The Friend was an outreach to the thousands of sailors who arrived in Hawai‘i each year during his life in Hawai‘i and included news of ship arrivals and departures and a wide variety of news about the Hawaiian Islands.

“How a Massachusetts Library Became ‘A Hotbed of Hawaiiana’” is the title of a Honolulu Civil Beat article about the Hawai‘i ties to the American Antiquarian Society.

Poai Lincoln performs at the American Antiquarian Society in October 2019 during an event for the 2019 Hawai‘i Mission Bicentennial in New England.
Poai Lincoln traveled from Hawai‘i to perform at the American Antiquarian Society in October 2019 during an event organized by the Hawaiian Mission Houses for the 2019 Hawai‘i Mission Bicentennial in New England. Poai accompanied acclaimed Hawai‘i actor Moses Goodes who performed in the main room of the AAS his one-man drama My Name is ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia.

New details on death of George Kaumuali‘i – Humehume

New details on the death of George Kaumuali‘i [George Tamoree – Humehume] appear in the April 25, 1828 issue of the Philadelphian newspaper. The unsigned front page news report titled simply George Tamoree was apparently written by Elisha Loomis. Elisha had returned from Hawai‘i to the United States in 1827 due to illness. Loomis served as the printer for the Sandwich Islands Mission’s Pioneer Company.

In the article, Elisha tells of seeing George the day before his death from influenza in 1826 in Honolulu. He reports that Kalanimoku, the Christian prime minister of the Hawaiian Kingdom, told him details of George’s painful last hours.

Elisha knew George Kaumuali‘i well. Both Elisha and George studied together during the summer 1819 term at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, they sailed together aboard the voyage of the brig Thaddeus leaving from Boston in October 1819 for Hawai‘i, and for years after their arrival in Hawai‘i in the spring of 1820, both in Kaua‘i and in Honolulu during the last years of George’s life.

Click here to read the article.

Elisha returned to New York State due to illness (he died later in the 1830s). He continued his service to the American Board’s mission to Hawai‘i by printing Ka Euanelio a Mataio [The Gospel of John] and other Gospels on a press in Rochester. Elisha started up a newspaper in Rochester to earn a living while doing mission work.

Jubilee look at the Hawaiian church in 1870

Rufus Anderson Portrait Wikimedia

Engraving by J. C. Buttre from a daguerreotype taken from “Discourse Commemorative of Rev. Rufus Anderson,” ABCFM publication, 1880. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The recently-released documentary A Witness To Aloha, created for the bicentennial of the landmark Kawaiaha‘o Church in Honolulu, has received great acclaim in Hawai‘i and wherever the 60-minute film has been viewed. A Witness to Aloha, directed by premier Hawai‘i filmmaker Dennis Lee, aired in April 2020 on KITV during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

To compliment the fine portrait of Kawaiaha‘o presented in A Witness To Aloha, I am posting an excerpt from the annual report of the Amerian Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for 1870. In this report is an account of a visit to Kawaiaha‘o and Hawai‘i made in 1870 by Rufus Anderson the Secretary of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission (ABCFM).

The overview offers an enlightening overview of the state of the Protestant church in the Hawaiian Islands some fifty years after the arrival of the pioneer mission company.

Anderson sailed to Honolulu from the West Coast to attend the Jubilee commemoration held in 1870 of the introduction of Christianity to the Hawaiian Islands. He found a flourishing native church in Hawai‘i in the years soon after the closing the ABCFM’s mission to Hawai‘i in 1863.

In 1820 the first group of Christians with plans to open a permanent mission station arrived, sent from Boston as the American Board’s Sandwich Islands Mission. The pioneer company of American Protestant missionaries was sent to Hawai‘i in 1819 from Boston  and arrived at Kailua, Kona on April 4, 1820.

In his report, Anderson wrote, “The very shore on which I first set my foot bore evidence of the great change. The first object to greet the eye was the great stone church, whose foundations were laid by the veteran Bingham. The barren waste of a few years ago, where was neither tree, shrub, nor flower, to relieve the eye, had been changed as into a garden of the Lord. The very shore on which I first set my foot bore evidence of the great change. The first object to greet the eye was the great stone church, whose foundations were laid by the veteran Bingham. The barren waste of a few years ago, where was neither tree, shrub, nor flower to relieve the eye, had been changed as into a garden of the Lord.”

Click below to download PDF of Rufus Anderson’s Mission Jubilee report from Hawai‘i

Jubilee Overview of Kawaiahao