A New Look at the Memoirs of Obookiah – My Kawaiaha‘o Church Bicentennial talk

me and leonard

My close Kaua‘i friend Leonard Mahoe (r.), the CRU City Neighbors ministry representative on Kaua‘i, joined me at Kawaiaha‘o Church in Honolulu on July 28, 2020 for the filming of A New Look at the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah. Leonard grew up attending Kawaiaha‘o Church in the 1950s and 60s. The 40-minute talk is one of the Kawaiaha‘o Bicentennial Speaker series and is set to first air on Sunday, August 16 at 4 p.m. HST


The Kawaiaha‘o Church Bicentennial Committee graciously invited me to be the August 2020 speaker in their ongoing Bicentennial Speaker series. I presented A New Look at the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah inside the historic Kawaiaha‘o sanctuary on July 28, 2020. The talk is scheduled to air on Sunday, August 16 at 4 p.m. HST on the Kawaiaha‘o TV YouTube.com channel.

Kawaiahao Talk front screen

My talk on Henry Opukaha‘ia aired on Sunday, August 16, 2020 on the Kawaiaha‘o Church TV Youtube.com channel. A Q&A time aired on Zoom followed the broadcast of my talk, which was taped in the Kawaiaha‘o sanctuary in late July. My talk is scheduled to be rebroadcast, watch here for an exact date and time.

Coincidentally, August 16, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of my arrival in Hawai‘i in summer 1970 to attend the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Looking back I am very thankful for the many blessings I have enjoyed in the islands of Hawai‘i where I have spent most of my adult life. The invitation to speak at Kawaiaha‘o is especially special to me.

In A New Look at the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah I present new details about the life and times of Ōpūkahai‘ia – Henry Obookiah, the first Native Hawaiian Christian. The 40-minute talk offers a preview of material appearing in my new book Preparing the Way, a 160-page full-color pictorial book created to mark the Hawai‘i Mission Bicentennial. The talk is also based on material I first presented in my 2015-released biography of Ōpūkahai‘ia, The Providential Life & Heritage of Henry Obookiah.

Mahalo to Haunani Hendrix who produced the segment, and Malia Ka‘ai-Barrett who introduced me to begin my talk, both on behalf of the the Kawaiaha‘o Bicentennial Committee. I joined Malia and Kahu Ken Makuakane on the stage at Park Street Church in Boston in October 2019 during the Hawai‘i Mission Bicentennial commemoration held in New England to mark the departure of the pioneer Sandwich Islands Mission company to Hawai‘i. Malia is a premier vocalist in Hawai‘i, I was honored by her introduction, and by Haunani’s production skills.

Following the first airing of A New Look at the Memoirs of Henry Obookiah  I will be fielding questions about my talk via Zoom at the Kawaiaha‘o TV channel on YouTube.com. The questions will be combined with the video of my talk and will be available for viewing at the Kawaiaha‘o TV channel.

The July speaker in the Kawaiaha‘o Bicentennial series was Kaipo‘i Kelling. Kaipo‘i is a fantastic teller of mo‘olelo of Hawai‘i, ask anyone who has listened to his talks. He is a Hawaiian language instructor and historian, in addition to being an elementary school teacher, with a focus on missionary era Honolulu. He  presented What Makes Kawaiaha‘o A Wai Pana (famous place). Kaipo‘i’s interesting and intriguing talk focused on the historical setting of the church in Honolulu in an area considered sacred in pre-‘Ai Kapu overthrow days.

Kawaiaha‘o historian Keiko Denbeau presented in June, using the historic plaques that grace the walls of sanctuary at Kawaiaha‘o to tell the story of interesting chapters in the historic church’s history.

Additional speakers in the series are posted at the Kawaiahao TV channel.

Mahalo to former Kawaiaha‘o pastor Kahu Curt Kekuna and his wife Becky Kekuna for their kokua in this project.



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


Kaumuali‘i obeyed orders of Liholiho following fall of kapu system at Kailua, Kona

fall of kapu arrival of thaddeus HSB 1920

Cover of oversized Honolulu Star-Bulletin special publication Century Number “Commemorating the Hundredth Anniversary of the Landing of the First Amerian Missionaries in Hawaii” at Kailua Hawaii April 4th 1820, published April 1920 in Honolulu. The illustration shows the brig Thaddeus arriving at Kailua, Kona on April 4th, 1820 and an ali‘i wearing a feathered cape greeting the missionary party aboard with open arms.

In late November 1819, two Boston sea captains carried to O‘ahu and Kaua‘i orders from Liholioho, Kamehameha II, to destroy the heiau [temples] and the ki‘i [stone and wooden images], according to a first-hand account given in Boston in 1820 by captains Blair and Clark. This sensational report appeared in the July 1820 issue of the Panoplist & Missionary Herald, the monthly missionary and revival publication of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

“Captains Blair and Clark left Owyhee about the 25th of November [1819], and carried down to Woahoo [O‘ahu] and Atooi [Kaua‘i] the king’s orders to burn the monuments of idolatry there also. The order was promptly obeyed in both islands. In Atooi the morais and all the consecrated buildings, with the idols, were on fire the first evening after the order arrived. The people of all these islands had heard what had been done at the Society islands; and there is no doubt that Providence made use of this intelligence to prepare them for so wonderful a change. Captain Blair informs us, that a native chief, named Tiamoko [Keeaumoku], called by Americans Governor Cox, has been for some time inclined to speak very contemptuously of the whole system of idolatry. He was the chief man in the island of Mowee.”

[Note: Captain George Clark master of the Boston ship Borneo, shipwrecked at Kaigani, Alaska in January 1819. Clark and his crew then sailed to Hawai‘i aboard the brig Brutus, Captain Nye. Clark and Blair may have been on the same ship, sailing from Kailua, Kona carrying the orders of Liholiho for O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.]

Following is a copy of the complete report published in the July 1820 issue of the Panoplist & Missionary Herald detailing the overthrow of the kapu system at Kailua, Kona in fall 1819, six months following the death of Kamehameha at Kailua, Kona, and about six months prior to the landing of the pioneer Sandwich Islands Mission company sent from Boston in October 1819.

From the Panoplist & Missionary Herald July 1820 pp. 334-336

For several years past, the Sandwich Islands have presented objects of great curiosity to the inquisitive philanthropist. Since a Christian mission from this country to these islands has been contemplated, and especially since the sailing of the missionaries last October a general interest has been felt with respect to every thing, which relates to the civil policy, and present condition of the natives; as the reception of our brethren might be much affected by these things.

When the Thaddeus sailed, intelligence had not been received of the death of the old king Tamaahmaah, though such an event was considered as likely to take place soon. The life and activity of this man, his acquisition of property and power, and the order and subordination which he had enforced, have for many years attracted no small attention in Europe and America, and his name frequently appears in English reviews. We have conversed with many captains and others, who had been long particularly acquainted with him They united in declaring, that he was a man of extraordinary talents; and that, with superior advantages, he might have made a great statesman. He was very fond of property, and of commerce as the means of obtaming it. Towards the close of life his avarice became more in. tense, as is generally the case with avaricious men, in all parts of the world. He hoarded Spanish dollars, and almost every kind of personal property, which was not immediately perishable. He had large stone-ware-houses filled with drygoods, axes, hoes, fire-arms, and other instruments of defence and offence. He had a fort, with guns mounted, and sentinels regularly on duty. He owned three brigs, a schooner, and several small craft. His control over the persons and Property of his subjects was absolute. To maintain this control it was a part of his policy to keep them poor and dependant, and to exercise his power continually. To his chiefs he granted certain privileges. One of them named Krimakoo [Kalanimoku], was always called his prime minister by the English and Americans, and was by them nicknamed Billy Pitt. He is described by all as being an able, intelligent, and faithful agent. The principal queen is also said to be a shrewd sensible woman, and to have exerted great influence. The late king was the high priest, an office which he assumed many years ago, to obtain and secure his political authority. He was very strict in the performance of his sacerdotal functions, though it is supposed that the ceremonies of his religion were perfectly unintelligible even to the natives, and that he had no sort of confidence himself in the system.

Tamaahmaah was a strong athletic man till near the close of life, when he became quite emaciated, and died of a gradual decay. He was apprehensive of his approaching dissolution, appointed his only remaining son to succeed him, established his chiefs in their accustomed privileges, associated Billy Pitt and the principal queen with the young prince as advisers, and left the world without any fear that the succession would be disturbed. His subjects made a great lamentation over him, and many of them have these words tattoode, that is pricked into the skin of their arms and breasts with indelible ink, in large Roman letters: our GREAT AND GOOD KING TAMAAHMAAH DIED MAY S, 1819. The age of the old king is supposed to have been about 70; the young king is about 23. His name is Reeho-reeho, and he has assumed that of his father. 

The preceding facts are stated as introductory to others of a much more interesting nature, and which seem to have a most auspicious bearing on the mission, which left our shores attended by so mamy prayers, and has been the object of so much affectionate solicitude. 

Early in the month of November, the young king, (who had himself been inducted into the office of high priest before his father’s death with a view to preserve his political influence), came to the resolution to destroy the whole system of idolatry. It was supposed that this was done with full deliberation, with the consent of all who had any voice in the government, and without any opposition from the people. With respect to these transactions, we have the most explicit statements from two eye-witnesses, masters of vessels, who have long been conversant with these islands, captain Blair, and captain Clark, both of Boston. When the resolution was taken, orders were issued to set the buildings, and inclosure consecrated to idolatry, on fire; and while the flames were raging, the idols were thrown down; stripped of the cloth hung over them, and cast into the fire; and, what is still more marvellous, the whole taboo system was destroyed the same day. The sacred buildings were, some of them, thirty feet square. The sides were formed by posts 12 or 14 feet high, stuck into the ground, and the intervals filled with dry grass. The roofs were steep, and thatched with grass, in such a manner as to defend from rain. The morais [heiau] or sacred inclosures, were formed by a sort of fence, and were places, where human sacrifices were formerly practised. Before these inclosures stood the idols, from 3 to feet high, the upper part being carved into a hideous resemblance of the human face. 

The taboo system was that, which was perpetually used to interdict certain kinds of food, the doing of certain things on certain days, &c. &c. in short to forbid whatever the king wished not to be done. On some subjects the taboo was in constant operation, and had been, very probably. for thousands of years. It forbade women and men to eat together, or to eat food cooked by the same fire. Certain kinds of food were utterly forbidden to the women; particularly pork and plaintains, two very important articles in those islands. At the new moon, full, and quarters, when the king was in the morai, performing the various mummeries of idolatry, it was forbidden to women to go on the water. Every breach of the taboo exposed the delinquent to the punishment of death. But so well was the system understood by the people, and so great was the dread of transgression, that the taboo laws were very rigidly observed. We have said, that the taboo system has probably been in operation thousands of years. Our reasons for thinking so are these. The same system pervailed in the Society Islands, at the distance of three thousand miles nearly, and in New Zealand, at the distance of five thousand miles; while the New Zealanders have been so long seperated from the Sandwich Islanders, that the languages of the two classes of people have become exceedingly different. The inhabitants of these remote islands probably never had any communication with each other till very recently, and now in European and American vessels only. But they must have decended from the same race of men, after the taboo system had been formed and was in full opperation. This must have been long ago; but how long it would be useless to conjecture. 

Captains Blair and Clark left Owyhee about the 25th of November [1819], and carried down to Woahoo [O‘ahu] and Atooi [Kaua‘i] the king’s orders to burn the monuments of idolatry there also. The order was promptly obeyed in both islands. In Atooi the morais and all the consecrated buildings, with the idols, were on fire the first evening after the order arrived. The people of all these islands had heard what had been done at the Society islands; and there is no doubt that Providence made use of this intelligence to prepare them for so wonderful a change. Captain Blair informs us, that a native chief, named Tiamoko [Keeaumoku], called by Americans Governor Cox, has been for some time inclined to speak very contemptuously of the whole system of idolatry. He was the chief man in the island of Mowee. The chiefs and people in all the island expressed a desire that missionaries might arrive, and teach them to read and write, as the people of the Society Islands had been taught. Tamoree, king of Atooi, and father of George [Humehume, George Prince Kaumuali‘i], who went with the missionaries was particularly desirous that teachers should arrive. He was very anxious to see his son and has sent one of his subjects, by a vessel now on her way from Canton to Boston, with an express order for George to return. He had also manifested a great wish to visit Pomarre [Pomare II], at Otaheite, and see for himself the change that had taken place there. 

Both captain Blair and captain Clark, who have been acquainted with these islands for more than 20 years, and are confident, that the missionaries will be joyfully received by the natives: that now is the very time for their arrival; and that their services are peculiarly necessary to introduce the truth after the destruction of idolatry.

It is hoped that the missionaries arrived and were landed at least two months ago. What trials, or what encouragements, they have met with, we know not. To the care and direction of a merciful Providence let them be commended daily by all the friends of missions.

200 Years Ago Today First Missionaries Arrived on Kaua‘i

King Kaumuali‘i stood at his kauhale compound located along the shoreline just below Paulaula-Fort Elisabeth on the east side of Waimea River. Word has arrived that his long-lost son Humehume had returned. With tears in his eyes the lean but the muscular king of Kauai and Niihau intently gazed at the 100-foot long Boston brig Thaddeus anchored offshore. The date was May 3, 1820. 

A scout sent out to the two-masted ship had returned at a double-beat paddle. He rushed up to the king with the unexpected news of the return of Humehume, the long-lost son of Kaumualii who had departed Kauai as a young child about fifteen years earlier.

Soon a sea captain and three young men dressed in proper western suits, one a young Native Hawaiian man, stepped ashore from the Thaddeus’ whale boat. They were George Prince Kaumualii accompanied by the Samuels, young New England missionaries Samuel Ruggles and Samuel Whitney. Although George had accompanied the missionaries, he had not embraced Christianity.

Whitney describes the arrival in the first missionary journal account ever written from Kauai.

“A salute of twenty-one guns (cannons) was fired from the brig and answered by as many from the fort. Soon after Captain Blanchard, Brother R. & myself accompanyed George to his father’s house. The King & Queen were sitting on a sofa by the door, surrounded by a large company of the principal men. The introduction was truly affecting. With an anxious heart & trembling arms, the aged Father rose to embrace his long lost son. Both were too much affected to speak. Silence for a few moments pervaded the whole, whilst the tears trickling down their…cheeks spoke the feelings of nature.”

This emotional passage marked the beginning of the missionary era of Kauai and Niihau, an islandwide movement that lasted until the early 1860s.

The way seemed to be prepared for the warm welcome given by Kaumuali‘i to the pioneer Protestant missionaries sent from Boston to Hawai‘i in October 1819 as members of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions’ Sandwich Islands Mission. Teams of missionaries landed at Kailua–Kona on April 4 after 164 days at sea, and a few weeks sailed to Honolulu.

A year earlier, in May 1819, Kamehameha died at his Kamakahonu compound at Kailua Bay, Hawaii Island. Kamehameha had brought peace and safe passage for the Hawaiian people, and now the missionaries, by uniting the Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom through almost twenty years of warfare. 

Months later his son and heir Liholiho, prodded by Kamehameha’s sacred queen, Keopuolani, his favorite and most powerful queen, Kaahumanu, and his kahuna nui, high priest Hewahewa, overthrew particularly the religious aspects of the ancient kapu system of laws that controlled most aspects of the lives of the people of Hawai‘i, specifically the Ai Kapu, which segregated women from eating with men.

The collapse of the kapu system led to the abandonment of all heiau temples in Hawaii. The stone and wooden images of Hawaii’s gods were destroyed or secreted away. Kaumualii told the American missionaries that just months prior to their arrival in May 1820 he gladly overturned the old religion.

Whitney’s account of meeting Kaumualii, whom he knew as Tamoree, portrays him sharing his breath with Kaumualii (the Native Hawaiian cultural greeting known as honi). This goes against the stereotype of the American missionaries as stodgy Calvinists unaware of the ways of Hawaii. 

“We were introduced to Tamoree, as persons who had left our native country & had come to reside at the Islands for the purpose of instructing the natives. They then joined noses with us and said it is good, I am glad to see you. A table was soon set in very good stile, and we were invited to sit down to dinner. In the evening a house was prepared for Brother R. and myself, & we retired much pleased with the prospect of usefulness.”

The missionaries, when not seasick, daily studied the Hawaiian language except Sunday during their voyage from Boston. At their first landing, at Kawaihae Bay on Hawaii Island, the Thaddeus Journal notes missionary wives conversing in Hawaiian phrases with Kalanimoku, the prime minister and lead general of Kamehameha.

Ashore on Kauai, George Prince Kaumualii rediscovered his Hawaiian name, Humehume, a name he had lost to memory over his  years of life in New England and at sea as a marine during the War of 1812.

Ruggles and Whitney presented Kaumualii a special English language Bible sent by the American Bible Society at the request of George. The name “Tamoree” spelled out in gold leaf letters decorated the cover of the large Bible. 

As George Prince, his son had been given a home and a future in 1816 after being found aimlessly living at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. George dwelled in despair; a homeless teenage combat wounded marine returned from the War of 1812. 

Leaders in the American missionary movement provided support for the young prince’s education at the American Board’s Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. There he excelled in astronomy and learned to play the bass viol. 

Missionary teacher Samuel Ruggles arrived at Waimea already accustomed to Hawaiian ways and life among Native Hawaiians. He had befriended George at Cornwall. For over two years Ruggles lived, studied, socialized, and worked in the fields and forests of Cornwall with George, Opukahaia (Henry Obookiah), Thomas Hopu and other Native Hawaiian students.

Whitney and Ruggles returned to Honolulu with a promise from Kaumualii of land for a mission station and full support for holding church services and teaching reading and writing.

In late July 1820 the men returned with their wives to open a mission station at Waimea. 

Mercy wrote in her journal: “George came to the Vessel to see if we were on board, & then sent for his parents who immediately came in a double canoe.”

A great crowd gathered at Waimea on Kauai’s westside to greet the missionary couples to see the first white women to settle on the island.

Nathan Chamberlain, the young son of missionary farmer Daniel Chamberlain, accompanied the missionaries, serving as translator. During the long Thaddeus journey the Chamberlain children quickly picked up the basics of the Hawaiian language by conversing with George, and the three Native Hawaiian missionary assistants aboard.

The Whitneys and the Ruggles soon experienced the ways of Kauai when its population was almost all Native Hawaiians. They slept on layers of kapa cloth,  attended a hula performance, listened to drumming and chanting, and adapted to eating local foods.

The first Christian church service ever held on Kauai began at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning July 30. The missionaries joined by a visiting sea captain led the service in a makeshift chapel erected along the makai side of the fort at Waimea. 

The Kauai missionaries faced a daunting task. 

Their overarching mission was to spread Christianity. In accomplishing this they were greatly aided in advance when a spiritual vacuum was caused six months earlier by the abandonment of the kapu system. 

They saw an immediate need to support Native Hawaiian family life and introducing western medicine with hopes of turning around the drastic decline in the Hawaiian population that had dropped as much as eighty percent from the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778 to the arrival of the missionaries to Hawaii in 1820.

The first laws printed in Hawaii sought to preserve the Hawaiian people. By 1825 Queen Regent Kaahumanu, Kalanimoku and other alii nui had become practicing Christians. Kaahumanu based these first printed laws on the Ten Commandments. She primarily sought to end the rampant prostitution of Hawaiian women to visiting the dozens of shiploads of sailors then arriving in Hawaii ports. And to control the heavy drinking at grog shops that catered to these sailors. A violent reaction resulted in attacks on the missionaries by sailors. 

Within a generation the Kauai missionaries more than accomplished their goals. 

Literacy and education spread to every village in Kauai. Native Hawaiian students trained to be teachers of the palapala; the written word taught through a biblical-based curriculum as its foundation. Students who excelled were trained to teach others and moved on to other villages. By the 1850s these palapala schools ringed Kauai even opening at remote Kalalau and Milolii valleys. The literacy rate in Hawaii rose to first place in the world. 

Mission stations opened at Koloa and Waioli at Hanalei. Queen Deborah Kapule founded a church along the Wailua River near Coco Palms with services held in the Hawaiian language. 

From printing presses in Honolulu and Lahaina millions of pages in the written Hawaiian language were distributed.  The development of a written Hawaiian language, and translation of the complete Bible directly from biblical languages was completed in 1838. The American missionaries worked closely with Native Hawaiian and Tahitian scholars in creating the Bible. The written Hawaiian language flourished in the nineteenth century through a wide variety of Hawaiian language newspapers all tracing their roots back to the first  printing in the Hawaiian language at the mission press in Honolulu in 1822.

Missionary doctors combated the introduced diseases traditional kahuna healers could not cure. In 1853 Dr. James Smith of Koloa, the first western doctor stationed full time on Kauai, inoculated almost every person on Kauai and Niihau keeping away from the shores of Kauai a smallpox epidemic that killed thousands of Native Hawaiians on Oahu and other Hawaiian islands.

Melodious western music caught the ear of the people of Hawai‘i through missionary “singing schools” and the first book ever published in the Hawaiian language was a hymnal that included hymns in Tahitian brought by Tahitian Christians in 1822.

The Sandwich Islands Mission officially ended in 1863 with orders from Boston to encourage Native Hawaiian ministers to become pastors of the churches founded by the American missionaries. Today many of those churches still flourish on Kauai.

For updates on future Kauai Missionary Bicentennial events go to www.missionhouses.org/bicentennial