Kauaʻi A History – My new book from Mutual Publishing

Kauaʻi A History from Mutual Publishing is becoming a popular book here in Kauaʻi. Over December I signed copies at Talk Story Bookstore in Hanapepe and interacted with visitors from across the mainland fielding questions about Kauaʻiʻs colorful past. About fifty images of Kauaʻiʻs history appear in the book, which I selected to both be new to kamaʻaina readers and informative to malihini readers are included, many in full color. The cover features an image new to me of Waimea folks sitting on a rock wall in front of either a thatched western style store or home alongside a traditional style thatched hale. Featured in the book are overviews of Kauaʻiʻs sugar plantations, town histories, and a look at WWII on the island.

Here’s the back cover blurb for the book:

Kaua’i A History paints a portrait of Old Kaua‘i in words and images, bringing back to life the rich heritage and independence of an island portrayed as the Separate Kingdom by historian Edward Joesting.
The narrative and images concisely offer informed accounts of Kaua‘i’s history, both island-wide and individual towns.

This image of a Boston engravers impression of missionary adventurer Hiram Binghamʻs drawing of his campsite at Nuʻalolo Kai along the Nā Pali Coast of Kauaʻi. This image is published in Kauaʻi A History for the first time since serving as a frontispiece to a rhetorical Sunday school book titled Conversations on the Sandwich Island Mission, First Edition 1829.

The Bingham engraving of Nuʻalolo camping appeared as a frontispiece to the first edition of Conversations on the Sandwich Island Mission…By A Lady, published in Boston in 1829 for the Massachusetts Sabbath Schools. Only a handful of the first edition of this book are known to exist. Unfortunately this copy of Conversations on the Sandwich Islands lacked its cover and frontispiece. I was able to copy the drawing from another copy. Surprisingly, this question and answer children’s book has a good description of surfing in the Hawaiian Islands taken from the journals of American missionaries to Hawaiʻi.

Here’s a description of surfing from Conversations on the Sandwich Island. The author – Sarah Tuttle – rewrote Hiram Binghamʻs description of surfing at Waimea, Kauaʻi in the company of Kaumualiʻi, the last independant Native Hawaiian ruler of Kauaʻi, excerpted from the journal of the missionaryʻs 1821 tour around the island.

Maui’s Christian History Complex Second Only to Honolulu

“Maui Fires Burn Site Where Hawaiian Queen First Brought Christianity to the Island”

Christianity Today August 14, 2023
The wooden Wainee Church in late nineteenth century from E. J. Monsarrat Collection, Hawai‘i State Archives. Fires and strong winds have in the past destroyed the Wainee/Waiola churches.

Christianity Today asked me to contribute background information to a recent article posted at Christianity Today.com focusing on the Christian history and missionary sites located in Lahaina, Maui.

Morgan Lee of Christianity Today wrote an excellent deadline piece on the Christian response on Maui to the tragic, devastating fire which broke out on August 8.

Morgan quoted me: “After Honolulu, ‘Lahaina is home to the second-most complete complex of historic Hawaiian Christian sites in one place to be found in all of Hawaii,’ said Chris Cook, an expert on Hawaiian missionary history. ‘The loss of all but the Lahainaluna sites leaves a major gap in the statewide census of intact Hawaii missionary-era (1820–1863) structures.’”

I was told by Ka‘eo Decoite of Mo‘olelo Kū‘i‘o ministries that Samaritan’s Purse and other off-island disaster-scene ministries are on the ground on Maui providing material and spiritual help.

Lahaina Banyan Tree’s Kaua‘i Roots

The literal roots of the Lahaina Banyan tree which survived the tragic Lahaina fire and is now the symbol of recovery over there, go back to the Koloa, Kaua‘i Sandwich Islands Mission Station. An account of how an 8-foot banyan tree cutting taken in Koloa became the Lahaina Banyan Tree appear in the pages of my late wife Evelyn Cook’s Smith-Waterhouse family book 100 years of Healing – The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor published in 2003. Evelyn was joined in publishing the book by Lori Dill of Kaua‘i and the late Uncle Bob Watts from Kailua.

I may be biased, but Evelyn’s account is 10 x better than the history of the Lahaina Banyan Tree being given in the news around the globe. Here is Evelyn’s carefully documented account describing the motive of Koloa missionary son William Owen Smith in planting the Lahaina Banyan in 1873.

William Owen Smith photo courtesy Bobbie McCord

Sugar cane cultivation did not assume major importance until after 1876 when reciprocity treaty was signed with the U.S. which allowed Hawaiian sugar to enter the U.S. duty free. The treaty transformed the island sugar business into a highly profitable industry, not just for the haoles, but also for the alii who leased land to the plantations and invested directly in the business themselves.

In 1873, the whaling boom was over but the sugar industry had not yet boomed. Lahaina was a sleepy little town without much crime to keep its sole lawman busy. Sheriff Smith often whiled away slow days sitting on a bench outside the courthouse watching ships in the harbor while trading stories with the elderly Hawaiian men who stopped by to chat. The old men loved it that a haole could speak Hawaiian so fluently, with all its subtle layerings, hidden meanings, and poetic flourishes. Smith could even tell jokes in the native tongue, which delighted them, and his sly sense of humor seemed very Hawaiian to them.

Historic Lahaina in the 1970s. Lahaina Banyan Tree is mauka of Lahaina small boat harbor. Hawai‘i State Archives photo

Lahaina‘s weather is sunny much of the time, and since in Smith’s day no trees grew near the courthouse, it could become unbearably hot. So when the sheriff visited his parents on Kauai and they offered to give him a young sapling to plant as a shade tree on the courthouse grounds, he willingly accepted. The tree was an Indian banyan, and Smith planted it in the courthouse square on April 24, 1873, with the help of the old Hawaiian men who liked his jokes. Although it was planted as part of a ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the founding of the first Christian mission in Lahaina, many of Smith’s descendants believe that his original motive had simply been to provide some welcome shade around the courthouse for his Hawaiian friends. And to this day, the Hawaiians of Lahaina still speak with affection of W.O. Smith.

“My great-grandfather, Mr. Mona Kawenaole, who died of leprosy in Kalaupapa, was the konohiki [land steward] for Lahaina in the mid to late 1800s. He was a friend to W.O. Smith and helped plant that tree,” explained Sissa Kaumeheiwa Reynolds, a Native Hawaiian whose family has lived on Maui for generations.

“It was a friendship tree planted for their friendship and their love for the land-to watch it grow over the generations. Sheriff Smith asked this bunch of old kanaka maoli to plant it with him. They used to hang out by the water and talk story. This was told to me by my grandma and Uncle Frank Kahahani and Uncle Willieama Waiohu sitting around the table talking story, eating saloon pilot crackers and drinking hot cocoa. W.O. Smith was a friend of the Hawaiians. They wouldn’t have been hanging with him if he was no good. I don’t care what people say today. He was a friend,“ Sissa said.

The banyan tree her great-grandfather Kawenaole helped Smith plant 130 years ago is today the largest Indian banyan in Hawaii and shades nearly an acre of the old courthouse grounds. Sissa believes it symbolizes an enduring friendship between hole and Hawaiian that is far stronger than the animosity which sometimes flares up between the two peoples.

Mahalo to the Smith-Waterhouse family for permission to post this passage from 100 Years of Healing : The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor by Evelyn Simpson Cook, published by Halewai Publishing, Koloa, Kauai 2003.


Lahaina Banyan Tree Minature by Opala Art

A Lahaina Banyan Tree minature made from a piece of non-recyclable fishing net is being sold as a Lahaina fund-raiser by Kaua‘i-based Opala Art. For more details go to opala_art on Instagram.

The Concert of Prayer Booklet

Download a free copy of the booklet The Concert of Prayer – The Prayer Covering for Hawai‘i’s Historic Nineteenth-Century Revivals

Two hundred years prior to the current Asbury College Revival the monthly Concert of Prayer for Missions service, usually held the first Monday of the month, drew a circle of global prayer. In Hawai‘i the American missionaries along with Native Hawaiian and Tahitian Christian joined together to pray for missions and the spead of the Gospel to all peoples, for God’s blessing on the Hawaiian Islands, and for their Christian endeavors in Hawai‘i and mission fields in the South Pacific and Central Pacific.

Find out more in this 29-page booklet provided for free by Pa‘a Studios. Print copies will be available at the upcoming Hawaiian Islands Ministries Conference 2023 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu March 16-17-18 and at the Mo‘olelo Kūʻiʻo Seminar set for Sunday March 19 at the Kailua Nazarene Church.

Click here to Download a free copy of the booklet The Concert of Prayer – The Prayer Covering for Hawai‘i’s Historic Nineteenth-Century Revivals


Published March 2023 by Pa‘a Studios

Visit Us at the HIM 2023 Conference at the Mo‘olelo Kūʻiʻo Table