Nu`uanu Home Hawaiian Islands Home Pacific Worlds Home



The Sea

The Land





Explorers |  Missionaries |  Mahele |  Society |  Aftermath |  Language |  Sources & Links


"The missionaries who came here, to what became known as the Sandwich Island mission, operated under the auspices of the ABCFM—The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions—out of Boston, which was founded in 1810," Kanani says. There were seven couples who belonged to the first company, the “pioneer” company. They left Boston in 1819 and they arrived here in March of 1820."



"These Missionaries were really not sure how they would be received here in the Hawaiian Islands. Some of them had had the opportunity to meet some Native Hawaiians who were educated at the Cornwall Foreign Mission School in Connecticut.

"Now those Hawaiians had sort of serendipitously met in New England. And there were as many as 17 to 20 Native Hawaiian youth being educated there around that time. Three of them and one other Hawaiian, George Kaumuali‘i, the son of the chief of Kaua‘i, accompanied the first company of missionaries on board the brig Thaddeus to the Sandwich Islands. And although it isn’t well documented, it is thought that while they were in route to Hawai‘i, the Native Hawaiians and the missionaries had a chance to really engage in conversation about what life might be like here in the Islands."


Hawaiian Youths

Four Hawaiian youths who accompanied the first missionaries. Clockwise from the top left: Thomas Hoopoo, George Tamoree, John Honoree, and William Tennooe.



Ka‘ahumanu,Kamehameha I 's favorite wife, and Kuhina Nui (prime minister) for Kamehamehas II and III. From Louis Choris’ Voyage Pittoresque Autour du Monde, Paris, 1822.

"The missionaries had to receive permission in order to stay, and the Hawaiian royalty did extend permission to them. So that was the beginning of the missionaries in the Sandwich Islands. And this pioneer company was the first of twelve official companies to come here in a 30-year period. There were independents who also came on their own, but these twelve companies of missionaries made up the greatest percentage of missionaries.

"There was some attrition due to dissatisfaction with the mission or ill health, and the Board was always under-funded. They were always complaining that they didn’t have enough money to really support these missions."



Mission House

Part of the original Honolulu Mission House complex, now a historical site.


"But I think that as the mission grew, there was the need for more and more missionaries. They started out with just a station on the Big Island in the Kailua-Kona area and a station at Honolulu. And that grew to 17 stations all together by the time the mission was finished. 17 official stations with houses and schools and churches. So the need for more missionaries grew as a result of that, and the Board responded. Not always in a timely manner, but they did respond.

"The bulk of the Company came to Honolulu and then Samuel Ruggles and his wife and Samuel Whitney and his wife were then assigned to Kaua‘i. And when they went to Kaua‘i, they took with them young prince George, who had left Kaua‘i at a very young age. His father was King Kaumuali‘i and they reunited young prince George Tamoree—that was his sort of his English name—with his father. Hiram Bingham, with his wife Sybil Bingham, he was the tacit leader of the first company. He was definitely one of the more outspoken members of the group of missionaries."



"The first company included a very important person in Elisha Loomis. He was young, but he was also an experienced printer, and he and his wife Maria were also assigned here to Honolulu, which is where I believe the decision was made that this would be on O‘ahu here, which became the main mission station.

"Of the seven couples, the Binghams, the Loomis’s, and Daniel Chamberlain (who was an agriculturist) and his wife and their five children lived in Honolulu, while others were settled on other islands."



Hiram and Sybil Bingham.


Water of Hao

Ha`o sign

"At that time, 1820, this area here which we call Kawaiaha‘o was described as a dry and dusty plain. Daniel Chamberlain came as a farmer but he couldn’t grow anything here. He wasn’t having any luck, which is why he took his family back within two years. But nearby is Pohukaina, no more than a four minute walk from here. This was an important area to the royalty. But the royalty were moving around, they just seemed to be very comfortable with that.

"When Keopuolani died in 1823, she died in Lahaina. Now she was King Kamehameha’s most sacred Queen. By that time the second company of missionaries had arrived and they were with her when she died. But she’s buried on the grounds of Waiola Church, supposedly her bones are there today along with the bones of many other ali‘i. So between Lahaina and Honolulu and also the Kohala area of the Big Island there was a lot of movement back and forth."


"When I think of the missionaries as a group and also as a movement coming into these islands and establishing themselves, I think of some of the things that they accomplished as being extremely good for the Hawaiian people. There were some high hopes and there were some very good achievements. But at the same time there were some costs that were paid, exacted by both the Native Hawaiian people and the missionaries too.

"Probably one of the most important legacies they have left, and that we still have high regard for today, is their creating a written language from the oral language. And then printing it in the form of alphabets and school books, primers and religious tracts, song books and text books. And then becoming teachers of reading and writing to the Native Hawaiian populace. And encouraging the Native Hawaiians themselves to become teachers, as well as pastors."



A printing of the first alphabet primer in Hawaiian by the Mission Press. B, D, R, T and V were later deleted from the final alphabet.



Levi Chamberlain House

The Levi Chamberlain house was built in 1831, using coral blocks cut from the reef. Levi Chamberlain planed out and disbursed provisions for the entire Sandwich Islands Mission from this building. Read about the original Mission House....


"There was a lot of role-modeling going on. The missionaries were not only devout Christians, but they were also strong believers in family values. And they were expected to demonstrate to the Native Hawaiian people the importance of family: the importance of a mother’s role in raising her children and of course the father’s role in being productive, and in the mother’s role of supporting the father in his endeavors.

"When you have two cultures coming together like that, there is a tendency for the visiting culture or group to want to impose its cultural values on the indigenous group. So, if you were to read the words of the missionary women, for example, as they talk about their observations about Native Hawaiian women, they are very concerned about the fact that mothers don’t seem to be necessarily the primary care givers—that children tended to belong to a community."




Diorama in the Mission House museum, showing life of the early missionaries. Like their Hawaiian neighbors, they lived in hale pili (grass houses).

"The Hawaiians had a system called hanai, where a woman could easily just give her child to a sister or an aunt or a cousin for that person to raise. And there was some stratification within the Hawaiian society, and still isn’t always clear to me what rules certain levels of society followed. Perhaps there were different sets of rules for ali‘i and commoners. But for the most part, when the missionaries held meetings in their homes, they were dealing not with the ali‘i; they were working with commoner women. And they were teaching them to read and write. And of course children as well.

"So, I think there was a lot of exchange going on of ideas. I think both cultures were looking at each other and trying to figure out exactly what it is they could accept and what they couldn’t accept."


"There were rules imposed fairly early in the mission on what you can do and what you can’t do. The Ten Commandments were printed up around 1825-1826, and the Hawaiians didn’t really pay attention to any commandments of that nature prior to the arrival of the missionaries.

"And the Hawaiians were quite polytheistic. They believed in many gods: there were gods for everything. Hundreds and hundreds of gods. Not just one god. So there were many opportunities for misunderstanding and also many opportunities to build bridges, which is what they did too."


Printing Press

The printing press currently on display at the Mission House Historical Site is a reproduction of the original press. Read more....



The 1838 Hawaiian Bible. Image from the State Library of Massachusetts.

"There were also laws that prohibited, for example, amusements on the Sabbath in the 1820s. That included horseback riding on a Sunday; it included dancing hula on Sunday; anything that could be construed as amusement was forbidden. And that was so that the Native Hawaiians would spend Sunday in church, that they would be paying attention to the salvation of their own souls.

"But there were always Native Hawaiians that found a way to rebel against these laws. There wasn’t 100% acceptance of them by the Native Hawaiians for the missionary or for the laws or for missionary presence. There were many idols and other curiosities that were hidden by the Native Hawaiians, so they wouldn’t be destroyed. It’s a complex story."




Kawaiha‘o Church, rebuilt in the mid 1800's on the site of the original grass-hut church built by the first company of missionaries. The original mission houses are nearby. Learn more....


"The Board at this time is saying to the missionaries, ‘You know you’ve had 28 years to spread Christianity. To train young men to become pastors of the churches, so we really need to end this. The Native Hawaiians need to stand on their own.' In 1853, the Board said, ‘Sandwich Islands are now Christianized.' They didn’t send any more companies of Missionaries after 1848, but they did continue some support of the missionaries who were here until about 1863.

"But then the missionaries who were here and those who had chosen to stay and had raised families by this time and whose second generation were already adults and leading productive lives here in Hawai‘i, had to find their own means of support and so some stayed within the church. Some entered politics, some entered the public sector, some became teachers, became surveyors, doctors, etc. So, by that time the Missionary roots are well established. And it all happened within about the first 30 years."



"Missionaries were given specific instructions to stay out of government politics. ‘Do not attempt to tell the leaders of the Hawaiian nation how to govern.' And yet in order to stay here, they had to sort of cozy up with the ali‘i and they did that. Ka‘ahumau was the Kuhina Nui, the Regent, you might say. Because when King Kamehameha III became king in 1825, he was only about 12 years old. Certainly he wasn’t going to be making the decisions for the nation.

"Ka‘ahumau would be the one to do that, she had the power. At first she was a little bit stand-offish, but she did eventually have a real belief that the Missionaries had brought a gift. She was baptized, accepted baptism into the church at Kawaiaha‘o in 1825 along with eight or nine other members of Royalty.

"Without her support I don’t think the Missionaries would have made the inroads that they did, because the Governor of O‘ahu—Boki and his wife Liliha—did not necessarily support the missionaries. And so there was conflict amongst the Royalty as to how much credibility or how much privilege should be given to these visitors."


William Richards

Missionary William Richards was commissioned by King Kamehameha III to help secure recognition of the Hawaiian Kingdom as an independent State from Great Britain, France and the United States.


Gerrit Judd

Dr. Gerrit P. Judd, arrived 1828, became increasingly involved with the government. King Kamehameha III appointed him a member of the treasury board in 1842. Judd later became minister of foreign affairs (1843), minister of the interior (1845), and minister of finance (1846).


"It’s so hard to keep politics out, it’s so hard to separate church and State. We try so hard to do it today and we still have trouble with it. And back then, church and State were almost one. This is what riled the visiting merchants and other foreigners. They felt that missionaries were taking over because they had—they were pili—close with the ali‘i, and so the laws that were announced and were gradually being put into affect, were really due to missionary influence, and the imposition of their religion on Hawaiian culture.

"But it wasn’t a one-way flow. It was a mix. The Hawaiians made their choices and they were free to turn the Missionaries away, but they didn’t. And you really have to look at what was happening at that time. There was a lot happening to the Hawaiian nation that Native Hawaiians themselves weren’t prepared for."


Lamentation for Keopuolani

"Lamentation for Keopuolani, "from Stewart 1828.


“Number one, the decline in numbers. The ravages of disease. The decline of the Native Hawaiian population due to diseases for which they had very little immunity started right after Captain Cook’s first arrival, way before the missionaries. Venereal disease causes sterility. And the Hawaiians were at one time a robust nation of people. In 1804 there was a very severe epidemic, probably cholera, and in 1825, I believe a severe flu killed many important Hawaiian Chiefs.  

"In 1848, ten thousand people died of measles, and flu and diarrhea epidemic and then 1853, six thousand, almost all Native Hawaiians, died. That was the big smallpox epidemic. And society was fragile. Around the time of the 1848 epidemic also was the Gold Rush in California. And you have Native Hawaiian males leaving to go search for gold. And 1848 was the same year that the last company of missionaries arrived."

“The ali‘i, like Ka‘ahumanu, they’re somewhat protected from those situations. I think she understood that, for example, with the Native Hawaiian women swimming to the ships and wanting to be on the ships as they pulled into port, that that wasn’t such a good thing. That there was sickness and ill health associated with that type of behavior. And so there was a law that prohibited that, eventually."




The Mission House Cemetery, the oldest Christian graveyard in Hawai`i, is the resting place for many of the Honolulu missionaries and their descendents.


"Today, when people talk about gaining back what was lost or becoming a sovereign nation, often times they are critical of the missionaries as an entity, as a group, for having deprived them early on of being able to practice their culture and traditions. And it’s not quite that black and white in my opinion. You have two cultures that have come together, and in some cases there is a tremendous clash. But there is also exchange, and in some cases, union of two cultures. So the story, when it’s told, needs to take all those things into consideration. There were achievements. But there were also setbacks for both the Native Hawaiians and for the missionaries. And I think we’re still trying to sort that all out."

Among the many changes brought by the missionaries and other visitors to the islands was the major transformation of land tenure, the 1848 Mahele.



Explorers |  Missionaries |  Mahele |  Society |  Aftermath |  Language |  Sources & Links
Arrival |  A Native Place |  The Sea |  The Land |  Footprints |  Visitors |  Memories |  Onwards
Nu‘uanu Home |  Map Library |  Site Map |  Hawaiian Islands Home |  Pacific Worlds Home