Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Henry Opukahaʻia’s Influence on Missionaries Coming to Hawaiʻi

The history and growth of Christianity in Hawaiʻi include Henry Opukahaʻia, a native Hawaiian from the Island of Hawaiʻi.

In 1809, at the age of 16, after his parents had been killed, he boarded a sailing ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay and sailed to the continent.

On board, he developed a friendship with a Christian sailor who, using the Bible, began teaching Opukahaʻia how to read and write.

Once landed, he traveled throughout New England and continued to learn and study.

Opukahaʻia’s life in New England was greatly influenced by many young men with proven sincerity and religious fervor that were active in the Second Great Awakening and the establishment of the missionary movement.

These men had a major impact on Opukahaʻia’s enlightenment in Christianity and his vision to return to Hawaiʻi as a Christian missionary.

By 1817, a dozen students, six of them Hawaiians, were training at the Foreign Mission School to become missionaries to teach the Christian faith to people around the world.

He improved his English by writing the story of his life in a book called “Memoirs of Henry Obookiah” (the spelling of his name prior to establishment of the formal Hawaiian alphabet, based on its sound.)

Opukahaʻia died suddenly of typhus fever in 1818.  The book about his life was printed and circulated after his death.

Opukahaʻia’s book inspired 14 missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Sandwich Islands. 

On October 23, 1819, a group of missionaries from the northeast United States, set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.)

There were seven couples sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity.

These included two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.

Along with them were four Hawaiian youths who had been students at the Foreign Mission School, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, John Honoliʻi and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaiʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i and also known as Prince George Kaumuali‘i.)

After 164 days at sea, on April 4, 1820 (192-years ago, today,) the Thaddeus first arrived and anchored at Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaiʻi.

Hawai‘i’s “Plymouth Rock” is about where the Kailua pier is today.

The Thurstons remained in Kailua-Kona, while their fellow missionaries went to establish stations on other Hawaiian islands.

Hiram Bingham, the leader of the group, went to Honolulu to set up a mission headquarters; Whitney and Ruggles accompanied Prince Kaumuali‘i on his return to Kaua‘i.  (Hiram is my great-great-great grandfather.)

By the time the missionaries arrived, Kamehameha I had died, Liholiho (his son) was king and the kapu system had been abolished.

I have added a folder of like name in the Photos section of my Facebook page of images from Hiram Bingham’s book, “A Residence of Twenty-one Years in the Sandwich Islands” and other related images.  Several of the illustrations show missionary work across the islands.


  1. in reading your account about the Kapu system being abolished, isn't it because Queen Ka'ahumanu fell ill and Hiram Bingham and his wife helped her back to health and because of this they used christianity as a reason for her recovery and she believed that and abolished the kapu system?

  2. The kapu was abolished in 1819; the first missionaries (including Hiram and Sybil Bingham) arrive in Kona on April 4, 1820. Kaahumanu did become ill and Sybil helped nurse her to recovery. That is one of the motivations for Kaahumanu to accept Christianity.