Kahikolu means three in one, or the trinity.
As is common in many Hawaiian words, this one carries two meaning. The one refers to the traditional Christian connotation of the father, son and holy ghost trinity, which the other relates to the fact that this was the congregation’s third house of worship. (PS)
In February 1824, Chiefs Kapiʻolani, Naihe and Kamakau built the first church in South Kona at Kaʻawaloa, near the site where Captain Cook was killed. They offered this thatched church and parsonage to the Reverend James Ely and his family. (Asa Thurston reportedly gave the dedication sermon for the Kaʻawaloa Church on March 29, 1824.)
“Under the auspices of the governor of the island, and the friendly influence of the present chief of the place, Naihe, and his wife Kapiʻolani, who are steady, intelligent, discreet, and one, if not both, it is to be hoped, pious persons …”
“… a missionary station has since been formed in this village, a school opened, and a house erected for Christian worship; and that the inhabitants of the neighbourhood are instructed in the elements of learning and the principles of religion.” (Ellis)
Rev Ely, the resident pastor lived with his family at Kaʻawaloa until being replaced by Rev. Samuel Ruggles four years later. Due to ill health Ruggles left in June 1833 when Rev. Cochran Forbes from Hilo assumed missionary responsibility.
In 1839, under the direction of Chiefess Kapiʻolani, Forbes moved the mission to the south side of Kealakekua Bay, in an area called Kepulu, just inland from the village now called Napoʻopoʻo.
In 1840 Forbes, oversaw the building of a grand edifice of stone and adobe block, which measured 120 feet x 57 feet. In 1841 the Kealakekua Church was finished, and used until June 1845, when Forbes resigned because of his wife’s ill health. The church had no pastor for the next six years.
Then in 1852, the third church was started by Reverend John D Paris (and completed in 1855.) Paris went on to build eight other churches in the kingdom, making him one of the most prolific builders of his time.
“The first church which I erected in South Kona was the Kahikolu, or Trinity, Church near Kealakekua Bay. This church is on the site of the immense stone and adoby building erected in 1840 under the supervision of Brethern Forbes and Ives.”
“The new Kahikolu Church was built of lava rock (with 35-inch thick walls,) taking the width of the old building for the length of the new one. For the lime, coral was cut from the bottom of the ocean by the Hawaiians. I had a hole dug and built a lime kiln where the coral was burned.”
“The lime thus obtained was of good quality and was used for making mortar as well as for finishing the interior of the building. The heavy timbers were dragged from the forest, and the koa shingles and lumber for pulpit and pews were brought from the koa forest a number of miles up the mountain side.” (Paris; The Friend May 1926) This is the church that still stands today.
Kahikolu Church was the Mother Church for the South Kona area; however, with the passage of time its significance declined as branch churches grew larger and the population of the Kealakekua Bay area dwindled.
The church was abandoned in 1953 following a series of earthquakes. The congregation later reorganized and repaired the church and in August 1984, Kahikolu Church re-opened its doors. (Kahikolu is one of two surviving stone churches on Hawaiʻi.) (NPS)
The corrugated iron roof replaced an earlier koa shingle roof. The interior walls are covered with a coral lime plaster over which a skim coat was applied in 1925. Also in that year James Acia painted stencil designs on the walls at the ceiling and over the windows. (NPS)
A memorial and burial site for Henry ʻOpukahaʻia is located on the grounds of Kahikolu Church. He was born in Kaʻu; as a teenager left the islands on a fur trading ship and eventually settled and lived in New Haven, Connecticut.
He learned to read and write, embraced Christianity and developed a commitment to its ideals and principles, and helped other Native Hawaiians who came from Hawai‘i to seek a Christian education.
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.)
ʻŌpūkahaʻia died suddenly of typhus fever in 1818; he was buried there in Cornwall, Connecticut. ʻOpukahaʻia’s book inspired the first Protestant missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Sandwich Islands.
In instructions from the ABCFM, the Pioneer Company of missionaries were told, “You will never forget ʻOpukahaʻia. You will never forget his fervent love, his affectionate counsels, his many prayers and tears for you, and for his and your nation.”
“You saw him die; saw how the Christian could triumph over death and the grave; saw the radient glory in which he left this world for heaven. You will remember it always, and you will tell it to your kindred and countrymen who are dying without hope.”
A year after his death, the Pioneer Company of missionaries, comprised of both Americans and Native Hawaiians, among them the Reverend Hiram Bingham and Reverend Asa Thurston, was dispatched to Hawai‘i to begin the work that Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia had longed to do.
On August 15, 1993, ʻOpukahaʻia’s remains were returned to Hawai‘i from Cornwall and laid in a vault facing the ocean at Kahikolu Church.