Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives (Mission Houses) collaborated with Awaiaulu Foundation to digitize, transcribe, translate and annotate over 200-letters written by 33-Chiefs.
The letters, written between 1823 and 1887, are assembled from three different collections: the ABCFM Collection held by Harvard’s Houghton Library, the HEA Collection of the Hawaii Conference-United Church of Christ and the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society.
These letters provide insight into what the Ali‘i (Chiefs) were doing and thinking at the time, as well as demonstrate the close working relationship and collaboration between the aliʻi and the missionaries.
In this letter, King Liholiho expresses gratitude to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for sending the missionaries and introducing the word of God. He reports that his people are happy to have learned the word of God.
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) was a Christian organization that sent companies of missionaries to Hawaiʻi beginning in 1820.
Liholiho, Kamehameha II, was the son of Kamehameha I. He inherited his father’s rule and was the sovereign of Hawaiʻi at the time of this letter.
“Oahu March 18, 1823”
“To those of the American Board,”
“Deep regards to all of you dwelling there in America. Here is my bit of message to all of you. We have recently learned literacy, we have seen and heard the good word of Jehovah.”
“We really desire the good teachings of Jesus Christ. What he has taught all of us is excellent indeed and we have finally become learned.”
“We were shown compassion by Jehovah, who sent Mr. Bingham and Mr. Thurston and all the teachers. And they dwelled with us here and our lands have become enlightened.”
“Our hearts rejoice for their good teaching to us. Our hearts are joyful at Jehovah’s words to us. That bit of message is finished. Here is another message: you may have already heard. I will clarify so that you all hear.”
“We had wooden deities before, during my father’s time. In my time, I have abandoned wooden deities. It turns out my abandoning of them beforehand was appropriate, for Mr. Bingham, Mr. Thurston and all the teachers were arriving.
“It is through our father that I may greet all of you. Jesus Christ was good in speaking to you, saying to you all, ‘Go and teach throughout the islands, and preach the good word of salvation.’”
“The ministers sailed here to do good things for us, we were overjoyed. And later on we may well be fully virtuous. We observe the sacred day of Almighty God in heaven, savior of us all.”
“Greatly beloved are all of you for thinking of us, for sending them here. Thankfully you sent teachers or our lands would be completely ignorant. But no, you showed us compassion.”
“Our lands have become enlightened. Deep regards to all of you. May we have salvation through Jehovah and Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“Tamehameha King of Hawaiʻi”
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US, led by Hiram Bingham, set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.) They arrived in the Islands and anchored at Kailua-Kona on April 4, 1820.
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863 – the “Missionary Period”,) about 180-men and women in twelve Companies served in Hawaiʻi to carry out the mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in the Hawaiian Islands.
One of the earliest efforts of the missionaries, who arrived in 1820, was the identification and selection of important communities (generally near ports and aliʻi residences) as “stations” for the regional church and school centers across the Hawaiian Islands.
Hawaiian Mission Houses’ Strategic Plan themes note that the collaboration between Native Hawaiians and American Protestant missionaries resulted in the
• The introduction of Christianity;
• The development of a written Hawaiian language and establishment of schools that resulted in widespread literacy;
• The promulgation of the concept of constitutional government;
• The combination of Hawaiian with Western medicine, and
• The evolution of a new and distinctive musical tradition (with harmony and choral singing).