Definition of collaborate – “to work jointly with others or together …” (Merriam-Webster)
The recent Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives project “Letters from the Ali‘i,” more than 225 letters written by 42 different ali‘i between 1820-1907, helps illustrate the collaboration between the missionaries and the ali‘i.
These letters have been digitized, transcribed, translated and annotated by interns under the direction of Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier, Executive Director of the Awaiaulu Foundation.
The Ali‘i Letters project “changed my perspective on the anti-missionary, anti-Anglo-Saxon rhetorical tradition that scholarship has been produced, contemporary scholarship, and it is not to discredit that scholarship, but just to change a paradigm, to shift the paradigm, and it shifted mine.” (Kaliko Martin, Research Assistant, Awaiaulu)
Jon Yasuda was another of the intern translators who participated in the translation project. He received his Master’s Degree in Hawaiian Language from UH Mānoa.
In a November 4, 2016 interview on ‘Ōlelo’s ‘First Friday’, interviewer Manu Ka‘iama noted that “the nice thing about these letters is it kind of is a portal” that illustrate the feeling at the time and “you have some proof of that”. She asked what Yasuda found interesting in the letters; he noted:
“I think one thing that is interesting is that it really shows the way that the missionaries and a lot of the chiefs at the time needed to work together. They worked together, and through their letters we can see the ways … that they helped each other. And I think that both sides had things to share with each other that were beneficial to both sides.”
“I think that one thing that is commonly believed is that the missionaries really came in and started barking orders, and saying this is how it’s going to be … and you are going to do this and you are not going to do that and this is how you need to be. But what we are really seeing is that it wasn’t quite like that.”
“There were very few missionaries in comparison to how many Hawaiians there were at the time. And so, the letters really show us the way that the missionaries and Hawaiians worked together and how some of the things the missionaries brought, for example, sewing and some business, and trade were attractive to the Hawaiians at the time. And, they really had to work together for a lot.” (Jon Yasuda)
Puakea Nogelmeier had a similar conclusion. In remarks at a Hawaiian Mission Houses function he noted,
“The missionary effort is more successful in Hawai‘i than probably anywhere in the world, in the impact that it has on the character and the form of a nation. And so, that history is incredible; but history gets so blurry …”
“The missionary success cover decades and decades becomes sort of this huge force where people feel like the missionaries got off the boat barking orders … where they just kind of came in and took over. They got off the boat and said ‘stop dancing,’ ‘put on clothes,’ don’t sleep around.’”
“And it’s so not the case ….”
“The missionaries arrived here, and they’re a really remarkable bunch of people. They are scholars, they have got a dignity that goes with religious enterprise that the Hawaiians recognized immediately. …”
“The Hawaiians had been playing with the rest of the world for forty-years by the time the missionaries came here. The missionaries are not the first to the buffet and most people had messed up the food already.”
“(T)hey end up staying and the impact is immediate. They are the first outside group that doesn’t want to take advantage of you, one way or the other, get ahold of their goods, their food, or your daughter. … But, they couldn’t get literacy. It was intangible, they wanted to learn to read and write”. (Puakea Nogelmeier)
When the Ali‘i Asked, the Missionaries Collaborated
An 1826 letter written by Kalanimōku to Hiram Bingham (written at a time when missionaries were being criticized) states, “Greetings Mr Bingham. Here is my message to all of you, our missionary teachers.”
“I am telling you that I have not seen your wrong doing. If I had seen you to be wrong, I would tell you all. No, you must all be good. Give us literacy and we will teach it. And, give us the word of God and we will heed it … for we have learned the word of God.”
“Then foreigners come, doing damage to our land. Foreigners of America and Britain. But don’t be angry, for we are to blame for you being faulted.”
“And it is not you foreigners, (it’s) the other foreigners.” (Kalanimōku to Bingham, 1826)
Ali‘i Asked the Missionaries for Christianity, the Missionaries Collaborated
“Here’s my message according to the words of Jehovah, I have given my heart to God and my body and my spirit. I have devoted myself to the church and Jesus Christ.”
“Have a look at this letter of mine, Mr Bingham and company. And if you see it and wish to send my message on to America to (your President,) that is up to you. Greetings to the chief of America. Regards to you all, Kalanimōku.” (Kalanimōku to Bingham, 1826)
Kaumuali‘i and his wife, Kapule, reiterated appreciation of the missionaries in letters transcribed on July 28, 1820 to the ABCFM and mother of a recently-arrived missionary wife.
“I wish to write a few lines to you, to thank you for the good Book you was so kind as to send by my son. I think it is a good book – one that God gave for us to read. I hope my people will soon read this, and all other good books …”
“When your good people learn me, I worship your God. I feel glad you good people come to help us. We know nothing here. American people very good – kind. I love them.” (Kapule to the mother of Mrs Ruggles)
Ali‘i Asked the Missionaries for Literacy, the Missionaries Collaborated
The arrival of the first company of American missionaries in Hawai¬ʻi in 1820 marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi’s phenomenal rise to literacy. The chiefs became proponents for education and edicts were enacted by the King and the council of chiefs to stimulate the people to reading and writing.
“By August 30, 1825, only three years after the first printing of the pīʻāpā, 16,000 copies of spelling books, 4,000 copies of a small scripture tract, and 4,000 copies of a catechism had been printed and distributed.”
“On October 8, 1829, it was reported that 120,000 spelling books were printed in Hawaiʻi. These figures suggest that perhaps 90 percent of the Hawaiian population were in possession of a pīʻāpā book!”
“This literacy initiative was continually supported by the aliʻi. Under Liholiho, ships carrying teachers were not charged harbor fees. During a missionary paper shortage, the government stepped in to cover the difference, buying enough paper to print roughly 13,500 books.”
“This legendary rise in literacy climbed from a near-zero literacy rate in 1820, to between 91 to 95 percent by 1834. That’s only twelve years from the time the first book was printed!” (KSBE)
Ali‘i Asked the Missionaries for More Teachers, the Missionaries Collaborated
On August 23, 1836, fifteen chiefs signed a letter addressed to the American missionaries, asking for more teachers,
Shortly after, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent the largest company of missionaries to the Islands; including a large number of teachers.
Ali‘i Asked for a Special School for their Children, the Missionaries Collaborated
In 1839, King Kamehameha III, Hoapili and Kekāuluohi (mother of William Charles Lunalilo, who became the Kuhina Nui or regent of the Hawaiian Kingdom) signed a letter asking missionaries to run the Chiefs’ Children’s School.
In a missionary general meeting, “This subject was fully considered in connection with an application of the chiefs requesting the services of Mr. Cooke, as a teacher for their children; and it was voted, …
“That the mission comply with their request, provided they will carry out their promise to Mr. Cooke’s satisfaction; namely, to build a school house, sustain him in his authority, over the scholars, and support the school.” (Sandwich Islands Mission General Meeting Minutes, 1839)
The school was unique because for the first time aliʻi children would be brought together in a group to be taught, ostensibly, about the ways of governance. The School also acted as another important unifying force among the ruling elite, instilling in their children common principles, attitudes and values, as well as a shared vision.
Ali‘i Asked for Instruction in Western Governance, the Missionaries Collaborated
It was a time of transition, when the Hawaiian people were faced with the difficult task of adjusting themselves to changing conditions. They turned to their teachers, the American missionaries, for guidance along this intricate path.
The king and chiefs, acknowledging their own inexperience, had sought for a man of probity and some legal training who could act as their advisor in matters dealing with other nations and with foreigners within the Islands. (Judd)
Richards “accepted the invitation of the Chiefs to become their teacher, and entered into engagements with them which were signed on the 3d of July (1838). According to those engagements, (he) was to devote (his) time at (his) discretion to the instruction of the King and chiefs, as far as (he) could and remain at Lahaina, and do the public preaching.”
“(He) also met king & chiefs daily when other public business did not prevent, and as fast as (he) could prepare matter read it to them in the form of lectures. (He) endeavored to make the lectures as familiar as possible, by repeating them, and drawing the chiefs into free conversation on the subject of the Lecture.”
“The conversation frequently took so wide a range that there was abundant opportunity to refer to any and to every fault of the present system of government. But when the faults of the present system were pointed out & the chiefs felt them & then pressed me with the question, ‘Pehea la e pono ai,’ (How will it be bettered?)”
“A system of laws has been written out by (Boaz) Mahune, a graduate of the (Lahainaluna) high school, and he was directed by the King to conform them to the principles of Political Economy which they had learned. Those laws are some what extensive and protect all private property.”
“According to this code, no chief has any authority over any man, any farther than it is given him by specific enactment, and no tax can be levied, other than that which is specified in the printed law, and no chief can act as a judge in a case where he is personally interested, and no man can be dispossessed of land which he has put under cultivation except for crimes specified in the law.” (Richards Report to the Sandwich Islands Mission, May 1, 1839)