In about 1807, a young Hawaiian man, ʻŌpūkahaʻia, swam out to the ‘Triumph’, a China-bound seal skin trading ship anchored in Kealakekua Bay. Both of ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s parents and his younger brother had been slain during the battles on the island.
Also on board was Hopu, another young Hawaiian. They set sail for New York, stopping first in China. Russell Hubbard was also on board. “This Mr. Hubbard was a member of Yale College. He was a friend of Christ. … Mr. Hubbard was very kind to me on our passage, and taught me the letters in English spelling-book.” (ʻŌpūkahaʻia)
They landed at New York and remained there until the Captain sold out all the Chinese goods. Then, they made their way to New England.
ʻŌpūkahaʻia was eager to study and learn. He “was sitting on the steps of a Yale building, weeping. A solicitous student stopped to inquire what was wrong, and Obookiah (the spelling of his name, based on its sound) said, ‘No one will give me learning.’”
The student was Edwin Dwight. “(W)hen the question was put him, ‘Do you wish to learn?’ his countenance began to brighten. And when the proposal was made that he should come the next day to the college for that purpose, he served it with great eagerness.” (Dwight)
Later, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) formed the Foreign Mission School; ʻŌpūkahaʻia was one of its first students. He yearned “with great earnestness that he would (return to Hawaiʻi) and preach the Gospel to his poor countrymen.” Unfortunately, ʻŌpūkahaʻia died on February 17, 1818.
Dwight put together a book, ‘Memoirs of Henry Obookiah’ (the spelling of the name based on its pronunciation). It was an edited collection of ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s letters and journals/diaries. The book about his life was printed and circulated after his death.
ʻŌpūkahaʻia, inspired by many young men and women with proven sincerity and religious fervor of the missionary movement, had wanted to spread the word of Christianity back home in Hawaiʻi; his book inspired missionaries to volunteer to carry his message to the Hawaiian Islands.
In giving instructions to the first missionaries, the ABCFM, noted: “You will never forget ʻŌpūkahaʻia. 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.”
Click HERE to view/download Background on ʻŌpūkahaʻia
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) from the northeast United States, set sail on the Thaddeus for the Hawaiian Islands – they anchored at Kailua-Kona on April 4, 1820.
Over the course of a little over 40-years (1820-1863 – the “Missionary Period”), about 184-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. Collaboration between Native Hawaiians and American Protestant missionaries resulted in, among other things, the
• Introduction of Christianity;
• Development of a written Hawaiian language and establishment of schools that resulted in widespread literacy;
• Promulgation of the concept of constitutional government;
• Combination of Hawaiian with Western medicine; and
• Evolution of a new and distinctive musical tradition (with harmony and choral singing)
On August 15, 1993, ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s remains were returned to Hawai‘i from Cornwall and laid in a vault facing the ocean at Kahikolu Church.