Archaeologists and historians describe the inhabiting of the Hawaiian Islands in the context of settlement which resulted from canoe voyages across the open ocean. Some believe the first Polynesians to arrive at Hawai‘i came ashore at Kahikinui, Maui.
They have proposed that early Polynesian settlement happened with voyages between Kahiki (Tahiti – the ancestral homelands of the Hawaiian gods and people) and Hawai‘i, with long distance voyages occurring fairly regularly through at least the thirteenth century.
It has been generally reported that the land-sources of the early Hawaiian population – the Hawaiian “Kahiki” – were the Marquesas and Society Islands. The moku (district) of Kahikinui is named because from afar on the ocean, it resembles a larger form of Kahiki, the ancestral homeland. (Maly)
Some believe that along Kahikinui were given names that referred to Hawaiʻiloa, an ancient navigator. These included fishing koʻa, and astronomical and navigational sites on the mountain. (Matsuoka)
Kealaikahiki channel is the channel between Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe. It literally means “the road to Tahiti;” if one takes a bearing in the channel off of Kealaikahiki Point on Kahoʻolawe and heads in that direction, you arrive, more or less, in Tahiti.
One of the important cultural sites on Kahoʻolawe is located at the center point or piko of the island at Moaʻula iki; here, kahuna conducted training in astronomy and navigation. Moaʻula is a place name associated with a place in Tahiti. (Aluli/McGregor)
Lae O Kealaikahiki, the western-most point of Kahoʻolawe, is located on the Kealaikahiki Channel. Just above the high water mark, inland from Lae O Kealaikahiki, is a traditional compass site comprised of four large boulders. The lines formed by the placement of the stones are paved with coral and mark true north, south, east and west.
Jutting out from the shoals, just south of Lae O Kealaikahiki, is another key traditional and contemporary navigational marker, Pōhaku Kuhi Keʻe I Kahiki (“the rock that points the way to Tahiti;” now, generally referred to as Black Rock.)
Two known accounts also place Kealaikahiki as a point of landing in Hawaiʻi after the long journey from Kahiki. Placing Kealaikahiki as a point of arrival would coincide with the oral tradition related in the chant from Harry Kunihi Mitchell, “Oli Kuhohonu O Kahoʻolawe Mai No Kupuna Mai.” (Aluli/McGregor)
The Tahitian connection to the Islands is not just associated with the early migration of Polynesians to Hawai‘i. Several Tahitians collaborated with the American Protestant missionaries at the early part of the 1800s.
Toketa, a Tahitian, arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1818; he probably landed on the island of Hawaiʻi. He was a member of the household of the chief (Governor) John Adams Kuakini, at that time a prominent figure in the court of Kamehameha I in Kailua, Kona.
A convert to Christianity (he likely received missionary instruction in his homeland – the first Europeans arrived in Tahiti in 1767; in 1797 the London Missionary Society sent 29 missionaries to Tahiti,) he became a teacher to Hawaiian chiefs. (Barrere)
Shortly after (February 8, 1822,) “Adams (Kuakini) sent a letter to Mr B (Bingham) written by the hand of Toleta the Tahitian, which Mr. B answered in the Hawaiian language. – ‘This may be considered as the commencement of epistolary correspondence in this language.’” (Missionary Herald, 1823)
Kuakini’s interest in learning to read had not stopped, and he continued to study under Toketa. Kuakini later requested that the missionaries send him more books and teachers. In response, Elisha Loomis was sent to Kailua-Kona in mid-October to organize a school.
By early November 1822, that school had fifty students under Kuakini and Toketa, the latter being “sufficiently qualified to take charge of it for a season till a teacher could be sent from Honolulu.” Within a few weeks Thomas Hopu, a Hawaiian youth trained as a teacher by the American missionaries and part of the Pioneer Company, was sent to Kailua and put in charge of the school. (Barrere)
Later, Toketa moved to Maui and entered the service of Hoapili, a high chief of great note and foster father of the princess Nahiʻenaʻena (sister to Liholiho and Kauikeaouli.)
While on Maui Toketa taught classes for the chiefs and helped in the translating of the Scriptures. Early in 1824, “The most interesting circumstance of the day, is an application for baptism from Kaikioewa and wife, from another chief and wife, Toteta, a Tahitian in the family of our patron Hoapili …”
“Every thing in the characters of these persons, as far as we can ascertain, sanctions the hope, that, through the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus, they have been turned from darkness to light … and are proper subjects for the administration of the ordinance, the benefits of which they are desirous of receiving.” (Stewart, February 24, 1824)
On April 16, 1822, the schooner Mermaid, arrived at Honolulu from Tahiti; on board were William Ellis and other English missionaries and Auna and Matatore, Tahitian chiefs and teachers. After providing support for a few months to the American missionaries in the Islands, they returned to Tahiti.
William Ellis of the London Missionary Society returned on February 4, 1823, travelled from Tahiti to Hawai‘i, bringing his wife with him as well as Tahitian teachers, including Tauʻā.
Tauʻā, originally known as Matapuupuu, was born in about 1792 and was by birth a raʻatira or landowner. He had been a principal Arioi (secret religious order of the Society Islands,) and succeeded his elder brother as chief priest of Huahine. (Gunson)
In August 1813 Tauʻā joined John Davies’s school at Papetoʻai, and later accompanied Ellis to Huahine, where he became a prominent church member and was appointed deacon. He was also appointed first Secretary of the Huahinean Missionary Society. His speeches at prayer meetings and May meetings were reported with some pride. (Gunson)
Shortly after Ellis and Tauʻā arrived in Hawaiʻi, the Second Company of American missionaries arrived, bringing the Reverend William Richards and the Reverend Charles Stewart (April 1823.)
About this time, Queen Mother Keōpūolani (mother of Kamehameha II and III) began to accept many western ways. She wore western clothes, she introduced western furniture into her house and she took instruction in Christianity.
But her health began to fail, and she decided to move her household from the pressures of the court circle in Honolulu to the tranquility of Waikīkī. With her she took Hoapili (her husband) and Nahiʻenaʻena (her daughter.) Keōpūolani asked that a religious instructor be attached to her household. Her choice was Tauʻā; the mission approved. (Sinclair)
In May of 1823, Keōpūolani decided to make her last move, this time back to the island of her birth, Maui. She chose Lāhainā, with its warm and sunny climate – another place traditionally a favorite with the chiefs. (Sinclair)
Before leaving, Keōpūolani requested the Americans to assign teachers to go with her. She wanted a mission established in Lāhainā, and further instruction in reading and writing for herself; she also wished to have a man of God to pray with her. The Honolulu mission selected Charles Stewart and William Richards to accompany the queen. (Sinclair)
Immediately on their arrival in Lāhainā, she requested them to commence teaching, and also said, “It is very proper that my sons (meaning the missionaries) be present with me at morning and evening prayers.” (Memoir of Keōpūolani)
She became more attentive to the Gospel as she was resting. It was Tauʻā who became the teacher she relied on as perhaps they were able to converse with each other in the Polynesian language. (Mookini)
Tauʻā proved a faithful teacher, and he did much to establish her in the Christian faith. He answered several of her questions on the subject of Christianity. After her death, Tauʻā joined the household of Hoapilikane and remained with that chief until his death in 1840. He then joined the household of Hoapiliwahine. (Tauʻā died in about 1885.)
Another Tahitian teacher of Christianity in Hawaii was Tute (Kuke), who came in 1826 as a missionary upon the request of the prime minister Kalanimoku. In 1827 he became the tutor and chaplain of the young king Kauikeaouli and remained as such until the latter’s death in 1854. Tute died in 1859 after 33 years of service to the Hawaiian chiefs. (Barrere & Sahlins)
Among others, “eight (American Protestant) missionaries translated the Bible into Hawaiian – Messrs. Bingham, Thurston, Richards, Bishop, Andrews, Clark, Green, Dibble.”
“(They would) translate from the original Hebrew the Old Testament, and from the original Greek the New Testament, into the Hawaiian language.” (Judd; Bible Society Record, October 17, 1889) Instrumental in that process were Ellis and the Tahitian converts to Christianity that came to the Islands.