By the time European explorers entered the Pacific in the 15th century, almost all of the habitable islands had been settled for hundreds of years and oral traditions told of explorations, migrations and travels across this immense watery world.
Double-hulled canoes were seaworthy enough to make voyages of over 2,000-miles along the longest sea roads of Polynesia, like the one between Hawai‘i and Tahiti. (Kawaharada)
The first known Christian missionaries in Polynesia came from the London Missionary Society, an ecumenical Protestant organization; they landed in Tahiti, the Marquesas, then Tongatapu in Tonga. (PCC)
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 – 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, made a visit to Honolulu with Kuakini in January-February of 1822. (Barrere)
On February 4, 1822, “Adams (Kuakini) sent a young Tahitian to us (Toketa,) to obtain for him that part of the spelling book which is printed, with a view to commence learning to read his own language. … This young Tahitian is one of the three, whom we have found here from the Society Isles, able to read and write their native language.”
“He, with one hour’s instruction, is able to read the Hawaiian (Owhyhean) also, and to assist the chief to whom he is attached.” (Missionary Herald, 1823) Toketa then began to teach Kuakini to read and write.
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)
William Ellis was with the London Missionary Society in Tahiti. Born in England, William and Mary Mercy Ellis went to Tahiti in 1817 as part of a new group of highly educated workers. They brought with them the first press and set it up in Moorea. They soon moved to Huahine, where William Ellis helped draft the code of laws. (Boston University)
Then the London Mission sent Ellis and some others to Hawai‘i. “(T)he colonial government-cutter Mermaid arrived in Fare harbour, on her way to the Sandwich Islands, with a small schooner, the Prince Regent, as a present from the British government to the king of those islands.”
“The captain intimated his intention of touching at the Marquesas on his return from Hawaii, and politely offered a passage to any of us who might be desirous of visiting these islands.”
“We had long been anxious to attempt the establishment of Christianity among the inhabitants of the former, and as the present appeared a favourable opportunity, we communicated the same to the deputation, and it appeared to them desirable to visit these places.” (Ellis)
“The arrangements for the voyage being completed, we assembled at the chapel about ten o’clock on the forenoon of the 25th of February: the native Christians were animated by kind and appropriate addresses from the church, and were affectionately encouraged by Mr. Barff and Mr. Orsmond, the latter being on a visit with us.”
“The native Missionaries then took leave of their fellow-Christians in a most solemn and impressive manner; and, as it had been arranged by Mr. Barff and myself that I should accompany them, to aid in the commencement of their labours, I addressed the people, and, recommending Mrs. Ellis and our dear children to their kind attentions under God, I also bade them farewell.”
“The meeting was peculiarly impressive and affecting; and, after mutually committing each other, under deep intensity of feeling, to the guidance and the keeping of the God of all our mercies, the whole congregation walked from the chapel to the sea-shore, where we exchanged our last salutations.”
“The deputation, the two native Missionaries and their wives, five other natives and myself, now embarked, and the Mermaid stood out to sea.” (Ellis)
“The time for her (Mrs Ellis) departure at length came, and on the 31st of December, 1822, accompanied by her four children, she embarked, with her husband, on board the Active, for the Sandwich Islands.”
“The voyage to the Sandwich Islands, about three thousand miles distant, was safe, and not unpleasant, and by the tender mercy of their heavenly Father, they reached Oahu on the 5th of February, 1823.”
“Here Mrs. Ellis received on landing, a cordial welcome from many of the chief women of the settlement, and from the esteemed American Missionaries, of whose plain but hospitable and comfortable dwelling, she became for several weeks an inmate, and received every attention and kindness as a beloved sister in the Lord.”
“All the affection professed in the invitations they had so kindly forwarded, was practically manifested; and every hope of tenderness and sympathy which they excited, was fully realized. Mrs. Ellis found that the prospects of greater usefulness …”
“In Huahine the influence of the Missionaries could bear on a comparatively small number, but here the town of Honolulu contained not fewer than 8,000, while the population of the island amounted to 20,000, and the influence of the Missionaries was brought to bear indirectly upon 150,000 or 180,000 persons.” (Mary Mercy Ellis Memoirs)
Ellis and the others who joined him from the London Missionary Society (including Tahitians who came with them) worked well with the American Protestant missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in 1820.
The American Mission immediately saw benefit in working with Ellis and the Tahitians … “of bringing the influence of the Tahitian mission to bear with more direct and operative force upon this nation …”
“… trembling under the too great responsibility of the spiritual concerns of the whole nation, & looking with hesitating awe at the great and difficult work of translating the bible & continually casting about for help …”
“… we feel the need of just such talents and services as Brother (Ellis) is able to bring to the work, whose general views of Christian faith practice, & of missionary duty, which accord so well with ours, whose thorough acquaintance with the Tahitian tongue so nearly allied to this …”
“… & which it cost the mission almost a 20 years’ labor fully to acquire, & whose missionary experience, among the South Sea Islands’ kindred tribes, enable him to cooperate with us, with mutual satisfaction, and greatly to facilitate our acquisition of this kindred language …”
“… & the early translation of the sacred scriptures, & thus promote the usefulness, rather than supersede the labors, of all who may come to our aid from America.” (Journal of the Sandwich Island Mission, May 9, 1822)
“The earliest, and model for the rest, was the Tahitian missionary Auna who came to Hawaii with a visiting English delegation of missionaries in 1822.”
“At the urgent request of the Hawaiian chiefs Auna was permitted to remain, and for well over a year Auna and his wife lived in the household of Ka’ahumanu, teaching reading and writing and explaining Christian doctrine to the king and chiefs.”
“Auna left a school of sixty pupils when the couple returned to Tahiti in 1824. His school was taken over by Kaomi, the son of his wife’s brother Moe, a Tahitian long in the service of Ka’ahumanu’s brother Ke’eaumoku the governor of Maui.” (Barrere & Sahlins)
Ellis remained in the Islands for eighteen months, but returned to England, due to illness of Mary (she died in 1835.) Ellis later remarried and continued mission work in the Madagascar. Ellis died in 1872.)
Because of the positive role of the London Missionary Society in assisting the Hawaiian mission, any descendant of a person sent by the London Missionary Society who served the Sandwich Island Mission in Hawaii is eligible to be an Enrolled Member in the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society.