“In the year of our Lord, 1809, some Hawaiian youths went to America. The captain of their ship took them to New Haven, Conn., to be educated; and afterwards, in 1816, a school was established in Cornwall, Conn., for the education of youths from heathen lands.”
“There, among Indians, Tahitians, and scholars from other places, were some Hawaiian boys (Obookaiah (ʻOpukahaʻia,) Hopu, Honolii) – nine of them in all.”
“These all embraced the Christian faith, and Obookaiah was very anxious that messengers be sent to take to Hawaii the word of God. He intended himself to come back, but he was cut down by the angel of death before he had completed his education.”
“But the voice of God came to Messrs. Bingham, Thurston, and Whitney and others, and in the year 1819 they and their wives sailed from Boston on the small two-masted vessel named the Thaddeus.”
“On this vessel came Thomas Hopu, John Honoliʻi, and George Kaumualiʻi, the son of Kaumualiʻi, the king of Kauai. They reached Hawaii on the 30th of March, 1820.”
“When the boat which they had sent to a landing on the Kohala coast, returned to the vessel, these were the tidings given to the missionaries: ‘Kamehameha is dead; his son Liholiho is king. The tabus are at an end; the idols are burned; the temples are destroyed.’”
“In this the hand of God was seen preparing for the introduction of his word among the people. The vessel sailed to Kailua, and the chiefs went on board to see the missionaries and their wives – the ‘long necks’ as they were called.”
“This was the dress of Liholiho when he went to see white women for the first time: A malo, a green silk handkerchief over his shoulders, a gold watch-chain about his neck, and a feather wreath on his head – no clothing.”
“After much discussion, and with a good deal of hesitation, Liholiho consented that the teachers should remain one year.”
“Mr Bingham was stationed at Honolulu, Mr Whitney at Waimea, Kauai, and Mr Thurston at Kailua, Hawaii, where the king and chiefs resided; and the king placed John Ii and Kahuhu with Mr. Thurston to be taught reading, and said that if it did them no harm, he also would learn the ‘palapala’ (writing.)”
“There was no writing in Hawaiian in those days – no books or newspapers.”
“Liholiho asked that his name be written. The missionary wrote it, ‘Li-ho-li-ho.’”
“Liholiho looked at it long and steady, and then said: ‘This does not look like me, nor any other man.’” (AF Judd, Bible Society Record, October 17, 1889)
In 1820, missionary Lucy Thurston noted in her Journal, Liholiho’s desire to learn, “The king (Liholiho, Kamehameha II) brought two young men to Mr. Thurston, and said: ‘Teach these, my favorites, (John Papa) Ii and (James) Kahuhu. It will be the same as teaching me. Through them I shall find out what learning is.’”
“Immediately upon their arrival the missionaries began to converse with the people in the Hawaiian language, and upon them fell the honor of first writing the mother-tongue of Hawaiʻi with pen and ink upon paper.”
“To reduce the language to writing was their first work, in order that the word of God might thus reach the hearts of the Hawaiian people to the saving of their souls.”
“Within three years from the time when Messrs. Bingham, Thurston, and Whitney touched their feet on Hawaiian shores, Liholiho and Kauikeaouli (Liholiho’s younger brother) had learned to read and write, and also twelve other chiefs and twelve chiefesses.”
“This was quick work. That year (1823) the king ordered the observance of the Christian Sabbath, and the missionaries began to preach in the Hawaiian tongue. Before this their addresses had been interpreted by Hopu, Honolii, and others.” (AF Judd, Bible Society Record, October 17, 1889)
Interestingly, as the early missionaries learned the Hawaiian language, they then taught their lessons in the mission schools in Hawaiian, rather than English. In part, the mission did not want to create a separate caste and portion of the community as English-speaking Hawaiians.
“By 1850, even though the Missionary Schools wanted to continue Hawaiian as the language of instruction in order to preserve the Hawaiian nation, the non-religious educators, both foreign and Hawaiian, wanted to and did discard Hawaiian as the language of instruction in the schools.” (Ashdown)
The missionaries’ emphasis was on preaching and teaching – in many of the mission schools the focus was educating the head, heart and hand. In addition to the rigorous academic drills (Head,) the schools provided religious/moral (Heart) and manual/vocational (Hand) training.
This broad-based, inclusive form of educational training can also be seen back in the Foreign Mission School, where ʻŌpūkahaʻia and others were taught.
The image shows the later signature of Liholiho (Kamehameha II – ‘Tamehameha.’)