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 October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of missionaries from the northeast US, set sail for the Sandwich Islands. After 164-days at sea, on April 4, 1820, they arrived and anchored at Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaiʻi; the Honolulu contingent arrived on Oʻahu on April 19, 1820.
One of the first things Hiram Bingham and his fellow missionaries did was begin to learn the Hawaiian language and create an alphabet for a written format of the language. Their emphasis was on teaching and preaching.
Initially, the missionaries worked out a Hawaiian alphabet of 17-English letters. On January 7, 1822, on the mission press set up in the (Levi) Chamberlains’ thatched house, “we commenced printing the language in order to give them letters, libraries, and the living oracles in their own tongue, that the nation might read and understand the wonderful works of God.” (Bingham)
(Later, on July 14, 1826, the missionaries established a 12-letter alphabet for the written Hawaiian language, using five vowels (a, e, i, o, and u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p and w) in their “Report of the committee of health on the state of the Hawaiian language.” The report was signed by Bingham and Chamberlain. The alphabet continues in use today.)
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)
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 Kiholiho 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)
Toketa “continues a favorite with the chiefs, a diligent teacher and has given pleasing evidence of piety. He and several others would probably have been baptized before this had it not been for the difficulties that lie in the way respecting some of the chiefs who have requested baptism but which we hesitate to comply with and who would probably take great offence were any to be admitted to that ordinance before themselves.” (Ellis; Barrere) (It is not clear if Toketa was ever baptized.)
Toketa then goes to Honolulu, still engaged in teaching the chiefs. Chamberlain wrote, “Some very interesting classes were examined. The classes of Toteta and Haʻalilio were particularly so. In the former class were Boki, Kekauruohe (Kekāuluohi,) Kekauōnohi, Liliha, Akahi, and other chiefs of high grade …”
“… in the latter were Kaʻahumanu, Opiia, Tapule, and others – all stood forth like pupils made obeicence at the signal of their teacher with the docility of children spelled a lesson from the spelling book read in the tract repeated a number of hymns & the whole of the catechism.” (Chamberlain, November 23, 1825)
While in the Islands, Toketa wrote a journal. In part, he notes, “Those of Hawaiʻi talk much – day and night – about farming. In the cultivation of the land there is life. But it must be done continuously, otherwise death comes. They make great efforts in cultivating. There is no land which they do not ready for planting – they even raise taro (ʻai) on ʻaʻa lava.” (Toketa Journal; Barrere)
Toketa was but one of a number of Tahitians in such a position during the 1820s and 1830s. 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.
Others among the Tahitian teachers were Tauʻa and his wife Tauʻawahine and a female teacher, Kaʻaumoku, who came to Hawaii with William Ellis when he returned in February of 1823.
The three were taken into the household of the queen mother Keōpūolani and after her death that September, into that of Hoapili on Maui.
Stephen Pupuhi (Popohe), a Tahitian youth educated at the Cornwall School, accompanied the Second Company of missionaries to Hawaii in 1823. He entered the service of Boki, governor of Oahu, and later that of Kalanimōku, the prime minister.
Another is Kahikona, who took over Toketa’s journal. Kahikona’s first entry refers to incidents of 1838 and may indicate the time of Toketa’s death or perhaps his return to Tahiti. We believe one or the other to have occurred at some time before 1843. (Barrere)
The image shows a view of Kailua, Kona, at about the time Toketa was there, teaching Kuakini how to read and write Hawaiian. (Thurston, Lahainaluna Engraving) (Lots of information here is from Barrere.)