The Prudential Committee of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in giving instructions to the pioneer missionaries of 1819 said: “Your mission is a mission of mercy, and your work is to be wholly a labor of love. … Your views are not to be limited to a low, narrow scale, but you are to open your hearts wide, and set your marks high. You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of Christian civilization.” (ABCFM)
Their message was simple, “As ambassadors of the King of Heaven, having the most important message to communicate, which he could receive, we made to him the offer of the Gospel of eternal life, and proposed to teach him and his people the written, life-giving Word of the God of Heaven.” (Bingham)
One of the first things 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.
These missionaries taught their lessons 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. In later years, the instruction, ultimately, was in English.
The arrival of the first company of American missionaries in Hawaiʻi marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi’s phenomenal rise to literacy. The chiefs became proponents for education and edicts were enacted by the King and the council of chiefs to stimulate the people to reading and writing.
Within five years of the missionaries’ arrival, a dozen chiefs had sought Christian baptism and church membership, including the king’s regent Kaʻahumanu. The Hawaiian people followed their native leaders, accepting the missionaries as their new priestly class. The process culminated in Hawaiian King Kamehameha III’s adoption of Christianity and a Biblically-based constitution in 1840. (Schulz)
The missionaries left many other lasting legacies in the Islands, including their songs. Some songs were translations of Western songs into Hawaiian. Some were original verse and melody.
Oli (chant) and mele (song) were already a part of the Hawaiian tradition.
“As the Hawaiian songs were unwritten, and adapted to chanting rather than metrical music, a line was measured by the breath; their hopuna, answering to our line, was as many words as could be easily cantilated at one breath.” (Bingham)
Missionaries used songs as a part of the celebration, as well as learning process. “At this period, the same style of sermons, prayers, songs, interrogations, and exhortations, which proves effectual in promoting revivals of religion, conversion, or growth in grace among a plain people in the United States, was undoubtedly adapted to be useful at the Sandwich Islands. … some of the people who sat in darkness were beginning to turn their eyes to the light”. (Bingham)
“The king (Kamehameha III) being desirous to use his good voice in singing, we sang together at my house, not war songs, but sacred songs of praise to the God of peace.” (Bingham)
One of the unique verses (sung to an old melody) was Hoʻonani Hope – Hoʻonani I Ka Makua Mau. Bingham translated it to Hawaiian and people sang it to a western melody that dates back to the 1600s.
The melody may sound familiar to many – it was originally called ‘Old 100th‘ and is attributed to Louis Bourgeois (he penned the melody in the mid-1500s.)
It was later attached to a verse of Thomas Hen’s ‘All People That On Earth Do Dwell,’ written in about 1674. It had many verses (I have been able to find a version that has 11-verses; some versions had fewer.)
While most people may not recall the initial verses, what appears as his last is likely widely remembered. Many people suggest that Bingham’s verse is merely a translation of Hen’s last verse. It appears that is not the case.
Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Hawaiian Mission Houses’ program “Ke Ala O Ka Hua Mele” – a four-part discussion and musical series on the evolution of Hawaiian music. One part focused on Himeni (Hawaiian Hymns.)
We were in Kawaiahaʻo Church, the Church choir sang several hymns; one was Hoʻonani Hope (Ka Buke Himeni – Bingham’s translation.) This was waaay cool.
A handout given by the Church shows Hoʻonani Hope – the Hawaiian was Bingham’s translation and the English verse was printed next to it.
Here is Bingham’s Hoʻonani Hope:
Hoʻonani i ka Makua mau
Ke Keiki me ke ka ʻUhane nō
Ke Akua mau, hoʻomaikaʻi pū
Ko kēia ao ko kēlā ao
This translates to:
Let us give praise to the eternal Father
To the Son and to the Holy Ghost
To God everlasting, let there ring praise
Both in this world as well as the kingdom beyond
“In his first efforts at translation, while still groping in the darkness of Polynesian thought patterns so foreign to his own, his mind must have fastened upon one of the shorter forms of the 100th Psalm which cannot have been very different from those used in the Bethel Chapel by the foreign congregation and appearing in 1840 in probably the earliest hymnal printed in English at the American mission press in Honolulu.” (The Friend, May 1935)
Bingham’s Hoʻonani Hope is also referred to as the ‘Hawaiian Doxology.’
Here is a rendition of Hoʻonani Hope – Hoʻonani I Ka Makua Mau, the Hawaiian Doxology:
The words of the ‘traditional’ Doxology are:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heav’nly hosts;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost
Bingham did not translate the ‘Doxology’ verse we are accustomed to. (He may have even made up some or all of the English verse, in addition to the translation into Hawaiian.)
The image shows a portion of a story on Hawaiian Hymns in The Friend (May 1, 1935.) (A second verse written by Haunani Bernadino was added in 2005.)