To help answer the question posed in the title, we look at portions of letters written during the first decade of the arrival of the missionaries by various chiefs/chiefesses that were in power at that time. The Ali‘i banned the kapu in 1819; shortly thereafter the missionaries arrived (1820.)
“March 30th, 1820. – Memorable day – a day which brings us in full view of that dark pagan land so long the object of our most interested thoughts.… ‘land appears.’”
“When the watch at four was called, Honoree (Honoli‘i) came down saying, ‘Owhyhee sight!’ … A fair wind carried us by different parts of the island near enough to discern its verdure …. “
“Capt. B(lanchard) – thought it advisable to send ashore to inquire into the state of things, and where he might find the king. … Our hearts beat high, and each countenance spoke the deep interest felt as we crowded around our messengers at their return.”
“Tamaahmaah is dead! The government is settled in the hands of his son Keehoreeho-Krimokoo (Liholiho) is principal chief – the taboo system is no more – men and women eat together! the idol gods are burned!!” (Sybil Bingham Journal, March 30, 1820 – the day the Pioneer Company of missionaries arrived at Hawaiʻi.)
“April 4th. This morning, ten o’clock, having been 163 days on the bosom of the great deep, we anchored in the bay of Korooah (Kailua-Kona,) near the residence of Keehoreeho (Liholiho) the king.”
“My dear husband, with brother Thurston and Thomas, has gone on shore as heralds of the Prince of Peace and King of Kings, to have an interview, and transact business for their Master … How important the moment! …” (Sybil Bingham Journal, April 4, 1820 – the day the Pioneer Company of missionaries first landed at Kailua-Kona.)
Later, in a March 18, 1823 letter to the mission’s mainland headquarters, Liholiho acknowledged that his timing of breaking the centuries-old kapu just before the missionaries’ arrival was fortunate; he notes, “We had wooden deities before, during my father’s time.”
“In my time (1819,) I have abandoned wooden deities. It turns out my abandoning of them beforehand was appropriate, for Mr Bingham, Mr Thurston and all the teachers were arriving.”
In that same letter, Liholiho states, “We really desire the good teachings of Jesus Christ. What he has taught all of us is excellent indeed and we have finally become learned. We were shown compassion by Jehovah, who sent Mr. Bingham and Mr. Thurston and all the teachers. And they dwelled with us here and our lands have become enlightened.”
“It is through our father that I may greet all of you. Jesus Christ was good in speaking to you, saying to you all, ‘Go and teach throughout the islands, and preach the good word of salvation.’” (Liholiho to ABCFM, March 18, 1823; Ali‘i Letters Collection, Mission Houses)
Shortly after (November 8, 1823,) Kealiʻiahonui, an adopted son of Kaumualiʻi, the last king of Kauai, sent a letter to Jeremiah Evarts, an early leader of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM.)
“Here is my word to you. I appreciate you for your generosity towards us in sending teachers of the word of Jesus Christ, being what will enlighten us here. They are very good at educating us in the virtuous ways that allow us to reach heaven, the finest place.”
“Not all people here on Oahu are learning the good word of salvation. Eventually the right time may come when all people of these unenlightened lands will learn the word of Jesus Christ.” (Kealiʻiahonui to Evarts, November 8, 1823; Ali‘i Letters Collection, Mission Houses)
A few years later, when Kamehameha III began his rule, Kalanimōku wrote a letter to Evarts. Kalanimōku states, “Love to you for sending over the missionaries and the word of God to us so that we know the good word of God. We observe the good word of God and we want the good word of God, Jehovah, our great lord in heaven. It is he who fashioned us well.”
“We all want the word of God and all the chiefs desire the good word of God. We have seen the righteous word at this time. We are repenting for our past faults. … That previous, ancient heart is ended, along with that former king of ours. … We regard the good word of our great God.” (Kalanimōku to Evarts, April 10, 1826; Ali‘i Letters Collection, Mission Houses)
Kalanimōku was a trusted advisor of Kamehameha I. During the travels of Liholiho and Kamāmalu to Great Britain, he co-ruled with Kaʻahumanu, maintaining a leadership role during the first reigning years of the new king, Liholiho’s younger brother, Kauikeaouli.
Nāmāhāna Piʻia, a high ranking chiefess, was a wife of Kamehameha I and daughter of Keʻeaumoku; she was also Kaʻahumanu’s sister. Nāmāhāna was an early convert to Christianity and wife of Gideon Laʻanui, another early supporter of the missionizing effort.
Her March 12, 1828 to Evarts states, “I am informing you that the holy word of Christ, his laws and all his good practices are being taught. We have obtained some small portions, but have gained no more. The desire of my heart moves day and night to ask him that my spirit attain eternal life in heaven.”
“My wishes, my affection, my heart, and my intention, I have bundled them securely and submitted them to him; his words and his laws are what I follow in my heart …”
“… that my house be populated with his powerful spirit, his eternal love, his true goodness and his patience that all of us from where the sun rises to where it sets be saved by him.” (Nāmāhāna to Evarts, March 12, 1828; Ali‘i Letters Collection, Mission Houses)
John Papa ʻĪʻī began his service in the royal court when he served as an attendant to Liholiho, Kamehameha II. ʻĪʻī later became a trusted advisor and chief in the court of Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) and continued to serve the sovereigns of Hawaiʻi until his death in 1870.
On April 14, 1828, ‘Ī‘ī wrote to Bingham, wherein he states, “Here is (a) message to the two of you, Ka‘awaloa is good, there is decorum, wisdom, strength, and proper care, but it is only the two chiefs, their retainers and some other people. On the Sabbath, however, many people are there on that day.”
“I give my salutations to you two there, and to Mr. Chamberlain, Mr. Goodrich and the printers. Beloved is our work. I proceed, thoughtful of our efforts. Do extend my regards to the visitors.”
“God has protected them with grace and God has watched over all of you along with us here in this land of darkness. Deep regards for you folks who see all those who come there. We all love Jesus Christ, our Lord of salvation.” (‘Ī‘ī to Bingham, April 14, 1828; Ali‘i Letters Collection, Mission Houses)
Hewahewa was a kahuna (priest) of Kamehameha I who participated in the overturning of the kapu system under Liholiho, Kamehameha II. On July 27 1830, he wrote a letter to Levi Chamberlain, the superintendent of secular affairs for the mission and a missionary teacher. At the time of this letter, Hewahewa had converted to Christianity and was living in Lahaina, Maui.
“Greetings to you, Mr. Chamberlain, and Mrs. Chamberlain, This is my short message to you. I again testify to you about the grace God bestows upon me as I go on.”
“I walk in fear and awe of God for the wrongs of my heart, for he is the one who knows me. The love of the son of God is true indeed. It is of my own volition that I tell this to you. Regards to all the church members there.” (Hewahewa to Chamberlain, July 27, 1830; Ali‘i Letters Collection, Mission Houses)
Here’s a link to these and other letters from Ali‘i, written in their hand. With the Hawaiian letters are transcription and translation – this are part of the Ali‘i Letters Collection at Mission Houses:
Related to that, here is an audio of Puakea Nogelmeier’s presentation at Mission Houses related to the translation project he worked on associated with letters from the ali‘i to missionaries. In it he noted many believe the missionaries “just kind of came in and took over. They got off the boat and said ‘stop dancing,’ ‘put on clothes,’ don’t sleep around.’” … “And it’s so not the case ….”
The preview image shows the closing of the letter from Liholiho to the ABCFM on March 23, 1823. It says, “Deep regards to all of you. May we have salvation through Jehovah and Jesus Christ our Lord. Tamehameha King of Hawaiʻi”