Almost 200 years ago, the American Protestant missionaries arrived in the Islands. Their leader was Reverend Hiram Bingham – Sybil … his wife of 2-weeks … joined him. They are my great-great-great grandparents.
They were preachers and teachers. It was important to them that Hawaiians had a personal experience reading the written “Word of the God of Heaven;” but back then, Hawaiian was only spoken, not written. That meant that each needed to learn to read.
So, Hiram and others developed an alphabet and formulated a written language, taught Hawaiians to be literate in their own language and translated the Bible for them to read. The missionaries learned the language, and were soon teaching their lessons in Hawaiian, rather than English.
As teaching expanded, the missionaries’ focus was on the Head, Heart and Hand. In addition to the rigorous academic drills (Head,) the schools provided religious and moral guidance (Heart,) and manual and vocational training (Hand.)
In collaboration with the aliʻi, Hiram and the other missionaries:
• Introduced Christianity to the Islands
• Created the written Hawaiian language and brought about widespread literacy
• Helped formulate a constitutional government
• Made Western medicine available, and
• Introduced a distinctive musical tradition with harmony and choral singing
About a year after Hiram arrived, Kaʻahumanu visited the mission and gave them supplies; it was the first time she showed interest in the teachings of the missionaries, and her first request for prayer. From that point on, Kaʻahumanu came into constant contact with the mission.
Hiram found a friend in Kaʻahumanu – she and other ali‘i visited often. In the wood frame house at Missions Houses, you can correctly say, “Kaʻahumanu slept here.”
A little side story on Hiram and Kaʻahumanu … shortly after arriving in the Islands, with a piece of driftwood, Hiram made a rocking chair for his wife – in describing it, Sybil said, “A box or trunk has been our only seat. My husband, I believe, was never a chair-maker before, but happy for me and the Mission family, that he is everything.”
On Sundays, the rocker was taken to the thatched Kawaiahaʻo church as a seat for Sybil, the pastor’s wife. Her wish was that when she died, she might be found in that chair … her wish was granted when she died in her rocker on February 27, 1848.
The rocker had its admirers, including Kaʻahumanu. She asked Hiram to make her one just like it – he did, it is one of the earliest known pieces of koa furniture in Hawaiʻi.
That was not the only gift Hiram gave Kaʻahumanu.
In 1825, Kaʻahumanu was baptized. Lucy Thurston noted, “She became distinguished for her humility, kindness and the affability of her deportment, regarded the missionaries as her own children, and treated them with the tenderness of maternal love.”
Lucy continued, “Her influence and authority had long been paramount and undisputed with the natives, and was now discreetly used for the benefit of the nation.”
In mid-1832, Kaʻahumanu became ill and was taken to her home in Mānoa. Hiram came to her bedside. “Her strength failed daily.”
Hiram noted, “About the last words she used were: ‘Here, here am I, O Jesus, … Grant me a gracious smile.’”
“A little after this she called (Hiram) to her and as (he) took her hand, she asked. ‘Is this Bingham?’ (He) replied, ‘It is I.’”
She finished, “‘I am going now.’” Hiram replied: “‘May Jesus go with you, go in peace.’”
Hiram noted, “The slow and solemn tolling of the bell struck on the pained ear as it had never done before in the Sandwich Islands.”
“In other bereavements, after the Gospel took effect, we had not only had the care and promise of our heavenly Father, but a queen-mother remaining, whose force, integrity, and kindness, could be relied on still.”
“But words can but feebly express the emotions that struggled in the bosoms of some who counted themselves mourners in those solemn hours; while memory glanced back through her most singular history, and faith followed her course onward far into the future.”
Her death took place at ten minutes past 3 o’clock on the morning of June 5, 1832, “after an illness of about 3 weeks in which she exhibited her unabated attachment to the Christian teachers and reliance on Christ, her Saviour.” (Hiram Bingham)
Hiram’s gift to Kaʻahumanu … and one that he shared with all Hawaiians across the Islands … was love … and hope … and guidance to the way of the Lord, salvation and eternal life.
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Georgie Howton says
A very wonderful story. Thank you.