On December 5, 1825, eight Hawaiians were received at Kawaiahaʻo Church. This was the beginning of formal admission into the Church (except, of course, Keōpūolani, who was baptized on her deathbed in Lāhainā in September, 1823.)
Ka‘ahumanu was born about the year 1768, near Hāna, Maui. Her siblings include Governor John Adams Kuakini of Hawaiʻi Island, Queen Kalākua Kaheiheimālie (another wife of Kamehameha I) and Governor George Cox Keʻeaumoku II of Maui.
By birth, Kaʻahumanu ranked high among the Hawaiians. Her father was Keʻeaumoku, a distinguished warrior and counselor of Kamehameha the Great. Her mother Namahana was a former wife of the king of Maui, and the daughter of Kekaulike (a great king of that island.)
Kaʻahumanu was one of the most powerful people in the Islands at the time of the arrival of the missionaries. There were those who were higher by birth, and there were those who were higher by title, but there was probably none who held greater influence.
Generally ambivalent through 1824, it is generally accepted that Kamehameha’s widowed Queen, from 1825 until her death in 1832, was one of the staunchest friends of the missionaries and one of the foremost supporters of their cause.
The Mission Journal noted (in 1820,) “Just at evening, Kaahumanu came into the presence of the king, and they at length listened to our propositions. After many inquiries, respecting our design, and the number of arts which we could teach, they seemed to be satisfied that our intentions were good, and that we might be of service to them….”
“When we had finished our propositions and made all the statements, which we thought proper to make at this time, we left the king and his advisors, that they might have a general consultation among themselves.”
The following day, the missionaries were told they may settle in the islands for a probationary period of 1-year.
Soon after the first anniversary of their landing at Honolulu on April 19, 1821, Kaʻahumanu, Kalanimōku and Kalākua visited the mission and gave them supplies; this visit became important because during it Kaʻahumanu made her first request for prayer and showed her first interest in the teachings of the missionaries.
From that point on, Kaʻahumanu comes into more constant contact with the mission.
She was described to have a kindly and generous disposition and usually had as pleasant relations with foreigners who respected her royal rights. She was cautious and slow in deciding – more business-like in her decision-making – but once her mind was made up, she never wavered.
In 1822, she had a change of attitude toward education. Her brother, Keʻeaumoku (Governor Cox,) proposed that they should together follow the missionaries, encourage schools and allow all their people to be taught. Hesitant, at first, she later went along, and on August 6, 1822, she started to learn to read.
On February 11, 1824, Kaʻahumanu made one of her first public speeches on religious questions, giving “plain, serious, close and faithful advice.”
At a meeting of the chiefs and school teachers, Kaʻahumanu and Kalanimōku declared their determination to “adhere to the instructions of the missionaries, to attend to learning, observe the Sabbath, Worship God, and obey his law, and have all their people instructed.”
She had requested baptism for Keōpūolani and Keʻeaumoku when they were dying, but she waited until April, 1824, before requesting the same for herself.
On December 5, 1825, Kaʻahumanu, six other chiefs, and one commoner were baptized and received holy communion. The widowed queen took the Christian name of Elizabeth, which she added to her official signature.
Of her baptism, Kamakau said: “Kaahumanu was the first fruit of the Kawaiahaʻo church … for she was the first to accept the word of God, and she was the one who led her chiefly relations as the first disciples of God’s church.”
In December, 1827, laws against murder, stealing and adultery were adopted by the chiefs and proclaimed by Kaʻahumanu, who addressed the people, “demanding their attention to the laws of the land … and to others which were to be taught and explained more fully to the people, before their establishment.” The ceremonies, planned by Kaʻahumanu, included hymns and prayers.
Then, in mid-1832, Kaʻahumanu became ill and was taken to her house in Mānoa, where a bed of maile and leaves of ginger was prepared. “Her strength failed daily. She was gentle as a lamb, and treated her attendants with great tenderness. She would say to her waiting women, ‘Do sit down; you are very tired; I make you weary.’”
“Most of the missionaries visited her in those trying hours.” Her thoughts were continually on the future of her islands, and she was delighted a short time before her death when the first copy of the New Testament was hurried through the press, bound with her name embossed on the cover, and brought to her.
Hiram Bingham’s account of her last hours is, in part, as follows: “On the third instant, Sabbath night, about midnight, Dr. Judd sent down to me to say he thought her dying. I hastened to Manoa and remained there until the fifth …”
“About the last words she used of a religious character were two lines of a hymn designed to express the feelings of a self-condemned penitent coining and submitting to Christ: ‘Here, here am I, O Jesus, oh – Grant me a gracious smile.’
“A little after this she called me to her and as I took her hand, she asked. ‘Is this Bingham?’ I replied. ‘It is I’—She looked upon me & added ‘I am going now’ I replied: ’Ehele pu Jesu me oe, Ehele pomaikai aku.’ ‘May Jesus go with you, go in peace.’ She said no more. Her last conflict was then soon over, – in 10 or 15 minutes she ceased to breathe.”
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.”
She was buried at Pohukaina at ʻIolani Place and later transferred to Mauna ‘Ala, the Royal Mausoleum in Nuʻuanu Valley.
The inspiration and information in this summary is from a three-part series in The Friend titled, ‘Kaahumanu – a Study’ in 1925 by Gwenfread E Allen. It focused on Kaʻahumanu’s interests and activities related to the American Protestant missionaries who first came to Hawaiʻi in 1820.