On the arrival of the American missionaries in April 1820, all the chiefs were consulted respecting the expediency of their establishment in the islands. Some of the chiefs seemed to doubt; but Keōpūolani without hesitation approved their proposals. (Memoir)
Keōpūolani welcomed them. As the highest ranking ali‘i of her time, her embracing of Christianity set a crucial seal of approval on the missionaries and their god. (Langlas & Lyon)
Keōpūolani was the daughter of Kīwalaʻo. Kīwalaʻo was the son of Kalaniʻōpuʻu by Kalola (sister of Kahekili.) Her mother was Kekuiapoiwa Liliha, Kīwalaʻo sister. She was aliʻi kapu of nī‘aupi‘o (high-born – offspring of the marriage of a high-born brother and sister or half-brother and half-sister.)
Her ancestors on her mother’s side were ruling chiefs of Maui; her ancestors on her father’s side were the ruling chiefs of the island of Hawai‘i. Keōpūolani’s genealogy traced back to Ulu, who descended from Hulihonua and Keakahulilani, the first man and woman created by the gods.
In the year 1822, while at Honolulu, she was very ill, and her attention seems to have been then first drawn to the instructions of the missionaries. (Anderson)
In May 1823, Keōpūolani and her husband Hoapili expressed a desire to have an instructor connected with them. They selected Taua, a native teacher sent by the church at Huaheine, in company with the Rev. Mr. Ellis, to instruct them and their people in the first principles of the Gospel, and teach them to read and write.
The mission approved, and Taua resided until the death of Keōpūolani. He proved a faithful teacher, and by the blessing of God, we believe, he did much to establish her in the Christian faith. (Memoir)
Keōpūolani requested, as did the king and chiefs, that missionaries might accompany her. As Lahaina had been previously selected for a missionary station, the missionaries were happy to commence their labors there under such auspices. William Richards and Charles Samuel Stewart therefore accompanied her. (Memoir)
On the May 31, 1823, Keōpūolani arrived in Lahaina with Messrs. Richards and Stewart and their families. On their passage, she told them she would be their mother; and indeed she acted the part of a mother ever afterwards.
Immediately on their arrival, she requested them to commence teaching, and said, also, “It is very proper that my sons (meaning the missionaries) be present with me at morning and evening prayers.”
They were always present, sung a hymn in the native language, and when nothing special prevented, addressed through an interpreter the people who were present, when Taua, or the interpreter, concluded the service with prayer.
She spent a principal part of her time every day in learning how to read. and notwithstanding her age, numerous cares, constant company, and various other hindrances, made respectable proficiency.
She was indeed a diligent pupil, seldom weary with study; often spent hours over her little spelling book; and when her teachers rose to leave her, rarely laid it aside, but usually continued studying after they had retired.
She was apparently as diligent in searching for divine truth, as in learning to read, and evidently gave attention to her book, that she might know more of her duty to her Maker. (Memoir)
On the last week in August, Keōpūolani began to be seriously affected by a local indisposition, which soon seemed to relax her whole system, and in her view was a premonition of her approaching death.
On the first day of September, the chiefs began to collect in consequence of her illness. This was agreeable to their universal custom. Whenever a high chief is taken ill, although there may be nothing threatening in his illness, all the chiefs assemble from every part of the islands, and wait the result.
Thus, it was in Keōpūolani’s sickness. Vessels were dispatched to the different islands before there was any occasion for alarm. It was not many days, however, before it was seriously apprehended that the disease would prove fatal. (Memoir)
“They regarded her as a fit subject for baptism, but were unwilling to administer the ordinance without some means of communicating with her and with the people, so that there might be no danger of misunderstanding on so interesting an occasion.”
“They feared lest there should be erroneous impressions as to the place the ordinance held in the Christian system. Happily, Mr. Ellis arrived just in season, and the dying woman was thus publicly acknowledged as a member of the visible church.”
“The king and ail the heads of the nation listened with profound attention to Mr. Ellis’s statement of the grounds on which baptism was administered to the queen …”
“… and when they saw that water was sprinkled on her in the name of God, they said, ‘Surely she is no longer ours. She has given herself to Jesus Christ. We believe she is his, and death will go to dwell with him.’ An hour afterwards, near the close of September 16, 1823, she died.” (Anderson)
Keōpūolani is said to have been the first convert of the missionaries in the islands and the first to receive a Protestant baptism. (Kalanimōku and Boki had previously (1819) been baptized by the French Catholics. Kalanimōku later (1825) joined the Protestant Church, at the same time as Ka‘ahumanu.)
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