The headline in the October 24, 1868 Pacific Commercial Advertiser boldly stated “Insurrection on Hawaiʻi.”
“For several years past, one (Joseph Ioela) Kaʻona … imbibed the idea that he was a prophet sent by God to warn this people of the end of the world. For the three years he has been preaching this millerite doctrine on Hawaiʻi, and has made numerous converts.” (PCA, October 24, 1868)
Kaʻona was born and brought up in Kainaliu, Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi. He received his education at the Hilo Boarding School and graduated from Lahainaluna on Maui.
Following the Māhele, Kaʻona was employed surveying kuleana (property, titles, claims) in Kaʻū and Oʻahu. He was well-educated and was later employed as a magistrate, both in Honolulu and in Lāhainā. (Greenwell)
Then, he felt possessed with miraculous powers.
“By the mid-1860s, Kaʻona claimed to have had divine communications with Elijah, Gabriel, and Jehovah, from whom he’d received divine instructions and prophetic.” (Maly) Followers called him ‘The Prophet;’ his followers were referred to as Kaʻonaites.)
“Some months ago he was arrested and sent to the Insane Asylum in this city as a lunatic, but the physician decided that he was as sane as any man, and he was therefore set at liberty again.” (PCA, October 24, 1868)
“He returned to Kona, and the number of his followers rapidly increased, till now it is over three hundred. They are mostly natives, but some are probably foreigners, as we received a letter a few weeks ago from one of them ….”
“These fanatics believe that the end of the world is at hand, and they must be ready. They therefore clothe themselves in white robes, ready to ascend, watch at night, but sleep during the day, decline to cultivate anything except beans, corn, or the most common food.”
“They live together in one colony, and have selected a tract of land about half way between Kealakekua Bay and Kailua, which the prophet told them was the only land that would not be overrun with lava, while all the rest of the island is to be destroyed.” (PCA, October 24, 1868)
“Kaʻona was received by (Reverend John Davis) Paris and congregation at Lanakila Church, and he once again drew many people to him with his powerful doctrine. But his claims of prophetic visions, unorthodox methods of teaching, questionable morality, soon caused the larger congregations from Kailua to Kealakekua to become suspicious of his intentions.” (Maly)
“Some three years ago, the neat little church at Kainaliu was built, by subscription …. Paris, the Pastor preached on certain Sundays, and Kaʻona … one of the Lunas, would preach on others.”
“For a time, all went on smoothly enough, until Kaʻona began to introduce some slight innovations in the form of worship, which were opposed by Mr. Paris and minority of the congregation and the church became split into two factions. … The feud continued to increase …” (Hawaiian Gazette, November 18, 1868)”
When asked to leave Lanakila Church, Kaʻona and his followers refused, Governess Keʻelikōlani was forced to intercede and called upon local sheriff Richard B. Neville. In September 1867, Kaʻona and followers vacated Lanakila, and moved to an area below the church. (Maly)
The Kaʻonaites settled on the kula and coastal lands at Lehuʻula, south of Keauhou (near present-day Hokuliʻa.) “There they built a number of grass houses, erected a flag, and held their meetings, religious and political … he and his adherents were claiming, cultivating and appropriating to themselves the products of the lands leased and owned by others….” (Paris; Maly)
Neville was sent to evict them from there.
Kaʻona was arrested and returned to O‘ahu for a short time, but by March 1868, he, again, returned to Kona.
On April 2, 1868, a destructive earthquake shook the island, causing significant damage and tidal waves, and numerous deaths (the estimated 7.9 magnitude quake was the strongest to hit the Islands.)
Kaʻona described it as the final days.
“(The Kaʻonaites) have taken oath, that they will all be killed before they surrender. I am ready to start from here at any time, with quite a company of men. If we hear that there is need for more help. We are badly off for good firearms here.”
“Kaʻona’s party have threatened to burn all the houses in Kona & to take life. It may not be as bad as it is represented”. (Governor Lyman of Interior Minister Hutchinson, October 25, 1868; Maly)
On October 19, Sheriff Neville, his deputy and policemen, approached Kaʻona once again to evict them, and Kaʻona encouraged his followers to fight. A riot took place.
“Neville was felled from his horse by a stone, which struck him on the head … (an assistant) tried to get Neville, but the stones were too many, and so he fled likewise, and was pursued ….” (Hawaiian Gazette, June 23, 1869) Neville and another were both brutally killed. The event has been referred to as Kaʻona’s Rebellion, Kaʻona Insurrection and Kaʻona Uprising.
Kaʻona eventually surrendered; he and sixty-six of his followers were arrested, and another 222 were released after a short detention. Kaʻona was returned to O‘ahu, convicted and sentenced to ten years of hard labor.
But in 1874, shortly after David Kalākaua (he and Albert Francis Judd had been appointed Kaʻona’s defense attorneys in 1868) became King, he pardoned Kaʻona. By 1878, Kaʻona had once again taken up residence at Kainaliu vicinity, and undertook work with the poor. Kaʻona died in 1883. (Maly)