On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawai‘i.) There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM in this first company.
These included two Ordained Preachers, Hiram Bingham and his wife Sybil and Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy; two Teachers, Mr. Samuel Whitney and his wife Mercy and Samuel Ruggles and his wife Mary; a Doctor, Thomas Holman and his wife Lucia; a Printer, Elisha Loomis and his wife Maria; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain, his wife and five children.
By the time the Pioneer Company arrived, Kamehameha I had died and the centuries-old kapu system had been abolished; through the actions of King Kamehameha II (Liholiho,) with encouragement by former Queens Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani (Liholiho’s mother,) the Hawaiian people had already dismantled their heiau and had rejected their religious beliefs.
One of the first things the missionaries did was begin to learn the Hawaiian language and create an alphabet for a written format of the language. Their emphasis was on teaching and preaching.
The first mission station was at Kailua-Kona, where they first landed in the Islands, then the residence of the King (Liholiho, Kamehameha II;) Asa and Lucy Thurston manned the mission, there.
Liholiho was Asa Thurston’s first pupil. His orders were that “none should be taught to read except those of high rank, those to whom he gave special permission, and the wives and children of white men.”
James Kahuhu and John ʻlʻi were two of his favorite courtiers, whom he placed under Mr. Thurston’s instruction in order that he might judge whether the new learning was going to be of any value. (Alexander, The Friend, December 1902)
In 1820, Missionary Lucy Thurston noted in her Journal, “The king (Liholiho, Kamehameha II) brought two young men to Mr. Thurston, and said: ‘Teach these, my favorites, (John Papa) Ii and (James) Kahuhu. It will be the same as teaching me. Through them I shall find out what learning is.’”
“To do his part to distinguish and make them respectable scholars, he dressed them in a civilized manner. They daily came forth from the king, entered the presence of their teacher, clad in white, while his majesty and court continued to sit in their girdles.”
“Although thus distinguished from their fellows, in all the beauty and strength of ripening manhood, with what humility they drank in instruction from the lips of their teacher, even as the dry earth drinks in water!”
“After an absence of some months, the king returned, and called at our dwelling to hear the two young men, his favorites, read. He was delighted with their improvement, and shook Mr. Thurston most cordially by the hand – pressed it between both his own – then kissed it.” (Lucy Thurston)
Kahuhu was among the earliest of those associated with the chiefs to learn both spoken and written words. Kahuhu then became a teacher to the chiefs.
In April or May 1821, the King and the chiefs gathered in Honolulu and selected teachers to assist Mr Bingham. James Kahuhu, John ʻĪʻi, Haʻalilio, Prince Kauikeaouli were among those who learned English. (Kamakau)
On October 7, 1829, it seems that Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) set up a legislative body and council of state when he prepared a definite and authoritative declaration to foreigners and each of them signed it. (Frear – HHS) Kahuhu was one of the participants.
King Kamehameha III issued a Proclamation “respecting the treatment of Foreigners within his Territories.” It was prepared in the name of the King and the Chiefs in Council: Kauikeaouli, the King; Gov. Boki; Kaʻahumanu; Gov. Adams Kuakini; Manuia; Kekūanāoʻa; Hinau; ʻAikanaka; Paki; Kīnaʻu; John ʻIʻi and James Kahuhu.
In part, he states, “The Laws of my Country prohibit murder, theft, adultery, fornication, retailing ardent spirits at houses for selling spirits, amusements on the Sabbath Day, gambling and betting on the Sabbath Day, and at all times. If any man shall transgress any of these Laws, he is liable to the penalty, – the same for every Foreigner and for the People of these Islands: whoever shall violate these Laws shall be punished.”
It continues with, “This is our communication to you all, ye parents from the Countries whence originate the winds; have compassion on a Nation of little Children, very small and young, who are yet in mental darkness; and help us to do right and follow with us, that which will be for the best good of this our Country.”
The Hawaiʻi State Archives is the repository of significant historic documents for Hawaiʻi; reportedly, the oldest Hawaiian language document in its possession is a letter written by James Kahuhu.
Writing to Chief John Adams Kuakini, Kahuhu’s letter was partially in English and partially Hawaiian (at that time, Kuakini was learning both English and written Hawaiian.)
Below is a transcription of Kahuhu’s letter. (HSA)
Oahu. Makaliʻi 12, 1822.
My Dear Chief Mr. John Adams Kuakini. I love you very much. This is my communication to you. Continue praying to Jehovah our God. Keep the Sabbath which is God’s holy day. Persevere in your learning the good Gospel of Jehovah. By and by perhaps we shall know the good word of Jesus Christ. Then we shall know the good word of God.
A few begin to understand the good word of God. I am very pleased with the good word of God which has been brought here to enlighten this dark land. Who will save our souls and take them up to heaven, the place of eternal life. I am presently teaching Nahiʻenaʻena. I am teaching seven of them. Nahienaena, Kauikeaouli, Halekiʻi, Ulumāheihei Waipa, Ulumāheihei a Kapalahaole, Nakapuai and Noaʻawa are the students I am teaching. I may have more in the future. You must obey your good teacher, Hopu. Persevere with him and don’t give up.
Keliʻiahonui has learned to write quite well, he sent a letter to Oahu. Tell Hopu that Keliʻiahonui misses him. The King is learning to write from Mr. Bingham. Kalanimōku, Kīnaʻu and Kekauōnohi are learning to write Hawaiian. Mr. Thurston is their teacher. Here is another word to you, if you see Kalapauwahiole tell him to come to Oahu as I would like very much for him to come to Oahu.
(Makaliʻi was the name of a month: December on Hawai‘i, April on Moloka’i, October on Oʻahu. (Malo))
The image shows the first page of the Kahuhu letter to Kuakini (HSA.)