“William Kanui, who had been placed at Kailua, having in a few short months violated his vows by excess in drinking (and) was excluded from Christian fellowship, but still performed some service for the chiefs for a time, then became a wanderer for many years.” (Bingham)
Let’s look back …
“He was born on the Island of Oʻahu, about the close of the last century. His father belonging to the party of a defeated chief, fled with his son to Waimea, Kauai, while there (1809,) an American merchant vessel … touched for supplies.” Kanui and his brother caught a ride on the ship and ended up in Boston. (The Friend, February 5, 1864)
By 1815, many divinity school students at Yale were fascinated with the prospect of evangelizing what were considered the “heathen” (a person who does not belong to a widely held religion) in far-off lands. Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia had been befriended by members of the church community, and was held up as an example of the intelligence and propensity for spirituality that could be found among the Hawaiian people. (Warne)
The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions’ (ABCFM) Foreign Mission School at Cornwall, Connecticut opened in the spring of 1817. Kanui was among seven Hawaiians in the opening class. Three other “heathen” included two boys from Calcutta and one Native American.
“Soon after their arrival, they attracted the attention of the friends of foreign missions, and when the mission school was opened … they were received as pupils (Kanui, ʻŌpūkahaʻia, Thomas Hopu, William Kanui, and Prince Humehume (son of Kauaʻi’s King Kaumuali‘i”.)) (The Friend, February 5, 1864)
The coming of ʻŌpūkahaʻia and other young Hawaiians to the continent had awakened a deep Christian sympathy in the churches. “The arrival in this country of several youth from the Sandwich Islands, and the leadings of Providence respecting them, have been viewed from the first, by those acquainted with the facts, as an indication of some important design…”
“… under this impression, several individuals undertook to assist and patronize these youth. Their efforts have been crowned with unexpected success.” (Five Youths from the Sandwich Islands, 1815)
The boys were taught to read and write, but the only available textbooks were in the English language – there was not yet an appropriate alphabet, nor was there a single printed page in Hawaiian. For 2 ½ years, Kanui was totally immersed in studies. (Warne)
In the fall of 1819, the brig Thaddeus, was chartered to carry the Pioneer Company of missionaries to the Islands. There were seven American couples sent by the ABCFM to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity (two Ordained Preachers, Hiram & Sybil Bingham and Asa and Lucy Thurston; two Teachers, Samuel & Mercy Whitney and Samuel & Mary Ruggles; a Doctor, Thomas & Lucia Holman; a Printer, Elisha & Maria Loomis; and a Farmer, Daniel Chamberlain (and his family.))
Kanui was among four native Hawaiians selected to accompany the group. He, along with Hopu and Honoliʻi, had progressed in their Christian studies to the point of being accepted as “pious” and baptized into the church. The fourth was Prince Humehume. (Warne) (Unfortunately, ʻŌpūkahaʻia died suddenly of typhus fever in 1818 and did not fulfill his dream of returning to the islands to preach the gospel.)
On October 23, 1819, the Pioneer Company of American Protestant missionaries from the northeast US set sail on the Thaddeus for the Islands.
After 164-days at sea, on April 4, 1820, the Thaddeus arrived and anchored at Kailua-Kona on the Island of Hawaiʻi. Hawai‘i’s “Plymouth Rock” is about where the Kailua pier is today.
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.
In the Kailua mission at Kona Lucy Thurston noted, “In the morning the two Hawaiian youth walked away to see the gentry; and having an eye to influence, they put on their best broadcloth suits and ruffled shirts, their conspicuous watch chains, of course, dangling from the fobs of their pants.”
“Their hair was cut short on the sides and back of the head, but left long on top, to stand gracefully erect. Their style was the same as if again about to enter the capacious drawing rooms of Boston where they had been received with much éclat.” (Thurston, 1882)
After the Thaddeus departed, Kanui was severely put to the test. For the first time in years he was back in a culture that he had loved in his childhood – the dress, or lack thereof, the chants and dances, swimming in the ocean, fishing, games of bowling with the ‘ulu maika stones.
However, it was Kanui’s close association with Liholiho that posed the most serious temptation for the young Kanui. Liholiho “loved his liquor, and was often recorded as being extremely intoxicated. It was not long until Kanui began to drink with Liholiho and his court – an action that surely led to severe admonitions from the pastor, Asa Thurston.” (Warne)
July 23, 1820, Kanui was the first to return to the “old ways.” Bingham excommunicated Kanui from the church. Thus, a mere 4-months after his arrival home, Kanui was on his own – he served for a time in the court of Liholiho, worked in a Honolulu grog shop and signed aboard various whaling vessels.
He left the Islands and joined the California gold rush in 1848; he was successful in gold digging, but lost all (about $6,000) when the bank where he had his deposits, Page, Bacon & Co, of San Francisco, failed. He reconnected with the church, joining the Bethel Church in San Francisco, under the charge of the Rev. M. Rowell. (The Friend, February 5, 1864)
Kanui later returned to the Islands and the first person he looked up was Hiram Bingham. Kanui was welcomed back, but told he would be treated as an outsider for a considerable period until he proved to the missionaries he was truly “pious.”
But Kanui, now 45-years of age, was a changed man. He obtained permission from local Chiefs to establish a school on a small plot of land at the foot of Palolo Valley and called it “William Tennooe’s English School.” (Although the newly-standardized alphabet would spell his name as “Kanui,” he retained the old anglicized spelling, “Tennooe.”)
It was a subscription school, charging parents were 12 ½ to 25 cents per week. Textbooks included the Bible in English, Webster’s Spelling Book and Adam’s Arithmetic. After a slow start the school grew to about 50-students. (Warne)
“Of the fourteen pioneers, I gratefully record it, after twenty-seven years, four men and the seven women are still living to praise God for his faithfulness to them, and for his surpassing favor to that mission and that nation. Wm. Kanui, after wandering twenty years, has returned to his duty as a teacher.” (Bingham)
Kanui died at Queen’s Hospital, January 14, 1864, at the age of about 66 years. “(H)e departed this life leaving the most substantial and gratifying evidence that he was prepared to die. His views were remarkably clear and satisfactory. Christ was his only hope, and Heaven the only desire of his heart.”
“It was peculiarly gratifying to sit beside his bedside and hear him recount the ‘wonderful ways’ in which God had led him. He cherished a most lively sense of gratitude towards all those kind friends in America who provided for his education … a stranger in a foreign land.” (The Friend, February 5, 1864)
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