Letters from the Aliʻi
The central location of the Hawaiian Islands brought many traders, and then whalers, to the Islands. A new era opened in the Islands in 1820 with the arrival of the first missionaries. “The Hawaiians had been playing with the rest of the world for forty-years by the time the missionaries came here.”
“(T)hey end up staying and the impact is immediate. They are the first outside group that doesn’t want to take advantage of you, one way or the other, get ahold of their goods, their food, or your daughter. … But, they couldn’t get literacy. It was intangible, (the Hawaiians) wanted to learn to read and write”. (Nogelmeier)
Shortly after the Pioneer Company arrived, missionary Samuel Ruggles notes in in his Journal entry on May 10, 1820, “This afternoon the king (Kaumuali‘i) sent to me and requested that I would come and read to him in his bible. I read the first chapter of Genesis and explained to him what I read as well as I could.”
“He listened with strict attention, frequently asking pertinent questions, and said I can't understand it all; I want to know it; you must learn my language fast, and then tell me all - No white man before, ever read to me and talk like you.”
The ali‘i (Chiefs) wrote letters to the missionaries. Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives (Mission Houses) collaborated with Puakea Nogelmeier and Awaiaulu Foundation to digitize, transcribe, translate and annotate over 200-letters written by 33-Chiefs.
The letters, written between 1823 and 1887, are assembled from three different collections: the ABCFM Collection held by Harvard’s Houghton Library, the HEA Collection of the Hawaii Conference-United Church of Christ and the Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society. These letters provide insight into what the Chiefs were doing and thinking at the time, as well as demonstrate the close working relationship and collaboration between the aliʻi and the missionaries.
Puakea Nogelmeier gave a talk at Hawaiian Mission Houses related the translation project he worked on associated with letters from the ali‘i to missionaries. The following is a transcript of portions of his talk. He speaks of the missionaries and the ali‘i, and their relationship ….
“The missionary effort is more successful in Hawai‘i than probably anywhere in the world, in the impact that it has on the character and the form of a nation. And so, that history is incredible; but history gets so blurry …”
“The missionary success cover decades and decades becomes sort of this huge force where people feel like the missionaries got off the boat barking orders … where they just kind of came in and took over. They got off the boat and said ‘stop dancing,’ ‘put on clothes,’ don’t sleep around.’”
“And it’s so not the case ….”
“The missionaries arrived here, and they’re a really remarkable bunch of people. They are scholars, they have got a dignity that goes with religious enterprise that the Hawaiians recognized immediately. …”
“The missionaries were the first group of a scholarly background, but they also had the patience and endurance. So that’s part of the skill sets. … That’s really the more important things that are attracted first."
"But the second thing is they are pono.”
“They have an interaction that is intentionally not taking advantage. It’s not crude. They don’t get drunk and throw up on the street … and they don’t take advantage and they don’t make a profit. So that pono actually is more attractive than religion.”
Hawaiian Mission Bicentennial ... Symposium on the Ali‘i Letters Collection
The Ali‘i Letters Collection is one of the several projects of Hawaiian Mission Houses that are part of the Hawaiian Mission Bicentennial.
7 – 9 pm, Tuesday, February 21, 2017 at Ululani Hale, Kaʻiwakīloumoku, Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus
Hawaiian Mission Houses and Kamehameha Schools will be presenting ‘Letters From The Ali‘I: From Process To Product’.
Hawaiian Mission Houses Executive Director Dr. Tom Woods and Awaiaulu Executive Director Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier will provide background for the historical period and the project.
Awaiaulu student interns Jon Yasuda, Kaliko Martin, and Hilina‘i Sai-Dudoit will discuss their work on the project and highlight a letter they’ve chosen.
Finally, Dr. Kapali Lyon, professor of Religious Studies at UH-Manoa will analyze the letters and their significance to Hawaiian history and language studies.
Audience questions will follow the presentations. There will be light refreshments and discussion with participants and the audience after the symposium.
The symposium is free and open to the public.
Hawaiian Mission Bicentennial
A bicentennial calendar and observance timeline is being discussed; some of the initial dates and recognitions are as follows:
Foreign Mission School Bicentennial May 1817 (Weekend, June 16-18, 2017)
ʻŌpūkahaʻia’s Death February 17, 1818 (Saturday, February 17, 2018)
Pioneer Company Departs Boston October 23, 1819 (Wednesday, October 23, 2019)
Pioneer Company Anchors at Kawaihae March 30, 1820 (Monday, March 30, 2020)
Pioneer Company Lands at Kailua-Kona April 4, 1820 (Saturday, April 4, 2020)
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Collaboration between Native Hawaiians and American Protestant missionaries resulted in, among other things, the
- Introduction of Christianity;
- Development of a written Hawaiian language and establishment of schools that resulted in widespread literacy;
- Promulgation of the concept of constitutional government;
- Combination of Hawaiian with Western medicine; and
- Evolution of a new and distinctive musical tradition (with harmony and choral singing)
Background Information from Prior e-mails