Hawaii became a U.S. Territory July 7, 1898, as President McKinley signed the Treaty of Annexation.
In 1778, British Captain James Cook discovered the islands, and in 1779, he was killed there. When Captain Cook’s voyages were read in England they raised awareness of new lands and inspired a missionary movement, led by William Carey, who took the Gospel to India in 1793.
The Hawaiian Islands were united by King Kamehameha I in 1810. In 1819, King Kamehameha I died. His wife, Kaʻahumanu, and his son, Liholiho (King Kamehameha II), abolished the pagan religion with its kapu rules and human sacrifice.
The next year the first missionaries, led by Hiram Bingham and Yale graduate Asa Thurston, with his wife, Lucy, arrived from New England on the brig Thaddeus. Hiram Bingham’s son, Hiram Bingham II, helped spread the Gospel to other Pacific Island, including the Marquesas Islands, Micronesia and the Gilbert Islands. He was awarded a doctorate from Yale in 1895.
Hiram Bingham’s grandson, Hiram Bingham III, was an explorer who discovered the Inca city of Machu Pichu in 1908, was elected governor of Connecticut and then a U.S. senator.
Hiram Bingham IV was U.S. vice consul in France during World War II, where he helped 2,500 Jews escape internment camps of Hitler’s National Socialist Workers Party.
Hawaii’s first missionaries, Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston, created a 12-letter Hawaiian alphabet and then translated the Bible into the Hawaiian Language.
In 1823, Queen Kaʻahumanu and six high chiefs requested to be baptized as Christians. The Queen Kaʻahumanu’s government then banned prostitution and drunkenness, resulting in sailors resenting the missionaries’ influence.
In 1824, Chiefess Kapiolani, the cousin of Kamehameha I, defied the volcano goddess Pele by saying a Christian prayer, climbing down into the lava crater and returning unharmed, then eating the forbidden Ōhelo berries.
In 1825, Queen Ke’opuolani first spoke Hawaii’s Motto, “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness” (“Ua Mau Ke Ea O Ka Aina I Ka Pono”) as she was baptized into the Christian faith.
When Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) died, his brother, King Kamehameha III, ascended to the throne, having the longest reign in Hawaii’s history, 1825-1854. King Kamehameha III was instrumental in keeping the Kingdom of Hawaii from being taken over by the British and French.
King Kamehameha III introduced the first Hawaiian Constitution in 1840: “Kingdom of Hawai`i Constitution of 1840, Declaration of Rights of People and Chiefs: ‘God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the earth,’ in unity and blessedness. God has also bestowed certain rights alike on all men and all chiefs, and all people of all lands. … God has also established government, and rule for the purpose of peace. … We are aware that we cannot ourselves alone accomplish such an object – God must be our aid, for it is His province alone to give perfect protection and prosperity. – Wherefore we first present our supplication to HIM, that he will guide us to right measures and sustain us in our work.”
Hawaii’s 1840 Constitution continued: “It is therefore our fixed decree,
I. That no law shall be enacted which is at variance with the word of the Lord Jehovah, or at variance with the general spirit of His word. All laws of the Islands shall be in consistency with the general spirit of God’s law.
II. All men of every religion shall be protected in worshiping Jehovah, and serving Him, according to their own understanding, but no man shall ever be punished for neglect of God unless he injures his neighbor, of bring evil on the kingdom. …
The above constitution has been agreed to by the Nobles, and we have hereunto subscribed our names, this eighth day of October, in the year of our Lord 1840, at Honolulu, Oahu. – (Signed) Kamehameha III. Kekauluohi”
King Kamehameha III granted the ‘Ka Wai” freshwater springs where High Chiefess Ha’o frequented to be the location for building of the Kawaiaha’o Church. Located on the island of O’ahu, the Kawaiaha’o Church is listed on the state and national registers of historic sites, as it is one of the first Christian churches in Hawaii. Built between 1836-1842 in New England style architecture, it was called the “Westminster Abbey of Hawaii.”
Constructed with 14,000 coral slabs, quarried by hand from reefs 10 to 20 feet under water – each slab weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Within its walls the kingdom’s royalty prayed, sang hymns, were married, christened their children, and finally laid in state. On the grounds surrounding the church are buried some of the original missionaries.
When Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state in 1959, the historic occasion was marked by ceremonies within the sanctuary walls of the Kawaiaha’o Church.
On April 19, 1970, President Richard Nixon spoke at the historic church, saying: “Reverend Akaka … I wanted to attend … this great church, with all of its history that is here … having in mind the fact that today … you will be commemorating the 150th anniversary of Christianity in … these islands.”
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