Writing Center
Spring 2012 Edition

Christians: Peaceful Preachers or Hawaiian Conquerors?

Mckay West
Argumentative 2010 2nd Place
Professor: Toa Tawa

When Hawaii is spoken of in America, there is never a negative image associated with it. In Izutsu Satoru’s “Medical Education In Paradise: Another Facet Of Hawaii.", he says, “Mention ‘Hawaii’ and images are of bright, sandy beaches, warm surf, gentle breezes, and dancers swaying to the rhythm of a hula dance. Indeed, the word ‘Hawaii’ seems to be interchangeable with visions of ‘paradise’” (2). Though these happy images associated with the Hawaiian culture are what is seen at first glance, the history of the culture has a well-hidden, melancholy past. If compared to the treatment of the Native Americans during the American conquest, these two nations are quite similar. Both experienced pains such as: disease brought from invaders from another country, the seizing of land forcing Native Americans to fight for their homes or submit to a new ruler’s commands, and American military forces monitoring all aspects of Native life telling them where they can go and what they can say. Both cultures were first introduced to a new people—the Americans—and both cultures were later invaded and had their land taken from them. The difference is that the United States has covered up the sufferings of the Hawaiians, and they have kept hidden their true desires and opinions to the matter of annexation. In Haunani-Kay Trask’s From a Native Daughter, she states that “Hawaiian’s have been agitating for federal recognition of….the injury done by the United States at the overthrow, including the loss of lands and sovereignty” (27). One big resource the United States used was Christian missionaries. They converted the natives and then used their powers as ministers to control and instill the ideas of the government into the natives’ minds. Christian missionaries wrongly influenced and seized the state of Hawaii with unethical tactics. They preyed on the weak minds of those who lost family from the plagues brought to Hawaii, they set up a government where their future offspring could rule in their stead, and they manipulated the kings of Hawaii to achieve their desires for annexation.

The Hawaiian culture was a flourishing culture previous to any outside interference. Their society had set in place a variety of beliefs, values, rules, and codes of conduct to follow which, if carried out correctly, would always lead to each individual native fulfilling his own needs as well as the needs of his family. Everyone understood the specific patterns they had to follow, and everyone was happy to do their part. With this set in place, the nation was sure to continue to flourish for many more centuries. However, in 1778, this culture encountered an unforeseen group of individuals that would forever change their way of life. A British crew, led by Captain James Cook, had discovered their homeland island of Hawaii. At first the Native Hawaiians admired him. In Roger C. Smith’s “We Shall Soon See the Consequences of Such Conduct: John Ledyard Revisited,” it is stated that they even “worshipped him as a god” (36). This was not to last though, as the Hawaiians soon realized that these outsiders were trouble. They soon killed Captain Cook, and in Corporal John Ledyard’s journal, he explains that it was due to “insulting and inappropriate actions of the crew, and specifically Cook, toward Hawaiian customs and religious beliefs”. This action frightened off the crew back to Great Britain, and all was well with the Native Hawaiians for the time being.

Nonetheless, even with Cook’s crew gone, they had left something behind that would damage the Hawaiians more than they could possibly repair. David Stannard states in “Disease and Infertility: A New Look at the Demographic Collapse of Native Populations in the Wake of Western Contact,” that “Syphilis, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and more—including, perhaps, influenza—tore through the Hawaiian population as soon as their barrier of isolated [sic] was penetrated” (329). With the Native Hawaiians being sheltered from mainland contact throughout their existence, they never had encountered the various viruses and disease that were out there. None of the Hawaiians had built immunities to these mainland diseases, and very few of them had the strength to last past the scourges. Something as simple as the chicken pox wiped out village after village. The population was dwindling out of control, and there was nothing the Native Hawaiians could do. In Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani’s Then There Were None, it is reported that in 1778 there were 500,000 Pure Hawaiian’s living on the islands, but by 1821 that number dropped to 230,000, and by 1893, that number had fallen to just 40,000. Death and depression were beginning to seep into the population.

Thereafter, missionaries began to seep into the Hawaiian culture, and they spread their influences to many of the villagers. They conducted their sermons, and they included many passages promising eternal life and blessings of healing. They instilled fear into the natives informing them it was their fault that the plagues had inflicted them and were destroying their lives. They informed them of their sinful acts, and what treacheries they were committing in the eyes of God. Now although this may seem like an ordinary sermon given in the Christian culture, the afflictions that were being thrust upon the Hawaiians greatly affected their decision to join their churches. The arrival of the Calvinist also had a great role in their decisions. The Calvinistic stern behavior was not liked much by the natives, and thus their outlook on the Christian church became more highly favored. They began to believe strongly in these Christians, but were beginning to take the religious beliefs more literally than figuratively. “Missionary imperialism had been successful in converting our dying people who believed that the Christian promise of everlasting life meant the everlasting physical life of our nation” (Trask 6). With so many of their loved ones dead, the Native Hawaiians were beginning to become deeply involved in their new religious beliefs. This would later lead to many of their national decisions being influenced by their religious views.

As a result of the trust the natives placed in them, the missionaries began to set up forms of government that they themselves could be a part of and influence. They did this in a subtle manner though, beginning with simple tasks. Larry Kimura’s “Native Hawaiian Culture,” states“…William Richards, a missionary, became ‘chaplain, teacher [sic] and translator’ to the king…this is the beginning of the formal involvement of missionaries in the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom” (174). Other missionaries soon joined the king’s cabinet, including Gerrit P. Judd, Lorrin Andrews, and Richard Armstrong. These missionaries were able to convince the King to pass a policy of religious toleration as well as The Declaration of Rights and Laws in 1839 (Kimura 174). Each law passed brought the Americans one step closer to achieving Hawaiian Annexation.

Furthermore, with each occurrence of new laws passed, as well as the constant badgering of American economic forces, the missionaries were soon able to convince the chiefs and King to divide the lands of Hawaii in an act called the Mahele in 1848-1850. The Mahele was a proposition that allowed foreigners to purchase land of their own in Hawaii. This was a major feat for America, but it was another big step to the ultimate downfall of the Hawaiians. Haunani-Kay Trask tells of the result of the Mahele being created in From a Native Daughter:

Through the unrelenting efforts of missionaries like Gerrit P. Judd, the Mahele was attained in 1848-1850 (qtd. in Trask 6). Our disease ridden ancestors, confused by Christianity and preyed upon by capitalists, were thereby dispossessed. Traditional lands were quickly transferred to foreign ownership and burgeoning sugar plantations. By 1888, three-quarters of all arable land was controlled by haole (white people). (6-7)

With the Mahele set in place, foreigners seized every opportunity to get a piece of land for themselves. This lead to myriad changes to the Hawaiian way of life. With wealthy foreign land owners stepping into the picture, things like the Hawaiian League began to form. The Hawaiian League forced the king to replace the old constitution with a new one referred to as The Bayonet Constitution. In Neil Levy’s “Native Hawaiian Land Rights,” we are informed that the Bayonet Constitution “substituted the power of Western Landowners for that of the King” (861). This would, in turn, switch the voting power from noble Hawaiians selected by the chief to wealthy landowners who were able to pay taxes. This shift in the societal balance would soon affect Hawaiian decisions as a nation.

Obviously each King of Hawaii did not allow himself to be influenced so easily by the persistent pestering of the missionaries. In Kathleen Mellen’s The Lonely Warrior, King Kamehameha consistently rejected any missionary conversion techniques, and did not allow himself to be influenced by them; Kamehameha even called one missionary out to leap from a thousand-foot precipice, “And if…your god whom you say can do anything, saves you from death, then I will consider your religion” (Mellen 157). Sadly, while each king did what he could to avoid granting the foreign American presence any more rights, the surrounding circumstances continued to worsen until they had no other option. One example of this is the story of Queen Lili’uokalani. In Director Na Maka O Ka Aina’s Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation, Lili’uokalani creates a new constitution to present to her people, but her missionary-filled cabinet will not approve her presentation. This forces her to wait, and soon after she is imprisoned and the monarchy overthrown. In James Blount’s The Executive Documents of the House of Representatives for the Third Session of the Fifty-Third Congress, Lili’uokalani states, “I yield to the superior force of the United States of America…now, to avoid any collision of armed forces and perhaps the loss of life….” (586). Had those missionaries approved her presentation of the new constitution, the fate of Hawaii might have been different. They instead chose to wait out of fear and in the attempt to keep themselves in power; they allowed the Queen of Hawaii to be overthrown and the nation to fall into oligarchy.

In accordance to problems like this occurring, small efforts were pushed through by the Native Hawaiians to try and correct the wrong that had been done. When instances such as the formation of the Reform Party occurred, the Hawaiians returned fire with parties of their own. Douglas Askman states in “Her Majesty's Disloyal Opposition: An Examination of the English-Language Version of Robert Wilcox's the Liberal, 1892-1893” that “…a new pro-monarchist political party was formed to counter the policies of the Reform Party. It was styled the National Reform Party…” (180). These actions instigated by the Hawaiians were put down quickly though, as they were not in favor of what the missionaries desired. In 1898, the missionaries succeeded in annexing Hawaii and putting the final wedge into the Hawaiian culture.

To summarize, Christian missionaries played a big role in the slow annexation of Hawaii. They took advantage of every opportunity that they could, and in the process they destroyed the Hawaiian culture. They found success in their early attempts to convert those dying from disease to their churches. They then proceeded to embed themselves in every part of the Hawaiian Government, and with their new found roles, they persistently controlled each King and Queen of Hawaii as their puppet to pass whatever legislative law they wished. They were a crucial factor in the United States receiving Hawaii as one of its states. With all of their actions, they can and should be looked at not so much as Christian missionaries, but as American businessman.

Works Cited
Askman, Douglas V. “Her Majesty's Disloyal Opposition: An Examination Of The English Language Version Of Robert Wilcox's The Liberal, 1892-1893.” Hawaiian Journal Of History 42 (2008): 177-200. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.
Blount, James. The Executive Documents of the House of Representatives for the Third Session of the Fifty-Third Congress. (1894-1895): 586. Academic Search Premier. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.
Kimura, Larry. “Native Hawaiian Culture.” Native Hawaiians Study Commission Report 1. (1983): 174. Educations Resources Information Center. Web. 6 Feb. 2012.
Levy, Neil M. “Native Hawaiian Land Rights.” California Law Review 63.4 (1975): 848. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Jan. 2012.
Mellen, Kathleen. The Lonely Warrior. New York: Hastings House, 1949. Print.
Act of War: The Overthrow of the Hawaiian Nation. Dir. Na Maka O Ka Aina. The Center for Hawaiian Studies and University of Hawaii, Manoa. 1993. DVD.
Satoru Izutsu, et al. “Medical Education In Paradise: Another Facet Of Hawaii.” Medical Teacher 30.5 (2008): 490-495. Academic Search Premier. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.
Smith, Roger C. “We Shall Soon See the Consequences of Such Conduct: John Ledyard Revisited.” Hawaiian Journal of History 41 (2007): 35-62. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.
Stannard, David. “Disease and Infertility: A New Look at the Demographic Collapse of Native Populations in the Wake of Western Contact.” Journal of American Studies 24 (1990): 325-350. Web. 5 Feb. 2012.
Then There Were None. Dir. Elizabeth Kapu’uwailani Lindsey. PBS and University of Hawaii, Manoa. 1996. DVD.
Trask, Haunani-Kay. From a Native Daughter. 2nd ed. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. Print.