Making of Paradise

The Making of Paradise

Step back with me for a minute, and let me show you Hawaii. I was born and brought up there, yet I know few people who could tell you what Hawaii was really like—long before “Hawaii Five-O” and “Magnum P.I.” We’ll have to take a long step back, about two centuries, for we must meet an orphaned Hawaiian, Henry Obookiah, who came to the doorstep of Yale, and wept. He never returned to Hawaii, but Hawaii would never be the same….

Hawaii, before 1800. Flowing white, a stream of water cascades down seventy feet of jagged rock into an emerald pool. Only the water’s splash, and the shouts of war, break the silence of paradise. The nearby king has died, and the chiefs fight for control in a bloody civil war. There will be a new king soon, and new chiefs, but the bloody feudal system grinds on.

The chiefs (alii) own the land. Commoners (the makaainana) are serfs. Their lives are fenced in by kapus, the deadly lattice-work of Hawaiian tabus. The priests (kahunas) enforce the kapus, binding the people—on pain of death—to beware in every aspect of life, from where their feet step to where their shadow falls. The warlike gods the kahunas serve demand human sacrifice, and smile on the warring chiefs and their caste system. There is no refuge from their vengeful reach for any Hawaiian, in all the islands of paradise.

Hawaii, 1808. The Islands are convulsed with their last great round of civil wars. Young Henry Obookiah (phonetically, Opukahaia) loses both father and mother in the violence and, orphaned, flees to the hills with his little brother on his back. The brother never made it; a spear caught him. Henry kept on going.

At last, by a circuitous route Henry finds his opportunity to escape. Begging Captain Brintell to take him on as a cabin boy, he and two others, Tomoree and Hopu, take passage on a Yankee ship bound for far-off America.

New Haven, Connecticut, 1809. A strange place to trace the making of paradise. But Henry has come this far, and he is all of fourteen years old. New Haven was a gracious town, far beyond most others of its day, with stately houses and broad streets, and in its heart a precious and substantial, red-brick place of learning, Yale College. At the front step of this awesome place, Henry weeps brokenly, realizing how desperately ignorant he and the other Hawaiians are. E. W. Dwight, who in 1809 is just graduating from Yale, finds him, takes him home and begins to teach him.

Later, Henry hears of Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection, His power to give life to those who trust Him. Henry believes, and receives Jesus as his Savior. Filled with new-found joy, he remembers his people in Hawaii and stirs others to return with him, as missionaries. And here is where the story reaches back to Hawaii, by way of Cornwall, Connecticut and Boston.

Cornwall, Connecticut 1817. Dwight is teaching a little school for people who want to be foreign missionaries, the first such school in America. Seventeen people attend, a baker’s dozen of New Englanders and Henry, Tomoree and Hopu. Henry will not survive the year; illness will take him. Tomoree, Hopu and the rest will not be deterred.

Boston, 1819. Tomoree, Hopu and another Hawaiian are setting sail to carry out the mission Henry had inspired. As the Thaddeus weighs anchor, you might see about a dozen New Englanders in the mission party. Markwell Asa Thurston, three years out of Yale, will soon be a close advisor to Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III, each, in turn, the king of all Hawaii.

Back to Hawaii, 1820. It is ten years since King Kamehameha I united the Islands politically, and old tabus are crumbling. The main Westerners around, though, are sailors and merchants. They offer the Hawaiians nothing better than immorality, dishonesty and venereal disease to replace the cruel oppression of old Hawaii.

The missionaries’ coming has filled the Islands with new controversy. Liholiho (Kamehameha II) is mulling over whether to let the missionaries stay. They’ll interfere with your politics, take over your commerce, and anger the British, caution the foreign merchants and his other advisors. But Liholiho doesn’t want to decide abruptly. Let the missionaries stay for one year only, and see what they do.

In another generation the impact of those missionaries became clear:

  • Two of them, Ruggles and Loomis, put Hawaiian into writing for the first time, and printed it.
  • Schools were started. After only eight years, there were 440 native teachers aiding the missionaries.
  • The Bible became in many ways the rule of the Islands.
  • A law was passed prohibiting sailors from using Hawaiian girls for immoral purposes.
  • Missionaries warned the king time and again of merchants’ attempts at exploitation. This of course brought down slanders and threats from sailors and merchants against the missionaries—
  • —But the Hawaiians decided they loved them, and would defend them. So the missionaries stayed, and by 1840, Hawaii was recognized world-wide as a civilized nation.

None of the things Liholiho feared had happened. Instead of ceaseless war, a comparative paradise of peace had emerged, and a people free from tyrannical kings, kahunas and kapus. Kamehameha I and his queen had known there had to be something better than human sacrifice and idol worship when they abolished them, but they hadn’t known what. The Hawaiians had had a thorough dose of sailors’ immorality and intoxication, and rejected that. When the missionaries came to serve the Hawaiians’ best interests, temporal and spiritual, the people listened. Many believed in Jesus, and Hawaii was changed.

Like Henry, I know what it is to receive Jesus Christ into my life. I can understand why at long last, peace came to Hawaii. I thank God the testimony of history is there, that Hawaii the unparadise was transformed, not mainly by “culture” or trade, but by the Bible and faith in Jesus. It reminds me of another testimony that can never be effaced:

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5:11-12)

Randall Suzuka
© 1977 The Yale Standard Committee