September 04, 2010

When Paradise was purgatory

[I posted this in 2006.  A new comment has arrived today.]

Hawaiian monarchs once violently persecuted Native Hawaiian Catholics

St. Peter Catholic Church at Kahaluu, Hawaii

In 1820, Congregationalist Protestants from New England were the first Christian missionaries to arrive in Hawaii.

In April 1824, the queen regent Kaahumanu publicly acknowledged her embrace of Congregationalist Protestant Christianity. She received baptism on 5 December 1825.

The first Catholic priests arrived in Honolulu in July of 1827, celebrating the first Mass on Hawaiian soil on July 14, 1827.

The Catholic priests were quick to immerse themselves in Hawaiian society, learning the Hawaiian language, preaching and distributing Hawaiian-language Bibles. The first Catholic baptism took place on 30 November 1827. Among the earliest converts were Chief Boki and his wife, Kuini Liliha, the royally-appointed governors of the island of Oahu. Native Hawaiian converts enthusiastically embraced the faith, spirituality, rites of worship and prayer practices of the Catholic Church.

However, the Congregationalist missionaries persuaded Kaahumanu that Catholicism should be banned from Hawaii. In 1830, Kaahumanu signed legislation that forbade Catholic teachings and threatened to deport any foreigners who taught Catholic doctrine. She had the Catholic priests deported. Some Native Hawaiian Catholics managed to conceal their faith. Others were arrested, beaten, imprisoned, forced into hard labor and deprived of all food; some survived on food that relatives were able to deliver secretly.

Kaahumanu died in 1832. King Kamehameha III succeeded her.

Later that year Commodore John Downes, of the American frigate Potomac, made a plea for freedom of religion, telling the Hawaiian court that civilized nations no longer persecuted people for their religion. His intervention brought about only a brief let-up in the physical persecution of Native Hawaiian Catholics.

The king continued to forbid the presence of Catholic priests.

Finally, on September 30, 1836, the captain of the French Navy ship La Bonté persuaded the king to allow a Catholic priest to disembark in Honolulu. The king restricted the priest’s ministry to foreign Catholics, forbidding him to work with Native Hawaiians.

In 1837, Native Hawaiian Catholics of Honolulu fled across the island (Oahu) to Waianae, where Chief Boki, a fellow Catholic, resided.

On 17 April 1837, two other Catholic priests arrived. However the Hawaiian government forced them back onto a ship on 30 April. American, British and French officials in Hawaii intervened and persuaded the king to allow the priests to return to shore.

In 1838, sixty-seven Native Hawaiian Catholics were forcibly marched back to Honolulu from Waianae. One of them, 37-year-old John Kalauhewa, collapsed on the way and was left to die.

France, historically a Catholic nation, used its government representatives in Hawaii to protest the mistreatment of Catholic Native Hawaiians. Captain Cyrille-Pierre Théodore Laplace, of the French Navy frigate “Artémise”, sailed into Honolulu Harbor in 1839 to carry out the following order from his government.
Destroy the malevolent impression which you find established to the detriment of the French name; to rectify the erroneous opinion which has been created as to the power of France; and to make it well understood that it would be to the advantage of the chiefs of those islands of the Ocean to conduct themselves in such a manner as not to incur the wrath of France. You will exact, if necessary with all the force that is yours to use, complete reparation for the wrongs which have been committed, and you will not quit those places until you have left in all minds a solid and lasting impression.
Fearing an assault on his kingdom for its persecution of Catholics, Kamehameha III issued the Edict of Toleration on 17 June 1839. The document contained the following proclamation.
That the Catholic worship be declared free, throughout all the dominions subject to the king of the Sandwich Islands; the members of this religious faith shall enjoy in them the privileges granted to Protestants.
As an act of reconciliation, Kamehameha III donated land in Hawaii to the Catholic Church for the construction of their first permanent church.


Blogger Mary Martha said...

but, but, but... I thought Catholics were the only ones who persecuted other religions!

Honest, I read it in a book somewhere... about a code, and an artist... what was that book called?

(just kidding)

Thanks for the history that's very interesting.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Deacon DW said...

If you haven't seen Hawaii, based on Michener's novel, it's a must!

3:56 PM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...


Name the only state of the union where the governor was also that state's head (I think "Grand Dragon" was the title)of the KKK.

This state was home to some of the most anti-Catholic actions and legislation in the last half of the 19th century. A very important Supreme Court ruling which allowed children to attend religious schools resulted from some of this legislation.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Smith said...

Very good. The next time I see that wonderful portrait of Boki and Liliha I'll remember this. The fact that the Congregationalist missionaries were behind it reminds me of something a schoolchild supposedly said:"the Puritans came to America to have the freedom to worship as they chose and make everyone else do the same.

6:05 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...


Images of Boki and Liliha

7:19 AM  
Anonymous Bob Farrell said...

I messed up the above trivia question.

It should have read "20th century" instead of "19th".

Here's an article describing the historic Supreme Court case.

Anyone surprised at the state?

11:43 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

My guess was Indiana, which once had the highest number of KKK members per capita of any state in the union. You'd think it would be one of the Southern states, but having lived across the river from Indiana for six years, the statistic doesn't surprise me.

3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: the Supreme Court case

When I first read it, I exclaimed "(name of state)?!"
It surprises me not only because it's not, say, Alabama or Mississippi, but because (the state in question) positively gloats over its tolerance these days.

10:21 PM  
Blogger DimBulb said...

Blessed mother Marianne Cope (Marianne of Moloka'i) a Franciscan nun grew up not far from me. She went to Moloka'i for what was to be only a few weeks. As it turned out she stayed there for decades, succeeding Father Damien in his work after his death. We here in the Syracuse diocese are awaiting and hoping for her beatification.

6:50 PM  
Blogger Esther said...

Father, I remember reading or hearing that the wall across from St. Augustine's church is all that remains of where Catholics were imprisoned or something like that. Do you know anything about that? I hope you don't mind if I post this on my blog. Mahalo!

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Clare Hamamoto said...

Do you know anything about the Ka'ahumanu wall (Makiki wall) on Makiki Street near Heulu? Were Catholics forced into building this wall (or a larger structure) as a form of punishment?

2:18 AM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

“To Live among the Stars” by John Garrett. Page 52. Speaking of the year 1831, and of the treatment of Hawaiians who associated with the Catholic mission, it says:

“In July Kaahumanu arrested twelve Hawaiians who kept their contact with the mission; they set them to work laboring on the project called the Waikiki wall, between mountains and sea.”

You can find it online at the following.

8:54 AM  

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