Site hosted by Build your free website today!

The rise and fall of Christianity in Hawaiian politics. Ethnic Hawaiian race-nationalists are currently rejecting Christianity and reviving their ancient Pagan religion as a political weapon to assert racial supremacy over government decision-making and land ownership. Something similar happened in the 1800s. A movie released December 6, 2019 portrays a heroic native Hawaiian chiefess publicly defying the volcano goddess Pele and invoking the Christian God to stop lava from destroying Hilo in 1824; but in 1881 a powerful native Hawaiian princess saved Hilo by publicly praying to Pele after Christian missionaries and their followers had failed to stop the lava.

(c) Copyright December 2019 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved


A Christian evangelical movie "The Islands" released on December 6, 2019 celebrates the courage of a native high chiefess in 1824 for praying to the God of the recently arrived Christian missionaries while standing in front of a lava flow threatening Hilo town, publicly defying her culture's volcano goddess and the pagan religion which had been a core element of Hawaiian culture for a thousand years. Yet the movie ignores the equally great courage of another native princess 57 years later, in 1881, who defied the Christian religion, which by then had become a core element of Hawaiian culture, to reaffirm the power of that same volcano goddess Pele in the face of the same impending destruction of Hilo by lava.

The justifiable pride of today's Christians in celebrating the rise of Christianity among natives in early 19th Century Hawaii is matched by their ignorance or cover-up of the decline in Christianity among natives late in that century. An even steeper decline in Christianity among native descendants now, in the 21st Century, is part of a resurgence in ethnic pride and the utilization of the ancient Hawaiian religion as a political weapon to assert racial supremacy over government decision-making and land ownership.

"The Islands" movie creator published a promotional webpage in 2017 which described a closing scene portraying U.S. Marines invading Iolani Palace in 1893 and arresting the Queen -- a totally false, racially inflammatory allegation serving the propaganda needs of today's Hawaiian racial supremacists, and gratuitously irrelevant to the movie's theme. Although that scene may have been cut from the final version, the fact that it was seriously advertised shows that Hawaiian racial supremacists have sufficient power and influence to compel appeasement of them, at least initially. We are reminded what Plato wrote and what Hitler's Propaganda Minister Goebbels knew, that the arts are powerful tools for politicians to use in shaping public opinion.

During Summer and Fall 2019 massive protests broke out to stop construction of a 30-meter telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in Hawaii. After ten years of environmental impact studies and lawsuits ending in the state Supreme Court, a final permit for construction was issued. Ethnic Hawaiian activists, with some non-ethnic-Hawaiian allies, began blockading the road which telescope components and construction equipment must use. During a period of several months the very weak Governor and county Mayor refused to deploy sufficient police or National Guard to remove hundreds, and then thousands, of protesters. A small city of protesters grew, with semi-permanent tents, food and medical supplies. At first most of the protesters seemed loosely organized, but soon it became apparent that leadership was being asserted by Hawaiian sovereignty activists with many years of experience. The State of Hawaii Office of Hawaiian Affairs appropriated tens of thousands of government dollars for "humanitarian" assistance to the protesters, even while the state and county governments spent more than 10 million dollars during the first three months to give a phony appearance of law and order.

Throughout the protest there were constant claims that Mauna Kea is a sacred place. A system of protocol was established with several periods each day filled with prayers and chants to the ancient gods and hula performances in honor of them -- but little or no mention of Jesus or the Christian God. Hundreds of Hawaiian flags were constantly on display and also carried throughout the islands on the backs of pickup trucks in large convoys -- the Hawaiian state flag (same as the old Hawaiian Kingdom flag) was always displayed upside down as a sign of protest, and a "Jawaiian" style "Kanaka Maoli" flag in reggae colors was almost as prevalent. There were zero U.S. flags. Well-known movie stars and political celebrities made cameo appearances on the Mauna and in newspaper and TV interviews, including the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Mayor, Tulsi Gabbard, and even Jason Momoa ("Aquaman"). But the constant theme every day was that Mauna Kea is a sacred place, while the prayers and chants were always to the ancient Hawaiian pagan gods and the "patriotism" was always toward a mythical independent nation of Hawaii in opposition to the real state and federal governments. A few weeks into the Mauna Kea protest, other "patriotic" protests sprang up regarding other places where construction projects were blocked, including a park upgrade in Waimanalo and construction of a windmill farm in Kahuku. Hundreds were arrested. The same Hawaiian sovereignty leaders whose followers were holding the fort at Mauna Kea visited those additional insurrections and were welcomed as leaders there, although the Pagan religious activities performed multiple times per day on Mauna Kea were mostly missing in Waimanalo and Kahuku.

Hawaii has a vibrant ethnic mixture of Euro-Americans, Asians, and native Hawaiian descendants. A majority of today's residents are of Asian ancestry: Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and others). Nearly all people with Hawaiian blood are of mixed races -- perhaps 3/4 of all so-called "Native Hawaiians" each has perhaps 3/4 of their ancestry from Europe/U.S. or Asia, with Chinese being most prevalent. About 40% of Hawaii's people are entirely or partly white.

Religious influences in Hawaii have tracked the history of migration, until recently when the ancient Hawaiian religion seems to be gaining dominance over Christianity among ethnic Hawaiians and even their non-native allies.

But in recent decades an interesting development is the absence of either Christians or Pagans, Western or Asian or Pacific Islander, publicly praying to their god(s) to intercede in preventing disasters or recuperating from them. Of course individuals pray for help with their daily problems or diseases. But there are no courageous Christian or Pagan leaders today who risk their reputations and lives to publicly invoke their god(s) in the way Chiefess Kapiolani and Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani did. Today's public prayers whether Christian or Pagan all seem purely ceremonial; showing honor or respect and recalling historical events, legends, or the names of places, rains, winds; and perhaps intended to signal theological or linguistic expertise for followers to admire. It would seem that even priests treat their gods as dead beings of bygone legend and lore, useful mostly for soliciting political support or financial donations.

A perfect occasion when such public prayers for intercession could have been expected but failed to happen was the Kilauea lava flow of 2018 which destroyed hundreds of homes in the Puna district of Hawaii Island. Neither a Christian Kapiolani nor a Pagan Ruth Ke'elikolani stepped forward. Ken Conklin wrote a letter to editor published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser of May 15, 2018 with title "Invoke Christian, Hawaiian gods" and in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald [Hilo] of May 15, 2018 with title "Battle of the Gods". Full text of the letter said:
"In 1824, Chiefess Kapiolani, cousin of Kamehameha I, colleague of Kaahumanu and convert to Christianity, prayed to the missionaries’ God to stop flowing lava. She climbed into the volcano crater, ate forbidden ohelo berries, cursed Pele, threw rocks, said the old gods were fake. And the lava stopped. In 1881, Princess Ruth Keelikolani, who rejected Christianity, invoked her ancient gods and saved Hilo. She stood in front of flowing lava, prayed to Pele. And the lava stopped. Where are the Christian ministers today? Where are the “traditional practitioners” and kumu hula who celebrate Pele/Hi‘iaka legends at Merrie Monarch? This is their chance to put their faiths to practical use, get face time on national TV and lots of donations. Let competing gods battle it out, hope they all succeed, and the people of Hawaii island will be the winners. True ecumenism."

Here are the headings for the sections of this webpage. Scroll down to the ones that interest you:


"THE ISLANDS" MOVIE [its own webpage with movie trailer; discussion of controversy over whether it would have a racially incendiary scene falsely portraying U.S. Marines invading the palace and arresting Queen Lili'uokalani]

HISTORICAL MATERIALS CONCERNING HIGH CHIEFESS KAPIOLANI and her courage in defying the volcano goddess Pele in 1824 to ask the Christian God to save Hilo from a volcanic lava flow

HISTORICAL MATERIALS CONCERNING PRINCESS RUTH KE'ELIKOLANI and her courage in defying the Christian God in 1881 to ask volcano goddess Pele to save Hilo from a volcanic lava flow



Hawaii had no human population 2000 years ago. According to a study by a large team of scholars headed by University of Hawaii Professor Terry Hunt, published in 2011, the first humans might have not arrived in Hawaii until around year 1200.
Professor Hunt's findings are strongly disliked by Hawaiian activists who want to strengthen their propaganda that ethnic Hawaiians are an "indigenous" people entitled to special rights; and also disliked by powerful business and academic institutions who get philanthropic and government grants exclusively to benefit "indigenous" Hawaiians. So it's no surprise that Professor Hunt moved out of Hawaii to continue his career elsewhere.

The first Polynesians who settled Hawaii probably came from the Marquesas islands, bringing with them a peaceful animistic Pagan religion with multiple gods. A second wave of migration, from Tahiti, brought a warrior culture with a social caste system that included strong taboos and human sacrifice. The Tahitians apparently killed or enslaved the Marquesans. Voyaging between Hawaii and other places died out resulting in centuries of genetic inbreeding and lack of resistance to disease. Hawaii remained isolated until Captain Cook arrived in 1778.

Before Captain Cook arrived Hawaii had no contact from European explorers except perhaps for one or two shipwrecked sailors; and no contact even from other Polynesians for several centuries. Hawaiian natives had a stone-age culture with no pottery, no metal (except a few nails that washed up in driftwood), no written language, and had not yet invented the wheel. Their animistic religion included 4 main gods and perhaps 400,000 lesser gods. Occasionally a powerful or beloved chief might be made into a god in a ceremony upon his death. Animals, plants, winds and rains were recognized as body-forms (kinolau) of certain gods. Human ancestors and various animals served as guardian spirits (aumakua) to families and individuals, communicating with them through dreams and moments of spiritual insight (ho'ailona). Warfare was frequent and ritualized as a sort of sport. Humans were ritually sacrificed to the gods for many reasons if animals were deemed of insufficient value, including dedication of stone temples (heiau), building a house for a chief, cutting down a large tree to build a voyaging canoe, etc. Prayers were frequent throughout the day for many reasons large and small. All manner of taboos were enforced with severe penalties; including foods restricted by gender and caste, and prohibition against men and women eating together. Dead people of low rank were often buried with little ceremony under the family house or in a sand dune. High chiefs might have their body baked in an underground oven to make the flesh fall away so that the long bones could then be ceremonially wrapped and secretly hidden in caves -- not only because the bones might be regarded as sacred and containing the spirit of the dead person but also to protect the surviving family against enemies who might use bones or body parts for sorcery to place curses or even black magic to pray a family member to death ('ana'ana).

Captain Cook arrived with two large ships in January 1778, briefly exchanged goods with the natives of Kaua'i and Ni'ihau, and traveled to Alaska looking for the fabled "Northwest Passage." He returned to Hawaii late in 1778, sailed around Maui for a while before landing in Kealakekua Bay on Hawaii Island in January 1779. Because of the time of year the natives treated him with ceremony as their principal god Lono returning as he had promised centuries before, while Cook's crew exchanged nails with the natives for food and sex. They left, but a storm broke a ship's mast forcing them to return for repairs. Unfortunately the peaceful Makahiki season of Lono had ended and the season of the war god Ku had begun. A skirmish broke out with the natives when Cook's men tried to take a local chief as hostage to force return of a stolen small boat. Cook was killed in that shoreline skirmish at Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779; the natives baked his body to remove the flesh to prepare the bones for ceremonial burial, causing some sailors to speculate the natives were cannibals preparing to eat him. Upon demand from the sailors, the natives returned Cook's bones to the ship, whose sailors buried them at sea.

A few years later growing numbers of British ships began arriving in Hawaii, where they traded not only nails but also swords, guns, cannons, and oceangoing ships to several different native chiefs who used them in wars of conquest among the islands. Kamehameha had visited Captain Cook's ship at Kealakekua in 1779, where he had seen large amounts of metal along with guns and cannons. He was the best trader, assembled the most weapons, built the biggest stone temples accompanied by human sacrifices of opposing chiefs, befriended British diplomat George Vancouver; and finally succeeded in conquering or forcing surrender of all the islands to create a unified Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810.

From 1778 until Kamehameha's death in 1819 there were many ships from Europe, whose sailors behaved in ways that the natives saw that violated native taboos and yet the sailors were not punished by their officers or by the gods; and they probably described Christianity to some natives. Nevertheless there was no widespread abandonment of Paganism until several months after Kamehameha's death.

Kamehameha died around May 8, 1919, whereupon his elder son, Liholiho, age about 22, became King Kamehameha II. Liholiho's stepmother Ka'ahumanu had been Kamehameha's favorite wife and was politically powerful (he had about 22 official wives and many concubines both male and female). Liholiho was ineffective as a leader, and also an alcoholic. So at the new King's first important public event, Ka'ahumanu stood up next to him and announced what amounted to a coup: "We two shall rule together." Another very important leader was the new King's biological mother, Kamehameha's sacred wife with the highest mana and genealogy in all Hawaii, Keopuolani (she had the kapumoe -- prostrating taboo requiring anyone in her presence to lie face down in the dirt). The fourth most important leader was Kahuna Nui (High Priest) Hewahewa who presided over lengthy rituals and human sacrifices at the major temples. Probably in November 1819, there was a big luau, when the four of them together carried out their well-planned conspiracy and publicly violated the 'aikapu -- the taboo that said men and women should not eat together (the penalty was immediate death). The King walked over to Ka'ahumanu's mat and sat down and ate with her. The crowd was astounded. The four leaders then declared that the old religion was finished. They ordered the destruction of all the heiaus (stone temples) and burning of the god-idols throughout Hawaii. Hawaii now had no religion, no more taboos, no foundation for moral behavior. Some natives, especially in remote areas, protected their idols and ceremonial materials by hiding them in caves, perhaps alongside bones of their ancestors. Decades later these stashes would be found by professional archeologists who donated them to museums, as well as by treasure-hunters who sold them in Europe and elsewhere.

A high chief, Kekuaokalani was a nephew of Kamehameha The Great, who had entrusted the war god Ku to him. He and several of his fellow high chiefs refused to comply with the order to abolish the old religion. The result was a civil war ending with the two-day Battle of Kuamo'o (Kona, Hawaii Island) in December 1819. Both sides had guns along with traditional weapons, and the King's side also had a small cannon. Kekuaokalani was shot dead; his wife Manono standing next to him picked up his spear to continue fighting and she was also killed, along with about 300 warriors. The Battle of Kuamo'o remains of interest to this day: See article by Paul Theroux in the December 2019 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.

So how did organized Christianity come to Hawaii? Some say it was a miracle, showing the hand of God at work behind the scenes.

Opukaha'ia was an orphaned native boy whose parents and baby brother had been killed while running away from Kamehameha's soldiers. Working in the temple at Kealakekua Bay as an apprentice priest, he was being abused by his adoptive father who had been one of the murdering soldiers. He swam out to a ship and persuaded the captain to let him be a cabin boy. Another native boy did the same thing. The two of them sailed to America, and ended up at Yale University's Divinity School, along with several other Hawaiian boys, where they became Christians. Opukaha'ia was highly charismatic, and a very effective preacher. His sermons in Connecticut were effective in raising money. He begged the leaders of a group of missionaries to go to Hawaii to save his people from their heathen ways. Opukaha'ia died from typhoid fever in 1818. But on October 23, 1819 the ship Thaddeus left Boston Harbor for Hawaii carrying 7 young missionary men and their newly married wives, plus 4 native men including George Humehume Kaumuali'i, Crown Prince of Kaua'i, plus a printing press and plenty of supplies.

Remember that the old Hawaiian religion was abolished in November 1819 about a month after the Thaddeus set sail; but of course there were no telephones or internet so that news was unknown to the missionaries. After sailing around the Southern tip of South America and across the Pacific they arrived in Hawaii March 30, 1820, not knowing that Kamehameha The Great had died, or that the ancient Hawaiian religion had been abolished in November, or that a civil war had been fought at Kuamo'o in December over the abolition of the old religion. The missionaries, accompanied by the four native men including the prestigious Crown Prince of Kaua'i, gave thanks to God for the miracle that had abolished the old religion and brought them to Hawaii at just the right moment. They asked for permission to set up missions and preach on several islands. The four Hawaiian rulers considered that request and after some time to think about it they granted the missionaries a one year trial period, at the end of which they were allowed to stay permanently. It was not an easy decision for the native ruling chiefs. On one hand the Kingdom was desperately in need of a new religion; but on the other hand there was lingering resentment over abolishing the old religion in November and the ensuing Battle of Kuamo'o in December 1819. Allowing the missionaries to stay was politically risky.

During the 1820s the newly arrived religion of Christianity was all the rage -- the hot new thing in the islands, promising eternal life to a native population devastated by huge death rates due to diseases to which the long-isolated natives had no immune resistance. On their 5-month voyage to Hawaii the 7 missionaries, working closely with the 4 native men, became fluent in Hawaiian language and created a written version of it. They translated parts of the Bible into Hawaiian. After getting settled they set up their printing press and printed enormous quantities of Christian materials in Hawaiian. They converted tens of thousands of natives to Christianity, and taught nearly the entire population to read and write in Hawaiian. By 1832 the first Hawaiian language newspaper began publishing. Dozens more followed, printing not only news but traditional legends, songs, poetry, eulogies, and political commentaries. It was a "great awakening."

By the early 1830s both Ka'ahumanu and Keopuokalani had formally converted to Christianity, and under guidance from them and missionary Reverend William Richards, King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III proclaimed laws making Christianity the official religion. "Worshipping of idols such as sticks, stones, sharks, dead bones, ancient gods and all untrue gods is prohibited. There is one God alone, Jehovah. He is the God to worship. The hula is forbidden, the chant (olioli), the song of pleasure (mele), foul speech, and bathing by women in public places. The planting of ʻawa is prohibited. Neither chiefs nor commoners are to drink ʻawa." (Kamakau, 1992, p. 298-301)

The tragic story of Princess Nahi'ena'ena and Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III shows the importance of the ancient Hawaiian religion and its struggle with Christianity for the hearts and minds of the natives, and for the political future of the Kingdom. Kamehameha The Great and his sacred [Pagan] wife Keopuolani had three sacred children: Liholiho (male, who became Kamehameha II), Kauikeaouli (male, who became Kamehameha III), and Nahi'ena'ena (female) who died at age 20 or 21 on December 30, 1836 after years of a turbulent, intense political and sexual relationship with her brother Kauikeaouli. Kaui and Nahi [pardon the unauthorized nicknames] had a sacred religious/political duty to make a baby, because that baby would have combined the mana (spiritual power) of both parents -- its sacred power could be expected to save the natives from their death spiral caused by Western diseases to which the natives had no immunity, and would provide political leadership surpassing even Kamehameha The Great. But in addition, Kaui and Nahi were deeply in love as a pair of virgin teenagers coming of age, with him being about 2 years older than her, and both of them very beautiful (side by side oil portraits hang in the Honolulu Museum of Art, painted by French artist Robert Dampier). They each married other people, but succeeded in making a baby born September 17, 1836. But the baby died after only a few hours. Nahi then died about 3 months later. Part of the tragedy was Kaui's internal struggle over religion. Missionaries William Richards and Rev. Dr. Gerrit Judd were his closest advisors. Judd had rescued Kaui from a suicide attempt. Both missionaries kept warning Kaui that incest and also adultery are sins. Kaui vacillated between being a fervent Christian vs. being deeply in love with his sister and also having a religious/political duty to make a baby with her according to the Pagan religion. Back and forth. Back and forth. Profound depression over the death of the baby and then the death of his sister 3 months later. Tragedy. Despite it all, he proclaimed the Kingdom's first Constitution in 1840, survived the takeover of his Kingdom by a rogue British naval captain in 1843 ("Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka pono"), created private land ownership in the Great Mahele starting in 1848, proclaimed the second Constitution in 1852, and offered a Treaty of Annexation to the U.S. shortly before dying in 1854 (rumor says he was poisoned by his successors to the throne). A true hero.

In 1839 King Kauikeaouli Kamehameha III proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man, which then became the preamble of the first Constitution proclaimed in 1840. The first sentence, known as the "kokokahi" sentence, says this in Hawaiian: "Ua hana mai ke Akua i na lahuikanaka a pau i ke koko hookahi, e noho like lakou ma ka honua nei me ke kuikahi, a me ka pomaikai." In English, it can be translated into modern usage as follows: "God hath made of one blood all [races of, nations of] people to dwell on this Earth in unity and blessedness." Article 1 of that first Constitution says "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."
However, zealousness for Christianity slipped away. The remaining Constitutions of the Kingdom were far less Christianized. In the URL above, substitute the year in place of 1840 to see the Constitutions of 1852, 1864, and 1887. In all three of those later Constitutions, Articles 1 and 2 said "God hath created all men free and equal, and endowed them with certain inalienable rights; among which are life and liberty, the right of acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and of pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness. All men are free to worship God according to the dictates for their own consciences; but this sacred privilege hereby secured, shall not be so construed as to justify acts of licentiousness or practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this Kingdom."

King Kalakaua reigned 1874-1891. One of his main themes was restoration of the ancient Hawaiian culture and religion. He ordered construction of Iolani Palace. Following his trip around the world, he staged a (long-belated!) coronation ceremony on February 12, 1883 which included previously suppressed chants and hulas, some of which were sacred to Pagans, or sexualized. He was a heavy drinker and gambler, whose relations with women were often Trumpian.

Lili'uokalani was Kalakaua's sister. She reigned for less than two years, 1891-1893, following the death of Kalakaua; and she lived until 1917, 24 years after the revolution of January 17, 1893 overthrew her monarchy. During her time as monarch she was known for having a sorcerer of the old religion visit her in the Palace, providing advice and predictions on matters of state. At various times throughout her life she was accused of promiscuity and adultery. Perhaps because leading members of the Congregationalist missionary church Kawaiaha'o played a role in her overthrow, she strayed away from American-affiliated churches after 1893 and explored other religions and other Christian churches much like adolescents in search of a religion; including a visit to (and reputed membership in) the Mormon group constructing their modern temple in Laie.

During the century since Lili'uokalani died there has been great ambiguity in the struggle for native hearts and minds between Christianity and the ancient Hawaiian Paganism. Asian influences, especially Buddhism and Shintoism, are also involved.

During the 1880s and 1890s tens of thousands of Chinese and Japanese men came to work on the sugar plantations. The Japanese were tightly organized and regulated by Japanese companies and maintained their social/cultural relationships with their home communities in Japan, where they expected to return after their 3-year labor contracts expired. Some sent home for uncles to send them "picture brides." The Chinese men came as individuals, usually unorganized, most happy to escape the economic and social poverty at home and start a new life in Hawaii, abandoning any wife they left behind. As a result many Chinese men made babies with native Hawaiian women, and set up entrepreneurial businesses or bought property when their 3-year labor contracts expired. More than a thousand Chinese men took the loyalty oath and became subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom with voting rights; but only 4 Japanese did that. Both the Japanese and Chinese immigrants, and later Asian immigrants of other nationalities, often maintained their Buddhist or Shinto religious beliefs or customs. But many of them, especially the Chinese men, gradually assimilated to Hawaiian Christianity, sometimes mixed with older Hawaiian and Asian Paganism.

The Judeo-Christian God is a jealous God whose commandments require belief in just one God. By contrast the Asian religions are much more tolerant, animistic and polytheistic, and can easily blend with the old Hawaiian religion. Although Japanese and Chinese versions of Buddhism are quite different theologically and culturally, their tolerance for Hawaiian Paganism has made them influential in Hawaiian history all the way to now, and has been a factor in the decline of Christianity during both the 20th and 21st Centuries in Hawaii.

In Hawaii today there's a strange mix of Christian theology and cultural practices with the ancient Hawaiian theology and cultural practices. It's a situation of live-and-let-live tolerance and ecumenism which nobody wants to disrupt. Theologians seem unwilling to inquire too closely.

We see the strange custom where ethnic Hawaiian so-called Christian Protestant ministers are the only people called upon to perform a "blessing" of a new house or place of business; and the blessing always includes prayers exclusively in Hawaiian language but seemingly directed toward both the Christian God and the Hawaiian gods. Nobody asks or explains why the Hawaiian gods are apparently capable only of speaking Hawaiian, despite the presence in Hawaii of many other languages, especially English, for two centuries. Are the Hawaiian gods deaf, or merely stupid? After the Second Vatican Council a few decades ago, the Roman Catholic Church gave up requiring that the Mass can be celebrated only in Latin, and now uses hundreds of local languages, all of which God seems fully capable of understanding. Regarding "blessing" ceremonies: there's also the strange situation where an ethnic Hawaiian Protestant minister comes with his koa-wood bowl, water, Hawaiian salt, and ti leaf to speak Hawaiian language while "blessing" the cleaning and ceremonial reopening of an ancient human-sacrifice heiau being made available for viewing by tourists of no particular religion. Is the blessing intended to drive out evil spirits, or to redeem the souls of the victims sacrificed there even though the victims themselves never knew about Jesus?

Indeed, so far as we know the custom of human sacrifice has not been revived by today's traditional practitioners as they perform ceremonies invoking their ancient gods in places they proclaim to be of high sacredness such as Mauna Kea. Valerio Valery, in his major book "Kingship and Sacrifice", explained that the ritual sacrifice of one or more animals or humans was an essential part of the old Hawaiian religion, where the degree of sacredness of a place or event determined the level of status of the victim that must be sacrificed (up to and including a high chief or even a king). If Mauna Kea is the most sacred place in Hawaii then by now archeologists should have discovered a multitude of historical burial holes ("luakini") near the summit; and today's cultural practitioners should be selecting new victims if they expect to avoid being called hypocrites. Theologians seem to studiously avoid dealing with questions like these. Ben Finney wrote a gruesome description of human sacrifice in ancient times at Taputapuatea Marae in Raiatea, and Conklin discussed the lack of authenticity in the ceremonies performed there by the Polynesian Voyaging Society and various Pacific Island organizations on March 18, 1995. See webpage
"Polynesian" Voyaging -- Political Agenda, Ethnic Dominance, Cultural Authenticity, and Blood Nationalism. An extended book review of Ben Finney, "Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging"

There's a strange controversy at Kawaiaha'o Church, a Christian Protestant institution, concerning the bones of both Euro-Americans and native Hawaiians buried on church grounds during the 19th Century. The church was built by natives and missionaries working together from 1820-1842. They cut 14,000 slabs of coral weighing 1000 pounds each, underwater in the nearby harbor, to build it in service to the Christian God. As time went by and church members died, they were buried in the church cemetery. Decades ago an adjoining building was constructed, with a cement floor, for meetings and banquets. Apparently it was built on top of burials; but nobody complained. Then about ten years ago the church board decided to demolish the recreation building and construct a new one. But during construction some of those old burials were unearthed. There are laws in Hawaii that prohibit digging up old burials without permission from a burial council, backed up by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. The laws are intended to protect ancient Hawaiian burials, because some modern followers of the Pagan religion believe that the spirit of a dead person lives in his bones until the bones dissolve back into the earth. However, the people buried under the floor of the recreation building were Christian members of the church. Nevertheless, lawsuits were filed to stop construction; and for more than a decade the area has been blocked off by covered fences while the bones have been stored in the church basement. There's no obvious way to resolve the situation. Meanwhile the beautiful church itself is hired by Japanese tourist couples, probably Buddhist or Shinto, probably already married in Japan, who pay local Protestant ministers to perform fake weddings of no theological or legal consequence but with lots of lovely photos to show their friends back in Japan. Is this a sacrilege? The church, desperate for money, cooperates. But no Catholic church or priest would do such a thing.

From 1998 to 2002 Hawaii newspapers reported that conferences were being held between Roman Catholic priests and lay people, on one hand, and Hawaiian "traditional practitioners" on the other hand, to consider whether hula can be used as an element of worship in conjunction with Christian prayers or sacraments including baptisms, marriages, the Mass, etc. Both sides were very cautious and wary of each other, expressing concerns that the purity or theological effectiveness of their ceremonies might be diluted or even polluted. The term "cultural appropriation" had not yet become popular, but that was clearly an issue. Protestant evangelical churches, especially the ones accustomed to shouting or gesticulating during worship services, seem to have no problem with it. See a small webpage "Political conflict between Christian institutions vs. ancient Hawaiian religion (especially regarding the role of hula)" at

Here's one more example of confusion between Christianity, the ancient Hawaiian religion, and modern politics. From 2000 through 2012, there was legislation in Congress (The Akaka bill) seeking to create a Hawaiian tribe and give it federal recognition. Virtually all Hawaii politicians were pushing hard for it. On March 31, 2005 a joint cheerleading hearing was held in the state legislature between the House and Senate committees that deal with racial entitlement programs for ethnic Hawaiians. An ancient Christian prayer, known as the Doxology, was translated into Hawaiian language by the leader of the first group of missionaries, Rev. Hiram Bingham, at the beginning of the missionary period, in 1820. In the 2005 legislative hearing the Doxology was sung in unison in Hawaiian, led by state Representative Ezra Kanoho. The English version is familiar to all Christian churchgoers:
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above ye heavenly host.
Praise father son and holy ghost.
Everyone present, including the committee members, apparently knew the Hawaiian words and song. After that, everyone remained standing while Rep. Kanoho gave a Christian prayer in a mixture of Hawaiian and English, ending with this: "We pray not as our will, but as thy will be done; in the name of the Father, the Son Jesus Christ Our Lord and Saviour, and thy Holy Spirit. Maka'i no ka Makua, a o Ke Keiki, a me ka ‘Uhane hemolele. [The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit truly watch over us.] Amene. [Amen.]"
Was it appropriate to conduct a Christian church service as part of a legislative hearing? Why was Hawaiian language used? For full details see
"Hawaii Legislature Informational Briefing Regarding the Akaka Bill by U.S. Senators Inouye and Akaka, and U.S. Representatives Abercrombie and Case, on March 31, 2005"

Here are some sources for more information about the ancient Hawaiian religion, and how Christianity came to Hawaii.

Valerio Valeri (trans. Paula Wissing), "Kingship and Sacrifice." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.
This book is an anthropological study of the role of ritual in the society of precontact Hawai'i, focusing especially on the ritual of human sacrifice. Rituals are seen as mediating between people of different social classes, or between humans and spirits or gods.

Samuel Kamakau, "Na Mo'olelo a ka Po'e Kahiko (Tales and Traditions of the People of Old) (translated from the newspapers Ka Nupepa Kuokoa and Ke Au Okoa by Mary Kawena Pukui), Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1991 Samuel Kamakau was a native Hawaiian scholar, born in 1815, who thoroughly studied the Hawaiian culture as contained in ancient stories passed down from generation to generation through the oral tradition. Between 1865 and 1871 he published articles in the Hawaiian language newspapers describing some of these ancient stories. Kamakau was a convert to Christianity who deplored the ancient Hawaiian religion and freely expressed his dislike of it in his writings; however, his descriptions of ancient cultural and religious practices are presumably accurate.

Ben Finney wrote a gruesome description of human sacrifice in ancient times at Taputapuatea Marae in Raiatea, and Conklin discussed the lack of authenticity in the ceremonies performed there by the Polynesian Voyaging Society and various Pacific Island organizations on March 18, 1995. See webpage
"Polynesian" Voyaging -- Political Agenda, Ethnic Dominance, Cultural Authenticity, and Blood Nationalism. An extended book review of Ben Finney, "Sailing in the Wake of the Ancestors: Reviving Polynesian Voyaging"

The Native Hawaiians Study Commission was created by the Congress of the United States on December 22, 1980 (Title III of Public Law 96-565). The purpose of the Commission was to "conduct a study of the culture, needs and concerns of the Native Hawaiians." The Commission published and released to the public a Draft Report of Findings on September 23, 1982. Following a 120-day period of public comment, a final report was written and submitted on June 23, 1983 to the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. The entire majority report is available at
The chapter on the native Hawaiian religion runs from p. 224 to 249 and was written by University of Hawaii Professor (now emerita) Rubellite Kawena Kinney Johnson (who is a direct descendant of Kamehameha The Great).
Professor Johnson also published an important 3-page essay "Hawaiian Spirituality and Physical Realities" in 1991.

Are kanaka maoli indigenous to Hawai'i? Would the status of being indigenous give them special rights?

Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights -- The General Theory, and Why It Does Not Apply in Hawaii

Henry Opukaha'ia (Obookiah) -- Native Hawaiian Travels to New England in 1809, Converts to Christianity, and Persuades Yale Divinity Students to Come to Hawai'i as Missionaries in 1820. [This is a very large, detailed webpage including full text of some important source material]

Christopher L Cook, book published May 14, 2015: "The Providential Life & Heritage of Henry Obookiah: Why Did Missionaries Come to Hawai'i from New England and Tahiti?" See announcement in the Kaui Garden island News, at
See webpage at

Christianity Today, June 2019
When Revival Swept Hawaii
A decade after the first missionaries arrived, the gospel tore across the islands in the 1830s.

The Aloha Spirit -- what it is, who possesses it, and why it is important

"Hawaiian Bones -- The 3 Rs -- Rites For the Dead, Rights Of the Living, and Respect for All"
Portions of the discussion focus on whether today's ethnic Hawaiians believe the souls of dead people continue to reside in their bones, and what deference a multicultural society would owe to such religious belief.

NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) as applied to Hawaii -- Mokapu, Honokahua, Bishop Museum Kaai; Providence Museum Spear Rest; Kawaihae (Forbes Cave) Artifacts; the Hui Malama organization; Emerson Collection at Kanupa Cave; Bones uncovered during construction at Ward Center; Construction of a beachfront house on Kauai built above cement-encased ancient burials after activists said the burials should not be moved; Planning for Honolulu rail project; Protests against Kawaiahao Church for unearthing and moving cemetery burials during construction of new meeting hall.


"THE ISLANDS" MOVIE [its own webpage with movie trailer; discussion of controversy over whether it would have a racially incendiary scene falsely portraying U.S. Marines invading the palace and arresting Queen Lili'uokalani]

Here's the webpage for "The Islands" movie

In late November 2019, that webpage includes a movie trailer with stunning scenery and music evoking heart-thumping danger; well worth watching. It depicts a High Chiefess Kapi'olani (not the one who later became Kalakaua's wife), a recent convert to Christianity, publicly defying the volcano goddess Pele and invoking the Christian God as she stood defiantly in front of flowing lava threatening Hilo town.

The webpage also provides a list of theaters nationwide which will show the movie: click on "Theaters" at the top

The contents of that webpage have changed many times from 2016-2019, as needed to adjust to changing circumstances. Originally writer/director/producer Tim Chey planned a series of four Christian evangelical films focusing on various leaders and periods in Hawaii's history, with this film "The Islands" being the first. In July and November 2017, a description of a closing scene was found in a section entitled "The Story" -- presumably the closing scenes of "The Islands" might have been a sort of fast-forward "coming attractions" touting of one of the films planned for later. Near the bottom, "The Story" said:
"Forward to: 1893 We see the reporter and Liliuokalani discussing Kapiʻolani when the U.S. Marines now enter the palace of Liliuokalani. She surrenders as the reporter attempts to intervene. We see her signing a formal abdication with her telling everyone she will appeal to President Grover Cleveland."

That short quote contains several historical falsehoods, despite repeated claims throughout the publicity website that the movie is historically accurate. The most alarming and racially incendiary lie is that U.S. Marines invaded the Palace in 1893. At no time in the history of Hawaii did any U.S. military personnel ever attack or invade the Palace or try to arrest the Queen. That lie has occasionally been asserted by Hawaiian activists seeking public sympathy for alleged historical grievances, either when demanding restoration of Hawaii to its 19th Century status as an independent nation or when seeking passage of legislation for federal recognition of a Hawaiian tribe or for race-based government handouts as restitution to ethnic Hawaiians.

See for example "Lies told on the U.S. Senate Floor by Senators Inouye and Dorgan Regarding the Akaka Bill" at

I (Ken Conklin) tried to contact Tim Chey in July and again in October 2017 to request deletion of the offensive scene, but never got a reply. In November 2017 I published a short webpage essay taking issue with a Law Journal article which contained the lie. My essay included a description of how the lie appeared in Tim Chey's publicity for his movie. I then received a phone call complaining about how I had characterized Mr. Chey's movie. I then published an addendum to my essay, on December 12, 2017; see bottom of
providing further details and noting that Tim Chey's publicity continued to describe the offensive scene as part of the movie even after he had published a tweet announcing that filming had wrapped. My addendum chided Mr. Chey as follows:
"When does the point of no return come in writing or producing a multimillion dollar film? When is the time to prevent a film from portraying a scurrilous falsehood which then gets viewed by a mass audience and inflames hatred? And once the film has finished production and gets scheduled for the theaters, and perhaps ends up getting viewed by millions on “The History Channel” or “Showtime”, how can the damage be mitigated? That problem is now in the hands of Tim Chey. I am ignorant about how films are made, and unable to recommend how to correct the problem. But surely a Christian with strong moral values, who is an expert on film production and responsible for this one, will find a way to obey the Commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”"

Although God may have reached into Tim Chey's heart -- although the offensive scene falsely depicting U.S. Marines as invading the Palace and arresting the Queen may have been cut from the final version -- the fact that it was originally written, filmed, and seriously advertised shows that Hawaiian racial supremacists have sufficient power and influence to compel a well-known writer/producer/director to include it as fact during at least the early stages of film production. Perhaps today's sovereignty activists are so hostile toward Christianity -- the religion they regard as foisted upon their ancestors by their colonial oppressors -- that they work hard to sabotage a film depicting Christian courage, by demanding that the film include a false but racially inflammatory anti-American narrative.

An obvious explanation why the movie would initially portray such a racially inflammatory falsehood is that the creator probably wanted the movie to elicit the support of ethnic Hawaiians who otherwise might refuse to participate in the movie or who might bad-mouth it or actually interfere with its filming, as they have interfered in 2019 with the construction of a telescope on Mauna Kea and windmills in Kahuku. Nowadays Hawaiian ethnic nationalists must be bribed to allow major projects to be done, where the bribery consists of jobs (as cultural consultants or on film crews or as actors or at least "extras" in a movie), "donations" to cultural or educational groups, or propaganda for political viewpoints or candidates.

Hawaiian sovereignty activists are often as dogmatic and zealous in pushing their beliefs as Christian fundamentalists or Muslim Shiites or Wahhabists. They sometimes threaten or persecute people with opposing views, or at least refuse to befriend them or help them with projects. It seems likely that conflicts would develop when an evangelical Christian wants to make a movie celebrating a native Hawaiian chiefess who heroically and publicly rejected the Paganism that was the core of Hawaiian culture and is being revived for political purposes by todays activists, especially when the movie-maker feels a need to have ethnic Hawaiians as a large percentage of his actors and extras.

The volcano goddess Pele remains today as the most deeply revered among the Hawaiian pantheon of deities. The annual Merrie Monarch festival features more hulas and chants honoring Pele and her sister Hi'iaka than any other real or mythical character. So the maker of a movie celebrating a chiefess who defies and insults Pele might feel a need to appease the activists by putting in a scene depicting a historical falsehood which serves their propaganda needs, such as portraying U.S. Marines invading Iolani Palace and arresting Queen Lili'uokalani; or he might appease them by indicating an interest in creating future movies about their heroes such as Lili'uokalani or Kalakaua. But on further reflection the movie maker might realize that some activists are so zealous there is no way to appease them; so it's best to remove historically false scenes from the current project and cancel plans for sequels.

See webpages "How the dogmatism and zealotry of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement compare with religious dogmatism and zealotry (especially Muslim Wahhabist fundamentalism)"
"Hawaiian religious fascism. A twisted version of a beautiful creation legend provides the theological basis for a claim that ethnic Hawaiians are entitled to racial supremacy in the governance and cultural life of the Hawaiian islands."


HISTORICAL MATERIALS CONCERNING HIGH CHIEFESS KAPIOLANI and her courage in defying the volcano goddess Pele in 1824 to ask the Christian God to save Hilo from a volcanic lava flow. One of the factors that makes Kapiolani's action so courageous is that she was not merely stepping in front of flowing lava commanding it to stop, but she was also going against a powerful long-established cultural and religious orthodoxy (Paganism and worship of the volcano goddess Pele).

The movie "The Islands" created by Tim Chey dramatically publicizes an event from Hawaii's history that has not been very well noticed previously. See

The following items tell stories that do not conflict with each other, but each item contains some information that other items do not mention.ʻolani_(chiefess)


HISTORICAL MATERIALS CONCERNING PRINCESS RUTH KE'ELIKOLANI and her courage in defying the Christian God in 1881 to ask volcano goddess Pele to save Hilo from a volcanic lava flow. One of the factors that makes Ke'elikolani's action so courageous is that she was not merely stepping in front of flowing lava commanding it to stop, but she was also going against a powerful long-established cultural and religious orthodoxy (Christianity and the U.S. missionaries who had come to Hawaii, including the very elderly and distinguished Hilo veteran Titus Coan).


Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani was a direct descendant of Kamehameha The Great. She was the wealthiest person in Hawaii, owning about 9% of all the land. She was anti-American, anti-Caucasian; and even though she was fluent in English she refused to speak English with non-ethnic Hawaiians, requiring her visitors and business associates to use an interpreter. She developed breast cancer and bravely had surgery to cut off her breast without anesthesia. When she died on May 24, 1883, less than two years after saving the town of Hilo, her lands passed to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who thereby became the wealthiest person in Hawaii. When Pauahi died from breast cancer on October 16, 1884, her Will bequeathed nearly all her land to Bishop Estate to establish Kamehameha Schools. So in a little more than three years after the anti-Christian Ruth invoked the Pagan volcano goddess to save Hilo, all her massive wealth ended up going to establish a Christian-oriented school where, according to Pauahi's Will, all the teachers were required to be Protestant Christians [decades later the courts struck down that provision of her Will on the grounds that the school was not a seminary for the training of religious ministers and therefore could not be exempt from laws prohibiting religious discrimination in employment].

At the time lava was threatening Hilo in 1880-81, Princess Ruth was living in Honolulu. Christians in Hilo were doing their best to invoke their God to save Hilo, but the lava kept flowing. So native Hawaiian traditional practitioners asked Ruth to get on a ship and travel to Hilo to pray to Pele. Ruth was over 6 feet tall, weighed about 440 pounds, and was elderly; but she made the trip. When horses were unable to pull her carriage up the hill in Hilo, native prisoners in Hilo were recruited to do it. Ruth made the customary Pagan offerings, chants, and prayers to Pele, and the lava stopped. King Kalakaua and Princess Lili'uokalani were also present. The whole situation was very embarrassing to the Christian community in Hilo, led by 80-year-old missionary Titus Coan who had spent nearly 50 years working with the natives in Hilo. Rev. Coan died December 1, 1882 in Hilo, less than two years after Ruth succeeded where he had failed.

West Hawaii Today (Kona), Sunday, November 24, 2019

Hilo had a close call from the 1881 Mauna Loa lava flow

By U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory

HILO — Over the last two centuries, six lava flows erupted from Mauna Loa’s Northeast Rift Zone and advanced toward Hilo.

These flows were from eruptions in 1852, 1855-56, 1880-81, 1935-36, 1942, and 1984. Of the six, only one advanced closer to Hilo Bay than 10 km (6.2 miles). The most-threatening flow, erupted in 1880-81, advanced to a point 1.1 miles from the shores of Hilo Bay before it stalled.

A new USGS publication titled “The Lava Flow that Came to Hilo — The 1880-81 Eruption of Mauna Loa Volcano, Island of Hawaii” tells the story of this flow, briefly recounted below.

Three flows erupted from Mauna Loa in November 1880. The first two flows were fast-moving, and rapidly advanced both north and south from the Northeast Rift Zone at average speeds of 3.7 miles per day before stalling a few weeks later. The third flow, which erupted from a slightly lower vent, advanced directly toward Hilo, although at a much slower average rate of 0.11 miles per day.

The Hilo flow was slow but relentless, and as it got closer to Hilo, government officials took action to try to save the town. The governor of the island declared a day of prayer in early July 1881 to stop the flow, but it kept advancing and praying continued.

At the end of July, Princess Ruth Luka Keelikolani, a descendant of the Kamehameha line of chiefs, traveled from Honolulu to Hilo. There, she camped with her entourage on Puu Honu, the westernmost hill of the three Halai hills (the most makai, or lowest, hill is at the top of Haili Street in Hilo). Puu Honu was an excellent vantage point from which to observe the Hilo flow.

A week after Princess Ruth arrived in Hilo, Princess Regent Liliuokalani and her department heads also arrived in Hilo, where they met to consider ways to save the town. This may have been the first time in Hawaiian history that lava flow diversion was discussed.

A plan of action, including building barriers to divert the flow, building shelters for those displaced by the flow, and placing dynamite somewhere along the lava conduit (or tube) to drain the flow’s supply of lava, was devised and sent back to Honolulu. Hilo families and friends entertained both princesses during the following week while the Hilo flow continued to slowly advance.

In early August, Princess Ruth’s attendants secured brandy and red scarves. She approached the flow somewhere within what is now the Alenaio gulch, where she offered the brandy and scarves and chanted, asking Pele, the Hawaiian volcano deity, to stop the flow and go home. By all reports the flow stopped.

About that same time, government supplies for building barriers and shelters and draining the lava flow arrived, but the flow had stopped. Only one homestead outside of Hilo had been destroyed. The town of Hilo was spared.

In retrospect, not only did officials understand how lava flows were supplied with lava from the vent, they felt confident that they could manipulate the flow’s advance by using dynamite to breach the supply conduit and stall the flow.

Reverend Titus Coan, a Hilo missionary, had discovered these lava conduits and how they worked in 1843 while observing a Mauna Loa lava flow erupted that year. In 1881, Coan’s ideas were being used in a plan to stop an active lava flow! Coan must have been thrilled that his discovery of these lava conduits, which he named “pyroducts,” were understood by his fellow residents and missionaries. Sadly, this would be his last eruption; he died 16 months later, on Dec. 1, 1882.

There are many stories surrounding the 1880-81 eruption, illustrated by numerous photographs, paintings, and maps. Photography was being used more often in Hawaii and traditional artists were finding inspiration in various aspects of the volcanic activity and displaying them in vivid color.

Until recently, there was confusion about where the first lava flow erupted in November 1880 was located. Using chemical analyses of lava flows in the vicinity, as well as eye-witness accounts of the 1880 flow, the true identity of that first flow was revealed.

Many more details of this fascinating eruption can be found in the new USGS publication, which can be freely downloaded at


August 10, 2015 by Peter T Young

Keʻelikōlani and Pele

“We could hear the explosions in Hilo; it was like the noise of battle.”

“Day and night the ancient forest was ablaze, and the scene was vivid beyond description. By the 25th of March the lava was within seven miles of Hilo, and steadily advancing. Until this time we had hoped that Hilo would not be threatened. But the stream pursued its way.” (Coan)

On November 5, 1880, an eruption located near the 11,000-foot elevation, about a mile above Puʻu Ulaʻula began on Mauna Loa’s northeast rift zone that would eventually send lava closer to Hilo Bay than any other in over a thousand years.

May 1st, 1881, a small, short-lived eruption at Mauna Loa’s summit heralded the beginning of an eruptive sequence that was to be followed six months later by the voluminous flank eruption which would soon threaten the then-small town of Hilo.

“The glare was intense, and was seen at great distances. Brilliant jets of lava were thrown high in the air, and a pillar of blazing gases mounted thousands of feet skyward, spreading out into a canopy of sanguinary light which resembled, though upon a larger scale, the so-called “pine-tree appendage” formed over Vesuvius during its eruptions by the vertical column of vapors with its great horizontal cloud.”

“Meanwhile a raging river of lava, about three-fourths of a mile wide and from fifteen to thirty feet deep, rushed down the north-east flank of the great dome, and ran some thirty miles to the base of Mauna Kea.” (Coan)

“We met crowds of people returning from the flow, and all reported it active and coming rapidly down the gulch. We rode up to it before dark and found that the stream was entirely confined to the gulch and intensely active.”

“The flow was on an average about seventy-five feet wide and from ten to thirty feet in depth as it filled the gulch up level with its banks. The sight was grand. The whole frontage was one mass of liquid lava carrying on its surface huge cakes of partially cooled lava. Soon after we arrived the flow reached a deep hole, some ten or fifteen feet in depth, with perpendicular sides.” (Hitchcock)

“Troops of boys and girls, young men and women, were watching the flow. They plunged poles into the viscid lava as it urged itself slowly onward; drawing out small lumps of the adhering fusion, they moulded it, before it had time to cool, into various forms at will.”

“They made cups, canes, vases, tubes, and other articles out of this molten clay, and these they sold to visitors and strangers at from twenty-five cents to a dollar or more for a specimen. All went away with fresh spoils from the spoiler. (Coan)

The advancing lava flow split into three forks at the 2,400-foot elevation (8.5-miles from Hilo Bay), only to reunite into a single flow at the 1,600-foot elevation (6.3 miles from the bay. The flow again split into two forks—north and south—at the 300-foot) elevation (1.6 miles from the bay.) (USGS)

The 1881 lavas reached just north of the present University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo campus. After crossing the present Komohana and Kumukoa Streets, a very narrow section crossed what is now Mohouli Street, about 300 yards above the intersection with Kapiʻolani Street.

Several hundred homes are now built on pāhoehoe lavas of the 1881 flow and can easily be recognized by their ubiquitous “rock gardens” (no soils have yet formed on this flow). Kaumana Cave was formed at this time and was a major supply conduit for the lavas that threatened Hilo. (USGS)

“The lava stream surrounded a single kalo-plant, growing on an islet of eighteen inches in diameter, and on another one twice as broad, a single banana plant. They have survived the heat and are growing finely, the only green things left in the garden”. (Coan)

The people asked Keʻelikōlani (Princess Ruth) to intercede. The Hawaiian-language newspaper Ko Hawai‘i Pae Aina published a letter with the heading “Ka Pele ai Honua ma Hilo” (Pele, devourer of land at Hilo) that describes the immediate danger, “Hapalua Mile ka Mamao mai ke Koana aku” (the distance from town being only one half mile.) (Bishop Museum)

“Without delay a council, high and solemn, was held in Honolulu by the principal natives; and Princess Ruth, or Luka, as her name was in Hawaiian, a lineal descendant of Kamehameha the Great, the conqueror of all Hawaii, was dispatched to offer compelling sacrifices to the goddess”.

“(T)his six decades after the first American missionaries had come to convert the Hawaiians to Christianity, fifty years or so after the zealous Hawaiians had carved blocks of stone from coral reefs and dragged them inland, there to erect churches that stand to this day. … (T)he princess accordingly embarked on the Iwalani at Honolulu.”

“An innumerable throng saw her embark and sail from Honolulu for Kailua. … Other boats took the retainers, pigs, pigeons, and the remainder of the paraphernalia for the rites at the burning mountain, and the second mate, Kauhane, went on shore to supervise operations there.” (Cameron, 1928)

“The flood came on until all agreed that in two or three days more it would be pouring into our beautiful bay. On the 10th of August it was but one mile from the sea, and half a mile from Hilo town.” (Coan)

Keʻelikōlani offered traditional oli (chants) and hoʻokupu (tribute) to Pele and later reportedly camped at the foot of the flow. (Bishop Museum)

“Ruth did manage to perform the rites, assisted by many kahunas; she made her burnt offerings, which Pele gladly accepted. Perhaps the goddess hungered for roast pig; maybe she was overawed by the royal descent of Ruth; more probably Pele stood in terror of the mortal.”

“Whatever the explanation, the lava flow ceased.” (Cameron, 1928)

Dynamite explosives had been suggested as a means to divert lava flows threatening Hilo. (Lockwood & Torgerson) However, before that plan could be put into execution, the lava flow stopped – August 10, 1881. (Kuykendall)


Volcano Watch — Hilo's closest encounter with Pele: the 1880-81 Eruption

Release Date: OCTOBER 27, 1995

On November 5, 1880, 115 years ago this week, an eruption began on Mauna Loa's northeast rift zone that would eventually send lava closer to Hilo Bay than any other in over a thousand years.

On November 5, 1880, 115 years ago this week, an eruption began on Mauna Loa's northeast rift zone that would eventually send lava closer to Hilo Bay than any other in over a thousand years.

The great eruption of 1880-1881 had actually begun on May 1st, when a small, short-lived eruption at Mauna Loa's summit heralded the beginning of an eruptive sequence that was to be followed six months later by the voluminous flank eruption which would soon threaten the then-small town of Hilo.

This is Mauna Loa's typical pattern, and HVO volcanologists expect its next eruptive sequence to begin with a small summit eruption, followed months or years later by flank activity on the southwest or northeast rift zones.

The November 5th outbreak was located near the 11,000-foot elevation, about a mile above Pu'u Ula'ula. High lava fountains, clearly visible from Hilo, fed an 'a'a flow which moved swiftly down Mauna Loa's north flank, soon approaching close to Mauna Kea at the present junction of the Saddle and Powerline Roads.

Another branch of 'a'a flowed to the southeast across the Kapapala Ranch, stopping within less than a mile of Kīlauea. This is the conspicuous, dark brown 'a'a one sees driving from the National Park towards Ka'u. After about two weeks of fountaining activity, the character of the eruption suddenly changed as the fountains waned and a new lava source opened downrift, about 500 yards northwest of Pu'u Ula'ula. There were no fountains from this new vent; pahoehoe lava simply oozed up from an earth crack with little fanfare.

Quiet pahoehoe eruptions of this sort are more dangerous than spectacular fountain-fed 'a'a flows however; the steady eruption of pahoehoe lava quickly builds internal "pyroducts" (lava tubes), and these well-insulated tubes can conduct lava for long distances down gentle slopes. This happened in 1880-81, and pahoehoe lavas moved steadily northeastward, mostly supplied by subterranean lava tubes, in much the same way that lava is being carried from Pu'u O'o to the sea today.

Hilo citizens could soon see the glow burning forests in Waiakea Uka, and the sound of methane explosions were reported to sound like faraway cannon fire. As the wide flow was moving very slowly, there was no major concern during the winter of 1880-81. By late March of 1881 the flow had reached within seven miles of Hilo above Kaumana. By early June, the flow was within five miles of Hilo, and concern mounted. A day of "Christian Prayer" was held, but the flow continued to advance.

Most Hilo residents remained calm, but some packed belongings and left for Honolulu (Honolulu was under a smallpox quarantine at this time, and although no one could leave Oahu, refugees were accepted).

On June 26th, the flow entered stream channels above Hilo, narrowed, and quickly picked up velocity. The flow entered Waipahoehoe stream near the present Chong Street Bridge and moved even faster. Reverend Titus Coan, Hawaii's "first volcanologist," wrote that the flow "came rushing down the rocky channel of a stream with terrific force and uproar, exploding rocks and driving off the waters. Hilo was now in trouble - [everyone knew] we were now in immediate danger. Its roar, on coming down the rough and rocky bed of the ravine, was like that of our Wailuku River during a freshlet, but a deeper and grander sound. Explosions and detonations were frequent; I counted ten in a minute. The glare of it by night was terrific. The progress of the flow was by now 100-500 feet per day."

C.C. Kennedy built a low stone wall to protect the Waiakea sugar mill, and Judge Severance dug a protective moat around the Hilo prison. King Kalakaua was in Europe, but Princess Ruth was sent from Honolulu to save Hilo, after the quarantine was lifted.

Ruth was a corpulent princess, and when the poor horse selected to pull her carriage up Halai Hills failed at the task, a large group of prisoners from the Hilo jail was recruited to pull the Princess to an appropriate vantage point in late July. By this time, a narrow branch of the flow had crossed Alenaio stream and was past the present Komohana Street. Whatever Princess Ruth did apparently had more effect than did the day of prayer in June, as all forward progress of the flow ceased by August 10th (or perhaps the results of the prayer were delayed).

The 1881 lavas reached within about one-and-a-half miles of Hilo Bay, just north of the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus. After crossing the present Komohana and Kumukoa Streets, a very narrow lobe crossed what is now Mohouli Street, about 300 yards above the intersection with Kapiolani Street. Several hundred homes are now built on pahoehoe lavas of the 1881 flow and can easily be recognized by their ubiquitous "rock gardens" (no soils have yet formed on this flow). Kaumana Cave was formed at this time and was a major supply conduit for the lavas that threatened Hilo during the great 1880-1881 eruption.

So far as the present threat of a flow similar to that of 1880-1881 is concerned, we can take comfort from the fact that no lava flow had come so close to Hilo Bay in over a thousand years. As long as future eruptions above Hilo remain spectacular, with high lava fountaining, the threat will be relatively low (as was the 1984 eruption). Should the lava fountains of future eruptions be replaced by the steady production of pahoehoe as it was in 1880, however, you can bet that no one at HVO will forget the lessons of 115 years ago!


A blog by Adam Keawe Manalo-Camp sharing manaʻo (thoughts), moʻolelo (stories), and mōʻaukala (history) about Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.

There was a major eruption from Mauna Loa that erupted in November 1880 and continued for several months. By March, 1881, the lava flowed northeast toward Hilo threatening the entire city. The lava inched its way closer and closer to the city. Local Christian churches held special services to pray for the volcano to stop, but to no avail. Many of the people of Hilo evacuated to Hāmakua and Kona.

A small group of Native Hawaiian women who maintained the old Hawaiian religion from the island of Hawai'i went to O'ahu and approached Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani, The Princess was staying on O'ahu at the time due to her overseeing the construction of her private home, Keoua Hale and a lingering illness.

The Princess agreed to do something. She would travel immediately to Hilo and and asked to be taken near the edge of the lava flow with four days' food supply, water for her to drink and some offerings for Pele including silk, pigeons, gin, brandy, and pigs. Her entourage brought her near the edge of the lava flow and built a pili grass house for her to stay in.

The princess asked to be left alone, but some of her retainers remained on a nearby hill. They did not see the Princess for an entire day. The same on the following day. They feared for their Princess' life while the slowly lava flow advanced to within twenty feet of the hut. The Princess began the rituals of welcoming Pele and making the appropriate offerings to her by giving her the essence. She also offered herself if Pele would spare Hilo.

By the next morning, on the fourth day, all could see that the lava flow stopped four feet from where the princess slept. Pele had accepted the offerings and stopped the lava flow.

As the Princess went down from the mountain to Hilo, throngs of people gathered to greet and thank the Princess.

King Kalākaua then arrived a day later and held a thanksgiving to Pele and to honor Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani as well as giving out donations and construction materials to the victims of the lava flow.


Pua Ana Ka Malanai Hula School
January 28, 2015

1881, Princess Ruth Appeases Pele:

[The following is from an historical account taken from an article entitled “He Recalls Princess Ruth,” by Eugene Burns that appeared in the “Honolulu Star-Bulletin” on Saturday, May 20, 1939 as edited by Kimo Alama Keaulana.]

Many and varied are the oral stories of Princess Ruth Keelikolanl, half sister of Kamehameha IV and V, who was born two years before the death of her grandfather Kamehameha the Great.
All of the stories coincide (except in minor details) when they tell of her early beauty, her size, her temper, her shrewdness, her vanity and her generosity.
Ruth weighed a full 400 pounds. In those days members of royal or chief families were often of huge size.
Her heart, truly Hawaiian, was large and generous.
Her temper was something to write home about: it was violent. A patched koa calabash on the Big Island bears evidence.
In her youth she was a beauty; in older life old Hawaiians will tell you, little children cried when they saw her, they were that frightened.

She had a large number of friends. And as shrewdness goes, no one ever put anything over her on a land deal. Contemporary letters indicate that Princess Ruth possessed intelligence which has seldom been rivaled or surpassed by any Hawaiian royalty. In her way, Ruth was a millionaire- that is in land. In money she never had much ready cash. And when she got it she spent it before it had a chance to tarnish. What is now the Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate was largely hers. Now of course the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate is of great wealth.

But Princess Ruth’s fame does not really depend upon these transitory things. Nor upon the time she was governess of the Island of Hawaii and removed the capital from Kona to Hilo. Nay, it rests upon a foundation in the hearts of her people which is much more secure.

It rests upon her power over Pele, Hawaiian fire goddess. Real or imagined that’s great. During the lava flow of 1880 to 1881, Ruth went to Hilo— sometimes known as Hide In the early days; she prayed; she offered red silk handkerciefs by the dozen, and brandy; and lo, the lava stopped in its tracks.

Living at Kawailoa, a section of Kailua, windward Oahu, is a wrinkled weather-tanned man with a slight gray mustache.
He was a bookkeeper long years ago for Princess Ruth. He remembers her well. Despite his 78 years, he’s lithe, straight as a ramrod, and as full of good stories as an old violin is full of good tunes.
He accompanied the princess on that historic trip when she prayed that the lava stop before it engulf hapless Hilo. He carried a kahili at her funeral.
His name is Oliver Kawailahaole (Pat) Stillman, retired territorial employee…

[What follows here is an excerpt from “Pauahi: The Kamehameha Legacy”]
On November 5, 1880, Mauna Loa, a volcano on the island of Hawaiʻi, began one of its most massive and long-lasting eruptions. The fury of Pele could be measured by the tremendous flow of lava that plunged down the slopes of the Long Mountain, over the high basaltic wastelands and then the lower cultivated and inhabited areas. The lava flow approached the edge of the city of Hilo, some thirty-six miles from its source. The fire and the heat caused a glow visible in the night from as far away as Honolulu. For ten months the volcano kept spewing hot magma from its northeast flank and some geologists estimated the material amounted to two billion cubic meters. By August 1881, the unending flow of lava threatened Hilo and its nearly 8,000 inhabitants. While nervously and helplessly pondering the city's seeming destruction, sightseers gawked in wonder at the dancing flames. Among those viewing the spectacle were the heir apparent Liliʻuokalani and her party of friends. While ministers prayed to Jehovah and the kāhuna turned to Pele for deliverance, the river of fire edged closer to the city. On August 4th, a meeting was held with the visiting Liliʻu to see whether anything could be done to save Hilo, and attempts were made to construct earthen barricades to divert the flow.

In the meantime, Hawaiians were appealing to Ruth to intercede with Pele, believing that as a descendant of Kamehameha she would have the mana to do so. Though Ruth was safely ensconced in Honolulu, she in her own mysterious faith decided to make the trip. She endured the rough passage in sailing to Kailua. From there she endured what was probably an even rougher trip to Hilo by wooden carriage.

The story of what happened next is best told by Ruth's longtime bookkeeper, Oliver Kawailahaole Stillman:
"Things looked desperate for Hilo. As the lava came through the forest, trees would burn. Everything went before the hot lava. "We went down to see it one morning when it was three quarters of a mile from Hilo near the stone wall of a sugar mill. I went back and told Ruth about it.
"She didn't do anything for a little while, as she sat quietly musing. Then she said: 'I wonder if there are any red silk handkerchiefs in Hilo. Go and get as many as you can,' she told me.
"I bought out the town and got some 30 of them mostly from Turner's Dry Good Store. I took them to Ruth.
"'Now bring me a bottle of brandy,' she said and gave me the money for it. I brought a quart of brandy to her.
"'Now,' she announced, 'I am going to the flow.'

"It was very dramatic. I remember it clearly because I was quite concerned for the Princess who wasn't in any too good health.
"There was but one hack in Hilo and I went to get it. It was some job getting her into it but we succeeded. Accompanying her of course was her retinue of servants, some 25 to 30. Ruth always liked to travel with a group. They surrounded her carriage. "Ruth remembered to take two roast pigs, for our own consumption, not for Pele. We also took along a couple of tents, as it rains in Hilo...
"When we got to the flow it was advancing slowly but unmistakeably. The Princess walked to the flow, and I heard her give a long prayer. I was about 20 ft away from her.
Then she took off her own red silk handkerchief and threw it into the red hot lava. Pele likes red silk.
"Then Ruth took other handkerchiefs and did the same thing.
"After the handkerchiefs were all gone, she took the brandy bottle and broke it by smashing it on the hot lava. It blazed into fire right away. Then she prayed again to Pele.

"We left the fire then and went to the tents where we spent the night. "Early the next morning all of us went to the lava flow and we couldn't believe our eyes. The flow had stopped right there. Suddenly our feelings towards the Princess changed. We were one and all awed. The whole thing was awe-inspiring. Some may laugh and say that it happened by lucky coincidence, that there's nothing to it.
"But one must remember that Ruth knew nothing of the rapidity of the flow. She had not been there for several days... I was the one to report to her that it was getting close to Hilo.

"When the Princess returned to Honolulu, a tremendous crowd greeted her at the dock. The streets were lined. It didn't take long for the story to flash around the Islands."

Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 30, 2004

Getting to know Ruth
The princess defied Western ways and paid for it by being ignored by historians until now

By John Berger

[Article includes several photos of Ruth, and of her huge mansion]

HISTORY is not a topic that seems to interest many people these days, and if most Hawaii residents know of Princess Ruth Ke'elikolani at all it's because of a photograph that shows a large grim-looking Hawaiian woman standing stiffly in formal 19th century attire. Only eight or nine photos of her are known to exist.

"The two things people usually know about her is what she looked like -- which a lot of people seem to remember -- and maybe that she had something to do with the Bishop Estate having a lot of land," said Craig Howes, of the University of Hawaii at Manoa Center for Biographical Research. Howes is series scholar for "Biography Hawaii," a project document ing the lives of historical figures deemed to have had an enduring impact on Hawaii, and make their stories available as PBS specials, on video and DVD.

The aim was not to pick the usual suspects, characters most already know a great deal about, but six people whose stories would help us "find out something about the history of Hawaii," he said. "Rather than go with Kalakaua or Lili'uokalani, we thought, why not her? Everybody has a notion about her but nobody really knows a heck of a lot about her."

Ke'elikolani is the third person to be profiled by Howes, director/editor Joy Chong-Stannard and writer Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl. Earlier programs covered Maiki Aiu Lake and attorney Harriet Bouslog; future programs will explore the lives of Stanford B. Dole, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole and Koji Ariyoshi.

"Biography Hawaii: Ruth Ke'elikolani," will be introduced in two free screenings on Thursday at the UH Art Auditorium. It will also air on PBS Hawaii on June 9 and 12.

Howes feels it's time that Ke'elikolani gets credit for her efforts to defend Hawaii and its culture, and for maintaining intact the vast land holdings that became the foundation of Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate.

The program has been produced in English and Hawaiian versions. English narration is by Ka'upena Wong, Ku'uipo Kumukahi narrates in Hawaiian, and Tammy Haili'opua Baker provides the voice of Ruth, who bequeathed almost all her land holdings to her cousin Bernice Pauahi Bishop.

"(Ke'elikolani) was of the Kamehameha line, and you can see from the show that she really tried to keep (their lands) together," Howes said. Had she been less aggressive in asserting her claims or less astute in her ability to maneuver through the western legal system, much of the land now owned by KSBE might have been dispersed.

The program benefits from commentary from UH professor of Hawaiian language Puakea Nogelmeier, UH-Hilo director of Hawaiian Studies Kalena Silva, and UH professor of Political Science and Hawaiian Language Noenoe Silva, who assess Ke'elikolani's place as a mover and shaker among the mid-19th century ali'i, and the ways in which her resistance to foreign ways make her significant in influencing Hawaiian thought today.

Ke'elikolani inherited Western-style "palaces" from her father and first husband, but preferred to live in a traditional-style Hawaiian grass house adjacent to her beachfront palace in Kailua-Kona. However, in Honolulu, Ke'elikolani's Victorian-style mansion, Keoua Hale, was larger and more massive than 'Iolani Palace. Could the size of the place -- which was allowed to deteriorate after her death and eventually destroyed to make room for Central Intermediate School -- been a way of subtly diminishing the stature of the ruling Kalakaua dynasty in comparison with that of the Kamehamehas?

"It would be pretty hard to imagine how (the house size) wouldn't make some kind of a point (but) there are a number of theories on this. That's one of the suggestions; we bring it up, but very carefully," Howes says.

Nogelmeier mentions in the program notes that although Ke'elikolani's lineage was questioned, she was recognized as a member of the royal family and the royal court until the death of her half-brother, Lot Kapuaiwa (Kamehameha V). When William Charles Lunalilo, who was of Kamehameha lineage through his mother, Kekauluohi, was elected king in 1873, he also proclaimed Ke'elikolani to be a member of the royal family and the court.

Nogelmeier writes that David Kalakaua did not extend this courtesy to Ke'elikolani when he was elected to the throne, even though Ke'elikolani was the adoptive mother of his younger brother and heir apparent, William Pitt Leleiohoku. Nogelmeier describes this as "a slight that was highly contested in the newspapers of the time, and that was not forgotten" by Ke'elikolani.

There was political rivalry as well, Howes notes, pointing out that Ke'elikolani ran against Lunalilo and Kalakaua in the election that put Lunalilo on the throne. Kalakaua later won the election that was necessary when Lunalilo died heirless a year later. Riots broke out when supporters of candidate Queen Emma, the widow of Ke'elikolani's half-brother, Alexander Liholiho (Kamehameha IV), disputed the results.

With tension between the Kalakaua and Kamehameha lines, Ke'elikolani demanded that Kalakaua and his family formally relinquish claims to the lands that she had given her adopted son Leleiohoku after he died in 1877. Howes sees this as a pivotal moment in Hawaiian history. Had Leleiohoku lived to become king in 1891, he would have also been the wealthiest man in Hawaii.

"The fact that Kalakaua ended up as king without the same kind of resources (Ke'elikolani had) was one of the main problems of the time. (Kalakaua was) continually having to draw on the legislature to get money (for the government) -- building the palace, for example. Ke'elikolani had the resources herself -- they were personal resources -- and the thing that is really really sad about (Prince) William Pitt Leleiohoku dying, was that from what we can figure, she set up a deal where the person who was going to become king (after Kalakaua) was also going to become the most independently wealthy person in the island. He would have ended up with the resources to be able to tell the legislature to go stuff itself at various points."

A financially independent monarch would have been a more difficult target for the enemies of Hawaiian freedom to overthrow.

Lili'uokalani, who was forced to deal with the same financial problems that had plagued Kalakaua, died in 1917 at the age of 79, and so it is certainly possible that Leleiohoku, who was born in 1854, could have reigned as the monarch of a free and independent Hawaii until the early 1930s.

THE ENGLISH-language newspapers of the time -- which often served as conduits of anti-Hawaiian propaganda -- rarely had much to say about Princess Ruth. Howes, Kneubuhl, Nogelmeier and other members of the biography team, found Hawaiian language newspapers far more useful.

"It's unbelievable what's there once you get into the right records," Howes said. "We started looking at the records that were in the equity cases -- the number of lawsuits that involved testimony. There's a huge issue about her paternity, but (Bernice) Pauahi said that anybody who knew her when she was around her father (Kekuanao'a) knew that they really looked alike.'

"(The ali'i) got into really contentious legal battles with each other," Howes said, explaining that the sworn testimony and related legal documents provided a wealth of information about Ke'elikolani and her relationships with other ali'i. For instance, Ke'elikolani adopted Leleiohoku "legally" (under western law) through documents filed at the Bureau of Conveyances and through the process commonly described as hanai.

The issue of her paternity was also litigated when she sought to inherit the lands and property of Kekuanao'a, who had publicly recognized her as his child by his first wife, Pauahi, who died in childbirth. Ke'elikolani's half-brother, Lot Kamehameha, regarded her as the natural child of Kahalaia, and claimed that Pauahi was already pregnant when she married Kekuanao'a. This alternative lineage would have made her a great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I, but would have removed her as a claimant to Kekuanaoa's lands and property.

The decision to produce the documentary in two languages instead of one cut the running time of the biography in half and forced Kneubuhl to make some tough content choices. There is much more to the story of Ke'elikolani's relationships with her husbands, William Pitt Leleiohoku (who died at age 22) and Isaac Young Davis (whom she divorced after she hanai'ed their son, Keolaokalani, to Bernice Pauahi), than Kneubuhl had time to cover in 26 minutes and 46 seconds.

"It's clear that the relationship (with Davis) was contentious, and I think it's also clear that she didn't back down very often in her life," Howes said, who suggested that Davis may not have been quite the cad portrayed in an account of the marriage.

"Clearly, (Ruth's) a figure that we're trying to present positively," Howes said.

Such editing choices aside, the program is a thought-provoking look at a fascinating woman who deserves more recognition these days than she generally receives.

Although it seems certain that Ke'elikolani was as fluent in English as other ali'i of her time, anyone who did not speak Hawaiian was required to provide a translator if they wished to converse with her. Born in 1826, and raised at the time when the early missionaries and their native Hawaiian acolytes were destroying much of Hawaii's traditional culture, Ke'elikolani remained true to her heritage. She was a patron of chanters and hula dancers, perpetuated the protocols traditionally accorded an ali'i of her rank, and observed customs denounced as "pagan" by enemies of the Hawaiian people.

Kalena Silva writes that although many see Ke'elikolani's decision to bequeath the bulk of her estate to Bernice Pauahi Bishop as her "great life achievement," many others now "take great inspiration from Ke'elikolani's personal courage" in her uncompromising loyalty to the culture and language of her ancestors.

"Biography Hawai'i: Ruth Ke'elikolani"
» Screens at University of Hawaii Art Auditorium, 2535 McCarthy Mall, 7:30 to 9 p.m. Thursday. Admission is free.
» The program will also air PBS Hawaii at 8 p.m. June 9 and 12 for the English version, with the Hawaiian version following at 8:30 p.m.


Center for Biographical Research Presents "Biography Hawaii: Ruth Ke'elikolani"
University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Contact:Craig Howes, (808) 956-3774
Center for Biographical Research
Posted: Jun 1, 2004

Biography Hawaiʻi: "Ruth Keʻelikōlani"
Public Screening
Thursday, June 3
7:30 — 9:00 p.m.
Art Auditorium, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Broadcast Times on PBS Hawaii
Wednesday, June 9
8:00 P.M. English version
8:30 P.M. Hawaiian version
Saturday, June 12
8:00 P.M. English version
8:30 P.M. Hawaiian version

A formidable presence in 19th-century Hawaiʻi, Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani refused to speak English, practice Christianity, or leave the Hawaiian Islands. Though her life was darkened by the deaths of her children and her beloved first husband, she was a popular and strong force who resisted the kingdom‘s drift toward annexation. Her personal appeals to the goddess Pele were said to have stopped a lava flow that threatened to destroy Hilo. During her lifetime Ruth Keʻelikōlani inherited and managed vast land holdings throughout the islands. These were the lands she bequeathed to Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Today, they form a substantial portion of the properties administered by Kamehameha Schools.

Biography Hawaiʻi: Ruth Keʻelikōlani explores the life and the legacy of this remarkable woman, whose sense of her personal responsibilities and of her own culture guided her through some of the most transforming political and cultural events of the 19th century in Hawaiʻi.clearly of her own time, and of ours.

"There were powerful women in Hawaiian history," remarks Political Science and Hawaiian Language Professor Noenoe Silva, "And I don‘t think we can know ourselves, really, until we know about them, until we understand." Keʻelikōlani was one of these women.

"She very much maintained a respect for the old, while she considered the new," comments Professor of Hawaiian Language Puakea Nogelmeier.

Kalena Silva, Director of Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, adds that Hawaiians today draw inspiration from Keʻelikōlani because "she was stubborn in her belief that Hawaiian culture and language and its perspective on the world was valuable," giving Hawaiians "hope for our own future as Hawaiian people."

The documentary includes footage of Huliheʻe Palace and other Big Island locations, and also features 19th century chants referring to Keʻelikōlani. The musical soundtrack highlights the compositions of William Pitt Leleiohoku, Keʻelikōlani‘s adopted son, and the brother and heir apparent of David Kalākaua.

In keeping with Keʻelikōlani‘s own devotion to Hawaiian language and culture, this half-hour documentary has been prepared in two versions—English and Hawaiian. A pre-broadcast screening of both versions will be held on Thursday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Art Auditorium of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa campus. Admission is free. The two versions will be broadcast back-to-back. In either language, the result is a fascinating brief portrait of a compelling figure who many people recognize, but few people know.

Biography Hawaiʻi: "Ruth Ke‘elikōlani" is a production of PBS Hawaii, in affiliation with the Center for Biographical Research, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Executive producers are Joy Chong-Stannard (Director / Editor), Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl (Writer) and Craig Howes (Series Scholar). Kaʻupena Wong is the English language version narrator, and Kuʻuipo Kumukahi is the Hawaiian language version narrator. Tammy Hailiʻopua Baker provides the voice of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, and Kaliko Baker provides the voices of Oliver Stillman.

The series Biography Hawaiʻi tells the stories of noted figures of the past, and evaluates their significance in influencing the life of Hawaiʻi today. Two very successful hour-long documentaries on kumu hula Maiki Aiu Lake, and on labor and civil rights attorney Harriet Bouslog, have already been broadcast on PBS Hawaii.


** For details on Ruth's genealogy, her business and political relationships, and numerous references to academic sources, seeʻelikōlani


** For details about the work of missionary Titus Coan, see

When Revival Swept Hawaii
A decade after the first missionaries arrived, the gospel tore across the islands in the 1830s.
by Chris Cook


Send comments or questions to:

You may now


(c) Copyright December 2019 Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved