Henry Opukahai’a (d.1818), was the fist Hawaiian convert to Christianity. Orphaned at age 10, he was raised by his uncle to be a pagan priest (kahuna) of the Hawaiian religion. He grew disillusioned with the rituals and chants, and left on an American ship bound for New England with his hawaiian friend, Thomas Hopu. There he was befriended by students and professors of Yale College and soon became a Christian. He studied Greek and Hebrew and translated sections of the Bible into the Hawaiian language. In his memoirs, which sold 500,000 copies after his death, Henry Opukahai’a wrote:
“My poor countrymen, without the knowledge of the true God, and ignorant of the future world, have no Bible to read, no Sabbath….”
Henry Opukahai’a zeal for Christ and love for the Hawaiian people inspired the first American Board of Missions to Hawaii in 1820. It was led by his friend, Thomas Hopu, Hiram Bingham, and a small group of New Englanders. They reduced the Hawaiian language to writing, set up schools and churches, and convinced the Hawaiian women to war dresses. Amid much solemnity and rejoicing the remains of Henry Opukahai’a were returned to Hawaii in 1993, 175 years after his death in Connecticut, and were reinterred at Napo’opo’o, Kona, Hawaii.
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