S t r a n g e r s And P i l g r i m s . . .
Henry Opukaha’ia (1792-1818)
enry Opukaha’ia (also known as Obookiah) was probably born on the Big Island [of Hawaii] in
1792, and when he was somewhere between 10 and 13 years old both his parents were killed in
an intertribal war. … In about 1807, Henry talked his way aboard an American ship called the
Triumph. After a long time at sea … Henry found himself in New York in 1809. The ship’s captain then
took Henry to live with him and his family in New Haven, Connecticut.
Tutored by a Yale student named Edwin Dwight (son of Yale’s president), Henry learned quickly
to read English. Henry began to read enthusiastically, and he began to see that the “gods” of Hawaii
were like the idols ridiculed by the prophet Isaiah. They were made of wood, the same wood that
people used to warm their homes and cook their food. People created the Hawaiian “gods,” but the
true God had created people. …
This boy, who had trained for Hawaii’s kahuna priesthood, now spoke to the [New England] farmers
about his new faith in Jesus. And in his spare time, he was always studying. Churches in the Litchfield,
Connecticut, area often asked him to speak in their worship services. Henry began translating the
Bible into Hawaiian and also began writing a dictionary and grammar of the Hawaiian language. He
attended classes at Yale, studying Latin, Hebrew, geometry, and geography, and he finished writing
his autobiography in 1815.
By 1817, Henry was enrolled in the [Congregational] Foreign Mission School. … The school’s stated
aim was to provide “education in our country of heathen youths, in such a manner as, with subsequent
professional instruction, will qualify them to become missionaries, physicians, schoolmasters or
interpreters, and to communicate with heathen nations such knowledge in agriculture and the arts as
may prove the means of promoting Christianity and civilization.”
A year later, Henry was ready to return to Hawaii. But he fell ill … [and he] died on February 17, 1818. …
Henry greatly impressed a seminary student named Hiram Bingham … [who] decided to go to Hawaii in
Henry’s place; and on October 23, 1819, Rev. and Mrs. Hiram Bingham and 12 other missionaries sailed on
the ship Thaddeus for Hawaii. Their arrival in 1820 was the beginning of the conversion of the Hawaiian
Islands. Missionaries would finish Henry’s work on the Bible, dictionary, and grammar.
Roddy, W. Lee. “‘My Betsy,’ Missionary Wife,” The Congregationalist, April 1965, pp. 4-5; in Larson, Arlin T., ed. Readings in
the History and Polity of the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches. Demorest, Ga.: Piedmont College, 1997.
“From Hawaii to Connecticut,” The Congregationalist, March 1969, pp. 10-11, in Larson.
Fullard-Leo, Betty. “Henry Opukaha’ia, the Youth Who Changed Hawaii,” Coffee Times, Fall 1998.
Adapted and reprinted, with permission, from The Congregational Minute, by Robert Hellam
(Seaside, Calif.: Robert Hellam, 2012)
All these died in faith, and received not the promises,
but saw them afar off, and believed them, and received
them thankfully, and confessed that they were
strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
—Hebrews 11:13 (Geneva Bible)