I was a boarder at Lahainaluna from 1986 to 1989. I went there because, living in Tonga and wanting to return to Hawaiʻi, we needed a boarding school. As my grandparents had both gone to the school in the 1920s and 1930s (my mother went to Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina, but moved to Honolulu before high school), and we still had relatives there, Lahainluna seemed a good match. As I moved into the field of Hawaiian history, and in particular teaching it at Kamehameha (which, as an institution, certainly revels in its history), I’ve come to feel that Lahainaluna’s history has been sorely neglected. This post is a beginning of an attempt to rectify this neglect.


My grandparents proudly sang the alma mater (the only one in Hawaiian) and my grandfather, who was as far from an intellectual snob as it is possible to be, spoke enthusiastically about the “ipu kukui `a`amau pio `ole i ka makani Kaua`ula” [the light of knowledge undaunted by the Kauaʻula wind]. Even my father (a Yankee from Massachusetts) got Lahainaluna fever, authoring an article in the 1980 Hawaiian Journal of History, “The Image of ʻKou Haoleʻ in the Lahainaluna Mooolelo.” Still, I didnʻt quite know what I was getting into. Iʻve often described it as a four-year military boot camp. We worked 20 hours per week in campus jobs including the school farm as payment for our room and board, and the program had intricacies that have to be saved from another post, but despite its drawbacks, I came to view this kind of labor as part of a complete life.


Lahainaluna Seminary was founded 183 years ago in 1831. Calling it the oldest school West of the Rockies, while accurate, seems to neglect that at the time, this was the Hawaiian Kingdom. The seminary was founded by Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) to train ministers and assistant teachers of religion – a kind of second layer of clergy in the quickly Christianizing Kingdom. An early principal Sheldon Dibble had the foresight to see that in an environment of cultural loss, the Hawaiian scholars of the school should study and preserve their own culture, rather than that of others. I often wonder if someone like Hiram Bingham had been head of the school (which he could have – he was on the board), whether we would even have David Malo to look to today.


Lahainaluna ca. 1831

Lahainaluna went through several phases in its long history:

•Mission Seminary

•Royal Hawaiian Academy

•English Boarding School

•Vocational Trade School

•Technical High School

•Public High School

Today, while Lahainaluna’s athletic reputation has gone up (football, girls basketball, wrestling), its academic reputation is far from where it started. The “college” was more like a research university than the high school it is today. David Malo, for example, was 38 years old when he entered, but he was only a student for a couple of years before becoming a teacher – his intellectual reputation was well-established and the school merely formalized his already considerable knowledge base. The Lahainaluna scholars produced the first Hawaiian history text Ka Mooolelo Hawaii, which stated [excuse my rough translation]:

No ka naaupo loa a me ke wahahee wale o ko onei poe kahiko, olelo lakou, ua hanau maoli mai no keia pae aina, na Wakea laua o Papa, e like me ka hanau keiki ana. E aho kakou I ka naaupo o ka poe kahiko, no ka mea, he wa pouli ko lakou.

In the “very dark ages” and the time of only [snake-mouthed] people of old, they said that the [true creation/birth] of these islands [archipelago] was from Wākea and Papa, like giving birth to children. We [escaped?] the dark ages of the people of old because theirs was a [dark night/period].

Here we see the indoctrination that accompanied the preservation of the culture. As Emerson has noted of Malo in particular, this generation had the “zealousness of the new converted.”

The Lahainaluna scholars were laying the intellectual infrastructure for the new Hawaiian state. Although Hawaiian traditions were being recorded, Hawai‘i is becoming increasingly Westernized. This is especially true of the areas that Western ships frequented.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 12.26.45 PM

Malo is criticzed by some Hawaiians today for what is seen as an overly-westernized view of Hawaiian culture. As Emerson (in Malo, 1951, viii). puts it, Malo’s “affections were so entirely turned against the whole system, not only of idol worship, but of all the entertainments of song, dance and sport as well, that his judgement seems to be warped, causing him to confound the evil and the good, the innocent and the guilty, the harmless and the depraved in one sweeping condemnation, thus constraining him to put under ban of his reprobation things which a more enlightened judgement would have tolerated.”

In other words, one must put Malo in perspective using a historical empathy that considers his unique position amidst the most profound changes in Hawaiian history.

Hale Paʻi, the printing House - site of the first Hawaiian language newspaper, Ka Lama

Hale Paʻi, the printing House – site of the first Hawaiian language newspaper, Ka Lama

Lahainaluna was also the site of the second printing press (after the MIssion Houses in Honolulu) and first newspaper, Ka Lama, in 1834. While Samuel Kamakau’s Ruling Chiefs of Hawaiʻi may be as much read today, of all the Lahainaluna scholars, David (or Davida) Malo, more than all the others, keeps his hold on the imagination.


More can be said about Malo than there is space for here, just between the introductions to Emerson’s and Chun’s versions of his writings. Arista (1998, 46), describes Malo’s first meeting with Richards:

Malo and Richards met when Keōpūolani took Richards as her teacher. It seemed that both men received the best education that their societies could offer: that was a religious education. Malo would find himself working with Richards when the two turned their knowledge, wisdom and experience to serving the aliʻi and the emerging nation.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 10.17.31 AM

Malo was one of the chiefs (kaukaualiʻi) who studied under Richards. However, while it is often claimed that William Richards was Malo’s teacher, Arista (1998, 47) notes that “Richards refers variously to Malo in his letters of this time, as ʻmy teacher, my interpreter,’ and later ʻmy assistant.’” In an article in The Polynesian, Malo is described as “a talented and excellent Hawaiian, for a long time the able and devoted teacher of the late Mr. Richards.” Thus, there was clearly a reciprocal relationship, a theoretical encounter of sorts between the two men.

This may be seen in Malo’s description of the political structure of traditional Hawaiian society, translated by Emerson as “the civil polity” (Malo, 1958, 187), was originally entitled “No Kalaimoku” (Malo, 2006, 103). Mykännen (2003, 139-144) provides an extended discussion of the interchangeability of the words kalaiʻāina –

Richards’s choice of words for political economy – and kālaimoku. I suspect that the two words are linked – some evidence suggests that the students of Richards were encouraged to prosthelytize, and spread the “gospel” of the new political economy. The timing works, if one is to believe Chun (2006, xviii), that Malo may have “commenced with his monumental work, entitled ʻMoʻolelo Hawaiʻi’ (Hawaiian Traditions or Hawaiian History)” around 1847. Chun disputes notions that Malo wrote what Emerson called Hawaiian Antiquities between 1839 and 1840, noting that his newspaper publications suggest the later date. Forbes (2000, 80) notes that “communications from David Malo appear with some frequency” in Ka Elele.

I’ve been heartened to hear that Lahainaluna has finally established an archive – better late than never – and its foundation (quite well endowed) has been doing great work. I would like to see Lahainaluna reclaim its place as, arguably, Hawaiʻi’s most historic school.



April 10, 2014 · 8:07 pm

4 responses to “Lahainaluna

  1. Ralph Yanagawa

    If I am not mistaken, Lorrin Andrews is credited with being the first principal at Lahainaluna Seminary (1831-1842) while Sheldon Dibble was principal from 1842-1843. Also, who are we talking about when you say that “Williams” was Malo’s teacher?


    • umi

      you could be right. Did I say Williams? I definitely meant William Richards – Iʻll check and fix that. Thanks for the fact check! 🙂 The great thing about a blog is I can fix mistakes..


  2. L. Perkins

    Lorrin Andrews was the first principal of Lahainaluna, as Ralph Yamagata says, and inferring from that fact, also, considered the most scholarly. He began the Hawaiian dictionary, originally a vocabulary list of about 5,000 words, but when printed, had it bound, and then found it treasured, so invited other missionaries to send him their lists. Among the latter was Dwight Baldwin, assigned to Lahaina after some years on Hawaiʻi — a dedicated Medical missionary (he held a B.S. from Harvard in Biology, but later an Hon. doctorate from Dartmouth in medicine) whose interest was plant and animal sciences, after the general interest words. In the Tuttle reprint of A Dictionary of the Hawaiian Language, the Cambridge University scholar, Terence Barrow, (born in New Zealand but not a Maori), includes an Authorʻs Preface by Andrews that notes Dr. Baldwinʻs list first, because Baldwin wrote items out in full as well as which words or ideas might be investigated further, that is, that suggested more synonyms and other similar ideas. Andrews intuits Baldwin had a helper in this, for he says “Andrews must have had a shrewd Hawaiian at his elbow.”

    I have a strong feeling that that assistant was your great great grandfather, Abel KeAliʻiMakekauONuʻuanuoKona. Abel M. was Dwight Baldwinʻs chief Medical Clinic Assistant. (Baldwin was the doctor for Maui, Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi, the entire county of Maui [as Maui County is today). Andrews i luna and Baldwin i uka covered students and the entire population medically.

    William Alexander, however, was also assigned to Lahainaluna and wrote a Grammar. Alexander also was very scholarly.

    2. Did not Davida Malo write a “history” that was lost — in a fire? (I canʻt recall). Was the published Hawn. Traditions not his second and successful attempt?

    Although there was a printing press in Honolulu, writers like Andrews did not assume that their writings would be published. Malo was commissioned, but still struggled — Iʻm not sure why . . to keep the wolf from the door?


  3. Leialoha Perkins

    Malo. A consistently overlooked fact about Malo in his writing of the “Mooolelo” is that he is a chief, writing. He is a chief compared to his fellow students but a subordinate of foreigners that R.F. Perkins says, in “Kou Haole,” J. Hawaiian History, were seen as of such standing as that of chiefs and priests. No other chief is mentioned by the missionaries at Lahainaluna, none with his distinction there, which is, of a chiefly education and thirty some years of experience in the original unbroken tradition. The merit of his chiefliiness, even at Lahainaluna, is he was and is in a position to command information from the specialists, chiefly and priestly (is it likely that religious belief so central to a societyʻs life can be dead immediately and thoroughly throughout the kingdom by the stroke of a single act in one fell swoop?) lower than himself, and engage others higher as he might. Therefore his sources were vastly different from those of Kamakauʻs, for he was a peer among the peers. Kamakauʻs sources were, like himself, makaʻāinana, as of his own kindʻs view, but also capable of various aliʻi based non-Western but possibly western experienced if not trained sources. When he went out to collect data for Foenander, the missionaries had been proselytizing for almost half a century. And so basically, years after Maloʻs death, Kamakauʻs accounts, like Haleʻoleʻs and Kepelinoʻs together, was better historically from a Western viewpoint as Maloʻs is better than any from an ethnohistorical viewpoint, without merit of the discursive style that is Western and historical. Despite the difference of the aims of the two writersʻ works, the chiefʻs is primary as from a 38 year experienced Molokaʻi rulership, where everything, if he were investigating, may well have been at his beck and call, edited by himself, out of his own self resources of ailing body, challenged spirit, and engaged mind. From an anthropological viewpoint, Maloʻs account, if one can sort out the pre-contact from the post-Christian, cannot be dismissed, because reduced from a sense that he produced a corrupted data collection from Christianly overloading and personal opinions together with social comments. He was the first to write what we call an “ethnography.” He was also ill, physically and mentally, it seems, and no doubt socially, we learn in the introduction of the book that bears his name — the latter because of “difficulties” with his wife which shamed him, as chief (the standby histories tell us). And so when selected by the missionaries –pressed by them — to write down what we might imagine was intended to be “everything” he knew, he had a lot of ground to cover, which he could do on his own cognizance, as well as that of others who served him. His work as the first of its kind had no models to follow — except borrowing from the wealth of genres found collected together for review within a single cover: the Bible. Oral speaking ways, perhaps because not given to reflection that the written is apt to provide for review, at least in the Bible, takes one thing at a time and pushes it (“Turn the other cheek.”). But one finds elsewhere the other side of the argument (“Do not throw pearls before swine.”). The Greeks and not only philosophers wrote both propositions — i.e., they wrote; and so they answered in the round. The same could be done orally but it was not common among traditionalists, unversed in, for example, Western ways like sermonizing. One might conjecture that instructively He Tumuripo could also have been a suggested form: it is replete with typically Hawaiian verbless sentences carried out somewhat formally for the factual nature of the subject, i.e. basically a set of listings of items, assertively valuable, as they form in the end an ethnohistorical account of every kind of subject matter from which any student would learn much and deeply. Far short of natural story-telling style, which is not serviceable, for the work might never end, otherwise, Maloʻs style essentially is given to noting itemized points. as most early writings consisted of — such as that of the Greeks in the Iliad (the catalogue of ships) and Phoeniciansʻ inventory of storeroom goods found by Sir Arthur Evans on Crete. By contrast, Kamakau gives us his field work data in a wonderfully spirited, expansive style, so engaged is he in the accounts given him from intellectuals and plainly knowledgeable storytellers of the time, on the islands he worked gathering materials — some connected to chiefly as well as formerly priestly houses (the latter consistently missing in Hawaiian history accounts just before the missionariesʻ coming, for they are not reflected because religion is not in the Western mode to be taken seriously, and wasnʻt, even anthropologically, until the 21st century). To dismiss Malo because he is dispenses as wrong some serious matters he did not respect in the light of his new foreigner-brought faith as well as scientific readings, called Natural Philosophy, is to do him an injustice. He is a different person, as a convert, of course; but he is still a chief, recognized and respected and so sought to produce an account only he was thought could, like any leading aliʻi, of the pre-missionary culture (if Malo was born c. 1793). I cannot imagine how Kamakau and other makaʻāinana students did not gain by having this chief in their midst — so humble, he first admits he does not know everything and so humble he allows himself to be ordered to study and work and write (and he did write) like any other students without his privilege of birth. I believe he had an intellectual curiosity that was stronger than his shame at the ridicule that a makaʻāinana might have subjected him to esoecially in the presence of makaʻāinana who were ordered to do the same studies, writings (single page, essay-like history assignments) and Boarderʻs live-stock breeding, planting and harvesting chores for group self-subsistence. There is no existing account of difficulties between the chief and the makaʻāinana students. But the lack of proof is not to imagine nothing happened; it simply in the end obviously did not count. Taking Kamakau as sufficient historical accounting is to dismiss the Chiefly and Priestly knowledges that Malo represents at his institutional best, edited in part and not edited in other parts. One example might suffice: the account of the marriage rites of a chiefly couple. It seems very public, but it may have been only to designated members of other royalty and priests. The couple is seen entering a “tent” prepared for their nuptial bedding; when they emerge, there is a witnessing of the blood stained tapa, evidence of the brideʻs initiation. The same traditional marital scene was described to me but in greater detail, by the King of Tongaʻs sister-in-law, the Lady Lavinia. Throughout the marital night, just as throughout a night when a dead is laid on tapa and mats, there is a vigil kept in group singing that must be continuous, without stop, until the dawn. The reason for the all night vigil of chanting until the couple emerged from the marriage “tent” was to secure the couple from evil spirits that might enter them in the process of the mating (and as for the dead, whose apertures are not completely guaranteed non-access to the inner parts of the body, but the corpse cleaned and freshly dressed with tapa and mats and leaves …) until the sun rises. “Proof” of successful cohabitation is displayed –the bride found truly virginal at copulation and the heir, if a child is conceived, then, legitimately a descendent. Being Mana filled, s/he is Tapu to the many, to grow or in the case of the dead, to be at peace and not visit the living, distressing them. Kamakau could not have rendered the sensitive subject matter on his own cognition. And if told, could only have reported such matters in a second hand way when quoting or repeating a primary chiefly source (since the priestly resources had been dismissed with the abolition of the class, it was null and void). Malo knew the data from his own chiefly stationʻs instructed ways and family/status experiences, it is not unreasonable to think, or perhaps from his own marriage, but typically, his being male may have censured his relaying the accounting full (what is a womanʻs story — a royalʻs right to tell, not a royal maleʻs), except one knows that anything concerning sex is exactly what somehow becomes a male prerogative in a matriarchal descendant counting system. That is, if one follows the rules. Malo as a chief was a relative expert without a secretary. His Christian devotion moved him to edit that expertise; but it also gave him the right to predict what was to follow the white manʻs coming …and the loss of control over matters of the land, and to predict, on his own cognition, that chiefs (and priests [not officially but very likely in hiding, which is how the male element, I think, disappeared from the halau hula, until the late 20th c. where we find, unlike in the South Pacific, the modern male Hawaiian dancers doing the ame (a female movement, in traditional Polynesia) as well as the thrust ( a male movement that counters the female name in traditional Polynesia). Malo wrote much less than Kamakau, writing thirty or more years later. Kamakau uses natural discourse style, is freer to observe things, with the Tapu ridiculed, and so writes vividly, because he is intellectually committed to discovering names, meanings, relations between them and acts, contexts and situations supported and so very attractively modern. Malo was an expert without the secretary he deserved, but in the oral tradition, a Talking Chief could not have done him justice, I suspect, He was much like a modern writer, delivering his own account, instead of leaving it to a different kind of professional, a Talking Chief, versed in editing and priming the given data that was formerly the result of the mele oli training traditionally known to the professional reciters of verse. So for the small window of time that he had left of his life to tell us what he knew as a chief would know, he is alone. He is the only one of the Lahainaluna writers versed in what was the traditional best of the old tradition that was communal, oral, and anonymous, in large part, but with a singular difference: the author has injected himself into his material in a personal way, for we know his name, and in writing, which is a chiefly account that is self-edited, yet notwithstanding that, the only such account from the Lahainaluna sources.


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