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 went through several phases in its long history:
•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.
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.
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.
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.