Hawaiʻi`s First Christian of Hawaiian ancestry

Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia

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Henry ʻŌpūkahaʻia was one of the first native Hawaiians to become a Christian, inspiring American Protestant missionaries to come to the islands during the 19th century. He is credited with starting Hawaii's conversion to Christianity.

Orphaned at age 10,  ʻŌpūkahaʻia witnessed the warfare murders of his parents and younger brother. He signed onto a ship leaving Hawaii and eventually wound up at the ship captain's home in New Haven, Connecticut.  It was on this ship that he was given the name Henry.

 

He was taken under the wing of, and into the home of, Yale president, Dr. Timothy Dwight.  Henry was a bright young man who quickly learned the English language.  He studied hard and started translating the bible into ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.  He learned to speak both Hebrew and Greek.

Henry embraced Christianity and converted in 1815.  In 1816 he enrolled in the new Foreign Mission School, established by the American Board across from the Congregational Church in Cornwall, Connecticut. He became very involved with plans to send missionaries to Hawaiʻi to teach the people about Christ and wanted to return to his beloved home to preach.  

 

Sadly at the age of 26 he contracted typhus fever and died in 1818 in Cornwall.

Inspired by Henryʻs 1819 memoir a mission trip was commissioned to set sail to Hawaiʻi and in 1820 the missionaries along with four young Hawaiian converts arrived in Hawaiʻi.  With permission from Queen Kaʻahumanu the missionaries were allowed to share the good new of Jesus Christ with the aliʻi.   Henry is credited with starting Hawaiʻi's conversion to Christianity. 

On Aug. 15, 1993, ʻŌpūkahaʻia`s remains were laid in a vault facing the sea at Kahikolu Congregational Church Cemetery, Napoopoo, Kona, Island of Hawaiʻi which was the third church established in Hawaiʻi by missionaries inspired by ʻŌpūkahaʻia.

 

Hawaii's churches observe the third Sunday in February as a day of commemoration in honor of its first Christian. Obookiah "Henry" Opukahaia.