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“The Isles Shall Wait For His Law”
So the Bible said, but American missionaries found Hawaii a paradise where pleasure reigned, and the sense of sin was difficult to teach
February 1960 | Volume 11, Issue 2
Like the diseases the white man had brought, religion now swept the Islands. The Hawaiians took religion to their breasts when it offered an emotional substitute for the hula, the chants, and the games that the missionaries had forced them to abandon.
“The presence of the spirit was indicated by the fixed eye, the gushing tear, the quivering lip, the deep sigh, and the heavy groan,” noted Coan, as attentive to symptoms as a good doctor. The response surprised, then startled, and finally scared some of the mission. But not Titus Coan. He was delighted.
“The word fell with power,” he wrote, “and sometimes as the feeling deepened, the vast audience was moved and swayed like a forest in a mighty wind.” Whole families came pouring into Hilo, building little cabins that stretched up from the shore like the tents of an army, so that they could hear Coan preach. His church grew crowded to suffocation, with thousands still outside. On one occasion Coan baptized 1,705 converts at one time with the help of a basin and a whisk broom.
Meanwhile people in the United States were beginning to think that the Islands ought to be admitted to the Union as a state. In 1852 this was proposed in Congress. Dr. Judd even received a private proposal from New York offering $5,000,000 for the Islandsl In 1854 the king authorized negotiations for annexation. When Admiral Theodorus Bailey, U.S.N., sailed into Honolulu in August, he wrote back to his brother: “I hope before I leave to be in part instrumental in adding another Star to the Constellation of the Union —but this is in confidence.”
More than a hundred years passed before Hawaii finally gained that star, though annexation as a territory was achieved in 1898. Without that band of earnest Yankee missionaries who supported the chiefs through every crisis, Hawaii almost certainly would be French or British or Russian today. The mission had so thoroughly established Yankee habits and ways of thought that they entered into the minds of their Hawaiian pupils and made Americanization inevitable. Despite everything that has happened since, the New England influence is still there—in the efficient plantations, many of them founded by mission children, in the system of education, in churches and homes that spring up out of the tropical background looking inalienably New England. Stronger than all the scheming of diplomats and would-be conquerors was the impact of these plain people who had gone forth with the purpose of “raising up the whole people to an elevated state of Christian civilization … and to inculcate the duties of justice, moderation, forbearance, truth and universal kindness.”
It was a good prescription for our first experiment in helping an “underdeveloped” land.