Hello Friends and Family,

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

Moloka`i Churches

When the original Polynesians arrived in these islands from the Marquesas and subsequently Tahiti plus other south Pacific isles, they brought their polytheistic religion with them. The people were governed by a system of kapus (same Polynesian word as "taboo") which defined what people could and could not do — and the punishment for violations, which were often quite severe.

When Europeans began to come to Hawai`i, they often tended to ignore the kapus but, for some strange reason, were not punished by the Hawai`ian gods. The kapu system began to unravel. In the late 1700s, Christian missionaries began to arrive and found fertile soil with the Hawai`ian people living in a religious void — the old gods seemingly powerless but with no new deities to replace them.

In addition to bringing religion, the missionaries also brought literacy, selecting a subset of the Western alphabet to render the Hawai`ian language phonetically — and providing a way to translate and publish the Bible for the people. They also established schools to teach the Christian faith but also knowledge of the rest of the world.

Although most of the missionaries came here to do "God's work", not all the impact was a blessing. Some of the missionaries and many more of their offspring, went into business — often taking advantage of the Hawai`ian's lack of understanding of Western ways to acquire great wealth, usually in the form of land. The Bishop Estate, for example, is largest private property owner in the state of Hawai`i. Many private residences, particularly on O`ahu, sit on Bishop Estate land — with the homeowners paying rent for the land (the practice is called "leasehold") based on a long-term lease. This is the basis for a common saying, "The missionaries came to Hawai`i to do good and they did very well, indeed!"

Despite this "mixed blessing", there are many old churches in the islands and I managed to photograph a number of them during my stay on Moloka`i. The church in the photo above is Ka Hale La`a O Ierusalema Hou i.e. The Sacred House of New Jerusalem, located on the edge of town.

Right next door is The Lamb of God Church and Bible School. These are actually two of seven churches that make up what is known as "Church Row". I only photographed these two because they look historic — and that is more my "thing". However, even Mr. Google could not tell me when these churches were built — but they do look old.

This church is Saint Sophia Church and is located in downtown Kaunakakai. It was built in 1937 and, according to The Moloka`i News, has deteriorated to the point that it needs to be replaced. The Catholic community has been raising funds since 1995 to rebuild this church with a name change to Blessed Damien Church in honor of Father Damien (now Saint Damien) who devoted much of his life to caring for those suffering from Hansen's Disease — these were the unfortunate souls who were exiled to Kalaupapa.

I am happy that I was able to photograph this building since the replacement plans are moving along swiftly — and include demolition of this structure.

East of Kaunakakai on Highway 450 is Saint Joseph's Church. It was built by Father Damien in 1876 and is the second oldest church on Moloka`i.

On the grounds is a statue of Father Damien complete with glasses, a rosary and shell leis.

Further along the highway is Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Church — also built by Father Damien. It was built in 1874 and is the oldest church on Moloka`i.

Continuing on 450, one encounters Waialua Congregational Church which was built in 1855. On the makai (ocean) side of the road, the church maintains a pavilion and campground that is available to the public for a nominal fee.

Still further is Gospel Shoes of Jesus Christ Church. This church is not as old as some of the previous ones but I ran into the wife of the current pastor. His grandfather founded the church so it must date to the first half of the 20th century.

At the very end of the road, in Halawa Valley, stands Ierusalema Hou Church on the edge of a tropical rainforest. It was built in 1948 and provides a good example of plantation style architecture. I did note that the steeple seems to lean to the left — which caused me to wonder if it was built that way or if there is some structural deterioration involved.

The last church is no more. These ruins are located at Halawa Beach Park, which made me think that it had been destroyed in one of the big tsunamis (1946 or 1957). However, our guide last year told me that it was simply a fire. Too bad — that would have been a spectacular photo opportunity.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com