Hello Friends and Family,

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The Big Island: Churches

Oral tradition tells that the Hawai`ian religion was transplanted here from Tahiti by Pa'ao (who was either an historical figure or a character of ancient Hawai`ian mythology). King Kamehameha I passed away in 1819 with his son, Liholiho inheriting the throne and taking the royal name of King Kamehameha II — although, in fact, he became co-ruler with Queen Ka`ahumanu as Regent. Six months after becoming king, he and the Queen Regent proclaimed 'Ai Noa, the breaking of the ancient system of kapus when he sat and ate a meal with Ka`ahumanu and his mother, Keōpūolani. Subsequent edicts dissolved the old priesthood and led to destruction of many of the old heiaus.

Into this void of no moralistic basis for laws, the first company of missionaries arrived in Kailua Bay in 1820 and were allowed to come ashore on a probationary basis. Soon after, missionaries Asa and Lucy Goodale Thurston established the first Christian congregation in the Kingdom of Hawai`i. They were granted permission to teach the new religion to King Kamehameha II and Queen Regent Ka`ahumanu. Although the royal court moved to O`ahu, some of the natives built a small wooden church here in Kailua, hoping to also learn of Christianity. After several fires in the original church, the current structure, Mokuaikaua (Congregational) Church, was built — partially of stones from a nearby heiau.

Inside the church is a model of the Brig Thaddeus which had carried the original 14 missionaries from Boston, around Cape Horn before anchoring in Kailua Bay. The trip took 164 days.

Koa wood was used throughout the new structure and is still in beautiful shape. Unlike some houses of worship, photography is permitted here. The Church still has regular services even with its historic significance of the oldest church in Hawai`i.

As I drive around the islands, I am surprised to find so many old churches. Here in Kohala stands Kalahikiola Congregational Church, built in 1855.

From their website — "Kalahikiola, meaning 'The Day Salvation Comes', is the name of a small hill on the side of the Kohala Mountain. The name goes back to the time of the arrival of the first Christian missionaries here; a time when a new faith was entering into the hearts and minds of the island people. From that hill came the great timbers for the present church building; so that when the church was consecrated on October 11, 1855 it was appropriately given the name Kalahikiola. The Reverend Elias Bond and his wife Ellen arrived in Kohala in 1841 where they spent their whole lives working for the people and the churches of Kohala. Father Bond, as he was soon to be called, oversaw the building of Kalahikiola. He also learned to speak the Hawaiian language and opened a school for boys and teachers. Later Mother Bond started the Kohala Girls School. When in later years, immigrants came from other lands to work on the sugar plantations, Father Bond cared also for their spiritual welfare and churches were started for these language groups.

By 1950, almost 100 years after the building of the church, the churches of the Japanese, Chinese, Caucasian and Hawaiian Christians joined under one roof, Kalahikiola. [Some years later the Pilgrim Church, persons of Filipino ancestry, joined this initial union.] We are happy to be able to report that this was the first union of independent language churches in the islands. The congregation today still reflects this diversity."

On October 15, 2006, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake devastated this historic structure. This photo from their website shows the destruction. It required a lot of planning, fundraising and work but on February 27, 2010, the repair and reconstruction was complete and the church was officially re-dedicated.

Also in Kohala stands a Buddhist Temple that looks to be a contemporary of some of these older churches but, in fact, is a bit newer. It was constructed in 1924 in the Kapa`au area about 300 meters (328 yards) east of the current location. It was moved here and partially rebuilt.

Note: Kapa`au is celebrated as the birthplace of King Kamehameha I.

I love the temple bells — worthy of its own closeup.

Note: I discovered a reference to a documentary entitled "Aloha Buddha". Its website contained interesting background information.

"Japanese Buddhism in Hawaii may be the most unique form of Buddhism in the world. Brought over by Japanese immigrants who came to work on the sugar plantations, the pressure of politics, Americanization, and Christianity helped acculturate the religion in surprising and unique ways. In Hawaii, Japanese Buddhists built Indian style temples, filled them with Christian church pews, and sang modified hymns which praise the Buddha instead of Jesus. It was all done as part of the 'American Way'.

Today, however, the religion is fading and the temples are closing. Now there is a rush to save Japanese Buddhism’s history before it is gone altogether. As we talk to the elders of the religion, we discover that Japanese Buddhism played a key role in shaping Hawaii’s religious identity, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, and the establishment of Buddhism in America. There is also a movement underway to save the religion – by adding a little aloha into the practice."

You can view the trailer by clicking here. (I have ordered the DVD.)

Kohala seems to have a wealth of these old churches — here, St. Augustine's Episcopal Church which was established in 1884 as an Anglican mission. The church was subsequently expanded in 1913 with the footprint assuming the shape of the cross. The first baptism was performed at Easter 1884 and the first marriage on Christmas Day 1885. The members of the church reflect the ethnic diversity of Hawai`i including people of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Puerto Rican, Korean, Hawaiian and Caucasian ancestry.

Still in Kohala, specifically Hawi, stands the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church. A series of Catholic churches have served this area but eventually the original Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church was constructed in 1905.

Curiously, it was moved to Halawa and the present structure was built in 1925. The church is known for its fine stained glass windows. I wish I would have known at the time — possibly I could have arranged to photograph them. You can see one of them if you click here.

Puako has the distinction of being close to the epicenter of the 2006 earthquake which was centered some six miles off the coast. Another trivia factoid is that until the 1950s, the village was only accessible by boat or the King's Highway (more a walking trail than a real highway).

The village, populated by some 60 people at time, built the Hoku Loa Church in 1852. They also built a coral and limestone school house which was destroyed by the tsunami of 1946.

Also of note, according to one account, Puako is the area with the least amount of annual rainfall on the island and some say, the most sunshine.

Just up the hill from the B&B where I stayed, stands Immaculate Conception Church in the tiny town of Holualoa. It was built in 1880 but destroyed by fire in 1943. It was rebuilt within eight months, partially with help from the military.

This is an area rich in coffee farms and the church ministers to the Portuguese and Filipino immigrants who work in the coffee plantations. Weekly Mass is held at Immaculate Conception and it serves as the mauka (mountainside) hub of St. Michael’s Parish with numerous weddings and Spanish quinceanera (coming of age ceremonies).

On my way to Waimea (and the Parker Ranch) i spotted this tiny church and just had to stop to photograph it. Pu`uanahulu Church was built in 1918 to provide spiritual support to the paniolos (Hawai`ian cowboys) and their families.

The community at Pu`uanahulu was disrupted, however, when Puuwaawaa Ranch changed ownership and many of the long-time paniolos went elsewhere for work in the early '70s. Yes, the times they are a-changing.

This marks the end of my time on the Big Island (going to Maui next). But the last sunset here turned out to be one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. Honest — no Photoshop tricks other than to remove a couple out-of-focus utility lines (I hope you don't hold that against me). The brilliant color was due to the clouds in combination with the vog (volcanic smog). I guess the vog has some benefit.

Life is good.

B. David

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