The work of spreading Christianity got an unexpected boost when Rev. William Ellis landed in Hawai‘i in the spring of 1822, travelling from Tahiti en route to the Marquesas. Ellis, an English missionary and skilled linguist, had been living in the Society Islands since 1816 and helped translate the oral Tahitian language into written form. His fluency allowed him to quickly master the Hawaiian language, which is similar to Tahitian,1 and to preach and compose hymns in Hawaiian, bridging the communication barriers that still existed.2 The Hawaiian mission was also presented with two small hymnals in Tahitian which had enhanced mission work in the Society Islands. When Ellis returned to Honolulu with his family in 1823, he brought a Tahitian teacher and Christian convert, whom Queen Keōpūolani selected as her principal instructor.
“We have found a very valuable assistant in Mr. Ellis, the missionary from Huohine, in our attempts at the language; while from the great similarity between the Taheiton language and this, he was able in a very few weeks to address the people in public, in their own tongue.” — Sybil Bingham’s Journal, August 9, 1822
“The first book published in the Hawaiian language, titled Na Himeni Hawaii, he me ori ia Iehova, ke Akua mau, introduced translations of forty-seven English language and original Christian hymns to the Hawaiian people. … While the actual printing started in December 1823, its beginnings date back to … the experience in the Society Islands of William Ellis.” — Kam, Ralph Thomas, “The Origins and Legacy of Na Himeni Hawaii,” p. 91.
“Ke-opu-o-lani was one of the few chiefesses who showed true faith in God at this time. … She had living with her some Tahitian members of the English church in Tahiti, among them Ka-ʻauʻa-moku, a single woman, and Tauʻaʻkane and Tauʻaʻ-wahine who had come with Mr. Ellis. These religious Tahitians taught her the word of God and the road to heaven and became her helpers; Tauʻa‘ preached to the chiefs of her household, and all instructed her in letters and music until she was able to read.” — Samuel L. Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii (Revised Edition), p. 254
1 Albert A. Schütz, The Voices of Eden (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1995), p. 323. 2 Rod Edmond, “Translating Cultures,” in Science and Exploration in the Pacific (UK: Boydell & Brewer, 1998), p. 153.