Feb. 17, 2018, marked the 200th anniversary of the passing of Henry ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia, the Hawaiian who inspired New England missionaries to journey to Hawai‘i. Those missionaries eventually founded Punahou School. A special exhibit on display in Bishop Learning Commons (BLC) shared his inspiring story with the Punahou community through class visits and an evening event open to the public.
As an orphaned youth from Kona, ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia left the Islands aboard a trading ship, adopting English, Christianity and the new name Henry during eight years in New England. Until his death at age 26 from typhoid fever, ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia was determined to bring his new knowledge, including the first written version of the Hawaiian language, and religion back to his Islands.
Inspired by ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia’s wish to educate and convert the Hawaiian people to Christianity, the first company of missionaries left New England in 1819 and arrived in Hawai‘i in 1820. The group included Hiram Bingham, Asa Thurston, Daniel Chamberlain and three Hawaiian Christians: Thomas Hopu, John Honoli‘i and William Kanui.
Led by faculty and staff docents, students from K – grade 8 learned ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia’s fascinating story through activities, visuals and the video narrations of Academy actors. During grade-level Chapel services and an evening community event, audiences were treated to “The Mo‘olelo of ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia,” a hip-hop retelling of the life of ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia performed by students in grades 6 – 8. The production was written by retired faculty Marion Lyman-Mersereau ’70 and directed by PUEO performing arts kumu Jonathan Clarke Sypert and drama faculty Heather Taylor ’92 with Punahou Dance School faculty.
“The light of a life like ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia’s continues to grow. Two hundred years ago, this young man changed the course of history and our lives today,” said Chaplain Lauren Buck Medeiros, one of several faculty members who traced ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia’s early beginnings back to New England during the summer of 2016. In addition to Chaplain Medeiros, Malia Ane ’72, co-director of Hawaiian Studies at Kuaihelani, and BLC librarian Dita Ramler-Reppun ’70 organized and guided the recognition of the life of ‘Ōpūkaha‘ia.
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