Kaahumanu, Woman of the Sandwich Islands, Louis Choris, 1816, Courtesy of Honolulu Museum of Art.

Queen Ka‘ahumanu was the favorite wife of Kamehameha I, who united the Hawaiian Islands. After Kamehameha’s death in May 1819, she reigned as kuhina nui to both Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III), and was recognized as the islands’ most powerful ruler. Ka‘ahumanu led the dismantling of the kapu system in 1819, before the missionaries first landed in Hawai‘i.

In 1825, the queen converted to Christianity and traveled around the islands to praise the religion. The Rev. Hiram Bingham and his wife, Sybil, became Ka‘ahumanu’s close advisers and friends.

In 1832, while in Honolulu, Ka‘ahumanu became ill and asked to return to her cottage in Mānoa. Along the way, the royal party stopped at the Kapunahou spring for refreshment. On one of his last visits to the queen’s bedside, Hiram Bingham presented her with a freshly printed copy of the New Testament in Hawaiian, bound in red morocco leather. She took it gently into her hands, glanced through the pages and declared it “maika‘i.”1 Ka‘ahumanu died on June 5, 1832.

“Ka‘ahumanu created a role for herself that she would not have been permitted within either [Hawaiian or American] culture. As a woman, nonsacred, in her traditional world she had not been allowed involvement in religious matters. Yet her political position as the most influential chief in Hawaiian society induced the missionaries to give her the central role in encouraging Christianity, a role they would never have allowed a woman in their own country.”
— Jane L. Silverman, Ka‘ahumanu: Molder of Change, pp. 87 – 88.

1 Hiram Bingham, A Residence of Twenty-One Years in the Sandwich Islands, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1969, p. 432.

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