Polynesian voyagers from the Marquesas Islands are believed to have first settled on the Big Island about 1,500 years ago and lived together rather peacefully for centuries. The Tahitians arrived later, bringing with them their god of war. This led to an oppressive class system called the “Kapu system” and violent forms of worship including human sacrifice.
In 1778, the first known European explorer, Captain Cook, arrived from Britain on the Big Island. On his second visit, a contentious series of events lead to his death at the hands of the natives.
At this time, the Big Island was divided into chiefdoms and war was common. From 1790-1791, King Kamehameha battled to unify the Hawaiian Islands, eventually establishing a unified Hawaiian Kingdom. After his death in 1819, many cultural and spiritual shifts took place, paving the way for the arrival of Christianity. For example, the rigid class system was broken and people longed for the god of peace they had worshipped prior to the Tahitians.
The Hawaiians waited with great expectation for the fulfillment of local prophecies concerning this god. One native high priest had pointed to a rock on the shore of Kailua Bay and said, “Here O king, the new God shall come!” Another old Hawaiian prophecy said that the god of peace would return in a black box and speak a language they would not understand. Little did they know that the fulfillment was on its way.
Ten years before, a young boy named Opukaha’ia managed to escape capture from enemy warriors by swimming out into the harbor. He was picked up by a passing trade ship. He was brought to New England and taken in by the president of Yale because of his thirst for knowledge and desire to know God. After mastering English, Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, he began to develop a written Hawaiian language and started translating the Bible into his native tongue. He also visited churches in New England, and pleaded for missionaries to go to Hawaii.
Sadly, he died before he was able to go back, but his pleading inspired missionaries to go to Hawaii and share about the God of peace and His son Jesus. The missionaries left 20 days after the overthrow of the Kapu system and arrived 6 more months later. When they arrived, they stepped onto the very rock where it had been prophesied that “the new God shall come.” They carried a black box containing the Bible in a strange language they could not understand. The native priests declared that the Hawaiian God of Peace had returned in this new form.
Following the arrival of missionaries in Kona in 1820, other westerners settled on the island introducing the cattle industry. Sugar plantations also bloomed on the Hilo side in the 20th century. In 1898, Hawaii was annexed to the United States and became the 50th state in the USA in 1959.