Documentary: A Witness to Aloha

Project Description



In November 2018, Ka Baibala Hemolele, the first complete Bilingual Hawaiian-English Bible translated by Kawaiaha‘o deacons Keola and Ipu was released. This was an historic event that will start the documentary. In April of 2020, Kawaiaha‘o Church will be celebrating its 200th bicentennial anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries to Hawaii.


In 1807, Native Hawaiians were dying by the thousands due to their lack of immunity to western diseases. A young Hawaiian man named Henry Opukaha’ia traveled to New England, where he learned to read and write English, and where he was introduced to Christianity. His intention was to return to his homeland to teach the Hawaiian people all that he had learned in New England – “a missionary to his own people”. However, a short 10 years after arriving in Connecticut, Henry Opukaha’ia passed away. A few months after his death, the first English-language Bible was brought ashore to Hawaii in a black box by missionary Hiram Bingham. This happened as the kapu system was being dismantled by the Ali’i’s and Kahuna Hewahewa. Some time later, the Thaddeus set sail from Boston with fourteen missionaries and four Hawaiian young seminary students, one was whom was a chief, helping to translate the Bible. After a month’s journey, Kamehameha I passed away and his son Liholiho had become ruler. With the ancient kapu system abolished, no alternative belief system would take its place, until Kalanimoku and Queen Ka’ahumanu converted to Christianity and the Ali‘i set the stage to create a new religion. The battle of Kuamo’o took place.

At the center point of this spiritual revolution was the gathering place known as Kawaiaha’o Church, commissioned by King Kamehameha III, with Reverend Hiram Bingham serving as chief architect. Fourteen thousand giant slabs of coral, each weighing 1,000 pounds, were transported from the Waiʻanae Coast to build the church. After five years of intense labor, the Great Stone Church was finally completed. Reverend Bingham became the first “Kahu” of the church. Many other protestant churches sprang across all the islands such as Mokuaikaua in the Big Island and Kawaiaha’o church on Oahu known as the church that Hawaiian royalty attended.

For over two centuries, Kawaiaha‘o Church has been known as the “Great Stone Church” and the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific.” Deriving its name from “Ka Wai a Ha‘o,” the freshwater pool of Chiefess Ha‘o, it was in this pool where the Ali‘i bathed and the site upon which the first Christian church on Oahu would be built. A strong and lasting bond of mutual respect developed between the Hawaiian Ali‘i and the missionaries. Soon, western style schools were set up on the church campus for the royal children. Betsey Stockton was a former slave who became a missionary and educator who help trained native Hawaiian teachers. Eventually Hawaii become one of the most literate countries in the world.

Future monarchs attended Royal School, where missionaries Amos and Juliette Cooke taught many of the Ali’i to read and write English, and they also encouraged their musical talents. Modern Hawaiian music evolved from the worship services conducted at Kawaiaha’o, Church, creating new hymns out of existing chants and western hymns.


From its dedication on July 21, 1842, Kawaiaha‘o Church has been a monument to Hawaii’s rich history, as a house of worship for monarchs such as King Kamehameha the Great. To this day, Hofstot portraits of the Ali‘i line the walls of the church. Kawaiaha’o Church was not only a place of unity and worship, but also the venue for many major historical events. Kawaiaha‘o Church became the gathering place not only for church services but also celebrations and state functions with international dignitaries in attendance.

Lili’uokalani was one of their first worship leaders and Princess Pauahi Bishop served as both a choir director and Sunday school teacher. She and her husband created the Bishop Estate Trust to fund Kamehameha Schools. A School for native Hawaiian children.

But though the Ali‘i embraced Christianity, the descendants of the missionaries plotted to overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom. Queen Liliʻuokalani was betrayed by the church family she grew up with and loved, a betrayal that continues to have spiritual and political repercussions for the Hawaiian people to this day.


Living Kahus, scholars, members of the Kawaiaha’o congregation and their family members will share stories alongside historical footage, photographs, reenactments, music and hula, intertwined within the narrative. We will document Kawaiaha‘o Church’s 200th anniversary celebration, serving as the focal point for forgiveness and spiritual healing between the Native Hawaiian people and the Church.

The celebration of Ka Baibala Hemolele will also be celebrated in October 2019 in Boston. The bible represents the coming together of two cultures.

This documentary on the first missionaries and Ali’i and it’s influence in history will make its world premiere as part of the gala event at the Kawaiaha‘o Church Bicentennial Celebration April 2020 screened at the church itself for an audience of thousands.