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Hawaiians in the Marshall Islands

Cover Image: Masthead of Ka Elele Hawaii published on August 17,1854.

Aloha Nūhou Monday!

This post was contributed by team member, Kapaiaʻala Earle.

This week we honor the Marshall Islands, a country in the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture.

The Festival of Pacific Arts & Culture is the world’s largest celebration of Indigenous Pacific Islanders, bringing together artists, cultural practitioners, scholars, and officials from member nations of the Pacific Community (SPC).

This traveling festival is held every four years and was first launched by the South Pacific Commission in 1972 to halt the erosion of traditional practices through ongoing cultural exchange. In June of 2024, Hawaiʻi will host the 13th festival on Oʻahu.

Over the coming months, we will honor each of the previous FestPAC hosts as well as some participating countries with posts featuring those island nations and their connections to Hawaiʻi’s own history.

In 1852, Daniela Opunui and his wife Doreka Kaholua were two of the first four Hawaiians selected as Christian missionaries to travel to Kosrae in the Marshall Islands. Opunui was a graduate of Lahainaluna Seminary and a schoolteacher in Honolulu before being called to the mission. Accompanying him and his wife were the Reverends James Kekela and Ephraim Clark, as well as fellow Hawaiian missionary Berita Kaaikaula and his wife Debora Kimiala. Funded by the Hawaiian Evangelical Society and Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society, the Hawaiians embarked on their endeavor to spread the gospel in the Pacific. Unfortunately, Opunui’s time on their mission was short after losing his life to sickness less than a year of living in Kosrae.1

Just over twenty years following the passing of Opunui, a Marshallese newspaper published an article about his life and work in their islands. The title of the Marshallese newspaper Maram Jen Ebon, which translates to Light from Ebon.

1 See Morris and Benedetto’s Nā Kahu: Portraits of Native Hawaiian Pastors at Home and Abroad, 1820-1900.

Image: NO UALANA,” Ka Elele Hawaii, August 17, 1854, p. 45

Pertaining to Kosrae.

Mr. Snow folks are there, along with Mrs. Opunui. Mr. Opunui passed away. Mr. Snow built a house on the land that the chief granted to him, and it is comfortable living there.

Mr. Snow has a grade school, where they teach English. The chief’s children also attend the school of about 30 students. Mr. Snow has said that they are skilled at reading and writing. The chief is fond of the school and encouraging to the students.

The chief has made the day of the Sabbath a consecrated day and the gather to pray on this day. The king and his company always attend prayers and ask about what they hear. Mr. Snow has requested some new missionaries to help. New missionaries are on the sea sailing to those islands in Micronesia.

Image: Marshall Islands, Domestic Life, Homes. SP_126253_web.

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Image: Ebon Atoll, Pacific Islands, Geo. SP_222679_web.

Image sharing on social media is welcome. For all other uses please contact 

Image: Marshallese newspaper, Maram Jen Ebon, July 1873, p. 9 (PL Phil Pam, 466).

In 1852, two missionaries from Hawaiʻi went to Micronesia along with three other missionaries from the United States. Missionaries from Hawaiʻi were Daniela Opunui and his wife Doreka. They stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Snow in Kosrae. Their arrival on October 6, 1852, started their missionary work with Kosraens.

The Hawaiians didn’t grasp the Kosrae language easily. Nevertheless, Opunui connected with Kosraens through his actions, dedication, and kindness.

On the evening of October 4, 1853, Opunui passed away. The highest Chief of Kosrae, missionaries, and Kosraens mourned together as one for the loss of someone dearly loved.

As time passed, Kosraens would still reminisce about Opunui—language wasn’t a barrier, he communicated through his kindness and actions. His story continued to spread many years later.

It was evident that Opunui’s love for Jesus broke many barriers and he was loved by many. When he passed, you could see he went peacefully.

Opunui’s wife Doreka and their son returned to Oʻahu.

—Translation kindly provided by Valeria Ysawa.

This post is part of He Aupuni Palapala: Preserving and Digitizing the Hawaiian Language Newspapers, a partnership between Bishop Museum and Awaiaulu with assistance from Kamehameha Schools. Mahalo nui loa to Hawaii Tourism Authority for their support. Learn more about this project here.

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