- Crossing the Pali: White Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and the Racial Divide In Hawai‘i, 1820–1898
If all the seas were one sea, what a great sea that would be! And if all the trees were one tree, what a great tree that would be! . . . And if all the men were one man, what a great man he would be!—English Nursery Rhyme
And today I take up my Hawaiian Bible to read a chapter in preference to the English version. It is beautiful Hawaiian.—Sam Wilcox1
The first white missionary children born in the Hawaiian Islands entered a culture engulfed by internal transformation and embattled by foreign pressures. Neither they nor their American missionary parents could have anticipated in 1820 the critical role missionary children would play in this international drama. Not only did the hundreds of missionary children born to American parents in the Hawaiian Islands during the nineteenth century propel the Hawaiian and US governments towards their 1898 conflagration, the children themselves became subjects of the imperial process, their American parents constructing and transmitting a colonial agenda for them, as well as for the indigenous Hawaiian population. Colonial childhood developed into a critical yet contested battlefield upon which US empire was built.2
For the 140 American missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to the Hawaiian Islands between 1819 and 1848, few questions existed as to the proper moral values they were to impart to the kingdom’s “heathen” population. In contrast, from the moment of their birth, missionary children faced enormous obstacles in developing their [End Page 209] own sense of cultural and spiritual identity. Isolated by their parents from the native Hawaiians and oftentimes stationed in remote regions of the islands, missionary children were brought up to adhere to the strict Calvinist messages their parents taught them. These ideologies of racial separation and religious superiority, along with a reverence for American religious institutions and republican political systems, were reinforced at Punahou School, the Honolulu boarding school established by the missionaries for their children in 1841. Mixed-race and indigenous Hawaiian children would not be invited to attend the school until the mid-1850s, by which time the children of American missionaries in the islands numbered over two-hundred and fifty.3
Upon entering adulthood, many missionary children chose to stay in the islands, taking advantage of newly opened feudal lands and planting themselves firmly at the head of numerous influential enterprises, from sugar plantations and newspaper publications to public education and government service. Even when sent to the United States to complete their collegiate educations, missionary children “almost without an exception,” in the words of one missionary son, planned to return to the islands. By 1887 no less than nine of the forty-nine members of the legislature were missionary sons. More significantly, in 1893, many of these missionary children participated in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. One missionary son—Sanford Ballard Dole—led the revolution and served as the Hawaiian Republic’s first president and, after US annexation, Hawaii’s first territorial governor.4
The first American missionaries to Hawai‘i did not seek government positions or financial reward, but they did demand economic security for their children, arguing to the ABCFM that they needed family stipends, subsidized private education, and the right to pass on to their children profits derived from the land. In the process, missionaries found acceptance among Hawaiian elites, including King Kamehameha III (reigned 1825–1854), who adopted Christianity, opened up ancestral lands to private ownership, and created a constitution limiting monarchal power. Kamehameha’s government—which included former missionaries—sold land to the missionaries at cheap prices to reward their service and keep them in the islands. Missionary children, who benefitted from these changes, were even more aggressive than their parents in pursuing political and economic success. Native Hawaiians noted the difference, arguing to the Hawaiian king in 1845 that white settler power had grown too strong. Hawaiian monarchs Kalākaua (r. 1874–1891) and Lili’uokalani (r. 1891–1893) retrenched against American missionary influence only to find that adult missionary descendents were willing to use violence...