Hawaiian Mission Houses: Printing Press Creates Revival in 19th Century Hawaiʻi

Hawaiian Mission Houses recounts the lives of the first Christian missionaries who arrived in the early 19th century, intermingled with the aliʻi, and set up headquarters in the Kawaihaʻo area.

Hawaiian Mission Houses
A recreation of the original thatched roof homes that predated the Hawaiian Mission Houses.

I have been wanting to visit the Hawaiian Mission Houses for some time now. The last time I visited was on a school field trip in elementary school… and it’s like I just go on a bunch of field trips for the bloggg 🙂 It was a bit of a rainy day and so I was looking for a fun activity and decided to check this off my to-do list!

Hawaiian Mission Houses
Hale Pili made from pili grass, built in its original location.

Hawaiian Mission Houses Details



Guided House Tours

Tuesdays through Fridays:

11 am and 1 pm


11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm

The Hale Kūʻai: The Gift Shop

Tuesdays through Fridays:

10:30 am – 3:00 pm


10:30 am – 3:00 pm

Library & Archive

Visit by appointment only.

Appointments available on:

Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays

from 9:00 am – 12 noon

Tours are usually 4 people or less. Reservations are strongly recommended, with walk-ins allowed based on availability. I tried to make a reservation online, but was prompted to call since it was last minute. They were able to fit me in at the next tour, which started in half an hour.



$10 for Kamaʻaina, Senior Citizens (65+) & Military

$5 for Students (age 6 to college, with identification)

Participating Members: Free

Kama`aina Saturday (last Saturday of the month): 50% off admission for residents


Hawaiian Mission Houses
I joined The Chow Family on their tour. They attend the church I visited while in Hilo!

I arrived at The Hawaiian Mission Houses a little early for my tour and got to take a look around the gift shop! They had amazing prints, books, and artwork. They also had craft supplies, jewelry, and books galore! The gift shop is where the guided tour begins, as it also houses an amazing display of an early 19th century King Street. You can shop the Hawaiian Mission Houses’ amazing collection of artisan-made items online.



The historic Kawaihaʻo Church and the adjacent Hawaiian Mission Houses were established under Kuhina Nui (Queen-Regent) Kaʻahumanu I in the year 1820. The American Congregationalists were able to gain access to the Hawaiian Islands after the Queen was converted. This led to a close and lengthy relationship between the aliʻi and the missionaries.

Initially, this district and property was essentially beachside. The waterline at the time reached Queen Street, and the area was leeward and dry. Four grass churches were built throughout the thirty years before the church’s coral structure that exists today was constructed in 1850.

Kawaihaʻo Church has not changed much over time.


Born on the Big Island during the time of George Washington, ʻŌpūkahaʻia attended Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. His presence there caught the attention of New England Protestant missionaries, who ventured to Hawaiʻi shortly thereafter. Unlike in other areas where Catholic missions were widespread, the Protestants’ success in this area was linked to their affiliation with the Hawaiian royalty.


Protestant Missionaries

Protestant missionaries were different than their Catholic counterparts because they actually encouraged people to read the Bible. They gained favor early-on with Kaʻahumanu and benefited from her favoritism – which cleared their path of other missionaries. Catholic missionaries relied on a hierarchical structure to teach converts, asking questions of superiors and following the chain of command up to the pope. Thus, the Protestants had an unparalleled commitment to printing. The missionaries were instructed to learn the language, give them the Bible, and help them achieve the skill to read it.

Over 17 missions were established on 5 islands with over 200 people. The Kawaihaʻo location was the headquarters of the Protestant Mission in Hawaiʻi and was responsible for reporting their progress back to New England.

Hawaiian Mission Houses

Catalogue Houses

The Hawaiian Mission Houses were essentially prefabricated houses that were meant to be cheap and easy to assemble.

Hawaiian Mission Houses


The parlor served primarily as a hymn-singing room. Music was huge to the Protestant missionaries and intrigued Hawaiians that were not accustomed to polyphony and harmony. The missionaries translated New English and Tahitian hymns and published them just three years after arriving in Hawaiʻi. Tahitians helped the missionaries learn Hawaiian faster, and translating from Tahitian to Hawaiian proved to be more accurate, easier, and faster than translating from English to Hawaiian. The missionaries, over time, added musical notes and their original hymns as well.

Hawaiian Mission Houses

Communal Life

I was surprised to learn that the three or four families involved in the mission lived together and even held property together. There were usually anywhere from twelve to nineteen people living in the mission compound.

Due to the communal aspect of living here, as well as their need to entertain visiting aliʻi and shipmen, dining was a huge part of mission life. The families would host anywhere from six to twelve guests on a nightly basis.

In the archives, Bingham – who designed Kawaihaʻo Church – recounts a tea party with detailed descriptions of attendees. At the time, the aliʻi were having deep conversations about the direction of the politics of their society.

Bingham Family

Hawaiian Mission Houses
Rev. Hiram & Sybil Bingham

Rev. Hiram Bingham was the first pastor of Kawaihaʻo. Hiram & Sybil Bingham had six children, four of which survived. Like other missionaries’ children, the Bingham children went to be educated in the States. Sometimes before they turned six years old, they would make the four to eight month journey by boat to live with distant family or family friends and to be raised as Americans. The missionaries had a lifetime calling and there was a level of uncertainty concerning reunification with their children – although in this case they were able to reunite on a trip back to New England. The Binghams eventually founded Punahou School on land they received from their friend, Kaʻahumanu.

Judd Family

Dr. Gerrit Judd and his wife, Laura, were sent to provide health services for the Hawaiian Mission Houses. They had nine children, seven of which survived. During their time in Hawaiʻi, they became close friends with aliʻi – including Princess Kīnaʻu. Kīnaʻu wanted the Judds to give her their child, as was Hawaiian custom to solidify family ties (much like marriage) and provide the child with the best upbringing. Although this was an honor, the Judds declined the offer but agreed to name their daughter Kīnaʻu at her Christening. The name is apparently still passed through the family today.



The missionaries primarily ate a Hawaiian diet. They would buy food with cash, but they were very cash poor and Hawaiʻi much remained a barter economy during the first thirty years of their presence. The missionaries would also trade tools, ginghams, calicos, and books. Once they got their printing press going, though, they could not print fast enough to satisfy demand!

The missionaries were delighted to discover that each person would bring them a gift, all of which they would record for their correspondence with Boston. All of the account books are still in the archives today. It is amazing that the aliʻi were recorded as bringing food every other day for over ten years. To start, they may have been controlling the food supply. However, over time, their generosity becomes evident and visits became more frequent as relationships deepened.

Hawaiian Mission Houses
Pantry supplies like flour, salted beef, and sea biscuits were received from New England.
A 19th Century Brita. This sandstone dripstone takes half an hour to filter drinking water.

Ka Hale Paʻi: The Printing House

Hawaiian Mission Houses
A working replica of the first press that came to Hawaiʻi.

Due to their commitment to reading the Bible, Protestant missionaries helped convert ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi from a solely-oral language tradition. In order to get people to read the Bible, they needed to standardize written Hawaiian. They did so by creating a primer or spelling book in 1822.

It took twelve years to translate the Bible from Hebrew to Hawaiian, a task that was undertaken by the educated elite – including Governor Kuakini. Learn about the translation of The Book of Common Prayer by Kamehameha IV. Aside from printing over 10,000 bibles in the first edition, the printing press at the Hawaiian Mission Houses created maps, newspapers, schoolbooks, and government laws and proclamations.

Kamehameha III created compulsory education laws for boys and girls, aged 4-14. As a result, over 85% of Hawaiians learned how to read and write. At the time, Hawaiʻi exceeded Europe’s literacy rate of 65% and America’s literacy rate of 50%. It easily became one of the most literate countries in the 19th Century, and required literacy for events like marriage. The Hawaiian Mission Houses and its printing press played a large role in making this happen.

Keʻeaumoku was the first to pull the printing press lever.

Thank you, Mike, for the guided tour of Hawaiian Mission Houses! It was such a great experience and I learned so much about the early 19th Century in this place.


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