A siren fractures the afternoon calm, and Lahainaluna students pour from a dozen school buildings on their way to their next class. Across the parking lot, all but forgotten, an old stone structure sits in quiet contrast to the bustle of campus. If you asked, the students could tell you that it’s Hale Pa‘i, the little print shop that opened in 1834, soon after the founding of their alma mater, the oldest school west of the Rockies.
Not that most of them have such ancient history on their minds. Gadgets of the modern age absorb their attention: IPods, cell phones, BlackBerries. But 174 years ago, Hale Pa‘i—“the house of printing”—brought a wondrous new technology to the island. And what it wrought so long ago may yet change their tomorrow.
By the time Protestant missionaries settled in the Islands in 1820, Hawaiians had had four decades of contact with the world beyond Polynesia. Explorers, fleets of whalers, and traders in sandalwood and fur brought news of faraway lands. Valued for their prowess at sea, many kanaka maoli signed on as crewmen and sailed off to see the world.
In 1809, a young Hawaiian named ‘Opukaha‘ia arrived in New Haven, Connecticut, where he proved to be both a superb scholar and an avid convert to Christianity. The 1937 edition of the Missionary Album would later note, “The story of the American Missionary labors in the Hawaiian Islands begins with the incident of Obookiah [‘Opukaha‘ia] . . . being found on the steps of the Yale Chapel . . . crying because his people were in ignorance.”
Prompted by ‘Opukaha‘ia’s concern, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent twelve missionary companies to the Hawaiian Islands, the first arriving in 1820, the last in 1848.
“You are to open your hearts wide and set your marks high,” the American Board directed. “You are to aim at nothing short of covering these islands with fruitful fields, and pleasant dwellings and schools and churches, and of raising up the whole people to an elevated state of Christian civilization. You are to obtain an adequate knowledge of the language of the people; to make them acquainted with letters; to give them the Bible, with the skill to read it…”
Aboard the brig Thaddeus, that first company included the Reverends Hiram Bingham and Asa Thurston, three Hawaiians, and Elisha Loomis, printer. With Loomis came a Ramage press, a modest wooden contraption that used metal type, laid out letter by letter, to create a printed page.
“People think the missionaries got off the ships and started barking orders,” says Dr. Puakea Nogelmeier, graduate chair of Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai‘i–Manoa. “They were allowed to land, but not paid attention to for a while.” What they had that interested Hawaiians, says Nogelmeier, “was not religion, but literacy, and the willingness to teach.
“They get here, and there’s been forty years of interaction already. Hawaiians have been watching people think something, write it down, give it to someone else, and have that person understand. That was power, and the Hawaiians embraced it.”
Even before the missionaries, a school had been established for the children of Kamehameha the Great, first chief to unite the Islands. After his death in 1819, and that of his son Liholiho in 1824, Liholiho’s younger brother Kauikeaouli ascended the throne in 1825, at the tender age of eleven. His first proclamation, says Nogelmeier, was, “My kingdom will be a land of literacy.”
The young king’s aspirations jibed perfectly with those of the American Board. In the span of a single lifetime, Hawai‘i transformed from a nonliterate to an almost universally literate society. By 1822, with the creation of a Hawaiian alphabet, Elisha Loomis began printing works that would teach Hawaiians not only to read, but to learn in translation mathematics, science, philosophy, and of course, scripture.
Nine years later, Lahainaluna Seminary opened to train adult Hawaiians as teachers. In 1834, the old Ramage press arrived from Honolulu and took up residence in a thatch-roofed building on the school’s grounds. By 1837, Hale Pa‘i boasted three printing presses and a new structure built of fieldstone, timber and coral.
Most of the works printed at Hale Pa‘i were books for use at Lahainaluna. The school’s first principal, Rev. Lorrin Andrews, himself compiled a Hawaiian vocabulary and grammar, and translated more than a dozen books, among them Linear Drawing, Maps of Sacred Geography, First Lessons in Geometry and Animals of the Earth. Andrews ran the print shop’s office and bindery, and taught students copperplate engraving for maps. The students also learned to engrave on sandalwood, creating illustrations for books.
Some of those early works are on view at Hale Pa‘i, now a museum managed by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Displayed with them is text that reveals some fascinating insight into that time:
“When there were shortages of engraving copper, the copper sheets used to protect the wood hulls of whaling ships at Lahaina were substituted. There were numerous requests from Andrews for copper ‘as little bent as possible and free from rust.’”
“The engraving department of the school employed five boys, three engravers and two printers. Missionaries and teachers often completed the initial drawings, but the Hawaiian students did practically all the engraving themselves.”
In 1843, the first paper currency in the Islands was engraved and printed at Hale Pa‘i. Used only at Lahainaluna to pay faculty and students for work they did around the school, the money was based on the U.S. dollar, and came in six denominations: $1, 50¢, 25¢, 12?¢, 6?¢, and 3¢. Within a year, Hale Pa‘i also experienced the Islands’ first case of counterfeiting. A print shop employee and a student were expelled; Lahainaluna money was recalled and destroyed.
Among the more remarkable engravings decorating the walls of Hale Pa‘i are woodcuts of elepani, kanegaroo, reinadia and laehaokela (rhinoceros) created for the book Explanation of the Beasts of the Earth. What makes these drawings so intriguing is not their quality, but the glimpse they would have given Hawaiians in the 1800s of distant lands where unimagined creatures dwelled. What curiosity they must have incited, what hunger for exploration!
“Printing encouraged a whole new world view,” says Nogelmeier. He cites a similar work, The Book of Animals, which appeared in serial form in one of the hundred or so Hawaiian-language newspapers that existed between 1834 and 1948. “For most of the nation, that was the introduction to the physical world.”
The Book of Animals wasn’t printed at Hale Pa‘i, but the little print shop on the hillside above Lahaina can boast one singular honor: Ka Lama (The Torch), the first Hawaiian- language newspaper—indeed, the first newspaper of any kind west of the Rocky Mountains.
It was launched on February 14, 1834. Ka Lama’s subject matter and circulation were Lahainaluna, but its aspirations were higher: to show how current events and opinions about them could be quickly and widely disseminated.
Hale Pa‘i printed twenty-five issues of Ka Lama that year, before other demands on the print shop necessitated the paper’s suspension. It reappeared in larger format in 1841, but only for two issues.
Despite its short life, Ka Lama achieved a seminal impact, says Nogelmeier, by introducing Hawaiians to the concept of newspapers.
“I think the interest in literacy was less about religion than the missionaries would like. Hawaiians embraced newspapers, but they didn’t embrace books. Books talk at you; newspapers talk with you. They allow for dialogue, for collective validation. The presence of newspapers [in nineteenth-century Hawai‘i] creates a sense of nation, of shared communication and dialogue, and Hale Pa‘i becomes the facilitating point. It’s where the missionaries trained the Hawaiians for the printing trade, so every other piece of the industry, of literacy, is fueled by Hale Pa‘i.
“Beginning in the late 1830s,” says Nogelmeier, “Hawaiian scholars like Samuel Kamakau begin making repeated requests for those who have knowledge to submit it in writing to the newspapers, ‘so this generation, and those to follow, will understand.’ This kicks off a giant discourse. In 114 years, Hawaiians generate 125,000 pages of newspapers—the equivalent of one million eight-and-a-half-by-eleven pages.
“Less than 1 percent has been translated into English. How does that affect what you know about Hawaiian history? This is where Hawaiians are talking to themselves, and no historian has bothered to look there.”
For now, that other 99 percent remains largely inaccessible. Over the course of more than a century, English almost entirely replaced the indigenous tongue, and native speakers died out. But if Nogelmeier and his colleagues have their way, the knowledge slumbering in those million pages will someday reawaken, and Hawaiians who have tried their best to reconstruct a decimated culture will once again have access to original source material. Since 2003, Nogelmeier has served as director of Awaiaulu, a nonprofit project that trains translators to interpret Hawaiian-language newspapers and other historical and cultural materials. He is also project scholar and advisor to Ho‘olaupa‘i, a collaborative effort led by the Bishop Museum’s Kau‘i Sai-Dudoit to digitize Hawaiian-language newspapers for the Internet.
It will take decades to translate that wealth of information; meanwhile, Nogelmeier sees hope in the generation of children who have been raised in Hawaiian-language immersion schools like Punana Leo. For them, voices long silent will speak much sooner—voices of a culture, preserved in the pages of newspapers that began here, at Hale Pa‘i.
From Print Shop to Museum
By the 1840s, the American Board was curtailing financial support of its Hawai‘i missions. In 1846, Hale Pa‘i ceased printing operations altogether. For a while, the building served various other purposes: as offices for Lahainaluna’s bookkeepers and the school nurse; the basement for a chicken coop. Later abandoned, the building fell prey to termites and rot; poor drainage allowed storm runoff to wick up through the walls and so badly weaken the structure that in 1974 it was declared unsafe for human occupancy.
The next year, a group of Lahaina residents formed the Friends of Hale Pa‘i, and successfully lobbied the state for funds to restore the old building. In his book Luckey Come Lahaina, Jim Luckey, former executive director of the Lahaina Restoration Foundation, recorded some of the more colorful aspects of the building’s reclamation.
“We needed a new retaining wall opposite the Mauka wall of the building. I called on the talent of Taniela “Danny” Hafoka, the head man of a large Tongan family that lived up near Napili Bay. He had a crew of about twelve burly men. . . .
“They were a wondrous gang to work with. When I was negotiating with Danny on the cost of the wall, he began by quoting me a price of $6,000. Actually, that wasn’t a ridiculous bid, but I just laid it on the line by telling him we only had $1,500 for the job, and I was sorry we could not hire him.
“Danny was silent and turned and walked over to his crew. I have no idea what transpired in that Tongan discussion, but he soon returned, shook my hand and said, ‘We will do it for $1,500.’ And they never skimped on the quality.”
During the building’s restoration, the old Ramage press had to be stored off site—a task Hafoka’s crew handled with aplomb.
“When we moved the printing press down to the Baldwin Home, I told him I had located a fellow in town with a forklift truck to raise it to the second floor for storage. He looked at me and smiled and said, ‘No need.’ Sure enough, four of his biggest brutes gathered around the 600 pound press, hoisted it to their shoulders, marched up the front steps, and then raised it up at arm’s length, so another foursome could grab it over the railing of the upstairs porch. That press was flat on the second floor of the Baldwin Home in less than thirty seconds! No charge, thank you.”
A century of rats had tunneled into Hale Pa‘i’s walls. They were cleared out and the cavities refilled with new stone and concrete. New timbers replaced old, termite-eaten beams; cedar shingles repaired the roof, exactly matching the original number.
After two years of painstaking restoration, the building was rededicated in December 1982. Today a museum, Hale Pa‘i is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Around its walls are printed works, metal type and other accoutrements of that early form of printing. In the middle of the main room sits the replica of that old Ramage press, built in the carpentry shop at Maui Community College. Visit, and the docent will happily show you how it works.