Understanding the Role of Missionaries in Hawaii’s History

Discover Hawaii’s rich history: explore the influential role of 19th-century missionaries, their impact on language, education, and culture, and visit preserved historic sites.

Understanding the Role of Missionaries in Hawaii's History
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Hawaii’s breathtaking beauty, vibrant culture, and unique history attract countless travelers each year. A notable aspect of this history is the impact of missionaries in the early 19th century. This article explores the historical influence of missionaries on Hawaii’s culture, society, and development, providing a deeper understanding of this significant aspect of Hawaiian history.

The First Missionaries

Arriving from New England in 1820, the first missionaries sought to spread Christianity and improve the lives of native Hawaiians. They were met with curiosity and cautious acceptance by the native population, intrigued by the newcomers’ knowledge and technology.

Impact on Language and Education

The missionaries made significant contributions by developing the written Hawaiian language. They created an alphabet, translated religious texts, and established schools to teach reading and writing. Consequently, literacy rates among native Hawaiians increased dramatically, fostering a new era of education and intellectual growth.

Religion and Cultural Transformation

As Christianity was introduced to the islands, many Hawaiians converted to the new religion, leading to the construction of churches and the establishment of Christian communities. The influence of Christianity also brought about cultural changes, as native Hawaiians adopted certain aspects of Western customs and values. However, this led to the suppression of some traditional Hawaiian practices and beliefs.

Political Influence and the Great Mahele

The missionaries held considerable political influence, often advising Hawaiian royalty on governance and policy matters. Their involvement in the Great Mahele land reform of 1848 aimed to modernize the Hawaiian economy through privatizing land ownership, but it had lasting negative effects on the native population, as many Hawaiians lost their ancestral lands.

Controversial Legacy

Despite the positive changes brought about by the missionaries, such as increased literacy and the spread of Christianity, their impact was not without controversy. The suppression of native Hawaiian customs and beliefs, and the spread of diseases that decimated the native population, are among the darker aspects of the missionaries’ legacy.

Preserving Missionary History

Travelers interested in learning more about Hawaii’s missionary history can visit several historic sites, museums, and cultural centers. The Mission Houses Museum and Kawaiaha’o Church in Honolulu offer insights into the lives and work of these early settlers.

Understanding the Complexities of Hawaii’s History

Exploring the role of missionaries in Hawaii’s history requires recognizing the complexities and nuances of their impact. By understanding both the positive and negative aspects of their influence, travelers can gain a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of the Hawaiian Islands.


The history of missionaries in Hawaii is a multifaceted story marked by progress and controversy. As travelers journey through the islands, it is essential to continue learning about Hawaii’s diverse and fascinating past for a more enriching and informed travel experience. Understanding the role of missionaries in shaping Hawaii’s history allows us to appreciate the islands’ unique heritage and the many layers that make up their captivating story.


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