Hawaiian By Birth

Missionary Children, Bicultural Identity, and US Colonialism in the Pacific

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Joy Schulz
Studies in Pacific Worlds
  • Chapel Hill, NC: 
    University of Nebraska Press
    , September
     240 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Sanford Ballard Dole and Lorrin Andrews Thurston were instrumental in the overthrow of Queen Lili‘uokalani, the ruler of the Kingdom of Hawai'i, and in the subsequent establishment of the Republic of Hawai'i in 1893. After Thurston declined the position for reasons of health, Dole became the Republic’s first (and only) president, and then later, after US annexation, he was named the territorial governor. What makes both men of particular interest is the fact that they were the children of missionaries. Thurston’s parents were among the pioneering group of missionaries sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission (ABCFM) in 1820. Dole’s parents came to Hawai'i in 1841, arriving with the ninth company commissioned by the ABCFM. Much debate has centered on whether or not the nineteenth century missionaries, who came to Hawai'i to Christianize it, were a positive or negative force on the indigenous culture that existed there, but few studies have focused on the children of those missionaries—particularly on how their exceptional childhoods shaped their worldviews and ultimately influenced the course of Hawaiian history. Joy Schulz has filled that lacuna with this important and original book.

When the missionaries first arrived on the Hawaiian Islands, their focus was on Christianizing the population through ritual, text, and education. Churches were established, the Bible was translated, and schools were founded. The material well-being of the missionaries was not a priority. The ABCFM required them to give up all of their material possessions and to live in common with each other. They had no property, they shared a common store of goods, and were paid a minimal stipend. Schulz notes, however, that after children began to be born to the missionaries, the system appeared to them inadequate for their familial needs and they began to agitate for higher personal incomes and eventually for private ownership of land. Moreover, the missionaries’ negative assessment of the indigenous population led to a sequestering of their children. Schultz summarizes this situation by stating, “American missionaries did not begin their residencies in the islands with an economic agenda, but in their role as parents, with the pressures of parenting clouding their missionary zeal, they taught their children to become colonizers” (44).

Once children began being born to the missionaries, it was not merely economics that were problematic, but also the issue of educating those daughters and sons. This was a particular problem for the missionaries, since they did not want their children to attend the same (missionary) schools that they had established for the native children, or to learn the Hawaiian langauge. Schulz describes how many families, at first, sent their young back to the United States, but the difficulties experienced by these children, including making the six-month trip to America by themselves and the struggle to arrange housing once they arrived in the US, made this course of action increasingly impractical. The solution was the establishment of Punahou School in 1841. Although the institution was modeled after New England preparatory schools, there were striking differences. Students, for example, “provided for their own meals by planting, working, and harvesting the school’s fields” (71). Moreover, “the moral and religious instruction at Punahou revolved almost exclusively around separating American values from indigenous Hawaiian practice” (73). This enforced segregation from the native population and from their lives served both to encourage a strong peer relationship among the missionaries’ children and to establish a “racialist understanding of morality and culture” that would continue to limit “their ability to work with their indigenous Hawaiian neighbors” (92).

But the acculturation of the missionary children was accomplished not only within the schoolroom, but also in the children’s encounter with the natural world. At one point, Schulz comments, “White children in the islands increasingly believed that the natural world around them belonged to them in a way their parents would never understand nor possess” (52). The uniqueness of that relationship may be a bit overstated by Schulz, since the original missionaries themselves were strongly connected to the natural world of the Hawaiian Islands and wrote extensively about it, as noted by Alison Kay in her “Missionary Contributions to Hawaiian Natural History: What Darwin Didn’t Know” (The Hawaiian Journal of History, 1997). The love of the land did not come “naturally” to the children of missionaries, but was more likely a part of the legacy passed onto the children from their parents. That legacy served both to bind the missionary children to the islands and, according to Schulz, to increase their distrust of the “nonwhite populations.”

Schultz explains how the division between the children of the missionaries and the native population grew over time. Their experiences after Punahou, especially for those who traveled to the United States for further education or adventure, functioned to reveal how different their Hawaiian culture was from that of America. This realization grounded them more thoroughly in their love for the islands, but also gave them a greater confidence in the republican and moral values of the United States. The missionary children considered themselves Hawaiian, yet held a low opinion of ethnic Hawaiians and found themselves, in return, disdained and distrusted by them. Their primary refuge became the informal and formal communities of and for the sons and daughters of missionaries that they established. This special connection that grew among them led to an even stronger belief that the “future of the Hawaiian Islands was best held in their hands” (149), a belief that turned to actions during those fateful years when some of the missionary children, including Dole and Thurston, were instrumental in the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i and the establishment of Hawai'i as a major part of America’s imperial designs on the Pacific region.

Both general reader and scholar will benefit from reading Schulz’s excellent contribution to the study of 19th century Hawaiian history and the role the children of white missionaries played in shaping it.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Charles William Miller is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the Univeristy of North Dakota.

Date of Review: 
January 15, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Joy Schulz is a member of the history faculty at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha.


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