Photo: Reverend George Haina, his wife Kaluahine, their son and four daughters
Reverend George Haina, his wife Kaluahine, their son and four daughters. - Photo: A. A. Montano, 1878 (HMCS Collection)

Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Note: This is the first of three articles concerning the people of the Pacific who are coming to Hawaiʻi for the Festival of Pacific Arts (FestPACc) in June of this year. Kanaka will be used to refer to Native Hawaiians.

We are familar with the great relationship that Polynesian Voyaging Society has had with Mau Piailug of Satawal, the expert navigator and astronomer. Satawal is in Yap, one of the states in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). During these times, many from FSM have migrated to Hawaiʻi with the majority coming from Chuuk. This migration from FSM, however, was not the first migration from Micronesia.

In 1877, during the reign of Kalākaua, 77 workers from Kiribati (Kilipaki) arrived in Hawaiʽi. From 1878 to 1887, about 2,000 workers from Kiribati arrived  to work on sugar plantations, rice plantations, and coffee fields. All the Kiribatians were baptized by Native Hawaiian missionaries, people from the Congregational (Kalawina) churches who helped and worked with Hiram Bingham II. Bennett Namakeha and Kapiʻolani were the most famous who labored amongst the natives of Kiribati. About 19 native Hawaiians went to live on Abaiang in Northern Kiribati such as J.W. Kanoa (1857-1864), Joel Mahoe (1857-1868), D.P. Aumai (1858-1868), and W.B. Kapu (1863-1868). The first mission on Abaiang was destroyed by warriors from Tarawa but was rebuilt by J.D. Ahia (1871-1872), George Lelo (1876-1884), S.K. Maunaloa (1880-1881), Luther Marin (1887-1890), and David Kaʻai (1892-1895).

On the atoll of Tarawa, famous for the World War II battle, the mission was built by George Haina (see photo). Robert Maka (1865-1894) together with J.W. Kanoa (1865-1886) were missionaries to Butaritari (Pūtalitali) followed by John Nua (1892-1895) and Louis Mitchell (1895-1896).

At the atolls of Southern Kiribati, a Congregationalist mission was established at Tabiteuea by George Lelo before he went to work on Abaiang. W.B. Kapu (1868-1893) and H. B. Nalimu (1872-1882) continued the mission at Tabiteuea. Although record numbers were baptized, the new Christian converts warred with southern Tabiteuea forces which became a source of embarrassment to the Congregationalist mission.

When Hawaiian missionaries returned to Hawaiʻi, namely Mahoe, Maka, Lono, and Kanoho, they continued to assist Kiribati nationals who worked on plantations. Many Kiribati people escaped from the harsh plantations and were hidden by Hawaiians. Some of them married Hawaiians and carry the name Kilipaki to this day. The coconut bra and grass skirts of Kiribati are some treasures adopted by the Hawaiian people.