Life in Hawaii, by Titus Coan
Copyright ©1882, 1997 (electronic edition by Edward J. Coan)

Chapter IV.

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First Tours in Hilo and Puna The Work of 1837Ė38 Spontaneous Church-building The Great Awakening The Volcanic Wave Pastoral Experiences and Methods The Ingathering.

I MADE my first tours of Hilo and Puna during the latter part of my first half year on Hawaii. In 1836 I had gained so much in the language as to be able to converse, preach, and pray with comfort and with apparent effect on my audiences

On my arrival in Hilo, the number of church members was twenty-three, all living in the town. A considerable portion of our time was then devoted to the schools. Mr. and Mrs. Lyman were heartily engaged in the boysí boarding-school. Mrs. Coan was already teaching a day-school of 140 children, and I a training-school of 90 teachers to supply the schools of Hilo and Puna.

Giving a vacation to my pupils, I set off Nov. 29, 1836, on a tour around the island. This was made on foot, with the exception of a little sailing in a canoe down the coast of Kona. My companions were two or three natives, to act as guides and porters. On reaching the western coast of Kau, I visited all the villages along the shore, preaching and exhorting everywhere. The people came out, men, women, and children, in crowds, and listened with great attention. Here I preached three, four, and five times a day, and had much personal conversation with the natives on things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

On reaching the western boundaries of Puna, my labors became more abundant. I had visited this people before, and had noticed a hopeful interest in a number of them. Now they rallied in masse, and were eager to hear the Word. Many listened with tears, and after the preaching, when I supposed they would return to their homes and give me rest, they remained and crowded around me so earnestly, that I had no time to eat, and in places where I spent my nights they filled the house to its entire capacity, leaving scores outside who could not enter. All wanted to hear more of the "Word of Life." At ten or eleven o'clock I would advise them to go home and to sleep. Some would retire, but more remain until midnight. At cock-crowing the house would be again crowded, with as many more outside.

At one place before I reached the point where I was to spend a Sabbath, there was a line of four villages not more than half a mile apart. Every village begged for a sermon and for personal conversation. Commencing at daylight I preached in three of them before breakfast, at 10 A.M. When the meeting closed at one village most of the people ran on to the next, and thus my congregation increased rapidly from hour to hour. Many were "pricked in their hearts" and were inquiring what they should do to be saved.

Sunday came and I was now in the most populous part of Puna. Multitudes came out to hear the Gospel. The blind were led; the maimed, the aged and decrepit, and many invalids were brought on the backs of their friends. There was great joy and much weeping in the assembly. Two days were spent in this place, and ten sermons preached, while almost all the intervals between the public services were spent in personal conversation with the crowds which pressed around me.

Many of the people who then wept and prayed proved true converts to Christ; most of them have died in the faith, and a few still live as steadfast witnesses to the power of the Gospel.

Among these converts was the High Priest of the volcano. He was more than six feet high and of lofty bearing. He had been an idolater, a drunkard, an adulterer, a robber, and a murderer. For their kapas, for a pig or a fowl he had killed men on the road, whenever they hesitated to yield to his demands. But he became penitent, and appeared honest and earnest in seeking the Lord.

His sister was more haughty and stubborn. She was High Priestess of the volcano. She, too, was tall and majestic in her bearing. For a long time she refused to bow to the claims of the Gospel; but at length she yielded, confessed herself a sinner and under the authority of a higher Power, and with her brother became a docile member of the church.

During this tour of thirty days I examined twenty schools with an aggregate of 1,200 pupils.

After my return, congregations at the center increased in numbers and in interest. Meetings for parents, for women, for church members, for children, were frequent and full. Soon scores and hundreds who had heard the Gospel in Kau, Puna, and Hilo, came into the town to hear more. During all the years of 1837-8, Hilo was crowded with strangers; whole families and whole villages in the country were left, with the exception of a few of the old people, and in some instances even the aged and the feeble were brought in on litters from a distance of thirty or fifty miles. Little cabins studded the place like the camps of an army, and we estimated that our population was increased to 10,000 souls. Those who remained some time, fished, and planted potatoes and taro for food. Our great native house of worship, nearly 200 feet long by about eighty-five feet wide, with a lofty roof of thatch, was crowded almost to suffocation, while hundreds remained outside unable to enter. This sea of faces, all hushed except when sighs and sobs burst out here and there, was a scene to melt the heart. The word fell with power, and sometimes as the feeling deepened, the vast audience was moved and swayed like a forest in a mighty wind. The word became like the "fire and the hammer" of the Almighty, and it pierced like a two-edged sword. Hopeful converts were multiplied and "there was great joy in the city."

Finding the place of our worship "too strait" for the increasing multitudes, our people, of their own accord and without the knowledge of their teachers, went up into the forest three to five miles, with axes, and with ropes made of vines and bark of the hibiscus, cut down trees of suitable size and length for posts, rafters, etc., and hauled them down through mud and jungle, and over streams and hillocks to the town. Seeing a very large heap of this timber, I inquired what this meant. The reply was, "We will build a second house of worship so that the people may all be sheltered from sun and rain on the Sabbath. And this is our thought; all of the people of Hilo shall meet in the larger house, where you will preach to them in the morning, during which time the people of Puna and Kau will meet for prayer in the smaller house, and in the afternoon these congregations shall exchange places, and you will preach to the Puna and Kau people; thus all will hear the minister."

Several thousands, both men and women, took hold of the work, and in about three weeks from the commencement of the hauling of the timber, the house was finished and a joyful crowd of about 2,000 filled it on the Sabbath.

Neither of the houses had floors or seats. The ground was beaten hard and covered from week to week with fresh grass.

When we wished to economize room, or seat the greatest possible number, skilled men were employed to arrange the people standing in compact rows as tight as it was possible to crowd them, the men and women being separated, and when the house was thus filled with these compacted ranks, the word was given them to sit down, which they did, a mass of living humanity, such perhaps as was never seen except on Hawaii.

During these years my tours through the extended parish were not given up. Nearly every person left in the villages came to the preaching stations. There were places along the routes where there were no houses near the trail, but where a few families were living half a mile or more inland. In such places, the few dwellers would come down to the path leading their blind, and carrying their sick and aged upon their backs, and lay them down under a tree if there was one near, or upon the naked rocks, that they might hear of a Saviour. It was often affecting to see these withered and trembling hands reached out to grasp the hand of the teacher, and to hear the palsied, the blind, and the lame begging him to stop awhile and tell them the story of Jesus. These pleas could not be resisted, for the thought would instantly arise, "This may be the last time." And so it often was, for on my next tour some of them had gone never to return. It was a comforting thought that they had been told of "the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world," and to feel a sweet assurance from their tears of joy and eager reception of the truth that they had found "Him of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote."

Time swept on; the work deepened and widened, Thousands on thousands thronged the courts of the Lord. All eastern and southern Hawaii was like a sea in motion. Waimea, Hamakua, Kohala, Kona, and the other islands of the group, were moved. Reporting and inquiring letters circulated from post to post, and from island to island. One asked another, "What do these things mean?" and the reply was, "What indeed?" Some said that the Hawaiians were a peculiar people, and very hypocritical, so debased in mind and heart that they could not receive any true conception of the true God, or of spiritual things; even their language was wanting in terms to convey ideas of sacred truth; we must not hope for evangelical conversions among them. But most of the laborers redoubled their efforts were earnest in prayer, and worked on in faith. Everywhere the trumpet of jubilee sounded long and loud, and "as clouds and as doves to their windows," so ransomed sinners flocked to Christ.

I had seen great and powerful awakenings under the preaching of Nettleton and Finney, and like doctrines, prayers, and efforts seemed to produce like fruits among this people.

My precious wife, whose soul was melted with love and longings for the weeping natives, felt that to doubt it was the work of the Spirit, was to grieve the Holy Ghost and to provoke Him to depart from us.

On some occasions there were physical demonstrations which commanded attention. Among the serious and anxious inquirers who came to our house by day and by night. there were individuals who, while listening to a very plain and kind conversation, would begin to tremble and soon fall helpless to the floor. At one time, when I was holding a series of outdoor meetings in a populous part of Puna, a remarkable manifestation of this kind occurred. A very large concourse were seated on the grass, and I was standing in the center preaching "Repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus." Of a sudden, a man who had been gazing with intense interest at the preacher, burst out in a fervent prayer, with streaming tears, saying: "Lord, have mercy on me; I am dead in sin." His weeping was so loud, and his trembling so great, that the whole congregation was moved as by a common sympathy. Many wept aloud, and many commenced praying together. The scene was such as I had never before witnessed. I stood dumb in the midst of this weeping, wailing, praying multitude, not being able to make myself heard for about twenty minutes. When the noise was hushed, I continued my address with words of caution, lest they should feel that this kind of demonstration atoned for their sins, and rendered them acceptable before God. I assured them that all the Lord required was godly sorrow for the past, present faith in Christ, and henceforth faithful, filial, and cheerful obedience. A calm came over the multitude, and we felt that "the Lord was there."

A young man came once into our meeting to make sport slyly. Trying to make the young men around him laugh during prayer, he fell as senseless as a log upon the ground and was carried out of the house. It was some time before his consciousness could be restored. He became sober, confessed his sins, and in due time united with the church.

Similar manifestations were seen in other places, but everywhere the people were warned against hypocrisy, and against trusting in such demonstrations. They were told that the Lord looks at the heart, and that "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus" were the unchangeable conditions of pardon and salvation, and that their future lives of obedience or of disobedience would prove or disprove their spiritual life, as "The tree is known by its fruit."

But God visited the people in judgment as well as in mercy. On the 7th of November, 1837, at the hour of evening prayers, we were startled by a heavy thud, and a sudden jar of the earth. The sound was like the fall of some vast body upon the beach, and in a few seconds a noise of mingled voices rising for a mile along the shore thrilled us like the wail of doom. Instantly this was followed by a like wail from all the native houses around us. I immediately ran down to the sea, where a scene of wild ruin was spread out before me. The sea, moved by an unseen hand, had all on a sudden risen in a gigantic wave, and this wave, rushing in with the speed of a race-horse, had fallen upon the shore, sweeping everything not more than fifteen or twenty feet above high-water mark into indiscriminate ruin. Houses, furniture, calabashes, fuel, timber, canoes, food, clothing, everything floated wild upon the flood. About two hundred people, from the old man and woman of threescore years and ten, to the new-born infant, stripped of their earthly all, were struggling in the tumultuous waves. So sudden and unexpected was the catastrophe, that the people along the shore were literally "eating and drinking," and they "knew not, until the flood came and swept them all away." The harbor was full of strugglers calling for help, while frantic parents and children, wives and husbands ran to and fro along the beach, calling for their lost ones. As wave after wave came in and retired, the strugglers were brought near the shore, where the more vigorous landed with desperate efforts and the weaker and exhausted were carried back upon the retreating wave, some to sink and rise no more till the noise of judgment wakes them. Twelve individuals were picked up while drifting out of the bay by the boats of the Admiral Cockburn, an English whaler then in port. For a time the captain of the ship feared the loss of his vessel, but as the oscillating waves grew weaker and weaker, he lowered all his boats and went in search of those who were floating off upon the current. Had this catastrophe occurred at midnight when all were asleep, hundreds of lives would undoubtedly have been lost. Through the great mercy of God, only thirteen were drowned.

This event, falling as it did like a bolt of thunder from a clear sky, greatly impressed the people. It was as the voice of God speaking to them out of heaven, "Be ye also ready."

Day after day we buried the dead, as they were found washed up upon the beach, or thrown upon the rocky shores far from the harbor. We fed, comforted, and clothed the living, and God brought light out of darkness, joy out of grief, and life out of death. Our meetings were more and more crowded, and hopeful converts were multiplied.

Even the English captain, who spent his nights in our family, and his intelligent and courteous clerk, professed to give themselves to the Lord while with us, and both kneeling with us at the family altar, silently united in our morning and evening devotions, or cheerfully led in prayer. The captain was a large and powerful man, bronzed by wind and wave and scorching sun. He had been long upon the deep, had suffered shipwreck, had been unable to reach his London home for more than three years, and had been given up as dead by all his friends. Under this belief his wife had married another, when he surprised her by his return, and she gave him joy by returning to him. He gave us an interesting account of his eventful life, and confessed that he had enjoyed very few religious privileges and had thought little of God or the salvation of his soul.

He now accepted the offer of life through Christ, with the spirit of a little child.

On returning to the ship he immediately told his officers and crew that he should drink no more intoxicants, swear no more, and chase whales no more on the Lordís day, but, on the contrary, observe the Sabbath and have religious services on that holy day.

Though thousands professed to have passed from death unto life during the years 1836-7, only a small proportion of these had been received into the church. The largest numbers were gathered in during 1838-9. I had kept a faithful note-book in my pocket, and in all my personal conversations with the people, by night and by day, at home and in my oft-repeated tours, I had noted down, unobserved, the names of individuals apparently sincere and true converts. Over these persons I kept watch, though unconsciously to themselves; and thus their life and conversation were made the subjects of vigilant observation. After the lapse of three, six, nine, or twelve months, as the case might be, selections were made from the list of names for examination. Some were found to have gone back to their old sins; others were stupid, or gave but doubtful evidence of conversion, while many had stood fast and run well. Most of those who seemed hopefully converted spent several months at the central station before their union with the church. Here they were watched over and instructed from week to week and from day to day, with anxious and unceasing care. They were sifted and re-sifted with scrutiny, and with every effort to take the precious from the vile. The church and the world, friends and enemies, were called upon and solemnly charged to testify, without concealment or palliation, if they knew aught against any of the candidates.

From my pocket list of about three thousand, 1,705 were selected to be baptized and received to the communion of the church on the first Sabbath of July, 1838. The selection was made, not because a thousand and more of others were to be rejected, or that a large proportion of them did not appear as well as those received, but because the numbers were too large for our faith, and might stagger the faith of others. The admission of many was deferred for the more full development of their character, while they were to be watched over, guided, and fed as sheep of the Great Shepherd.

The 1,705 persons selected had all been gathered at the station some time before the day appointed for their reception. They had been divided into classes, according to the villages whence they came, and put in charge of class leaders, who were instructed to watch over and teach them.

The memorable morning came arrayed in glory. A purer sky, a brighter sun, a serener atmosphere, a more silvery sea, and a more brilliant and charming landscape could not be desired. The very heavens over us and the earth around us seemed to smile. The hour came; during the time of preparation the house was kept clear of all but the actors. With the roll in hand, the leaders of the classes were called in with their companies of candidates in the order of all the villages; first of Hilo district, then of Puna, and last of Kau. From my roll the names in the first class were called one by one, and I saw each individual seated against the wall, and so of the second, and thus on until the first row was formed. Thus, row after row was extended the whole length of the house, leaving spaces for one to pass between these lines. After every name had been called, and every individual recognized and seated, all the former members of the church were called in and seated on the opposite side of the building, and the remaining space given to as many as could be seated.

All being thus prepared, we had singing and prayer, then a word of explanation on the rite of baptism, with exhortation. After this with a basin of water, I passed back and forth between the lines, sprinkling each individual until all were baptized. Standing in the center of the congregation of the baptized, I pronounced the words, "I baptize you all into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

The scene was one of solemn and tender interest, surpassing anything of the kind I had ever witnessed. All heads were bowed, and tears fell. All was hushed except sobs and breathing.

The nature of the Lordís supper and the reasons for its observance were then explained, and the bread and cup distributed among the communicants.

This was a day long to be remembered. Its impressions were deep, tender, and abiding; and up to the present time, the surviving veterans of that period look back to it as the day of days in the history of the Hilo church.

At this period the ecclesiastical year of the mission began on the 1st of May. The reports of the churches were made up to the 30th of April, 1838. I find in the records of Hilo church the

Numbers received during year (ending April 30):

1838: 639,

1839: 5,244,

1840: 1,499.

During the following decade ending in 1850, the number received was 2,348.

And for the decade ending in 1860, 1,445.

The whole number received on profession to 1880: 12,113; by letter, 812; dismissed, 3,546; deceased, 8,190; of marriages, 3,048; of children baptized, 4,370.

Those received from the district of Kau, when there was no settled pastor there, were afterward dismissed to the church which was organized and placed under the care of the Rev. J. D. Paris.

In order to keep every member under my eye, and to find ready access to each, I prepared a book ruled thus:


By simple signs males and females were distinguished. This is important here, because the same name is often used interchangeably for the sexes

For many years I always took this book with me in my tours, and called the roll of the church members in every village along the line. When any one did not answer the roll-call, I made inquiry why. If dead, I marked the date; if sick, visited him or her, if time would allow; if absent on duty, accepted the fact; if supposed to be doubting or backsliding, sent for or visited him; if gone to another part of the island, or to another island, I inquired if the absence would be short or perpetual, and noted the facts of whatever kind.

Our young men often shipped for whaling voyages. Noting these cases, I would watch for their return, and then visit them, inquiring whether they chased whales on the Lordís day, used intoxicants, or violated other Christian rules of morality; and I dealt with them as each case demanded.

Some church members removed to other districts or islands without letters of dismissal. The names of these I used to send to the pastors whither they had gone, requesting them to look after these absent ones, and receive them to their communion, reporting to me.

As hundreds of our people went from place to place to visit friends or on business, to learn whither they had gone, to follow them with letters, and to see them properly cared for, became an important but arduous labor. The Hawaiians are not nomads, but they are fond of moving, and curiosity or the call of friends leads very many of them to wander over many parts of the group. During my annual visits to Honolulu, on occasion of the General Meeting of the Mission held there in May or June, I often gave public notices in the churches that I would meet any of my people who were there, at a given hour on Sunday, and a company of fifty to a hundred would assemble at the hour appointed.

Our Confession of Faith is the Bible, and each individual in the Hilo church promises, with his hand on the Sacred Book, to abstain from all that is forbidden, and to obey all that is commanded therein. We advise them to abstain from the use of tobacco, ava (a narcotic root), and from all intoxicants. Like all savages, they were almost to a man addicted to the use of these articles, especially of tobacco, and we supposed that it would be next to impossible to persuade them to abandon these habits. But the Lord came to our help. All over Hilo and Puna, during that mighty work of the Spirit, multitudes pulled up all their tobacco plants and cast them into the sea or into pits, and thousands of pipes were broken upon the rocks or burned, and thousands of habitual smokers abandoned the habit at once and forever. I have been surprised at the resolution and self-denial of old men and women who had long indulged in smoking, in thus breaking short off. Some, however, went back to the old habit, and some used the article secretly. I have never excommunicated or suspended members for this indulgence, but have taught them, by precept and example, a better way. Mr. and Mrs. Lyman, and nearly every missionary brother and sister on the islands, were united with me in this matter.

In all cases we found that those who would not relinquish smoking were the more troublesome members of the church, giving more doubtful evidence of love to Christ, and oftener running into other excesses which called for church discipline.


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