Contact With The Western World 1790 -
The Battle of Kepaniwai was one of the most significant battles in Kamehameha's successful campaign to unite the Hawaiian Islands. Olowalu inadvertently played a role in an event that determined the outcome of the battle. In 1790, 12 years after Captain James Cook arrived in the islands, an American fur trader named Simon Metcalfe anchored his ship, Eleanora,
off the southern coast of East Maui. In the night, a Hawaiian named Kaopuiki and a few accomplices stole a small boat and, in the process, killed the sailor on watch. To retaliate against Kaopuiki, Metcalfe sailed to his home village of Olowalu. As a ploy, Metcalfe assured the natives of peaceful trading, enticing 200 canoes from Olowalu and nearby villages, many filled with parents who had brought their children to view the foreign ship. The captain placed a kapu
on one side of the ship, crowding the canoes starboard. Once positioned, Metcalfe gave the command and the sailors opened fire at point-blank range. More than 100 Hawaiians died and another 150 were seriously wounded in what has been termed the Olowalu Massacre.
Because of a previous act of cruelty committed by Metcalfe, a chief named Kame`eiamoku from Kamehameha's home island of Hawai`i vowed to kill the next white men he saw. They turned out to be the crew aboard Metcalfe's companion ship, Fair American
, anchored off Hawai`i. After killing all of the crew but one, a man named Isaac Davis, Kame`eiamoku seized the ship.
On the same day as the attack of the Fair American,
John Young, an officer on the Eleanora,
happened to be ashore nearby and was, therefore, aware of the incident. Hawaiians prevented him from joining his ship in order to keep word from reaching Simon Metcalfe. Metcalfe, unaware of the Fair American's
fate, departed without Young. The two skilled crewmen, Young and Davis, along with the Fair American
and its firearms, fell into Kamehameha's hands. With these advantages, Kamehameha beat Kahekili's forces in the battle of Kepaniwai and ultimately triumphed in the race to conquer the Hawaiian Islands.
Westerners brought more than arms; they also brought diseases that devastated the native Hawaiian population. Every community on Maui declined drastically in population in the half century after Western contact, except for the port of Lahaina. As a booming commercial center providing provisions and entertainment for sandalwood traders and whalers, Lahaina attracted residents from throughout Maui. Hawaiians from nearby Olowalu could easily migrate to Lahaina to participate in the boom. However, in the same way that Hawaiians from Olowalu had ready access to Lahaina as an active trade center, they also suffered from proximity to Lahaina as a gateway for disease. It is estimated that the Hawaiian population on Maui decreased by as much as half by 1823, 45 years after Western contact, and then continued to decline for the next 90 years. In 1831 missionaries estimated 831 Hawaiians lived at Olowalu and, just five years later, another missionary census put Olowalu's population, combined with Ukumehame's, at only 718.
The first Christian missionaries arrived on Maui in 1823. The Reverends William Richards and Charles Stewart, sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, made Lahaina the first Protestant mission station on the island. Olowalu shortly thereafter became an outstation of the Lahaina mission. The Olowalu outstation also served the people of Ukumehame. As an outstation, Olowalu did not have its own minister, instead relying on visits from Lahaina missionaries who would travel by canoe for two hours to preach and teach. A succession of Lahaina missionaries successfully converted the Hawaiians of Olowalu, holding services on a heiau
(temple) that had at one time been used for human sacrifice.
In 1835 Reverend Ephraim Spaulding built a 26-foot by 43-foot church at Olowalu, with the intention of using it as both a church and school. He used adobe and lepo
(either dung or clay) to build walls three feet thick. Over time, Hawaiian ministers replaced the Lahaina haole
(Caucasian) missionaries. In 1858 a stone building replaced the original structure. Ten years later, the 250 members of the Olowalu Church broke with the Lahaina Mission Station and became an independent church named the Olowalu Hawaiian Protestant Church.
Protestant missionaries brought Western-style education to Olowalu probably in 1826, when adults and perhaps children attended school either in the open air or in a thatched hut. The first school for commoners in the kingdom had opened in Lahaina just two years before. After adults learned to read, children became the sole students at what was termed the „common school‰ or „native school‰ at Olowalu. In 1835 when the Olowalu Church was built, classes were held there. Initially the Lahaina Protestant mission station both funded and supervised the school. However, by 1840, the Kingdom of Hawai`i took over financial support of the school leaving supervision to the mission, which continued to incorporate religious lessons until the 1850s or 1860s.
Olowalu Church continued to serve the community with Hawaiian ministers providing services in the Hawaiian language. In 1876 a minister named Keaupuni served the church, one of 10 active Congregational churches on Maui. For the last two decades of the century, Reverend S. K. Kamakahiki served the church. In 1897 the independent Olowalu Hawaiian Protestant Church re-affiliated itself with the Waine`e Church (now called Waiola Church) in Lahaina
Roman Catholics also moved into the missionary field. A Hawaiian lay preacher named Helio Koaeloa, who had converted to Catholicism on `Oahu, had zealously spread Catholicism throughout Maui, including Olowalu, beginning in the late 1830s. Called the „Apostle of Maui,‰ Helio laid the groundwork for a formal mission. In 1846 three Catholic missionaries established the first official Catholic mission on Maui in Lahaina. One of these pioneers, Father Modest Favens, immediately reached out to rural areas, visiting Olowalu and baptizing converts during the mission's first year of 1846. It is likely that the Catholic mission established a one-room school at Olowalu during the 1840s, conducted by a native Hawaiian and supervised by a priest. If so, it lasted only a short time.
The Mormons began their mission work in Hawai`i on Maui in 1851 and the number of converts initially grew rapidly. Whether residents of Olowalu joined the church at this time is unknown. If they did have a meetinghouse, it would have been a traditional thatched hale
Missionaries and Hawaiians traveled by canoe as well as overland via the Alaloa and the `Iao-Olowalu Pass. A record exists of one two-day mountain experience in 1828. A missionary party crossed the pass to Lahaina with the assistance of 25 Hawaiian men trained as bird-catchers and adept at mountain climbing. The experienced Hawaiians assisted the missionaries as the ascent grew more rugged. The mountain ridges narrowed until they were scarcely wide enough for a foothold. If a haole
faltered, a Hawaiian guide would carry that person like a child. The party camped at a broad plateau where ki
(ti)-covered booths had been prepared with beds of dry fern, mats and kapa (
. The descent to Lahaina was almost perpendicular and made secure only through the efforts of the Hawaiian bird-catchers.
traveler in the 1840s reported that he walked in the bed of rain-swollen Olowalu Stream for a considerable distance and then, after following the narrow avenue between the mountains, came upon an open space with houses and agricultural plots. At this point the ascent was made. Missionaries and other foreigners continued to use the pass into the 1850s, sometimes stopping for rest at a Hawaiian house in Olowalu. Most reports agreed on the danger of the journey and the grandeur of the scenery. A Hawaiian account downplayed the danger, recounting how in 1860 a father of a Lahainaluna student regularly traveled from Huelo to Lahaina and back to visit his son. By the 1870s, use of the `Iao-Olowalu Pass was apparently limited to adventurous visitors. A supposedly experienced Swiss mountaineer managed to reach Wailuku via the pass but it nearly cost him his life. The pass was no longer viewed as a regular option for travelers.
A road from Lahaina to Olowalu and on to Ma`alaea in the 1840s followed a difficult route at the foot of the mountains. Although called a road, it was probably more accurately called a horse trail. A user of the trail called it „the crookedest, the rockiest ever traveled by mortals.
A Honolulu businessman described the southern route from Lahaina to Wailuku as following the coast for some distance and then striking over a spur of the mountain to Wailuku. He considered the road good but the country rough.