Museum showcases history of missionaries in Hawaii

HONOLULU -- Congregationalist missionaries arrived here in 1820, setting up a precut frame house shipped from Boston and finding Hawaiian society ripe for change.

The frame house, which at one time housed 36 missionaries, still stands in downtown Honolulu as the home of the Mission Houses Museum.

King Kamehameha II allowed the missionaries to erect the house on the condition that they would take it with them when they left.

But the missionaries did not leave. They stayed on, converting islanders and inventing a 12-letter Hawaiian alphabet, leaving out words and sounds at their discretion.

The timing of the missionaries couldn't have been better, according to museum guide Jack Danilewicz.

The mission house at the Mission Houses Museum in Honolulu.Queen Kaahumanu, one of the king's 21 wives, had recently ended the kapu (taboo) system by allowing men and women to eat together. This lifting of strict adherence to the kapu opened the door to more change.

In 1825, the queen turned from being a nonbeliever to being one of the missionaries' greatest supporters, the guide said.

In addition to the frame house, finished in 1821, the missionaries in 1831 built the Chamberlain house from 3,000 hand-cut coral blocks.

In 1841, they built an addition to the house, also out of coral cut from the ocean reef.

The three buildings today are part of the museum exhibits.

Guided tours of the houses run Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last tour at 2:30 p.m. The Chamberlain house is open for self-guided tours.

Tours of all three houses cost $8 for adults, $6 for senior citizens, $4 for college students and $3 for children ages 4 to 12. Children ages 3 and younger are admitted free.

The museum has an orientation exhibit and visitor center.

It also hosts such events as panel discussions on collecting Hawaiian books, historical fairs and other ongoing tours.

A Living History Day is held every Wednesday and the second Saturday of every month.

Living History Day offers a tour of the houses and a cooking demonstration, with people in period costume using a reproduction of an 1840s cook stove.

The event also includes a demonstration on a replica of the printing press the missionaries brought with them in 1820.

Living History Day costs $8 for adults, $6 for senior citizens, $4 for college students and $3 for children ages 4 to 12.

The museum also hosts historic downtown Honolulu walking tours Thursdays and Saturday mornings.

The tours include the Mission Houses tour and a walk through the surrounding area that highlights buildings and monuments significant during the Hawaiian monarchy period.

The tours include information on the interaction between Hawaiians, missionaries and other foreigners.

Visitors should arrive by 9:30 a.m. The tour ends at 12:45 p.m. Rates for adults are $15; senior citizens, $13; college students, $11, and children ages 4 to 12, $10.

During the summer, the museum has Hawaiian quilt exhibitions. In the fall, there are spooky stories of Hawaiian legends and New England ghost stories, and at Christmas there is a candlelight celebration.

The museum has a research library with 12,000 books and pamphlets. The library is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Mission Houses Museum is located at 553 S. King St., Honolulu. For more information, call (808) 531-0481 or visit the Web site at

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