LAIE, Hawaii —In Hawaii, Kapuna means an elderly person of respect and stature. Kapunas are the ones who prepare the path for those yet to come. Today, in what was once called the Sandwich Islands, generations of Latter-day Saints have paid yearlong homage to those who established the Church and the restored gospel here 150 years ago this month.
Such people include 85-year-old Abigail Kailimai of the Honomu Branch, Hilo Hawaii Stake, who speaks with gratitude for her great-grandfather — known to the family only as Waihoioahu. This paternal ancestor is thought to be the first member of the Church in the family. Sister Kailimai herself receives respect for her stature in the LDS community. In January of this year, she led one of the celestial room choirs for the dedication of the Kona Hawaii Temple.
Eighty-one years ago, she stood with her parents for the 1919 dedication of the Hawaii Temple, now the Laie Hawaii Temple.
"On Sundays," she recalls, "my dad would pile us into his Model T and off we went to Church. My parents were staunch LDS. They brought us up well and taught us the gospel.
"I'm so grateful," she added, speaking of the legacy of faith left by her great-grandfather, and which she is now building on for her descendants.
Such faithfulness among a people known for their "Aloha spirit" has left a legacy of more than 55,000 members in 14 stakes spread across the Hawaiian Islands. There are two temples, one on Hawaii and one on Oahu, and one mission. Young people from throughout the world attend BYU-Hawaii in Laie, and since its founding in 1963, the adjacent Polynesian Cultural Center has hosted more than 27 million visitors, including dignitaries from many nations.
"The saints in Hawaii have a wonderful legacy of Church service since the early days of the restoration," Elder John B. Dickson of the Seventy and president of the North America West Area told the Church News. "The gospel has had a tremendous impact in their lives. They have been very faithful and to be able to celebrate this sesquicentennial is a marvelous moment for them. We are grateful to the saints of Hawaii and for the great impact they've had on the Church in general."
Some 500 of those who have shared in this impact gathered Nov. 25 for a reunion of Laie temple workers. This venerable temple is now 81 years old and was the first temple built outside the continental United States. The four-hour reunion was held at the Cannon Activities Center on the BYU-Hawaii campus where those now serving in the temple mingled with those who served decades ago and those who attended the original dedication in 1919 as children.
According to Mike Foley of the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee, Elder William R. Bradford of the Seventy and a member of the area presidency, presided and offered some remarks. Elder Bradford's wife, Mary, is the granddaughter of William Mark Waddoups, who was the first president of the Laie Hawaii Temple, serving with his wife, Olivia. Elder Bradford's grandfather, Roswell Bradford, helped build the temple. Elder Bradford's mother and father moved their family to Laie for a short time when he was a boy.
"This experience I had as a young boy in the islands has been very lasting in my life. Much of what I am today was formed here," Elder Bradford continued. "I tell you this bit of history to let you know that that background in my life has made me believe that there is not anything that I could be asked to do that would be enough to repay the debt I owe to these great pioneer people."
"Great pioneer people" is an apt description of those who laid the foundation of the Church here. According to a sesquicentennial fireside address by William Kauaiwiulaokalani Wallace III, BYU-Hawaii director of Hawaiian Studies, given early in the year, the first 10 LDS missionaries — President Hiram Clark, and Elders Henry Bigler, Hiram Blackwell, George Q. Cannon, John Dixon, William Farrer, James Hawkins, James Keeler, Thomas Morris and Thomas Whittle — arrived in Honolulu on Oahu on Dec. 12, 1850. "On Dec. 13, 1850, these elders led by President Clark went to the top of a hill overlooking Honolulu (later known as Pacific Heights), built a stone altar, and in united prayer, dedicated this land to God's holy purposes."
Brother Wallace, who credits the history of Hawaii in Sandwich Islands Saints, by Joseph H. Spurrier, said the missionaries met with great challenges, including learning the Hawaiian language. Some returned home, but Elders Cannon and Keeler organized the first branch of the Church at Kealahou, the Pulehu Branch in Kula on the island of Maui, in August 1851. (Please see box on this page for significant dates in history of the Church in Hawaii.)
Elder Cannon, with the help of Jonathan Napela, a local member, finished the translation of the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian — Ka Buke A Moramona — in 1853.
Probably the most influential, or perhaps best known, missionary to the Sandwich Islands was 15-year-old Joseph F. Smith, son of Hyrum Smith, brother to the Prophet Joseph. Arriving in 1854, the young man received the gift of tongues from Parley P. Pratt and Orson Hyde, both of the Quorum of the Twelve, and worked in the islands three years, serving as conference president on Maui, Hawaii and Molokai. (Please see July 3, 1993, Church News.) That young man eventually served three missions to Hawaii and later became president of the Church.
President Smith was so beloved by Hawaiian saints that immigrants from the islands to Utah named their settlement in Tooele County, "Iosepa," as President Smith was known in Hawaiian. (The settlement was discontinued in 1917.)
However, as explained by Elder Dickson, it is the faith of the saints living on these islands that has helped the Church progress here. Sister Kailimai has vivid memories of this growth. "The Church was just growing. As I grew up, I could just see it spreading."