Obookiah, Henry

(c. 1792-1818)
   first Hawaiian convert to Christianity and mission activist
   Henry obookiah was born on the big island of Hawaii around 1792. His family was killed in the internecine war that afflicted the islands in the late 18th century, but an uncle arranged for his training as a priest in the native religion. in 1808, he joined the crew of an American trading ship as a cabin boy, and was eventually put ashore in New Haven, Connecticut. There he met Edwin D. Dwight (son of Yale president Timothy Dwight [1752-1817]), who taught Obookiah to read and write. He also met Samuel J. Mills (1743-1833), the student who had become an advocate of foreign missions following the Haystack Prayer Meeting. Obookiah was living with the Mills family when in 1810 Samuel convinced Massachusetts Congregationalists to found the American
   Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the first American missions-sending agency.
   In 1811, Obookiah moved to Andover, Massachusetts, where Mills was attending Andover Theological Seminary. After he converted the next year, he went to live in the home of a DEAcon in Hollis, New Hampshire. By 1814, when he was living at the home of a minister at Goshen, Connecticut, he had begun to develop a written form of Hawaiian. in 1815, he joined the church at Torringford, Connecticut, and began to prepare himself to return to Hawaii as a missionary. He helped rally support for the founding of the Foreign Mission School, which opened in 1817 in Cornwall, Connecticut, and included in its first class several youths from India, and some of obookiah's fellow countrymen. obookiah's presence led Mills and others to see Hawaii as a viable missionary target.
   Obookiah himself was struck with typhus and died on February 17, 1818. Edwin Dwight quickly published obookiah's memoirs, which became a potent force in recruiting missionaries; the first team sailed from Massachusetts for the islands in April 1819.
   Further reading:
   ■ Henry obookiah, The Memoirs of Henry Obookiah, a Native of Owhyhee, and a Member of the Foreign Mission School, Who Died at Cornwall, Conn., Feb. 17, 1818, Aged 26 Years (New Haven, Conn.: Religious Intelligencer, 1818)
   ■ LaReu W. Piercy, Hawaii's Missionary Saga: Sacrifice and Godliness in Paradise (Honolulu: Mutual, 1992).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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