Obookiah, Henry by Faye Huntington

A few years ago I copied from a marble slab, imbedded in the earth upon a grave in a quiet country cemetery at Cornwall, Ct., the following inscription:

Henry Obookiah of Owhyee,
Died February 17, 1818, aged 26.

His arrival in this country gave rise to the Foreign Mission School of which he was a worthy member. He was once an idolator and designed for a Pagan priest; but by the grace of God, and by the prayers and instructions of pious friends, he became a Christian. He was eminent for piety and missionary zeal; was almost prepared to return to his native island to preach the Gospel when God called him. In his last moments he wept and prayed for his "Ow-hy-hee," but was submissive to the will of God and died without fear, with a heavenly smile on his face and glory in his soul.

This remarkable young man was early made an orphan by the cruel massacre of both father and mother during a fearful struggle of two parties for the control of his native island, Hawaii. His younger brother was also slain while the boy of our sketch was endeavoring to save him by carrying him upon his back in his flight. Obookiah was taken prisoner and made a member of the family of the man who had murdered his parents. After a year or two he was discovered by an uncle, and his release from the hands of his enemy secured. His uncle was a priest and he entered upon the work of preparing his young nephew for the same service. This preparation was very different from the preparation of young men in Christian lands for the work of the Gospel ministry. One part of his duty was to learn and to repeat long prayers; sometimes he was forced to spend the greater part of the night in repeating these prayers in the temple before the idols. But Henry was not happy; he had seen his parents and little brother cruelly murdered, and thoughts of the terrible scene and of his own lonely and orphaned condition preyed upon his mind continually. But he had passed through still another sad experience. Before peace was restored in the island he was again taken prisoner together with his father's sister. He succeeded in making his escape the very day which had been appointed for his death. His aunt was killed by the enemy, and this made him feel more sad and lonely than before, and he resolved to leave the island, hoping that if he should succeed in getting away from the place where everything reminded him of his loss he might find peace if not happiness; and this is how he was to be brought under Christian influences in Christian America. He sailed with Captain Britnall and landed in New York in the year 1809. He remained for some time in the family of his friend the captain, at New Haven. Here he became acquainted with several of the students in Yale College, who were at once interested in this young foreigner. From one of these friends he learned to read and write.

His appearance was not prepossessing or promising. His clothes were those of a rough sailor and his countenance dull and expressionless. But he soon showed that he was neither dull nor lacking in mental power.

For some time, while Obookiah improved in the knowledge of English, making good progress in his studies, he was unwilling to hear any talk about the true God. He was amiable and quite willing to be taught, and drank in eagerly the instruction given on other subjects, but after some months he began to pray to the true God. He had a friend, also a Hawaiian and his first prayer in the presence of another was made in company with his friend. A copy of this prayer has been preserved and I copy it for you to show how even in the beginning of his own interest in Gospel truth, his thoughts turned towards his native country.

"Great and eternal God—make heaven—make earth—make everything—have mercy on me—make me understand the Bible—make me good—great God, have mercy on Thomas—make him good—make Thomas and me go back to Hawaii—tell folks in Hawaii no more pray to stone god—make some good man go with me to Hawaii, tell folks in Hawaii about heaven"—

From this time until he died his one longing was to go back to his early home and tell the people about God. He used to talk with his friend Thomas about it and plan the work. In his diary he wrote at one time:

"We conversed about what we would do first at our return, how we should begin to teach our poor brethren about the religion of Jesus Christ. We thought we must first go to the king or else we must keep a school and educate the children and get them to have some knowledge of the Scriptures and give them some idea of God. The most thought that come into my mind was to leave all in the hand of Almighty God; as he seeth fit. The means may be easily done by us, but to make others believe, no one could do it but God only."

In April, 1817, a Foreign Mission School was opened at Cornwall. And Obookiah became a pupil in this school, intending to finish his preparation for work among his own people as soon as practicable. A description of this Sandwich Islander as given of him at that time may be of interest: "He was a little less than six feet in height, well-proportioned, erect, graceful and dignified. His countenance had lost every trace of dullness, and was in an unusual degree sprightly and intelligent. His features were strongly marked, expressive of a sound and penetrating mind; he had a piercing eye, a prominent Roman nose, and a chin considerably projected. His complexion was olive, differing equally from the blackness of the African and the redness of the Indian. His black hair was dressed after the manner of Americans."

As a scholar he was persevering and thorough. After he had gained some knowledge of English, he conceived the idea of reducing his native language to writing. As it was merely a spoken language, everything was to be done. He had succeeded in translating the Book of Genesis and made some progress in the work of making a grammar and dictionary. But the work he had planned was not to be finished by his own hand. Within a year from the time he entered the school at Cornwall he was called home. As recorded upon the marble slab, his last thoughts were for his native island; his last earthly longing was, that the Gospel might be preached to his own countrymen. One of our popular cyclopędias gives a brief mention of this remarkable young man and makes this statement: "He was the cause of the establishment of American Missions in the Sandwich Islands."

To have so lived, and by his earnestness and zeal so inspired others that upon his death they were ready to take up and carry forward the work he had planned, was to have accomplished even more than he could had he been permitted to enter upon the work for which he was preparing.