Native Intelligence: Maui

First Edition

Story by David Thompson. Photos by Sue Hudelson.

In the earliest days of literacy in Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian reading public subsisted on a thin diet of primers, catechisms and text-books. Then came Hawaiian-language newspapers, and reading suddenly got a lot more interesting. The very first newspaper, Ka Lama Hawaii, was published in 1834 by the students of Lahainaluna Seminary. The young Hawaiian seminarians did it all, from writing the articles to setting the type, to mixing linseed oil with soot to make the ink. Ka Lama featured the obligatory essays on morality—this was a missionary-run school, after all. But it also included letters with news from the neighbor islands, world news gleaned from visiting ships and stories on the “ancient ways” written from a Hawaiian point of view. And then there was the illustrated series describingthe four-legged animals of the world, which was so popular it quickly rose from page two to the top of the front page. (“Although the camel looks ugly, the good work he does is amazing,” is how a line from the article “No Ke Kamelo” translates.)

Only twenty-five issues of Ka Lama were produced. No museum had the full set until 2011, when a private collector unex-pectedly walked into Maui’s Bailey House Museum carrying the complete collection, which he wished to donate. “I couldn’t believe my eyes,” says Hōkūau Pellegrino, who’s on the museum’s board of directors. “It was in such pristine condition you would never know it was published in 1834.”

The issues are now kept in the Bailey House archives, but digital copies are up for all to see at nupepa.org. And a printing plate was created from the front page of the inaugural issue and given to the museum at Hale Pa‘i, the “House of Printing.” Ka Lama was printed at the original Hale Pa‘i, which was a grass shack. The modern Hale Pa‘i, with its stone walls, was built on the same site in 1837. Using a replica of the original press, the museum’s visitors can try their hand at a Ka Lama reprint. Hale Pa‘i’s director, Arrianna D’Orsay, congratulated one recent visitor who did just that. “You have joined all the other printers who have ever printed here,” she said. “You’re connected to that history now!”

Extra, extra! Hawai‘i’s first newspaper, Ka Lama Hawaii, was published by the students at Lahainaluna Seminary in 1834. Today visitors are invited to reprint the front page of the inaugural issue at the Hale Pa‘i museum located on the site of the original printshop. Museum director Arrianna D’Orsay demonstrates how it’s done.

Story by David Thompson. Photos by Sue Hudelson