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Opukaha‘ia: An incredible journey of faith continues in Hilo

<p>Courtesy photo</p><p>Hilo-based publisher Larry Czerwonka holds a copy of the new edition of the “Memoirs of Henry Obookiah.”</p>

Almost 195 years after it was first published, the historic “Memoirs of Henry Obookiah” has been updated, and copies of the newly published revision will be available later this month in Hilo.

The Woman’s Board of Missions for the Pacific Islands, a 141-year-old nonprofit organization formed under the Kingdom of Hawaii, will host a dramatic program and book launch featuring the new version of the book from 5-7 p.m. on Jan. 17 at Haili Church, at 211 Haili St. in Hilo

A festive reception and book signing will follow the program at the Lyman Museum and Mission House, located just up the street at 276 Haili St. The event is free, but because of space limitations, reservations are required at 935-5021.

The softback edition of the book will be available the night of the event for $20. Proceeds will benefit the Lyman Museum and Mission House and the women’s board, which gives money to various sister organizations that help minister to women and children throughout Hawaii and the Pacific Rim.

Known as the first fruit of the Christian faith amongst the Hawaiian people, the story is honest and untainted, as told through the perspective of Obookiah, who also was known as Opukaha‘ia. It is recounted through his personal diary entries and letters to close friends. It is a poignant narrative of suffering, pain and his tragic death at age 26 when he succumbed to typhus. It is also a story of healing, renewal, joyous faith and a new life everlasting that inspired a generation of young missionaries to leave the East Coast and travel to the islands to fulfill Henry’s desire to have his people hear the gospel message.

The original memoir, written by Edwin W. Dwight, details the amazing story of a uniquely able, adaptable, alert, curious, educated, hard-working, unusually intelligent and very remarkable 19th century young Hawaiian man who forsook idol worship, jumped into the ocean at Kealakekua Bay and boarded a ship headed for America, where he fully embraced Christianity.

The newest edition contains a collection of vintage and current photographs along with a new epilogue documenting how lifelong Hilo resident Deborah Li‘ikapeka Lee, the blood relative responsible for leading the charge to bring Opukaha‘ia’s intact earthly body (iwi) back to the Big Island an amazing 175 years after he was originally laid to rest in a cemetery in Cornwall, Conn.

“It’s an extraordinary journey of an ordinary woman who answered God’s call, ‘He wants to come home,’” said Karen Welsh, president of WBM and author of the epilogue. “It was a privilege and honor to interview Deborah and work with her on the editing process of the story.”

We laughed and cried together. I knew this was a meaningful piece of both Hawaiian and American history and it was something bigger than both of us.”

Through the reprint, it is hoped this newest generation will take advantage of the opportunity to know, appreciate and share this life-changing story, said Welsh.

 

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