ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Month: Joseph Nāwahī

“ʻAuhea oukou, o ke keiki keia ola na iwi!”

“Hearken all of you, this is the child through whom the bones will live!”

                              -B. Barenaba referring to young Joseph Nāwahī

Joseph Nāwahī (1842-1896)

Born in 1842 at Kaimū, his parents named him Joseph Kahoʻoluhi Nāwahīokalaniʻōpuʻu. Raised by his uncle, Joseph Paʻakaula, twelve-year-old Nāwahī enrolled in Hilo Boarding School. His first teachers were Rev. David and Sarah Lyman. In July 1856 Nāwahī became a seminary student at Lahainaluna, Maui and finally a scholar at the Royal School in Honolulu. His career included periods as a teacher, assistant principal, and briefly principal at Hilo Boarding School. He also chose to work as a surveyor, lawyer, and newspaper publisher.

Nāwahī served many years for the Kingdom government: as a representative for the people of Puna (1872–1876), then Hilo (1878–1884, 1890–1893) and as Minister of Foreign Affairs for Queen Liliʻuokalani. He argued against the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875, a free-trade agreement that gave special privileges to the U.S. He helped write the proposed 1893 Constitution, but after the overthrow officials of the Provisional Government arrested Nāwahī for his support of the monarchy. Following his imprisonment, he founded the Hui Aloha ʻĀina political party and published the newspaper Ke Aloha ʻĀina.

Image of Nāwahī from Ka Buke Moolelo o Hon. Joseph K. Nawahi written by newspaper editor, J. G. M. Sheldon in 1908.
This map of Hilo shows the Nāwahī home at corner of School Street (Kapiolani) and Ponahawai Street in 1891.
Image of the Nāwahī home from Ka Buke Moolelo o Hon. Joseph K. Nawahi. Nāwahī lived in this house with his wife, Aima “Emma” Aiʻi. The couple had three sons: Albert Kahiwahiawaʻakalāhui, Alexander Kaʻeʻeokalani and Joseph Nāwahī, Jr.
Looking makai on Waianuenue Street, Hilo. Nāwahī is said to have planted the bamboo clump inside the stone wall enclosing the courthouse (now Kalākaua Park).
A piccolo and wood flute owned by Nāwahī, once a member of Sarah Lyman’s orchestra. The instrument with metal keys was made in Hanover, Germany.
This oil painting by Nāwahī features the front view of Volcano House, ca. 1882. He became a skilled artist, often painting local scenes. One of his paintings received an award at a Philadelphia exhibit.
The title page of Ka Buke Moolelo o Hon. Joseph K. Nawahi. The 1908 book describes Nāwahī as a visionary with “He puuwai i hoomomoa ia me na maawe kilohana o ke aloha i hoopiha ia me na kipona kiowai o ka oluolu a me ke akahai” (“a heart sweetened with the cherished threads of aloha and filled with fine reservoirs of gentleness and kindness).” The book notes his trip to San Francisco and his death in 1896. The second half of the book is filled with condolences and chants. Marvin Puakea Nogelmeier completed an English translation of the biography in 1988.
Following a service in Honolulu, a large group of mourners accompanied the body of Joseph Nāwahī into Hilo Harbor on October 5, 1896. A large crowd overfilled Haili Church for his funeral. Then a procession led from the church down Haili Street, to Front Street (Kamehameha), back up Waianuenue, to School Street (Kapiolani) and then to Homelani Cemetery. The gravestone reads “Kuu aina hanau e” (“My dear land of birth”).