Ever since Protestant missionaries from the United States first reached Hawai‘i in 1820, they have inspired conflicting passions. In evangelical circles, the missionaries are praised for christianizing Hawai‘i, transforming Hawaiian into a written language, and inoculating the islanders against smallpox. But this celebratory assessment is rejected by modern-day Hawaiian nationalists, who excoriate the missionaries as advance agents of U.S. imperialism.
In this biography of pioneer missionaries Peter and Fanny Gulick, Clifford Putney offers a balanced view of their contributions. He says the nationalists are right to credit the missionaries with drawing Hawai‘i into America’s political orbit, but argues that the missionary enterprise helped in some ways to preserve key elements of Hawaiian culture.
Based primarily on letters, journals, and other archival materials, Putney’s book provides readers with a detailed portrait of the lives of Peter and Fanny Gulick. Inspired by America’s Second Great Awakening to spread the Gospel overseas, the Gulicks voyaged to Hawai‘i in 1828 and lived there for the next forty-six years, actively proselytizing and working to change the islands. On Kaua‘i, they helped to ensure the success of Hawai‘i’s first sugar plantation and acquainted Hawaiians with inventions such as the wagon. On Moloka‘i (later the site of a leper colony) the couple struggled merely to survive. And on O‘ahu, they took up ranching and helped to found Punahou School, the alma mater of President Barack Obama.
While laboring in Hawai‘i, the Gulicks interacted with kings, queens, and other historically important figures, and Putney chronicles those relationships. He also explores issues of race and gender, and sheds new light on the democratization of government, the spread of capitalism, and the privatization of land. From these last two developments, a number of missionaries grew immensely rich, but the Gulicks did not, and neither did their descendants. A group that includes influential missionaries, educators, and physical fitness experts, the descendants of Peter and Fanny have had numerous books written about them, but Putney is the first to write extensively about the progenitors of the Gulick clan.