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Lanai legacy not forgotten

Monument honors early pioneers' faith, sacrifices on Hawaiian island

LANAI CITY, Hawaii — The original gathering place for the Hawaiian saints was memorialized Oct. 3 with a stone marker commemorating the settling of the Palawai Basin here 150 years ago. The dedication of the monument, a stone pier of volcanic rock with an anodized aluminum plaque, was a culmination of three days in which the sacrifices of early Hawaiian pioneers on the island of Lanai were remembered with song, dance, words and prayers.

"It was a wonderful opportunity for us to commemorate the sacrifices of our Hawaiian pioneers," Kahului Hawaii Stake President Arnold K. Wunder told the Church News.

President Wunder, whose stake includes the Hawaiian islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai, was among several speakers at the Sunday afternoon event and offered the dedicatory prayer on the monument with some 60 others looking on. The dedication was conducted by Lanai Branch President Oscar T. Aguilar and presided over by President Wunder. Other speakers included Hawaii Honolulu Mission President Ronald K. Hawkins; Fred E. Woods, executive director of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation; Kim R. Wilson, chairman of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation; and Riley Moffat, president of the Mormon Pacific Historical Society.

The dedication of the monument, which was funded by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation and by the Mormon Pacific Historical Society, was on the third day of events commemorating the sesquicentennial of the founding of the City of Joseph on Lanai in 1854. Members watching broadcast sessions of general conference at the Lanai Branch meetinghouse attended the dedication after the end of the last session.

On Friday, Oct. 1, more than 200, including some 150 non-LDS friends and neighbors, attended a culture night at the local public school. Among Hawaiian songs and dances was a performance by well-known Hawaiian musician Genoa Keawe, who also led those at the dedication in singing "Come, Come, Ye Saints," accompanying on the ukulele. On Saturday evening, Oct. 2, Brother Woods, who is also a BYU professor of Church History and Doctrine, gave a lecture on the history of the Church on Lanai.

In his Sunday remarks, President Wunder compared the sacrifices of the early Hawaiian saints with those of pioneers on the mainland called to gather in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois and, finally, Utah. The first LDS baptisms, he said, occurred at the Pulehu chapel on Maui, from where many were called to settle a colony in the Palawai Basin on Lanai.

"They left their homes like (the pioneers) on the mainland to answer the call to gather," he related. "It is my hope that the memorial (on Lanai) will remind our members of the sacrifices that the early saints were asked to make and were willing to make.

"In my talk (at the dedication), I challenged Lanai Branch members to use that monument as a focal point to remind themselves of those sacrifices and to view themselves as modern-day pioneers. I told them that a pioneer is someone who goes ahead to prepare the way for others. Those 45 active members are pioneers in their own way, and they are there to prepare the way for others."

President Aguilar told the Church News: "The members of the Lanai Branch as well as of our stake have a great appreciation of what this monument stands for. The monument brings to light the sacrifice and obedience of early pioneers who obeyed the call of establishing 'Iosepa,' a gathering place for the saints of the Hawaiian islands. It celebrates the legacy of dedicated Hawaiian saints who committed their lives to our Savior.

"A knowledge of their great struggles, hopes and accomplishments helps us recognize how the hand of God is continually touching and blessing this land, and gives modern pioneer saints faith to continue the job and duty of expanding the kingdom of God."

In his address, Brother Wilson reminded the gathering that the Lana'i experience was similar to trials the Mormon pioneers faced in Missouri and on Zion's Camp, and noted that Lanai was a training ground for these faithful Hawaiian saints. He bore a testimony of Doctrine and Covenants 58:2-7, emphasizing the words from verse 4 that "after much tribulation come the blessings."

The first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in the Hawaiian islands in 1850. By 1854 Church membership had reached more than 3,000 and the Palawai Basin on Lanai was chosen by the Church as a temporary gathering place for Hawaiian members. These early pioneers faced many hardships, including crop failures, fleas and broken farm equipment. They struggled to cultivate farms with little water.

It is recorded that in September 1854, they transported a load of cattle from Lahaina on the island of Maui to Lanai using three whale boats. Elder Francis Hammond wrote: "Notwithstanding all the evil predictions of the wicked and unbelievers, many of whom said before we started that we would never reach Lanai, . . . I paid no attention to this, for I knew that God was with us. After the cattle were all landed . . . we all knelt down together and returned our heartfelt thanks to God for his preservation and care."

In 1861, a self-appointed leader, Walter Murray Gibson, usurped Church leadership and took over Church organization and property. He was subsequently excommunicated but the Church was defrauded of its property on Lanai. Thus, in 1865, 6,600 acres were purchased on the north shore of Oahu. Today, in Laie, there is a temple, along with the Polynesian Cultural Center and BYU-Hawaii.

Some of those speaking at the monument dedication on Lanai said that while many view the colony on Lanai as a failure, the seeds of faith planted in the minds and hearts of the early Palawai pioneers were later harvested at Laie.

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Sources for this article included a paper presented by Brother Woods on the dedication and which will be forthcoming in the fall 2004 issue of Mormon Historical Studies, which is published semiannually by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation; Deseret Morning News 2004 Church Almanac.