Lanakila Church, Est. 1867

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Here is a beautiful picture taken by Norman Carlson in the 1970s and given to KHS as a gift by the photographer: Lanakila Church in Lehu`ula, North Kona, just to the north of the village of Kainaliu. Artistically framed by a plumeria branch in the foreground, Lanakila glows with classic American architectural simplicity. Construction began in the early 1860s under the able direction of veteran missionary and church builder, the Rev. John D. Paris, whose earthly remains now lie in this church cemetery. Built of timber harvested from the Pacific Northwest and cured by a thorough salt water bath in Kona waters, this church has aged with grace and fortitude, withstanding the ravages of earthquakes, termites, and even stubborn houseguests in admirable form. Upon its completion in 1867, it was named Lanakila, Hawaiian for “victory.”

The Rev. John D. Paris set his imprint on West Hawaii’s landscape by building a total of eleven churches during his years of missionary work. During his first stint as a missionary in Ka`u in the 1840s, he built a great stone church at Wai`ohinu called Ka`uaha`ao (later destroyed by earthquakes in 1868) and a stone chapel called Hoku`loa at Punalu`u, a memorial to the birthplace of Henry Opukahaia. After his first wife’s death in 1847, he headed to the East Coast of America with his two young daughters to woo himself a new Mrs. Paris. Finding success in New York, the happy couple returned to Hawaii in 1852 and Mr. Paris was assigned to the mission field of Kona. He began by rebuilding Kahikolu, the great stone church above Napo`opo`o village which had fallen into ruin. Taking the width of the first church as the length of the new one, Kahikolu rose once more as a South Kona landmark. Remnants of the original church wall can be found to the south of thriving “Trinity” church, bordering its graveyard. In 1855 he completed two stone churches which house active congregations to this day: Hale Halawai O Holualoa, the Holualoa Meeting House, now transformed into the Living Stones Church; and, up mauka, in Konawaena, stone and mortar Central Kona Union, formerly called Popopi`ia. In 1861, Helani, a lovely stone and mortar church rose near Kahalu`u beach, testament to the large Hawaiian population then living along the coast. Although the original church is now a ruin, a wooden Helani, built above Mamalahoa Highway, carried the congregation up the slope. He built Hau`oli Kamana`o at Milolii; Kekaha Church at Kohanaiki (which moved up hill and became Mauna Ziona in Kalaoa); Puka`ana at Ho`okena and Ho`ike`ana at Ka`ohe. Lanakila is “the baby” in Mr. Paris’ church family, and like all babies, probably held a soft spot in her builder’s heart.

On November 3rd, church members celebrated the 145th anniversary of the first church service held within Lanakila’s walls. The anniversary was a joyous daylong celebration, a ho`ike, what Pukui and Elbert’s Hawaiian Dictionary defines as: Congregational convention of various Sunday Schools with singing and recitation. For this very Hawaiian Church, a ho’ike also involves food, lots of it, prepared by skilled members of the congregation who know how to kalua a pig and mix good poi. There were 150 people present, and at the center of all the activity was William Johnson Paris, Jr., known far and wide as “Uncle Billy.” Not only is Uncle Billy the great grandson of the church’s founder and an active member of the church, he makes the best kulolo (pudding of taro and coconut cream) and haupia (coconut pudding) imaginable, and he claims his squid luau is pretty tasty, too! After a full lifetime as a cattle rancher, Uncle Billy has been officially recognized by his church as a licensed kahu or minister, able to perform marriages, funerals, baptisms and offer Holy Communion. It should be noted that Billy Paris will be celebrating his 90th birthday on December 18th. Congratulations!

Hawai`i was fortunate our recent tsunami scare from Queen Charlotte Island resulted in little more than a ripple. The sirens worked in Kona mauka and we could dash to our television sets to find out exactly what was happening. Horrible Hurricane Sandy has destroyed beaches, landmarks, and human life; chunks of history have been dragged off into the Atlantic Ocean, never to be recovered. What would Kona’s historic landscape look like without our ancient stone walls and temples, our 19th century churches and buildings, and our grand coastline? It would look bleak.

Thinking about sirens, I like this entry from The Friend, May, 1868:

“Tolling the Bell – Forty-Eight Strokes
The natives in Kona, Hawaii, have recently raised a new bell upon a neat tower which they have erected attached to one of their churches. It was heard tolling for a long time, and when inquiry was made, the good people replied they were about burying in a becoming manner some old ‘conch shells’ which had been blown for assembling the people to church during the past forty-eight years, and it appeared proper to strike the bell fortyeight strokes!”


Since the missionaries arrived in Kona in 1820, this bell ceremony took place in 1868, right about the time Lanakila was in the painful throes of dealing with charismatic Joseph Kaona. In John D. Paris’ own words: “In the year 1867 Mr. Kaona introduced himself to me, saying that he was from Kainaliu, North Kona, and that he had now come back to reside and make Kona his home. He added, ‘I have brought with me a lot of Hawaiian Bibles for gratuitous distribution, and I want a place to store them until after the Sabbath.’ This was on Saturday afternoon. He begged permission to store them in the new Lanakila church, which was not yet completed. The church lunas voted him permission, and he accordingly stored the Bibles in the unfinished structure.”

It soon became apparent Kaona was a religious zealot who believed the end of the world was at hand. He encouraged his many followers to claim Lanakila as their headquarters. Mr. Paris asked Governess Ke`elikolani to evict them. They moved away (hence the name ‘Victory’), but once again, the landowner beneath their new temporary home was not amused. Kaona then moved all the way to Kainaliu Beach to set up his own community of believers. As April’s great earthquakes of 1868 rattled all of Hawai`i, but especially Ka`u and Kona, Kaona’s followers grew to three hundred souls as he promised frightened Hawaiians salvation and safety as the only true prophet of Jehovah. He believed lava would obliterate the island, leaving only Kainaliu Beach unscathed. In his defense, Kaona attempted to purchase the land he was camping on, but his offer was not accepted. Alas, once more the heavy arm of the law was required, and Sheriff Neville rode to Kainaliu to deliver an eviction notice. According to Paris, “the rebel spat upon the paper, tore it into pieces, and stamped upon it.”

On October 19, 1868, Sheriff Neville assembled a large posse to issue his final eviction notice, declaring to Paris that he was ready to use force, if necessary, to accomplish his goal. A violent encounter ensued, resulting in the bloody death of Sheriff Neville and one native policeman. Mr. Paris, once more our eye-witness to history, wrote of the aftermath:

“Kaona harangued his followers to fire the house and kill all the haoles, heretics and enemies of Jehovah. In the evening, the foreigners organized and armed themselves to protect the community, the magistrate of South Kona calling for volunteers to protect life and property.”

Sheriff Neville’s gruesome murder (he was stoned and his head cut off and put on a pole) and the ensuing drama – troops landed at Kealakekua Bay to arrest religious fanatics, prisoners marched down Kona’s coast to Kailua to be locked up in Moku`aikaua Church, Kaona’s trial in Hilo and his eventual pardon by King Kalakaua – were recorded in newspaper accounts of the day. For example, on Saturday, October 24, 1868, headlines of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser read: INSURRECTION ON HAWAII, Revolt Against the Authorities! Murder of Sheriff Neville! Troops Ordered to Hawaii to Quell the Insurrection. Billy Paris believes the Hawaiian population of Kainaliu Beach never recovered from what became in retrospect a shameful event. A thriving cluster of small villages simply melted away. Kaona died in Kona in 1883, but his body was never placed inside the stone and mortar tomb built by his followers at Kainaliu Beach in 1868.

Fortunately, Lanakila weathered this stormy beginning and stands today as one of our state’s beautiful historic churches. The congregation believes in ringing its bell for many occasions, be they joyous or sad. When a member of the congregation passes away, the bell is tolled, one somber stroke for each year of that person’s life. The church tolls out the old year at midnight on December 31st, then rings in the New Year with gusto on January 1st, the bell clanging away for five minutes or more, according to Uncle Billy. Congratulations to Lanakila for reaching its 145th anniversary. In not so many years, Lanakila will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first missionaries to our Hawaiian shores. I like to imagine a truly stupendous noise on that historic occasion - church bells ringing, conch shells sounding, and choirs singing. I hope I am around to hear it all.

Aloha no, e Kona.

by Maile Melrose