Ambitious digitizing project at Kawaiahao Church seeks to preserve Hawaiian history

Published: Oct. 4, 2021 at 5:17 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 4, 2021 at 5:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In 1820, Kawaiahao Church was established as Oahu’s first Christian church. It’s known as Hawaii’s “Mother Church.”

Kahu Kenneth Makuakane is leading an effort to preserve its past.

“I had the opportunity of becoming the head of this church and therefore I saw the breadth and scope of 200 years of history,” he said.

Kawaiahao has amassed a huge library of historical records that document its membership of Hawaiian royalty and the other notables who attended the church.

“Liliuokalani became our organist and our choir master. Princess Pauahi Bishop, who established Kamehameha Schools, was a choir member here,” Makuakane said.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case and Hawaii’s congressional delegation helped the church secure a $98,000 award from the Native American/Native Hawaiian Museum Services Program to digitize its massive archive.

Makuakane said the preservation project is very important.

“The most important is to get these these things digitized before those physical documents start to deteriorate to a point where they’re not saved for our future generations. To me that is the most important,” he said.

The church is storing thousands of pages of handwritten records from baptisms, marriages and funeral services dating back to the 1800s. One page from a registry shows Queen Kaahumanu’s church membership.

And it’s not just royalty. Tens of thousands of people have called the church home.

“We have a ton of written documents in the old style of writing,” Makuakane said.

Old photographs, ledgers, blueprints, maps and audio recordings will also be converted to a digital format. Eventually, an archive system will make it easy for anyone to access the huge collection.

“This is for our people. And when I say our people, I mean the people who live here in our beautiful islands, so that they will know who their ancestors are. They could research their genealogy. They could research historical data,” Makuakane said.

The archive project is being done in phases. Kawaiahao Church hopes to have it finished in two to three years.

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