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Hawaiian Studies Abroad

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

A farsighted King David Kalākaua knew that a modern Hawai‘i would need leaders if it was to take its place among the nations of the world. His ambitious program between 1880 and 1887 was to educate 18 young Hawaiians who attended schools in six countries. This was an excellent investment, for the 17 men and one woman who studied engineering, law, medicine, military science, sculpture and music, and foreign languages, and indeed became Island leaders and parents and grandparents of future leaders.

Kalākaua personally selected the best students. Five, including Maile Nowlein, Robert Wilcox, and Robert Boyd, went to Italy. Three went to Glasgow, Scotland, and three, including Abraham Pi‘ianaia, to England. Prince David Kawananakoa, Thomas Cummins, and two others attended mainland schools. James Kapa‘a studied in Canton, China. James Haku‘ole and Isaac Harbottle, just ten to eleven years old, went to Tokyo for immersion in Japanese culture. Brave and adventurous, all faced strange cultures and harsh climates. Two died abroad of illness.

The program was phased out after the "Bayonet Constitution" of 1887 in which the haole oligarchy curbed the king's powers. Matthew Makalua completed his medical studies in England, where he married and had an excellent practice until his death in London. The rest returned to marry, raise families, and with their descendents become political and business leaders, engineers, school teachers, interpreters, and scientists in contemporary Hawai‘i.