Hale Pa’i

One hundred seventy-four years ago, Maui's first print shop published the first Hawaiian-language newspaper...and launched a small revolution.

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Some of those early works are on view at Hale Pa‘i, now a museum managed by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation. Displayed with them is text that reveals some fascinating insight into that time:

“When there were shortages of engraving copper, the copper sheets used to protect the wood hulls of whaling ships at Lahaina were substituted. There were numerous requests from Andrews for copper ‘as little bent as possible and free from rust.’”

“The engraving department of the school employed five boys, three engravers and two printers. Missionaries and teachers often completed the initial drawings, but the Hawaiian students did practically all the engraving themselves.”

In 1843, the first paper currency in the Islands was engraved and printed at Hale Pa‘i. Used only at Lahainaluna to pay faculty and students for work they did around the school, the money was based on the U.S. dollar, and came in six denominations: $1, 50¢, 25¢, 12?¢, 6?¢, and 3¢. Within a year, Hale Pa‘i also experienced the Islands’ first case of counterfeiting. A print shop employee and a student were expelled; Lahainaluna money was recalled and destroyed.

Among the more remarkable engravings decorating the walls of Hale Pa‘i are woodcuts of elepani, kanegaroo, reinadia and laehaokela (rhinoceros) created for the book Explanation of the Beasts of the Earth. What makes these drawings so intriguing is not their quality, but the glimpse they would have given Hawaiians in the 1800s of distant lands where unimagined creatures dwelled. What curiosity they must have incited, what hunger for exploration!

“Printing encouraged a whole new world view,” says Nogelmeier. He cites a similar work, The Book of Animals, which appeared in serial form in one of the hundred or so Hawaiian-language newspapers that existed between 1834 and 1948. “For most of the nation, that was the introduction to the physical world.”

The Book of Animals wasn’t printed at Hale Pa‘i, but the little print shop on the hillside above Lahaina can boast one singular honor: Ka Lama (The Torch), the first Hawaiian- language newspaper—indeed, the first newspaper of any kind west of the Rocky Mountains.

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