Ka Lama, “The Light,” Appears in Hawai‘i

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

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In the 1820s, Protestant missionaries brought with them the technology for the American-style newspaper when they transported a printing press 18,000 miles around Cape Horn. The Islands’ first periodical appeared in 1834, in what was the first newspaper building west of the Rocky Mountains, at Lahainaluna School on Maui. A former Kentucky compositer and pressman, missionary Rev. Lorrin Andrews, taught male Hawaiian students how to gather information, write it up, and print it. 

Ka Lama, “the Light” or “the Hawaiian Luminary,” was printed in Hawaiian on a manually operated flatbed press that could turn out 100 sheets an hour. Content included articles on constitutional government and Christian teachings, along with illustrations of exotic animals like the lion, elephant, and zebra. We are told that when an issue appeared, students immediately eagerly read it through. 

Ka Lama was part of the Protestant groups’ almost immediate rise to power and influence. Mission editors joined the Hawaiian government. A modernized newspaper technology was a revolutionary force in bringing the outside world to Hawai‘i and cementing American expansion and dominance. Ka Lama initiated the popular press and was the forerunner of some 1,000 separately titled newspapers in a dozen different languages that have appeared to the present. It introduced what became the principal way to transmit information until the advent of television.

*For more information on Ka Lama Hawai‘i, or to view digitized copies of the 19th Century Hawaiian language newspapers, visit: www.nupepa.org.