|Cornwall Congregational Church|
This Monday I traveled to Cornwall in Connecticut, a short two hour drive from Manhattan. I visited this picturesque and forgotten corner of Connecticut because of my interest in Hawaiian religion and history. In this small town there used to be, in the early XIX century, a famous seminary operated by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. The New England Evangelicals trained there a small group of young men from all over the world (Native Americans, Bengali, Chinese and also Hawaiians and other Polynesians) to be missionaries to their respective nations and tribes.
|Plaque commemorating |
the Foreign Mission School
|Portrait of Henry Opukahaia,|
probably the most famous student.
Evangelical parishioners were moved to tears when listening how the young native men escaped wild heathen rituals and idolatry. New Englanders loved to hear about distant lands and strange peoples with their bizarre pagan rituals. Parishioners applauded their guests’ brave escapes, especially if some of the storytellers had run away from grave dangers, allegedly even human sacrifice. Evangelicals rejoiced in eloquent recounts of their sincere conversions to the only salvation found in the “blood of Jesus”. In Cornwall they offered to these young men generous hospitality. But then two students fell in love with local girls and went to marry them. And all hell broke loose! Cornwall erupted; effigies of those couples were burned. Supportive and more open minded clergy married them anyhow. But soon afterwards, without the local support, the school was closed and dissolved.
|Original grave of Henry Opukahaia|
The official explanation for the closing of the school was, and remains till now, that the harsh Connecticut weather was not suited for the natives coming from warmer climates. And indeed a number of students died there, I personally visited Cornwall in order to find the original resting place of Henry Opukahaia from Hawaii. But of course young men did not die of climate, but of typhoid, tuberculosis and the like. It was a dark foreboding for Polynesians who would be soon won over for Christ and sent to heaven in large numbers. Same western missionaries were eagerly spreading their version of Christianity together with western infectious diseases. But that will be another story.