Tides of a Mission
by Veronica S.
Reminiscent of New England
architecture the Bond Mission Station is now a historic
landmark in North Kohala
Isolated from the bustling activity elsewhere on the
islands, in rugged silence perturbed only by unpredictable
storms and heavy rains, North Kohala proudly sails the
waves of struggle and prosperity.
The road ends here. It doesn't require great imagination
to sense, in Kohala's buildings, people, and land, how
challenges and demands color the sweetness and inspiration
of a remote, rural area. Yet all what Kohala is about
today has been shaped by a most unusual, often difficult,
past: A New England Mission Station, independent and
self-sufficient, transformed Kohala so people found
both the work and inspiration to stay, at a time that
the future for many Hawaiians had turned bleak.
On Highway 270, past Hawi and Kapaau, a simple green
and white sign refers to the Bond Historic District,
where once the 'Iole Mission Station started and expanded
to meet the needs of the growing community it served.
Today's driveway to the Bond Estate leads through a
large macadamia nut orchard, pockmarked with the rooting
damage of wild, hungry pigs. The first buildings one
sees, edging a small courtyard, are locked up, and in
need of serious repair. A black stonewall, strengthened
with coral mortar, encircles a garden and orchards behind.
In it is a gate, the opening no taller than five and
a half feet. The pathway from that gate leads to the
bedroom in the oldest house. Imagine roses growing over
that wall, and orange blossoms on the path. Imagine
Ellen Bond, wife of Kohala's missionary Elias Bond,
minute at 4'10'', as she tends the garden, bakes her
bread, teaches a home school for girls, and raises no
less than nine little Bonds in a tropical land far from
New England, in culture and in distance.
The first missionaries arrived on the islands in 1820.
They found a nation that had just lost the foundation
of its religious values with the abolition of the ancient
taboos. Hawaii was hungry for renewed security and order.
The missionaries, as it happened, found fertile grounds.
At least 8000 people lived in Kohala at the time. They
were taro farmers and survived with the abundance of
ocean and land. Missionaries occasionally tried out
this harsh corner of the islands, but saw no point in
regularly risking their lives on Kohala's precipitous
cliffs. Poverty, the lack of medical care, and isolation
scared them away.
In 1837, Kohala finally received some solid support.
A first thatch church was built at Nunulu, above Kapaau
town. Two years later, a brave missionary, Reverend
Bliss, built himself a small house and laid the foundation
of the 'Iole Mission Station, what is now the Bond estate.
The harsh conditions drove him insane within a couple
In 1840, minister Elias Bond, a former hatter and teacher,
left Hallowell in Maine, to make Hawaii his home with
his wife Ellen. They were in their mid-twenties, devoted
to each other, and devoted to placing their lives in
the service of their God. Kohala needed someone.
The young Bonds moved into the 'Iole Mission.
Questionable as the work of missionaries might seem
today, a century and a half ago this group of men and
women thoroughly believed in the beauty of their cause.
Hawaii at the time reached the highest level of literacy
in the world, greater than 90 percent of the population.
Elias Bond, among all missionaries, was probably the
strongest proponent for schools throughout the islands.
He taught, for sure. Even so, he opened himself to
learn from the Hawaiians, deeply impressed with their
practical methods of teaching, which included astronomy,
botany, and canoe building. Bond's tradition had always
restricted itself to the three R's, reading, writing,
and arithmetic, nothing that seemed very useful in a
country demanding plain survival skill. He was painfully
aware of the lack of understanding from white man toward
Hawaiian people and noted in one of his journals how
the Hawaiians studied "the open book of nature",
while the white man didn't look beyondthe surface of
Most of his years of service, he stood alone, wanting
so many things for his congregation which the Mission
Board could not afford. At a time that many missionaries
returned home and there was no funding left at all,
Bond refused to give up, and had to find ways to secure
In the first year of his mission, Bond opened the Teachers'
School at his homestead to train people for the 32 school
houses he would eventually scatter around the district.
The following year he opened the Select Boys' Boarding
School. The boys lived on the property. While Bond taught
the basics of reading and writing, he learned to speak
fluent Hawaiian within a couple of years. Ellen started
a girls' school at home, teaching up to 40 girls. Because
of her own growing family, she was forced to let go.
In 1874 an official Girl School, always Ellen's dream,
finally opened on the 'Iole Estate. The first principal,
Miss Lyons, traveled from Waimea, and made sure the
girls did all their own cooking and washing. They prepared
a full ground oven twice a week for their taro, and
went on long hikes in the mountains . The school grew
so popular that it was forced to expand into additional
Bond hiked to ahupua'a (land divisions) deep in the
valleys and did all religious services in Hawaiian,
including those on the Estate where small Kalãhikiola
Church welcomed over 1200 people most weeks.
Kalãhikiola Church, the most important building
for the mission, had to be built five consecutive times
before it finally stood on solid ground. It had started
out as the thatch halau at Nunulu. Reverend Bliss removed
it to 'Iole in 1840, and Bond rebuilt it a couple of
times with more grass. Rains and storms ravaged the
little shack and Kohala committed itself to the erection
of a church made of timber carried ten miles down from
Kalãhikiola hill where trees could be hewed.
It took three years before the church saw completion,
only to be ruined four years later in a harsh Kona gale.
As it turned out, one of the carpenters had neglected
to attach pins to the beams.
"With the help of God and without aid of any other
kind", as he said, Bond and his people dedicated
themselves to the construction of a stone church. The
work took five years. Stones had to be gathered from
nearby gulches and carried on shoulders and backs. Lime
had to be drawn up from the depths of the ocean attached
to dangerous coral clumps. There were no animals to
help. The Church finally opened on October 11, 1855,
and there again, all meetings, prayers and chants were
in the Hawaiian language.
When in later years an English Church was needed for
the influx of foreigners, it was built outside of the
'Iole Estate, in 1869, and Bond called it the "Foreign
Elias Bond settled into a crowded Kohala. But the privatization
of land and newly imposed land taxes forced many Hawaiian
families to move away in search of jobs. By the early
1860's, Bond's "flock" had dwindled to less
than 3000 people. There was no money in Kohala. The
Mission Board officially pulled out in 1855: No aid
could come from there. It was Bond's choice to keep
on working, alone.
Bond had tried for years to think of ways that he could
buy the increasing amount of abandoned land and pioneer
a healthy agriculture. He wanted to change the ebbing
tide and induce people to stay. At last he acquired
the 200 plus acres of the 'Iole Mission and he suddenly
realized the answer: "Finally," he wrote,
"it came to me() (that the) Sugar Plantation
is the only possible way of retaining people in Kohala.
There was no work in the district otherwise by which
our people could earn a dollar. This was the sole motive
that led to the establishment of Kohala Sugar Plantation."
Bond attracted Castle & Cooke as agents, and by
1863 sugar grew everywhere. The nickname became "Missionary
Plantation", and it was predicted to not even last
beyond five years.
Those were tumultuous years. Sugar plantations across
the islands were thriving on cheap labor and slave-like
conditions. Bond had no secular interests, although
of course he wanted success for the plantation. His
interest was that people stayed, with good morals, for
the Church, for the land they loved. Where then was
the line between showing up for work, as the managers
demanded, or showing up for God, as Bond wished? There
was great anxiety in terms of debts and disagreement
over management. For plantation laborers, life was hard.
Yet Kohala came through: By the early 70's, the Kohala
Sugar Plantation handed Bond a profit of $48,000. He
gave the money to schools, and to the Mission Board.
The Plantation was thriving at last.
(Bond would not live to see the construction of the
Kohala Ditch in 1904, the ditch that brought prosperity
to Kohala as it had never seen before and hasn't seen
since. It was the ultimate crowning for the Plantation
and with the new wealth Hawi and Kapaau expanded with
the buildings we see today. The Sugar Plantation officially
closed in 1975.)
Ellen Bond, indispensable to the work of her husband,
died in 1881, at the age of 64. Bond never quite recovered
from the loss. On August 19, 1884, he handed his work
over to S. W. Kekuewa, a Hawaiian pastor. Bond was 71
years old, too old for strenuous hikes and quarterly
tours of the district. He continued serving till his
death in 1896, assisted by two of his daughters, Caroline
and Julia. Elias Bond had worked with the people of
Kohala for 55 years.
The Bond Homestead saw one more addition around that
time, when Benjamin D. Bond settled as Kohala's doctor
in 1884. He married Emma Renton in 1889. The landscape
was enhanced by a pond for hydrotherapy, no less, as
well as other sheds and buildings to accommodate new
But the last Bonds left the homestead in the late 1930s.
The houses gradually fell into decay. Inside them there
is still the koa furniture, the lauhala mats, Bond's
old desk, Ellen's round table, and a wooden chest for
The estate fell under management of ten remaining Bond
cousins, in what they named the 'Iole Development Corporation.
But from far away and with different interests, decision
making has been difficult. The empty buildings deteriorated
fast. To ensure good maintenance of the church, one
acre was given away, and in the midst of the ruined
houses Kalãhikiola still stands, a proud example
of careful preservation.
Twenty-five years ago, in 1973, a major earthquake
damaged the buildings on the Bond Estate. A chain of
small tremors caused large cracks in the old stone walls.
The church was restored once again, costing $40,000
in repairs, five times the original cost. The Bond Homestead
was forced to close its doors, since no one was living
there any more. The girls school, while it had remained
active through 1956, turned into a flophouse for transient
people, and no one seemed to care.
Boyd D. Bond, fifth generation, and great-great grandson
of Elias, has moved back to the Estate and is giving
tours of the land and the buildings. He has established
a non-profit status for the district, under the name
Ho'omau O 'Iole (Preserve 'Iole). His dream is that
the old buildings can be restored, a museum perhaps
for the homestead, a unique bed and breakfast where
the girls' school stands. Lei gardens. As a historic
district, the land is for sale.
Boyd knows that this New England-style mission is unique
and must be preserved, that it's the only mission in
the Pacific still intact with all the buildings just
as they were a 150 years ago. One historian, he says,
has called it one of the six most important historical
sites in Hawaii. It was included on the National and
State Registers of Historic Places in 1977 and 1978.
Kohala still lies in rugged isolation, and the quaint
buildings which now give shelter to little boutiques,
coffee shops and restaurants, where new foreigners are
hoping to make an old community thrive once again, speak
of the missionary era, of Ellen and Elias Bond. They
still point to that green and white sign on the road,
from where it all started. The Bond estate is open for
daily tours. For more information, call 889-0883.
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