Jonah Kapena

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Jonah Kapena
Died March 12, 1868
Honolulu, Hawaii
Resting place
Kawaiahaʻo Church
Nationality Hawaiian
Alma mater Lahainaluna Seminary
Occupation Royal Secretary, Judge, Civil Servant, Editor
Religion Congregationalism
Spouse(s) Kahilipulu
Children John Makini Kapena (hānai)
Signature Iona Kapena 1842 signature.jpg
Kapena became the secretary and advisor of Kīnaʻu, the Kuhina Nui, and represented her in the drafting of Hawaii's first constitution.

Jonah Kapena (died March 12, 1868), also spelled Iona Kapena, was a royal advisor and statesman in the Kingdom of Hawaii who helped in the drafting of the 1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii. Besides his legislative career as a member of the House of Nobles, he would also serve as a judge and became an associate justice of Hawaii's first Supreme Court.


Nothing is known of Kapena's early life except he was born into a family from the lesser strata of Hawaiian nobility, subordinate to the high chiefs or aliʻi nui. In 1831, he became a member of the first class of Lahainaluna Seminary under the school's first principal American missionary Lorrin Andrews. His classmates included historian David Malo, Boaz Mahune, and Timothy Haʻalilio. Graduating after four years in 1835, he along with many graduates sought political positions and became advisors in the court of King Kamehameha III.[1]

Kapena became the secretary and advisor of Kīnaʻu, the Kuhina Nui, and represented her in the drafting of Hawaii's first constitution and declaration of rights. Kapena along with Boaz Mahune assisted American missionary William Richards in the endeavor.[2] Although his classmate Mahune was credited with drafting the Declaration of Rights of 1839, recent discoveries have casted doubt upon the actual authorship of the Declaration and the majority of the Constitution. Hawaiian historian Jon Kamakawiwoʻole Osorio believed that it was Richards, who was mainly responsible and that Mahune and Kapena were only assistants to the creation of the Declaration of Rights and the 1840 Constitution.[3][4][5]

Kapena served as a clerk in the 1841 session of the Legislature of Hawaii at Lahaina, the capital at the time; it was the first time that the King and his nobles met as a governing body since the ratification of the Constitution in 1840. In 1843, he and George Luther Kapeau served as clerks to the legislature and then Kapena shared the position with William Richards in the 1845 session.[6] In 1845, Kapena was also finally appointed an official member of the House of Nobles. In order to replace the diminishing number of aliʻi nui, it was decided in April 2, 1845 to vote lower ranking chiefs who are "men of learning" into the council and elevated their chiefly statuses. Kapena was among the first group of six lesser chiefs chosen.[7][8][9] As a member of the House of Nobles, Kapena would go on to serve in the legislative sessions of 1850, 1851, 1852, 1853, 1854, 1862, 1864, 1866. He also served as an one of the first four assistant judges or justices of the Supreme Court of Hawaii in 1842 with Kamehameha III as the Chief Justice. Judge Kapena was also later appointed Circuit Judge for Oahu, succeeding his brother-in-law Joshua Kekaulahao. It was said that in this office he "gave satisfaction to all."[10][11][12][13] In his long political career, Kapena served under the reigns of three monarchs: Kamehameha III, Kamehameha IV and Kamehameha V. Kapena also wrote in one of the kingdom's first Hawaiian language newspaper the Ka Nonanona (1841–1845). He later become the editor of the important paper, Ke Au Okoa (1865–1873).[14] In 1870, his hānai son John Makini Kapena became its editor until it merged with Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, and became Ka Nupepa Kuokoa Me Ke Au Okoa I Huiia in 1873.[15]

Kapena married Kahilipulu on September 2, 1846 in Honolulu, Oʻahu. Kapena was also married to a sister of Joshua Kekaulahao. She died before 1858. Kapena led the procession at the funeral of all six of her family members including her two brothers, nephew, cousin and father. It isn't known if these two were the same person. Beyond that nothing is known about Kapena's wives.[16][17] In the Hawaiian tradition of hānai, he adopted his nephew John Makini Kapena (1843–1887), the only son of Makini and Naʻawa, a relative of Kalakaua. John Makini Kapena went on to become an important government minister under the reign of King Kalākaua. His hānai son also married Emma Aʻalailoa Malo (1846–1886), the only daughter of David Malo, Kapena's Lahainaluna classmate.[15][18]

Death and burial[edit]

Grave marker of Kapena in the Kawaiahaʻo Cemetery
Kapena family plot in the Kawaiahaʻo Cemetery

In March 12, 1868, Kapena died in Honolulu at his residence in the Nuuanu Valley after a long of life of service to the Kingdom. Kapena had became an invalid in the last years of his life which prevented him from performing any governmental duties.[13][19] In 1868, Hawaiian Gazette wrote of Kapena's remarkable legacy;

Judge Kapena, the last rites to whose memory, have just been performed, was a man whose character stood unblemished in this nation, and whose abilities, in the various positions of life, by him occupied, were conspicuous. In his official and social relation he was admired and beloved by the Hawaiian people. and his good name will be cherished not only by his family, but by a large circle of friends.[20]

His funeral at Kawaiahaʻo Church was attend by friends, family, members of the Legislature and the Chamberlain, representing the King. The church was packed with mourners. The funeral service was conducted by Rev. Henry H. Parker of Kawaiahaʻo Church, with assistance from Rev. George Washington Pilipo of Kaumakapili Church. Rev. Parker's discourse, which was in Hawaiian, gave a brief sketch of the life of the deceased, and held him up as a worthy example for his country men to follow. After the service, Kapena's coffin was interned in a newly constructed tomb or vault in the churchyard.[20][21][22] His grave marker reads "Kupuna Kapena 1868."[23] The Kapena family plot is also the resting place of John Makini Kapena and his wife Emma Aʻalailoa Malo Kapena. Other relatives include Umiuimi, David Kalu and Kahoihoi Pahu.[24]


  1. ^ "Papa Inoa O Ke Kula Nui O Lahainaluna". Ka Hae Hawaii. May 19, 1858. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  2. ^ Kamakau 1991, p. 370.
  3. ^ Osorio 2002, pp. 16–17, 24.
  4. ^ Hawaii 1842, p. 4.
  5. ^ Hawaiian Historical Society 1943, pp. 67–68.
  6. ^ Hawaii & Lydecker 1918, pp. 16, 18.
  7. ^ Bingham 1855, p. 611.
  8. ^ Osorio 2002, p. 80.
  9. ^ Spaulding 1930, p. 29.
  10. ^ Kuykendall 1965, p. 168.
  11. ^ Hawaii & Lydecker 1918, pp. 29–107.
  12. ^ "Kapena, Jonah office record". State Archives Digital Collections. State of Hawaii. Retrieved June 17, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "Death of a Nobleman". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. March 14, 1868. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  14. ^ Silva & Badis 2008, p. 119.
  15. ^ a b Mookini 1974, p. viii.
  16. ^ Hawaiʻi State Archives (2006). "Marriages: Oahu (1832–1910)". Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. Retrieved May 31, 2014. 
  17. ^ "They Are Passing Away". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. December 16, 1858. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  18. ^ "John Makini Kapena". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. October 24, 1887. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Ka make ana o Hon. J. Kapena". Ka Nupepa Kuokoa. March 14, 1868. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  20. ^ a b "Funeral of Judge Kapena". The Hawaiian Gazette. April 29, 1868. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  21. ^ "The funeral of Hon. Jona Kapena will take place next Sunday". The Hawaiian Gazette. April 22, 1868. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  22. ^ "Funeral of Judge Kapena". The Pacific Commercial Advertiser. May 2, 1868. Retrieved June 1, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Kupuna Kapena". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 2, 2014. 
  24. ^ Disbro, William (November 6, 2001). "Kawaiahao Church Cemetery". US GenWeb Archives. Retrieved June 2, 2014.