Jonatana Napela

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Jonatana Napela
Jonathan Napela, 1869, photograph taken by Charles R. Savage.jpg
1869 in Salt Lake City
Born (1813-09-11)September 11, 1813
Died August 6, 1879(1879-08-06) (aged 65)
Spouse(s) Kitty Keliikuaaina Richardson
Children Harriet Panana Kaiwaokalani Napela Parker
Parent(s) Wiwiokalani
Relatives Samuel Parker (son-in-law)

Jonatana Napela or Jonathan Hawaii Napela (first name also spelled Iohatana, full name Napelakapuonamahanaonaleleonalani[1]) (1813–1879) was one of the earliest Latter-day Saint converts in Hawaii. He helped translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian with George Q. Cannon.


Napela was born September 11, 1813[2] to Hawaiʻiwaaole and Wiwiokalani; his father descend from Kuahaliulani, one of the numerous sons of Kekaulike, king of Maui at the beginning of the 18th century.[3] He was educated at Lahainaluna School.[4]

Napela was trained as a lawyer and served as a judge in Wailuku, Hawaii[5] when he met Cannon. After his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he was removed from his judgeship.

In the words of Andrew Jensen, Napela "did splendid missionary work for the Church."[6] He was specifically sent on a mission in 1853, but as was common in the early church spent much of his time preaching the gospel.[7] On one occasion Cannon and other American elders had prayed for good weather, but decided the weather would be poor and were on their way to hold the meeting in a building. Napela, who had been present when they prayed for good weather, was surprised at their lack of faith, and they followed his lead and held the meeting in a grove of trees.[8]

Starting in January 1852 Napela began working with Cannon on translating the Book of Mormon. Cannon would first render the text of a few pages in Hawaiian. Then he would discuss the meaning of the pages with Napela. Then Cannon would ask Napela to explain the meaning of the translation.[9]

Napela was a vigorous preacher of Mormonism in the islands, and was one of the men responsible for sending word to church headquarters that Walter M. Gibson was leading the church astray.[10] This led to Ezra T. Benson, Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith traveling to Hawaii to excommunicate Gibson and put the church in order.

In 1866 Napela traveled to Salt Lake City.[11]

In 1873, Napela's wife Kitty Richardson contracted leprosy and he went with her to live at the Kalaupapa Leper Colony on Molokai. His wife was the only female of mixed Hawaiian and European descent admitted to the colony that year. Napela was appointed superintendent of the leper colony but soon ran into trouble with the board of health because of his unwillingness to enforce a rigid segregation of lepers and non-lepers.[12] For the rest of his life he presided over the Latter-day Saints at that location.[7] He died of leprosy on August 6, 1879.

The Hawaiian Studies Center at Brigham Young University Hawaii is named after Napela.

In 2010 the Roman Catholic Church presented the Polynesian Cultural Center with a plaque commemorating Napelaʻs cooperation with Saint Damien.[13]


  1. ^ Garr 2000 p. 816
  2. ^ Fred E. Woods (2008). "Most Influential Mormon Islander: Jonathan Hawaii Napela". Hawaiian Journal of History 42 (Hawaii Historical Society). pp. 135–157. hdl:10524/98. 
  3. ^ Edith Kawelohea McKinzie, Ishmael W. Stagner (1986). Hawaiian Genealogies: Extracted from Hawaiian Language Newspapers 2. University of Hawaii Press. p. 32. ISBN 0-939154-37-4. 
  4. ^ Mulholland, John F., Hawaii's Religions, (Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1970) p. 119
  5. ^ "Napela, I office record". state archives digital collections. state of Hawaii. Retrieved 2010-03-23. 
  6. ^ Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1941) p. 323
  7. ^ a b Mulholland, Hawaii's Religions, p. 119
  8. ^ Woods, Fred E. "An Islanders View of A Desert Kingdom" p. 25
  9. ^ Mulholland, Hawaii's Religions p. 119
  10. ^ Jenson. Encyclopedic History, p. 325
  11. ^ Jenson. Encyclopedic History, p. 323
  12. ^ Moblo, OPennie. "Ethnic Intercession: Leadership at the Kalaupapa Leprosy Colony" in Pacific Studies Vol. 22, no. 2, 1999 p. 34
  13. ^ Mike Foley, "Catholic Church commends PCC in honor of Napela", Deseret News, May 14, 2010.