There is a dramatic mural in the entrance of Brigham Young University-Hawaii. A beautiful woman stands inside a fiery volcano, posed with power. Heavenly light illuminates her defiance as she faces the furious flames. Around her, people watch in awe.
At first, this may seem like a strange scene to introduce visitors to an LDS school. Once you know the story behind the painting, however, you’ll be inspired.
The woman in the painting is High Chiefess Kapi’olani, a member of the Hawaiian royal family who lived during the arrival of Christianity to the islands. A convert to Christianity, she not only helped open the door for Christian missionaries when they first came in 1820, but the eventual arrival of Mormon missionaries in 1850.
Kapi’olani met the Christian missionaries and converted. In 1823, missionary William Ellis came looking for suitable places to build churches. While visiting, he ate some wild berries around the volcano of Kilauea, not knowing they were considered sacred to Hawaiian goddess of fire, Pele, who resided in the active lava lake. The natives were shocked he was not harmed for his desecration.
In 1824, Kapi’olani decided to follow in Ellis’ footsteps. She walked sixty miles on foot across sharp lava rock to the volcano; a crowd built as she went. When she reached the volcano, the guardians of Pele made a stern warning, telling her if she did not perform the necessary rituals and prayers, she would surely be destroyed. Kapi’olani refused and offered a Christian prayer instead.
As Elijah and the Priests of Baal in the Old Testament, Kapi’olani went into the volcano’s craters as a testimony to her faith. A missionary later wrote, “Along the way to the volcano she was accosted by multitudes and entreated not to proceed. She answered, ‘If I am destroyed, then you may all believe in Pele, but if I am not, you must all turn to the true writings.’”
Kapi’olani descended into the fiery craters of the volcano, a small party of people watching from behind. Some reports have her praying, throwing stones into the volcano, and eating the sacred berries as Ellis did before her. Regardless, she ascended unscathed and changed the way the Hawaiian people thought about Christianity forever.
It has been called “one of the greatest acts of moral courage every performed.”
For the rest of her life, Kapi’olani would remain a faithful Christian. She was eventually stricken with breast cancer and passed away in 1841. Her story is a vivid reminder of remaining true to your faith even amidst terrible opposition. Her mural was painted at BYU-Hawaii in remembrance of how she helped expand the Church by helping Christianity flourish on the islands. Opposite her painting is one of the first Mormon missionaries arriving in Hawaii. Today, the LDS Church has 2 temples in Hawaii, 1 mission, 140 congregations, and over 70,000 members.
LDS Daily learned of this amazing story during our trip to the Polynesian Cultural Center. You can see it for yourself and experience the powerful Spirit of the Church in Hawaii by entering to win a vacation for 4 to Laie, Hawaii!
Aleah is a graduate of Southern Virginia University, where she studied English, Creative Writing, and Dance. She now works full time as a marketing and product manager, writer, and editor. Aleah served a mission in California and loves baking, Lang Leav poetry, Gaynor Minden pointe shoes, and Bollywood movies.