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Worcester's Antiquarian Hall​ has a trove of Hawaiian literary artifacts

Worcester's Antiquarian Hall​ has a trove of Hawaiian literary artifacts
Worcester's Antiquarian Hall​ has a trove of Hawaiian literary artifacts 02:33

WORCESTER — In a stately, yet unassuming building in Worcester, some 5,000 miles away from Honolulu, lies a trove of Hawaiian literary artifacts that's one of the most expansive in the country.

Founded in 1812, the American Antiquarian Society is a national research library, sourcing artifacts from all over the country.

"We collect nationally," Lauren Hewes, the vice president for collections, told WBZ-TV. "We hold material that represents the North American continent, the Caribbean from the beginning of printing to about 1900. We collect newspapers, we collect prints, we collect photographs, we collect books, pamphlets".

The expansive Hawaii collection was curated through donations and monetary acquisitions. 

"One of the reasons it ended up here is because a lot of the missionaries and traders who went to Hawaii were coming from New England," said Elizabeth Watts Pope, curator of books and digital collections.

More than 1,300 artifacts now permanently reside in Antiquarian Hall. The stories they tell are from a fledgling nation, spreading religion and commerce to the sovereign kingdom in the early 1800s.

"They [missionaries] go over to the Hawaiian islands. It takes them 5 months, a long winter journey and they bring a printing press with them," said Watts Pope.

The press the missionaries created had a huge influence. 

"The missionaries first had to learn how to speak Hawaiian, develop a written form of it, they used the Latin alphabet for it, then teach the Hawaiian people how to read and write in their own language," said Mike Smola, curator of public programs at Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives.

"King Kamehameha II made the demand to allow them to stay in Hawaii," Smola continued. "'I want you to teach my people to read and write and I want you to do it in my language.'"

From this agreement, the missionaries helped the Hawaiians develop a written constitution. But the missionaries also harmed the Hawaiian language. 

"In 1827 the missionaries vote out certain letters from the Hawaiian alphabet," said Watts Pope. That to me is kind of shocking."

It's a microcosm of the complex relationship between the United States and Hawaii. Early travelers brought the ability to catalog and preserve history and culture, yet colonized then overthrew and annexed the monarchy of a sovereign nation. Thanks to the preservation efforts at the A.A.S. that history is available for all to study.

"The importance of preservation is that we don't forget," said Hewes. "We don't want to have a story lost because it wasn't preserved."

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