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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 16, 2003

Author takes on 'missionary myths'

"100 Years of Healing: The Legacy of a Kauai Missionary Doctor," by Evelyn E. Cook; 2003 Halewai Publishing, Koloa, Kaua'i. $24.95

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  Book signings for '100 Years of Healing'

Noon today, Old Courthouse Museum, Lahaina Maui

Noon Nov. 22, Borders, Ward Centre

Noon Nov. 29, Borders, Kailua-Kona

2 p.m. Nov. 30, Borders, Hilo

Noon Dec. 6, Waldenbooks, Windward Mall

2:30 p.m. Dec. 7, Waldenbooks, Pearlridge Mall 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11, Annual Open House and Book Sale at Hawaiian Historical Society Library

Kaua'i writer Evelyn Cook doesn't claim her book on missionary doctor James W. Smith and his family at Koloa is a history, but it provides interesting views on life in the Islands generations ago.

It's a series of stories about missionary times, the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the early 20th century in the Islands, in which members of the Smith clan of Koloa play prominent to peripheral parts.

It also has a take on Hawaiian history that you don't see much these days: that missionaries, though sometimes misguided, were clearly positive influences and largely blameless in the woes of the Hawaiian people and the Hawaiian nation.

The book's introduction attempts to set aside what it calls "missionary myths," in part because "missionary-bashing has once again become fashionable in certain quarters."

Dr. James W. Smith arrived with his wife, Melicent, in the south Kaua'i community of Koloa in 1842, a medical missionary in his early 30s who would serve the community both as a doctor and spiritual leader until his death 45 years later. One son was also a doctor in Koloa and another was involved in the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893. A grandson continued the family medical traditions.

Author Cook was hired by the Smith family to write the book, so its uncritical review of their role in history is understandable, although sometimes annoying. Once the book's predispositions are recognized, "100 Years of Healing" is a pleasant read, with its stories of battling missionaries, the murder of son Jared K. Smith and the heroic work of the elder Smith, whose aggressive smallpox vaccination campaign may have spared Kaua'i and Ni'ihau from the smallpox epidemics of the 1850s to the 1880s.

Some of the stories are captivating. For example, that Lili'uokalani entrusted her legal affairs to W.O. Smith, one of the men who helped overthrow her as queen. And the role of leprosy victims in the 1897 murder of Dr. Jared Smith. And even the breathless prose describing Dr. James Smith's 45-mile horseback sprint in 1866 to try (unsuccessfully) to save the life of Robert Wyllie II.

When the elder Smith intervened in a dispute between missionaries Abner Wilcox and Edward Johnson, he called it a disgrace that they had taken their dispute to the civil courts rather than settling it quietly as Christians.

However, when Smith later was in his own towering turf battle with straying fellow missionary George Rowell, Smith sought out civil authorities to have Rowell and his supporters arrested. In that case, he concluded that if Rowell and his followers "should be arrested today, it may help keep the peace tomorrow."

Eventually, the men reconciled.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.