Rare Hawaiian Book of Mormon displayed

[Story and photo by Mike Foley: Originally published in BYU-Hawaii’s online Newsroom, November 7, 2008]

Hawaiian Book of Mormon displayBYU-Hawaii puts rare Hawaiian Book of Mormon
on display at Laie Temple Visitors Center

During a special November 7 program featuring a Hawaiian community choir, missionaries and a family of donors, the Brigham Young University Hawaii Archives placed a rare 1855 edition of Ka Buke a Moramona — the Hawaiian Book of Mormon — on permanent display in the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors Center.

The new display culminated four years of efforts by BYU-Hawaii 7th Ward Bishop Dean Clark Ellis to have the book take a prominent place among the other 80-plus translations of the Book of Mormon at the Visitors Center. Ellis is the grandson of the late Elder N. Ford Clark, originally of Farmington, Utah, who received it in 1920 as a parting gift at the end of his first mission in Hawaii. When Clark died in 1978, members of his family donated his Ka Buke a Moramona to BYU-Hawaii.

[Photo caption: Hawaiian women inspect the new Ka Buke a Moramona display in the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors Center.]

BYUH Archivist Dr. Matthew Kester explained that Elder George Q. Cannon, one of the original 10 missionaries in the Sandwich Islands Mission in 1850, along with Judge Ionatana Napela, a Native Hawaiian ali’i or noble and early convert from Maui, translated the Book of Mormon from 1851–53. After completing his mission and returning to Utah, Cannon and his wife were called to San Francisco in 1855 where they printed 3,000 copies of the book, but only 200 were bound. Almost all of the copies were subsequently shipped back to Honolulu where most of them were destroyed during a fire in 1868.

Kester noted that several other editions of Ka Buke a Moramona were printed about 50 years later, which are relatively common, and the 1855 edition has more recently been photocopied and can be purchased through ldscatalog.com; but only about 15–30 of the original 1855 editions are believed to be extant — two of them in the BYU-Hawaii collection — making them valuable Latter-day Saint collector’s items.

A heroic-sized statue of Elders Cannon and Napela holding aloft Ka Buke a Moramona in front of the Cannon Activities Center commemorates their efforts. In addition, the BYUH Hawaiian Studies program is named in Napela’s honor.

“There is no greater missionary tool than the Book of Mormon, and the possibility of having this one where many people can see it, feel its spirit and be told about why it’s so special will add to the wonderful blessing of having the temple and the Visitors Center so close to us,” said BYU-Hawaii President Steven C. Wheelwright at a banquet honoring the Clark family members who participated in the unveiling.

During that program Bishop Ellis explained that his grandfather learned to speak fluent Hawaiian on his mission, and was later called back to Hawaii on a second mission with his wife. The couple and their family remained in the islands and Elder Clark is buried in Punchbowl National Cemetery.

“After he died, my mother, June Clark Ellis, and her sister, Norma Jean Clark Rosa, found Ka Buke a Moramona along with many other Hawaiian treasures in his possession,” Ellis continued. “Feeling that these items belonged to the Hawaiian people, arrangements were made to donate the book and the other articles to BYU-Hawaii.”

He added when he moved to nearby Hauula four years ago and saw the then-new Book of Mormon display in the Laie Visitors Center, “I thought about grandpa’s book,” and he told the director the exhibit was missing one thing: “An original copy of the 1855 edition of the Hawaiian Book of Mormon…and I knew where he could get one.”

With the cooperation of the BYU-Hawaii Archives, the former and the current Visitors Center director, Elder Richard W. Jacobs, plans moved forward to accomplish the display. Until just recently, the BYUH Ka Buke a Moramona donated by the Clark family had been undergoing extensive conservation at BYU Provo.

Mark Pollei, department chair of the BYU Provo Conservation Lab who also attended the unveiling, explained he and his staff spent approximately four months conserving the rare book, “eight hours a day, full time. We completely dismantled the book, page by page. Each page was carefully washed and de-acidified in three aqueous processes.” The process also included mending, resizing and new binding.

He added that both the front and back boards of the book were detached when they received it, and about one-third of the spine was missing. “The pages were still sewn together, but it was yellowed, moldy, and water-stained. Now that it’s been fully conserved, with the processes we’ve done on it, I would expect it should last about 500 years. The curators at BYU tell me there are less than a handful of these in existence. We also have one in our collection.”

“We’re so pleased this could happen,” said Ellis. “I hope this is the beginning of bringing many Hawaiian treasures here and putting them on display. We’re going to need a place bigger than the Visitors Center…because these things don’t belong on a bookshelf. They don’t belong in a vault. They belong to Hawaii and the Hawaiian people.”

“This is a special celebration of Hawaiian and Latter-day Saint history,” Kester added.

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