Photo Information

VALLEY OF THE TEMPLES MEMORIAL PARK, Hawaii - The replica of the Japanese Byodo-In Buddhist temple stays concealed in the farthest point of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. James A. Sauter)

Photo by Cpl. James A. Sauter

Cultural Mix of Religious History

24 May 2013 | Cpl. James A. Sauter Marine Corps Base Hawaii

The freedom of religion gave American culture a unique twist that so many different religions can co-reside within a single common culture. Hawaii is one such example of a cultural mixing bowl of religion, even before Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.

With the introduction of foreigners to the Hawaiian Islands over the centuries, present day Hawaii is home to many religious cultures, including Christianity, Buddhism and the native Hawaiian religion. According to, ancient Polynesians arrived no later than the 9th century A.D., and settled on the islands. The religion the native Hawaiians brought with them was polytheistic and focused on the notion of spirits being found in non-human subjects such as animals, waves, volcanoes and wind.

The ancient Hawaiians built heiaus (religious site or temple) during the 17th century, according to the Hawaii state parks website. Heiaus were used as political, economic and religious centers until the reign of King Kamehameha I ended in 1819 and his son abolished the traditional Hawaiian religion, such as the kapu system, which forbade various social practices, and with that eliminated the strict religious social structure.

“The Puu O Mahuka temple was really vast and it was interesting to see an old piece of history still with us today,” said Melissa Turi, a tourist visiting from Ohio with her mother, Julie. “I like to imagine what one of those ceremonies here must have been like.”

In 1820, protestant Christian missionaries arrived from New England, according to Rev. Hiram Bingham built a mission headquarters in Honolulu and the missions began recording the Hawaiian language. During the 1860’s, King Kamehameha IV and his wife Queen Emma helped bring the Anglican Church to Hawaii.

Kamehameha IV had the prayer books and scripture translated from English into Hawaiian so his people could better understand the Anglican denomination. Queen Emma oversaw the construction of the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Honolulu, but didn’t live to see the end of its completion in 1886.

“I’ve lived here on Oahu for 20 years and I really enjoy the blend of Hawaiian and English languages at the church services I’ve attended,” said John Donaldson, a Honolulu resident. “I like learning languages and it gives me a chance to read and sing Hawaiian.”

Apart from western influences, foreigners traveling from the Far East brought their own heritage and religious beliefs. Japanese immigrants first arrived in Hawaii in 1868, while the St. Andrew’s Cathedral was being constructed. The Valley of the Temples Memorial Park on Oahu was established in 1963 to serve as a burial ground for people of different faiths, particularly Buddhism and Christianity.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigrants coming to Hawaii, a replica of the Japanese Byodo-In Buddhist temple was built in 1968. The non-practicing temple is smaller than the original in Japan and is open as a tourist attraction. The temple is home to the Amida Buddha, a nine-foot tall Buddha first carved out of wood then covered in cloth and painted gold.

“After seeing Waikiki, Melissa and I wanted to explore the island and see more cultural things instead of just the commercial,” said Julie Turi after seeing the Byodo-In temple. "The area was really relaxing and beautiful. I appreciate seeing so many different cultural influences here in Hawaii.”


Marine Corps Base Hawaii