Old Yale  
spacer spacer spacer
yalealumnimagazine.com   about the Yale Alumni Magazine   classified & display advertising   back issues 1992-present   our blogs   The Yale Classifieds   yam@yale.edu   support us


The Yale Alumni Magazine is owned and operated by Yale Alumni Publications, Inc., a nonprofit corporation independent of Yale University.

The content of the magazine and its website is the responsibility of the editors and does not necessarily reflect the views of Yale or its officers.


Comment on this article

Aloha Blue

One day in 1809, Edwin W. Dwight, a Yale senior, found a young Hawaiian named Opukahaia crying on the steps of a Yale building. Opukahaia had joined a China trade ship when it stopped in Hawaii the previous year, and while aboard he had been tutored by a Yale graduate. Now, in New Haven, he had no schooling. “Nobody gives me learning,” he wept. Deeply moved, Edwin brought Opukahaia to see Yale president Timothy Dwight '69. (The two Dwights were distant relatives.) The president welcomed the youth into his home and tutored him in Christianity and secular subjects. Opukahaia (who became known as Henry Obookiah) later moved on to other New England schools. He wanted to become a Christian missionary, but he died suddenly of typhus in 1818.

From that chance meeting in New Haven grew the Hawaii focus of the early foreign missionary movement—and of its leader, Timothy Dwight himself, who in 1810 helped establish the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.


The missionary board decreed that no unmarried men could serve in Hawaii.

The first missionary ship sailed for Hawaii the year after Opukahaia’s death. It was led by Asa Thurston '16 and Hiram Bingham, who had just received an honorary master’s degree from Yale. Their trip was almost aborted when, a month before the ship’s scheduled departure, the missionary board decreed that no unmarried men could serve in Hawaii. But Asa and Hiram, acting fast, met and married teachers dedicated to their cause in time for the ship to sail. With the blessing of Yale president Jeremiah Day, a second missionary ship sailed from New Haven in 1822.

Hiram Bingham Jr., born in Honolulu in 1831, was probably the first Hawaii-born Yale graduate. At his commencement in 1853, he delivered an honors oration, “Civilization and Destiny of the Hawaiian Islands.” Hiram studied theology at Andover Seminary and in October 1856 was ordained and married to Minerva Clarissa Brewster, a teacher in Northampton. He took a missionary post in the Gilbert Islands, in the western Pacific. The couple worked there until they returned to Hawaii in 1875, where their son was born. Hiram III graduated from Yale in 1898 and later became Yale’s first professor of South American history, gaining worldwide fame for his exploration of Machu Picchu.

Over the years, a steady stream of Hawaii missionaries' sons came to Yale. Many of them were educated at the Punahou School, founded in Honolulu in 1841 on land given to the first Hiram Bingham. Punahou, originally established as a prep school for the sons of Congregational missionaries, now calls itself the largest independent school in the nation, with 3,700 students in grades kindergarten through twelve. It continues to send students to Yale every year, as many as a half dozen in a class.

The missionary movement to Hawaii has long faded. But Yale’s Hawaii connection has contributed to at least one lasting impact on American culture: the Hawaiian shirt.

Ellery Joe Quain Chun '31, a Punahou alumnus who majored in economics at Yale, had planned to study at the University of Paris after graduation. But his father asked him to come back to Honolulu to help with the family dry goods business. Chun noticed that tourists were taken with the colorful shirts worn by plantation workers and local boys—so much so that some tourists had the shirts custom-made as souvenirs. He was probably the first merchant to mass-produce the “Aloha shirt,” and in 1936 he registered the Aloha trademark.

Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, among others, adopted the shirts, and the new fashion revolutionized men’s leisure wear in America. The state of Hawaii honored Chun in 1991, on the 60th anniversary of the shirt’s creation, for his contribution to Hawaii’s economic development.

But there is at least one famous Hawaiian import at Yale that is not really Hawaiian at all. “Boola Boola,” the great Yale fight song, was once said to have its roots in an ancient island war chant. The Hawaiian language, however, has no “B” consonant. The song that for a century has goaded Yale men to vanquish adversaries on the football field comes from vaudeville, not the beach.  the end


©1992–2012, Yale Alumni Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Yale Alumni Magazine, P.O. Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905, USA. yam@yale.edu