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The True Adventures of Henry Opukahaia,
the Hawaiian Boy Who Changed History
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The Story of Henry
The story of Black Rocks and Rainbows is about a real person, Henry Opukahaia, who is a revered figure in Hawaiian history. In this book, we meet Henry in 1807 on the Big Island of Hawaii, as an irrepressibly curious native boy who dives into the sea and swims to an American merchant ship anchored offshore, embarking on an extraordinary adventure that will lead to an amazing accomplishment.
But he isn't called Henry then, of course. His name is Hiapo Opukahaia (Hee-ah-poh Oh-poo-kai-ee-ya) and he and his family are happily thriving when a bitter war between two rival chiefs tears them apart. The enemy chief adopts the orphaned boy and forces him to learn the ways of a warrior.
Hiapo manages to triumph through unexpected friendships, until a shocking accident changes his life once again. Saved by an uncle who is a “kahuna nui,” or high priest, Hiapo becomes his apprentice. One day he sees a miraculous sight below him in the bay – “an enormous canoe with great white wings like a magnificent bird.” It is the merchant schooner Triumph out of New England, and it is irresistible.
He signs on as cabin boy, and soon acquires from his fellow sailors the more pronounceable first name of Henry. After a year of wild adventures and life-changing events--storms, pirates, daunting adversity, deep bonds with his comrades and, most significant, the chance for Henry to master English—the ship arrives in America. Henry realizes he desperately wants to keep learning, but has no idea how. He is found weeping on the steps of Yale College by a kind student who leads him to the school’s President. Taken under his wing, Henry becomes a scholar, and eventually creates the written Hawaiian language that is still in use today.
The Story of the book
The author of this book, Susan Riford, was a writer, philanthropist and entrepreneur who was also a passionate proponent of arts and theatre education for children. She wrote over 50 children’s plays and books during her lifetime. Her fascination with this amazing tale of the young Hawaiian boy Henry Opukahaia began when she moved to Maui, Hawaii in the late 1980s. The novel was her final work before she died in Maui in 1997, but not until she had participated in the event that brought the story full circle: the successful crusade in 1993 to bring Henry’s remains home to Hawaii from his grave in Cornwall, Connecticut where he had died in 1818, and reinter him at Kahikolo Cemetery on the Big Island of Hawaii, near the spot where he was born.
Luckily for me, Susan Riford was my mother. After her death I took on the nearly finished manuscript and wrote the last chapter based on her extensive notes. Then, as an actor I was honored and inspired by the opportunity to narrate the audio book. The next step will be the creation of the printed version, for which the publisher intends to commission original illustrations. All proceeds from the sale of the audiobook, and of all future formats, will be donated to the Susan C. Riford Children's Arts Education Fund.
~ Listen ~
More audio excerpts coming soon!