Native Books (Nā Mea Hawaiʻi)

Searching for Mary Foster

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Patricia Lee Masters
American Buddhist Study Center
Softcover, 146 pp.

Buddhist scholar and teacher Patricia Lee Masters traveled half-way around the world, from Honolulu and Ceylon to India and Chicago, to find Mary Foster, granddaughter of a Native Hawaiian chief and British shipbuilder. In Searching for Mary Foster: Nineteenth-Century Native Hawaiian Buddhist, Philanthropist, and Social Activist, Masters narrates her journey of discovery about the lives of Mary Foster of Honolulu and Anagarika Dharmapala of Sri Lanka. This slim volume is as much a reflection on spirituality and shared values that connect different people and cultures, as it is a biography about a single individual.

Mary Elizabeth Mikahala Robinson Foster (1844-1930), was the older sister of Victoria Ward, and a childhood friend to both Lydia Paki, who became Queen Lili‘uokalani, and Bernice Pauahi Bishop. We learn that Mary Foster was a strong-willed woman with a “horrible temper,” a fierce intellectual curiosity and a need to know more about spiritual ideas other than Christianity. She wrote, “My hunger for understanding remains unquenched, and I long for some way to better understand the world, God, and myself.”