A Living Language in Ocean Exploration

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

By J. Hauʻoli Lorenzo-Elarco, Hōkūkahalelani Pihana, and Alyssa Anderson

Dive and rise, until reaching the deep blue ocean,
Dive and rise, until reaching the seafloor,
Dive and rise, until reaching the sea ridge,
Dive and rise, until reaching the foundation (of the oceanic islands)

From Hawaiʻi to Hōlanikū, we extend our deepest aloha to our readers and raise our voices chanting the lines of Luʻu a ea, a hiki i ke kai lipo lipo for the vast ocean of Moananuiākea – an important place where ʻōlelo Kanaka lives.

In preparation for deep-sea expeditions in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, members of the Papahānaumokuākea Cultural Working Group (CWG) collaborated with Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) in late 2021 to integrate Hawaiian culture and language during the expeditions and create culturally grounded ocean science education and outreach opportunities for Hawaiʻi’s diverse communities. This partnership aimed to strengthen connections between Papahānaumokuākea and students in Hawaiʻi, with a special focus on Hawaiian language revitalization.

Photo: Coral
Photo taken on the north side ridge of the Don Quixote Seamount, about 900 miles northwest of Kauaʻi and 70 miles south of Kapou/ Papa‘āpoho. This is a great example of the diversity of sponges and corals on these seamounts that are rich foundations for communities supporting many other creatures. – Photos: Ocean Exploration Trust / Nautilus Live

One of the projects led by the CWG nomenclature subcommittee was naming the deep-sea expeditions through traditional Hawaiian naming processes. From collaborative conversations between language educators, scientists, schoolteachers, and community members, four expedition names were created: Luʻu a ea, a hiki i ke kai lipolipo; Luʻu a ea, a hiki i ka papakū; Luʻu a ea, a hiki i ke kualono kai; and Luʻu a ea, a hiki i ke kumu. The names were inspired by a traditional nane (riddle) and have become the chant that opens this article. Each name reflects the work of OET in Papahānaumokuākea. Digital mapping technology and Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) offer a deeper understanding of the ocean floor and ancient seamounts.

In addition to naming expeditions, the collaboration with OET supported storytelling through the development of promotional videos in Hawaiian highlighting Kanaka worldviews of ocean exploration; compiling Hawaiian vocabulary for ocean science and technology terms and creating Hawaiian language outreach information; broadening outreach to local schools; and supporting live “ship-to-shore” interactions between the research vessel and classrooms in both Hawaiian and English. Kalamaʻehu Takahashi and Kainalu Steward joined the crew for the expeditions and led the ship-to-shore interactions for Hawaiʻi’s students and community groups. There were 30 school groups from Hawaiʻi that connected through the interactions, and seven of these were Hawaiian language schools.

This collaboration helped share Papahānaumokuākea with students in Hawaiʻi and will hopefully inspire future Indigenous scientists to be firmly grounded in their identity. We thank everyone in the CWG, the OET team, and members of the community involved in creating these names and nurturing this relationship for the benefit of future generations. A special mahalo goes to Kalamaʻehu Takahashi and Kainalu Steward for their work on- and off-ship, inspiring future generations of Kānaka to weave Hawaiian culture and language with marine sciences and ocean exploration. For more information, visit nautiluslive.org/.