By Hailama Farden
Some 30 years ago, I was shopping at Oʻahu market in Honolulu, the area known as Chinatown.
While I was shopping, I passed a booth tended by an elderly woman, about in her 80s. In her stall, she had a few Hawaiian food tidbits to sell. She had Hawaiian onions, she had Hawaiian salt, she had limu kohu bundles, etc…
When I saw the limu kohu bundles, I thought to buy one for myself. As I approached her stall, I thought to myself, “I wonder? Can this Hawaiian kupuna wahine speak Hawaiian? Is she a native speaker?
So I placed my order in Hawaiian for the limu kohu bundle, “Excuse me, may I have a limu kohu bundle please? And, how much is it?”
Without hesitation she answered me immediately in Hawaiian, “Four dollars each.”
I responded, “May I have one?”
She wrapped up my limu and gave it to me saying, “Here’s your limu kohu and I gave you one more free.”
I thanked her and went home feeling blessed. When I think back to that day, I remember that kupuna. She didn’t even make a big deal about my speaking Hawaiian to her, as if the Hawaiian language was commonly used even in those days (this was about 1991) – to her, the Hawaiian language was truly a language of commerce from the time she was a child up to that day. The Hawaiian language was normalized!
So Hawaiʻi? When will our native language again be normalized and firmly set throughout our business settings, just as I experienced many years ago. When indeed?
Hailama Farden is the Director of Civic Engagement, Leadership & Hoʻomana Advocacy at Kamehameha Schools.